Double Take: Cure for zombie relationships? Delete your ex
Dear Dr. Wes & Kendra: Is there some reason that girls feel like they need to keep talking to their ex after they break up? It’s pretty much ruining my girlfriend and my relationship, and I may break up with her because of it.
Wes: First off, it’s not just girls. I’ve seen just as many boys keeping on with an ex as you describe. If you read this column you’ve heard me say more than once that today’s young people have as much trouble getting apart as they do getting together. But you already seem to know that from firsthand experience, and you’re really asking why it’s such a problem. It’s a good question, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it out.
First of all, social media and text messaging have made breaking up about one hundred times worse because former loves just can’t seem to ignore each other’s presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. At times it almost seems addictive. Texting is particularly troublesome because it takes about four seconds to get a bad inspiration to contact an ex, and five more to hit send. There’s just not any time for reflection or asking oneself about the wisdom of starting up talking once more.
Second, teens now seem to have a harder time accepting discomfort than ever before. Perhaps we’ve given them too little to struggle with or maybe they just feel overwhelmed as a generation and don’t want to take on any more stress. I’m not for putting anyone through unnecessary heartache, but a big part of growing up is enduring stuff that sucks, and for most teens and young adults there’s little worse than a breakup. Some people would just rather avoid having to deal with the pain and hurt.
Whether knowing any of that can help your relationship is another matter. Today, breaking up means deleting your ex, and your girlfriend seems to be having trouble getting that done. So, I don’t blame you for feeling like this guy is following your relationship around like a fifth-wheel trailer or for considering breaking up with her. I’ve seen these zombie relationships damage numerous dating couples in the last few years, and it’s one of the few things I’m 100 percent against. It’s fine to be friendly — especially if you’re in the same friend group — but ex boy and girlfriends do not make good pals, and anyone in your situation is likely to agree.
Kendra: Girls and boys alike seek closure of their relationships in a number of ways, and for individuals of either gender, it may be easier to keep on moving to the next chapter than to close the book completely.
From my own experience I’ve come to realize the longer you’re in a relationship with someone, the harder it is to break ties with that person. After the dissolution of a relationship, someone always says, “let’s stay friends,” but few truly know what a post-breakup friendship entails.
Although you can ruin a relationship by demanding your significant other cut their ex out of their life entirely, it’s important to make your feelings known.
The term “jealousy” has such a negative stigma, but all it really means is that you fear someone else will take away something you have. You may have nothing to worry about if your girlfriend and her ex talk rarely and briefly about homework assignments, but if they’re flirting and discussing great dates of the past you may need to put your foot down. Even if your significant other would never physically get back together with her ex, emotional cheating can just as easily ruin relationships.
There’s no need to give an ultimatum, but you should encourage your girlfriend to evaluate her relationship with her ex. There’s nothing wrong with staying friends, but if her friendships prevent her from moving on, the best thing for her to do would be to put that book down for a little while and pick up another.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.