“Do you have to be totally over an ex before ‘getting back out there’?”

A queer person with a blank expression on their face while they hug someone.
The Gender Spectrum Collective

I was asked this question by a former client on my instagram stories last week. I was going to address it with a quick little video, but I realized that I had so much to say about this topic, as my connection to it is really personal and incredibly present at the moment. So buckle in for story time.

My first night with my current Sweetie was one week after moving out of my place with my ex*. Needless to say, when I first started dating my Sweetie, I was thinking about my ex a lot. I was still sad about my last break up. Still hurting from the hurt I caused. Frustrated we weren’t able to make something work. Mourning my sweet apartment.

And yet, I didn’t want to be with my last partner. I knew we were no longer right for each other. But I wasn’t over the relationship, per se. I still had a lot of mourning and processing to do.

*Side note- I imagine doing this might seem chaotic to some of you, but I was dating throughout my last relationship -we were non-monogamous- so it didn’t feel like “getting back on the horse” as it might to some folks. Going out with someone just felt like doing something I had continued to do over the last three years.

I’ve heard folks say, if the idea of meeting someone new is exciting to you, it’s okay to put yourself back out there. But for me, I’m almost always excited to meet someone new. It’s what follows that initial excitement that can be unpredictable, especially when newly out of something.

My current Sweetie knew I was recently out of a relationship when we started talking and they were interested in getting to know me regardless. Through our time together they’ve indulged many conversations about my last partner. They’ve heard me process a LOT. They knew that I wanted to take things emotionally VERY slowly. They understood that not only did I not want to jump into anything, but that I’m someone who questions relationships and labels to begin with. Equipped with this information, they still consented to getting to know me. On my end, I promised them affirmation (to the best of my ability) and transparency.

Throughout the past year we’ve navigated many stories in our heads related to my recent break up and it’s repercussions. I had a story in my head that they weren’t satisfied with what I was able to give them. They had stories of their own. We tried to address these for each other when we could but, ultimately, we both had to trust that the other person was a fully consenting adult able to make decisions for themselves. That we weren’t responsible for managing the other’s experiences or emotions. That all we could do was be transparent about where we were at and what we needed more of and see if that worked for the other person.

Starting something new right after ending something wound up forcing us to be super in-tuned with ourselves. It forced us to take responsibility for ourselves. To practice kind transparency over and over again. To get “comfortable” (is it ever comfortable?) having really uncomfortable conversations. To go slow, and to build a really solid, intentional foundation.

It took me a year of seeing this person to feel really safe enough to say “yes” to this fully. I knew it was never a “no” but I had (and still have!) a lot to work through to be open to loving so soon after my last relationship.

Could I have broken things off to have some more truly unattached time in order to expedite the “getting over my ex” process? I could’ve. (And I did do that for two weeks- LOL at two weeks only.) But ultimately, my desire to get to know this person was greater than that desire to be unattached. I just needed to go very very slow. So I took a lot of space. I preserved my alone time. I drove by myself cross country. I journaled. I got a new therapist. I spent time with loved ones. I tried my best to process. In retrospect, I am so glad our first year wound up being so intentional in this way.

All this to say, the answer to your question is that it depends on the way you are “not over” your ex. Are you not over them because you still want to be with them? Or are you not over them because you’re still experiencing residual grief even though you know you weren’t right together? Or are you not over them because you are still processing what you want to be different next time? Or is it something else?

It’s not often that our emotions about a certain event neatly coincide with when that event finishes. Processing and grief don’t work that way.

So to you, question asker, if you’re feeling turned on (energetically/intellectually/emotionally/physically based on your desires) by this person, you have options! If you want to keep exploring your connection, do it! If you feel like you want to have a conversation and be clearer with them about what you’re really available for, that’s another option! If you think you need some time to be alone and love on yourself as your heart is feeling tender, that is also a beautiful and valid thing to do.

My advice is to sit with yourself in quiet moments and listen to what your body is telling you. (Pro tip-stay on the look out for body responses related to anxiety or attachment defense mechanisms. We’re aiming for a calm, slow, nurturing internal knowing. It is sometimes really quiet.) I encourage you to say something loving to yourself-aloud or in your head- like, “Hi, Love. Whatever information you have for me is welcome and totally okay” and then sort through what you learn after the fact.

This isn’t a binary. You can process one relationship and be excited about another. You can still have love for an ex while loving someone new. It depends on your comfort, your values, what enables you to feel your best, and ultimately just what you want. So figure out what that is. Honor that, and take it from there.

P.S.: There were a few great examples of moving on after a relationship on Friday night’s episode of L Word Gen Q. If you didn’t watch it yet, stop reading! Spoilers ahead!

Sophie pre-Finely-song-dedication was not over Dani in the way that she needed to be in order to move on in my opinion. It seemed like she was still wondering if she and Dani should be together. By the end of the episode it feels like she had gotten more to the place I was referencing from my life story: she’ll probably have some things to work through but she’ll try her best “not to be scared”. Same, Sophie!

On the other hand, Dani seemed more over Sophie but not over the pain the relationship and the leaving caused her. From the beginning of the episode she has seemed ready to move on with Gigi. This doesn’t mean things won’t be difficult, however. I imagine if this were real life, Dani might have to move very slowly and get over some residual trust issues that will probably pop up. But since this is L word and it is completely tossing us around this season, I’m sure she’ll get to it immediately with Gigi and I think she can.

Ariella is a Queer Dating Coach who helps kind, queer folks navigate the dating pool, so they have the courage to go after what they want in dating and in life.

Ariella is a Queer Dating Coach who helps kind, queer folks navigate the dating pool, so they have the courage to go after what they want in dating and in life.