Ask Sahaj: Do my dreams about my ex-boyfriend mean anything?

Q: I had multiple dreams this week about my ex-boyfriend, whom I broke up with almost four years ago. I think I started thinking about him recently because he moved back to CA, and I saw him in a few friends’ Instagram posts. I’m in an incredibly healthy, loving and supportive relationship for three years now with someone I see forever with, and I feel so guilty for thinking about my ex, and even missing him.

We separated on amicable terms, but we don’t follow each others’ socials anymore. The space definitely helped us move forward. But now hearing what he’s up to through mutual friends (since he moved back to where we all are) makes me sad, and I almost feel like it’s unfair that they get to be friends with him and I don’t.

The last time we talked, it was right when the pandemic got bad in 2020. He was flying back home, we said bye, and he ended the call by saying he was going to be “watching me fondly from afar.” As in, he didn’t want to “be friends” since it hurt too much. I realize that if we do reconnect again now, it might be harder for him since I was the one who ended it and he wanted to hold on, so I also feel like I have no right to be missing him in this way.

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We might have not worked out as a couple, but I feel like we were good together as friends. I did not feel that much romantic attraction toward him even in the relationship, which is one of the big reasons we separated to begin with.

Would it be okay for me to reach out? Is it weird that I miss him after all this time, despite being in a loving relationship? Am I being territorial that my friends are being friends with him?

– The Ex

A: It makes sense that seeing your other friends with this person is bringing up mixed feelings for you. Dreaming of your ex may not mean anything other than that your brain is purging a sense of grief after seeing him in photos with your friends. It’s good to remember that your memory of your ex is probably a version of him that may no longer exist. Four years is a long time and people change.

Also, ending the relationship doesn’t mean you weren’t affected. Essentially, when you and your ex broke up, you lost two people: a boyfriend and a friend. You’ve appeared to move on and heal from the former as you’re happy in your new romantic relationship. However, it seems like you’re still grieving the loss of a friendship you cherished.

You ask if reaching out is okay, but I think you should consider what could happen next. What does reaching out to your ex look like and how could that potentially impact your mutual friendships, bring up old feelings or shake things up in your current relationship? Be honest with yourself about what you are hoping to gain and consider all the variations of what it could lead to. If you want to be able to see him around mutual friends without it being awkward, great. But if you’re hoping to nurture an independent relationship with him again, what does that actually look like?

Discuss what you’re feeling and thinking with your current partner. It’s not that you need their permission to be friends with your ex, but, if this is innocent and merely a friendship you hope to reignite, having your partner provide feedback and advice could be helpful. Discussing this with mutual friends you trust could shed some light on how you should proceed, too.

Be honest with yourself about what you miss about your ex. Is it simply a fear-of-missing-out feeling you have because you no longer have access to him like your other friends have? Or are these feelings deeper and more complicated? For instance, do you find yourself comparing your current partner to your ex in more intimate ways? Or maybe, a friendship is something you always wanted and he needed more time to process the breakup?

There needs to be synchronicity for a friendship to exist. Your ex needs to be over you, too, and he needs to not harbor any feelings of rejection for a real friendship to flourish. You both have to be able to view the friendship as just that – a friendship like any other. All of this is hearsay though, because neither of us knows if he wants a friendship with you right now.

If he does: You’ll want to have an understanding of what your parameters around a friendship with him looks like. It’s easy for relationships to revert to what they were for either or both parties when reconnecting, so having clear boundaries and explicit expectations will be necessary.

If he doesn’t: One of the hardest growing pains is potentially having to accept that we can miss people and know that it’s better for us not to be in each other’s lives. This is a part of the grieving process.

If we are lucky to experience a level of intimacy with someone else that we label as love, I don’t know that we ever forget the sense of care and fondness we feel for them. Instead, it’s a matter of focusing on the relationships you can nurture and invest in and wishing those other loved ones well from afar. After all, the truest form of care is in doing so without expectations.

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Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli

Sahaj Kaur Kohli is a mental health professional and the creator of Brown Girl Therapy.

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