Past flames haunt love lives

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December 7, 2006

7:09 PM

They seem to be everywhere, hiding and waiting for the right moment to jump up and scare you, just like a bad horror movie. Not aliens, robots or psychotic, homicidal cheerleaders, but ghosts — ghosts of relationships past. We’ve all been, for better or for worse (usually a complicated mix of both), shaped by our romantic and sexual pasts. We carry some of the lessons we’ve learned with us every day, growing up and finding out what we like and in what kinds of relationships we find ourselves comfortable. But sometimes the past jumps out at you when you least expect it, startling you and your current relationship.

p. Ghosts — they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are simply shaped like your exes. Maybe you meet someone who looks or acts like an ex, and you’ve got to deal with that ghost. It’s stupid and shallow, but we’ve all been in that situation where you are less than 100 percent open to a new person because he or she reminds you of an unpleasant past. And they aren’t always former significant others, but former friends, or even that bitch you couldn’t stand in high school English that can create ghosts. Worse than ghosts, I guess, would be if you are still dealing with the actual people and they are continuing to scare you. But, for the sake of this column, we’re going to stick to the ghosts of relationships past.

p. Ghosts can travel in the tiniest forms — little reminders of the most trivial things. A simple nervous habit, like leg-twitching can send you flying back down memory lane to the last time you were on a couch with an important person in your life whose leg always twitched. Larger trivial things, like finding someone new with the same name or the same obsession with the Redskins can also be pretty haunting. You know that it’s superficial, but if it creates a situation in which you can’t shake those memories, the past is clearly interfering with your present and probably with your future.

p. Sometimes, the ghosts are more vague and nameless. Instead of being haunted by a vision of your last love specifically, you can find ghosts appearing in abstract situations. For example, if you disagree about how much time to spend talking to each other on the phone, and a similar subject was a significant cause of fighting in a previous relationship, it can start haunting your current situation, too. On the other hand, ghosts aren’t always bad. If someone reminds you of a previous love, there are obvious reasons that you might fall for them: they possess qualities to which you are attracted. Conversely, they might be warning you of a previous mistake so that you don’t get hurt again.

p. Sometimes it’s not your ghosts, but your partner’s that start haunting you. If your new girlfriend talks about her ex frequently, it can start to feel as if you’ve stumbled into a threesome, and clearly not the hot kind. Ranging from the “still not really over him rage” to the “ex still sitting on a pedestal” stories, there are a lot of things you just don’t want to hear about their past while considering your own future. It’s hard though, because while some people want to put their past — good and bad — behind them, plenty of other people not only want to talk about their past experiences, but they also want to hear about their new partner’s.

p. More often than not, relationship ghosts are large and looming when the pain of a past relationship is still fresh in your mind. Everyone needs different amounts of time to heal and move on, and there’s no sense in trying to fight through the ghosts when they’ve still got you surrounded. That’s partially why it’s important to take some time off between relationships, so that you can clearly draw a line between your past and your present, and sprinkle it with salt or something superstitious so the ghosts can’t cross it.

p. Sure, maybe you’ll never be rid of all your ghosts. You live and you learn, and you’ll always carry memories of things that were important in your life with you, so you can’t expect to live ghost-free.

p. But, what do you do if you’re desperately in need of the Ghostbusters? Traditional methods don’t work as well when the heart is involved. The easy answer is to just live in the moment and ignore your ghosts. But in some ways, that’s also a naive answer, and the truth is that everyone deals with their ghosts in different ways. Acknowledging your past and how it has shaped who you are, without letting it rule your present or your future, is one of those individual pre-requisites to building a new relationship that works.

p. __Kate Prengaman is the Flat Hat sex columnist. She ain’t afraid of no ghost.__

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