“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Albert Einstein.
But when you’re getting over someone, imagination has a way of becoming knowledge, as in what you imagine is often the entire breadth of what you know about them. It’s hard to say goodbye, especially when you thought you knew someone so well and your relationship seemed to mean so much.
But obsessing is dangerous territory. And in the age of social media and staying “friends,” it’s far too easy to know too much, which just gives you fodder to imagine too much and to never, ever get over anyone.
One of my old English teachers recently wrote me and said I was one of her most creative students. And that was so flattering. What she didn’t know was that half or more of my creativity was used in service of imagining all the ways the guy of my dreams really loved me and not the girl he was with and how deep down, he just was afraid to show the depths of hislove.
(So, holy sh*t, if social media had been around, I would have probably flunked out of high school.)
I’m happily married, but as a writer, I’m not a stranger to obsessing. When a book of mine comes out, I check the Amazon rank every 10 seconds. Or the shares and comments on my articles. Or how much better every other writer in the universe is handling their books, lives and online presence.
The sad truth about obsessing is, it prevents you from doing something new, while you just chew and gnaw on the old. (And, yes, the maybe-not-real-at-all.) This was going to be an article about how to know if you’re obsessing over someone, but the truth is, you know if you are. (And you probably are, if you clicked.)
So let’s make this a one-two punch of how to know and what to do.
1. You check his social media accounts more than your own.
Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, repeat.
Solution: If you can, avoid social media. That’s hard. And maybe you can’t unfriend him without it seeming weird or petty, but you can make it so his stuff stops showing up in your feed. Even though he — thank god — doesn’t know every time you visit his page, tell yourself he does. Do you really want him knowing how many times you looked at that photo of him eating that taco? Didn’t think so.
2. You not only check social media, but you’re reading into everything.
You once had a romantic brunch together and he posts a photo of Eggs Benedict on Instagram. You think it’s a clue meant for your eyes only.
Solution: Remind yourself that the only real clue he still likes you is if he lets you know directly.
3. You imagine him brooding.
You think not hearing from him means he’s sad and hoping for you to return to him. In your mind, he’s elbow-deep in ice cream and tears and only you reaching out can help him.
Solution: Again, if he wants you, he will let you know. Unless you’re the one that ended things and he tried to make a case for keeping on, he’s just likely trying to live his life, just like you are.
4. You check the social media accounts of the people he’s dating, or think he might bedating.
This is worse than checking your ex’s accounts. Not much more to say on that.
Solution: Imagine that every time you read the new flame’s Twitter feed — or worse, her horoscope — you’re making her that much more attractive. In a way, you are because you’re making yourself that much more dull.
5. You imagine all the ways their new relationship will or won’t work.
Solution: Sorry, there’s no solution for the fact he’s dating someone other than you. But, look, if the guy was an asshole with you, guess what? He’s still going to be one with her. And if you had a good thing and now you’re thinking about him and the new flame in soft lighting with pretty pillow talk, then you’re depressed and letting them be the star of a movie in your head, instead of being the star of your own life.
If you’re cursing them and picturing bad sex and incompatibility, then you’re being — well — totally normal, but bitchy. The most gangsta thing you can do? Wish them well. Shrug ‘em off. Make them irrelevant. They are.
6. You write him one last letter or email. One with all the feelings.
Solution: Unless the reason you broke up is because you never told him you loved him or he wanted to move in together and you didn’t (or some other big issue that you’re willing, now, to bend on), there’s no new piece of information you can give that’s going to change his mind. If you need to write the thing, write it, but burn it or eat it before you give it to him.
7. You make all the friendly, just-friends gestures.
You send him a peppy birthday card that falsely provides the illusion “I’m okay and here’s a card to prove it!! Look, GLITTER!”
Solution: You can maybe be friends with him someday. When you’re way over it. When you’re super-hot, super-confident and maybe dating someone super-better. But right now, cut things off. It’s not helping you move on.
8. You wonder, on occasion, if you might be stalking him.
Solution: No solution. If you think you’re stalking him, you probably are. Just because you haven’t boiled a bunny doesn’t mean you’re not being a weirdo. DON’T BE A WEIRDO.
9. You look for signs in everything.
This is the equivalent of playing “he loves me/loves me not” with a daisy. Maybe you visited a psychic, asked questions of the Magic 8 Ball (I recently asked the online version if my book was any good), or told yourself he’ll come back if the traffic light turns green in the next 10 seconds.
Solution: Nobody and nothing knows anything. Ask long enough and you’ll get the answer you want, but that doesn’t make it true.
10. You sleep with him, because he called. (Or because you called because you think one last hurrah will remind him how good it was.)
Solution: Want to get over him? Keep your pants on, literally and figuratively. If he wants you back, make him show you he’s all in. Not just inside you for one last (but-not-last) time that’s just going to make you sad later. If you’re feeling the itch, pick someone up and practice safe sex.
These are just some of the signs; I’m sure there are ever-more-elaborate ways to trace and track your ex now. (A friend recently told me about seeing one of her exes as a possible match on Tinder and wondering daily whether to swipe left or right on him. Oy.)
But, here’s the deal — and maybe I’m being sexist — but I’m a woman and I think obsessing like this is a woman’s problem, most of the time anyway. Yes, guys might be heartbroken and sad, but I really don’t think they spend hours digging into our social media profiles looking for clues to what could be or is yet to come. Most likely, they masturbate to an old photo of you and go out for a beer with the guys.
So, take this to heart:
There’s an Oscar Wilde quote, “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
As women, this is our gold. We never want to believe that what seems like the in-our-face truth is the whole truth. We imagine that the truth is buried under adornments and intricacies. It’s a rococo parlor of complications and unclear motivations and “deep down, I think he…” statements.
We want to believe that the truth about the people who don’t seem to love us is just an over-accessorized, overly made-up b*tch; if she just shed her layers, we’d see the natural beauty underneath.
But, as hard as it is to admit it, the truth with relationships often is an Akkam’s razor, a bitchy Akkam’s razor: They’ve either got the feeling or they don’t. And all of the above things add up to one super-solid, super-simple truth: You are putting more time into his life than your own.
Sure, it’s your life, but do you want to spend it thinking about him? Or worse, thinking about him and his new amour?
So if you need to imagine something, imagine it this way: Every thought you give him makes his life that much better. It costs you time, money, opportunity. Start adding the minutes you spend thinking about him or doing things in service of learning about him, and pay yourself a dollar. Time is money.
And maybe, maybe it’s true and he’s:
Intimidated by you;
Afraid of how much he feels;
Afraid of losing you, so doesn’t want to have you because then he might lose you;
Or some deep-down thing like that.
But if it is all “deep down” and he isn’t willing to put it on the line at all, is that the person you really want?
Obsess about you.
(And go ahead, Instagram the hell out of your life with the most flattering of filters. Just in case he’s looking.)