Understanding Rebound Romance (and the Rest of Life)


A heart in pain is like a falling star, fascinating until you realize it might become a meteorite about to burn and crash. Will the object splatter? Will the rock survive? Will it bounce in the wrong direction? Such is the life of romance on the rebound.

Unrequited love offers a chance to understand life’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” not only those puncturing the bubble of romance.

What causes us to make a rapid jump back into the dating pool after the ex has left the water? The easiest band-aid for rejection is to blame the former love and pick yourself up quickly, as if to say “I’ll show him!” Or perhaps solitary time frightens you, having never learned to be independent. A long stretch being without a sweetheart to lean on is unimaginable for the insecure.

Fair enough, but this is a reminder to become self-sufficient, not to substitute a fresh body. Moreover, we must learn about our part in love’s failure — one’s own fingerprints on the broken pieces of the loving cup. Was he the wrong mate, yet the type we routinely pick? What motivates our repeated errant choices? Which of our personal characteristics require change — the ones that fray a relationship’s fabric?

Just as essential is the need to grieve the loss. Without doing so, plotting a course forward has but a blind man’s chance of success. We run backward into unfamiliar arms because of the preoccupation with those that previously encircled us. Too late do we turn to look closely at the one now holding us, so great is our desperation to flee the pain of dismissal. Accidents are expected if you don’t see the Mack Truck coming your way. Might the unknown man be just a distraction? Might he remind you of the bygone boyfriend? Do you want to make the ex jealous by displaying an updated, successful, stud puppet? Or is the replacement beau a bodily application, flesh against flesh — a kind of salve — not to heal soreness but to sooth the soul?

Perhaps the fresh darling represents a flight from pain and loneliness, as drugs, alcohol, and overwork often do. The world is now too much. Deadening and distraction can take a human form in the new beloved. You feel powerless over memories and the emotions attached. These unwanted intruders inflict anguish to head and heart. The awfulness seems eternal, as if each second of woe is like a person in a line stretching over the horizon, where the queue’s length (to the point past suffering) signals a journey without end. So you interrupt the grieving you need and escape to someone untried.

Sometimes you are so foolish as to persuade yourself that you won’t permit strong emotions about the new person. I cannot tell you how many patients told me this only shortly before they were again “in love,” again with a bad match.

A rush to get past sadness — as if sorrow can be outrun — often leaves you unstrung. Your head swivels: first looking back, then looking away, finally looking without seeing.

We need to abide with the pain, learn what it can tell us.  Affliction is endurable, albeit one second at a time. Blinder yourself (if you can) against the imagined endless emptiness. After all, perpetual sadness is a possibility, not a guarantee. The catastrophized future leads to desperation, despondency, and poor decisions. Hearts heal, but only if we attend to their needs.

Just as you would not dismiss your grief after the death of a parent, so must you not race past it when love vanishes. The disappearance of affection, no matter the kind or cause, is a stern taskmaster. Pay now or pay later, but you will pay.

We need human attachment to mend the broken heart strings. Before you flee to a passionate embrace, however, are there those who would embrace you in sympathy? Friends, family, or (figuratively speaking) a therapist? They can be enough.

Life asks us weighty questions. How much of the human experience will we let in? How much of living and sensation do we wall off in order to survive? The round world has sharp edges. Walls must be built. We all do it and, to some extent, we have to. How high, how completely, and in what manner are the only relevant considerations. And what do we give up to make life manageable, prevent feeling overwhelmed?

In pondering our psychological defenses and their cost, whether we have love in our life or not, we are all summoned to the same solemn self-interrogation.

How will you answer?

The top photo, Angel with a Broken Heart (Tomba Famiglia Ribaudo) is the work of Jeff Kerwin, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

13 thoughts on “Understanding Rebound Romance (and the Rest of Life)

  1. If only I’d known you in my early twenties Dr S……or if only someone would teach these things to teenagers….I guess that should be the parents’ role but mine were too busy trying to convince me that boyfriends were for college and sex was for marriage. I went to college and within a matter of days was ‘attached’ and have not been single since. There was plenty of pain and suffering, much of it in many ways self inflicted and inflicted on others. I did the leaving, but beyond giving in to full on emotion and obsession I didn’t really question why, in any way that went much beyond the surface. I certainly didn’t stop to think, sadly, about all the things I might have wanted to change about myself or about what sort of person I really wanted to be with. Although even that latter one wold have been hard to answer as I my likes and desires moulded to whoever I was with. If only I’d known there was another way to deal with those feelings of things being wrong, of wanting an intense experience of love – if only I’d realised then that that figurative holding of therapy was a possibility so I wouldn’t keep seeking out other arms. But even if I’d known it took me more than ten years after the onset of panic disorder to actually seek help – would my ‘conditioning’ have allowed me to do it over this ? Again, oh for parents who believed kids could have problems , who believed and modelled seeking help rather than ignoring or thinking things would go away or had to be kept on the family. I still remember the scorn with which my mother treated her doctors suggestion that she see a counsellor about her grief on the death of a parent…..anyway sorry for this growing and spontaneous train of thought you’ve started! I should draw it to a close ! Thank you for a fantastic post which really does need to be taught in schools 🙂


    • You are welcome. You have lots of company in what you’ve described. I recall an old friend who told me that he was having stomach problems as a teen and the MD suggested to his mother that he might be feeling too much upset due to things going on in the home. On the ride back home she did a slow, unspoken, burn, until she said, angrily, “What do you have to be upset about?” Uncharacteristically, he lashed back, “Who wouldn’t be upset living with you?”


  2. I’ll have to send this to my best friend. She picks the same guy over and over again. (Spoiler: It never works out.)


    • Many of us have to make a few mistakes before we notice the pattern. Perhaps there is hope for your friend. As someone I know once said to me, “I like to make ‘new’ mistakes.'”


  3. My friend’s ex-wife has had four more husbands after him. And, she’s still young. I don’t think this is as much about rebound as it is about resourcefulness. We can “tut, tut” all we want but each husband has been richer than the one before. If she put that energy elsewhere she may be Joyce Carol Oates or Woody Allen. Or not.


    • Thanks, Joan. I suppose if her object is to accumulate more money than Croesus, the ancient king, you could say she is resourceful. If, however, she is looking for something more satisfying, her strategy is questionable, at least to me. As Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winning psychologist, has documented, beyond about $70K per year we get little increase in moment to moment happiness.


  4. Excellent topic and article! After my husband abandoned us in Brazil, I was too focused on providing for myself and sons to be caught in a romantic rebound.


    • Thank you, Rosaliene. Indeed, for those women who are abandoned or divorced, the matter of making a living for the family necessarily excludes much else.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t even get into a relationship In the first place without setting of all the trauma memories and panic and heading into a break down let alone a rebound. I can’t even get to first base in the relationship stakes.


  6. Well, Claire, I gather you are a resourceful person and expect you may yet defeat the trauma and panic. I’ll be rooting for you.


  7. Thanks Gerald, I’m doing all I can with my therapy to work through the mess. Thank you for your support.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. 4 guys with different exteriors but very much the same interior over 3 years and I finally plucked up the courage to have a chat with someone. I do believe that I’m finally breaking the pattern.


    • Good luck, Lucy. As the old saying goes, when we are looking for something we lost, we find it in the last place we look.


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