We all know that one couple, the one who breaks up and gets back together more often than Lindsay Lohan appears in court. As soon as “Jack and Sally are no longer in a relationship” on Facebook, you can expect a tearful call from Sally, who rattles off all the reasons she regrets ever talking to Jack in the first place. Of course, instead of agreeing with Sally and adding that you “never really liked having Jack around, anyway,” (which is admittedly true — he’s kind of a jerk) you quietly console her with an unlimited supply of tissues and chocolate, knowing that history will repeat itself in a week.
You don’t want to judge Sally — she is human, after all, and she is your friend — but you don’t know how much more of this you can stand to watch. Jack has been a condescending jerk from the very beginning, undermining Sally even in front of her friends, and you can’t see things ending well. As Sally finally vows to move on to someone who treats her better, Jack shows up with his heartfelt apology and plans to to fix the already-broken relationship… and of course, Sally falls right back into his arms.
Everyone thinks Sally is making a mistake, and occasionally someone in your group will tell her so, but Sally shakes her head. “Our relationship is complicated,” she explains, “but we fight so much because we love each other.” It’s possible she sees herself as one half of an adversarial love story like Pride and Prejudice, or perhaps she feels that they are fighting for a relationship with some deeper meaning, but she and Jack try to justify their constant on/off status as the sign of something special. It doesn’t matter what their friends say; the two may not be end-game material, but they will have difficulty letting go of one another.
In a way, Jack and Sally are like the Ronnie and Sammi of your reality world — they can never seem to make it work, but they “love each other” too much to permanently let it go. We all know a Jack and a Sally — hell, each of us has been one or both of them at one point or another — but the phenomenon never stops happening. Often, when people are in these relationships, they mistake their constant struggles with the ideals of fighting for the one they love. After all, isn’t that how all the romantic comedies go?
Of course, we should never pull “real life experience” from a cliche movie genre (as much of a guilty pleasure as it may be), but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t guilty of this. Sometimes, we want so badly for things to be real that we will use whatever we can to justify our irrational thoughts and decisions. We think that if ours is the epic love story that everyone yearns for, we can feel confident in our decisions to crawl back to the exes who broke our hearts, even if that means that maybe they might have been stringing us along the whole time.
My theory, which has been bolstered by both first- and secondhand experience over the years, is that getting back together with an ex is never a good idea (exception to the rule: the reason you initially broke up was for long-distance issues). If things weren’t working out before, they will probably not work out in the future. This has always been my rule. And yes, I have broken this rule in the past (aren’t we all prone to breaking our own rules once in a blue moon?), only to be reminded of the reason that the rule was created in the first place.
I think that often we return to our exes for a few reasons. One: It’s easy to fall into comfortable patterns. We know the person well already, so if we can convince ourselves that both parties have grown in the other’s absence, then we can hope to pick up where we left off. This makes things a lot easier on us; we don’t have to let anyone new into our lives, and we can pull from a larger pool of memories with the person we have returned to.
Two: The storm always seems lighter when it is long gone. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget all of the struggles of a rocky relationship once it’s over. The analogy reminds me of how we remember the deceased. After someone we loves passes away, we don’t sit around and talk about all of their negative qualities and the not-so-pleasant encounters we had with them. Instead, we reminisce about that person at his or her best. Likewise, we tend to idealize past relationships in such a way, remembering the picture-perfect highlights and blocking out the uncertainty and the fights. We long for another chance with that special someone, knowing that if we just changed a few things around, we could make it last.
However, this is where I reveal the ugly truth to everyone: if a relationship didn’t work out in the past, it won’t work out in the future. Chances are, you are not the exception to the rule. This doesn’t mean that a strong relationship won’t take some work or won’t involve the occasional argument, but if you spend more time arguing and debating going on a break than having fun together and finding ways to compromise, you should not be in a relationship with that person. In other words, yours is not the epic love story you think it is. The sooner you realize that you deserve stability and happiness, the sooner you will find it.