Breakups suck for so many reasons, and one big one is the seemingly never-ending grief that accompanies a long-term relationship’s fall. Did you waste time? Should you have ended things earlier? Will you ever feel about someone else the way you did about your ex when things were good? Quickly you find that you actually can—and you do. This new person is funny, smart, and attractive, into you—and you’re finally happy again.
But wait. Are those butterflies in your stomach authentic, or might you just be using this new person to get over your ex? It’s not bad or abnormal or uncommon to crave companionship in the wake of an intense breakup, but it is key to be honest with yourself about the details of your feelings—both for your own sake and to respect the other person involved. Because it’s tricky to decipher whether you have real feelings or if this is more of a rebound situation, relationship pros are here to provide tips and decode telltale signs.
Have you gone from “I think they’re attractive” to jumping into a relationship in the span of only a few short weeks? That’s a sign that you’re probably not actually ready to move on from your last love. “With our main security system gone, we’re prone to reach out to someone—anyone—to fill the void,” says relationship expert Susan Winter. “But too hot, too soon is a classic sign of a rebound.”
“Too hot, too soon is a classic sign of a rebound.” —Susan Winter, relationship expert
Since you have a new need to be with pretty much anyone, you’re apt to rush into things by falling for the first person who’s available.
“One thing that happens often with my clients after a breakup is they reach out to someone who they know would want to date them if they were single,” says psychotherapist and director of Tribeca Therapy Matt Lundquist, LCSW. “In this case, it’s a self-esteem boost and a guaranteed shot that the person will find you attractive, which makes sense because our society doesn’t allow us enough time to grieve. Even our closest friends say things like, ‘It’s been six weeks, you should get over this,’ without understanding that there’s really no time period on things like these.”
It’s natural to want to spend time with others who gas you up, especially if your ego is a bit bruised from the fallout of your last relationship. But unless you also had feelings for this person in your life before or during your relationship, pursuing a romance with them likely a means of regaining self-confidence.
Maybe you even realize you don’t like the person. If you’re with someone new but can’t pinpoint exactly why you like them, all signs point to rebounding. “A lot of my clients fall for people who their friends might say aren’t good for them,” says Lundquist. And even if this is clear to the person, subconsciously or otherwise, it’s common to fight those authentic feelings in favor of preserving the faux security this futureless new relationship provides, he adds. A good rule of thumb is that if you really don’t know a person and can’t be bothered to find out more, you’re rebounding.
As much as you try to be okay, the thought of your ex still drudges up uncomfortable feelings that you’re likely not ready to handle. “If you think of your ex as in the past, and refuse to even, say, talk about them in therapy or to your friends because you consider that part of your life completely over, then that’s worrisome to me,” says Lundquist. While you obviously don’t want to be pining for your ex your entire life, understanding that your old relationship is something you can learn from is vital for success in subsequent romances.
“You know you’re truly over your ex when you can speak about them dispassionately, and relay the events [of your breakup] as facts.” —Winter
“You know you’re truly over your ex when you can speak about them dispassionately, and relay the events as facts,” Winter says. “The retelling of your relationship ending will carry no emotional charge, and will simply be ‘information.’” Feeling hurt or angry suggests you still have some work to do before you move on.
Say you tend to go for partners who are super into health and wellness, but with your new beau, you’re fine ordering in pizza every night. Seeking an opposite of your ex can span every trait and interest, including lifestyle habits, physicality, personality, and beyond. And leaning toward someone who feels opposite can be a form of escapism from breakup grief—and a sign you’re not ready to move on. Subconsciously, you’re trying to get rid of the breakup pain, and you think you’ll be able to do so by finding someone different.
If this is the case, try to take the time to focus on you and what you really want right now. And if that’s a fling, go right ahead and do your thing—just be honest with yourself, and the new person, about your headspace and feelings.
All rough experiences, including breakups, have silver linings. Here’s how ending a romantic relationship helped one writer improve her bond with her dad. And if you need some pumping up and help moving on, listen to the ultimate breakup playlist.