“Ask a Priest: What If I Pine for an Ex-boyfriend?”

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Q: I was in a one-year-and-nine-month relationship. We broke up, and I went straight into another relationship. This relationship has been going on for three months. In the first relationship I felt love, but we had our differences. In this new relationship we have little to no differences, but I don’t feel love. He loves me, but I don’t love him as much back. I would like to know what I should do. Should I wait it out and see if I feel love? Or should I become single and see if it would work out with the first guy? -A.H.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is hard to offer advice, since there are few details to go on. But perhaps a few observations could be helpful.

In any relationship it can be helpful for a young woman to ask herself two questions:

1) Could you be happy with X for the rest of your life if he doesn’t change much? Could you be happy with this man, as he is, for the next five, 10, 40, 50 years? This is a key question, since more than a few women have mistakenly believed they could “change” a man after marriage.

2) Could you see X as the father of your children? Would you want your children to have the same values as X? Of course, children are unique and have their own personalities, but dad can impact them profoundly.

Another question might help too. What do you mean by “love”? Real love involves self-giving, sacrifice — in a word, the cross. Love is not feelings. Counselors who work a lot with married couples say that the romantic feelings that newlyweds experience will last, at best, two years. And sometimes those feelings fade a lot faster. This is not to say a spouse married the wrong person. Rather, it’s just that solid marriages require hard work and selflessness — they aren’t built on feelings, which can be all too ephemeral.

You might want to be careful to avoid playing one person off another. Judging by the timing, it seems that this second relationship was a kind of reaction to the breakup of the first. Now you ask whether you should leave the second relationship in order to salvage the first. Here, you want to be careful not to play around with the sensitivities of your second friend, especially since he has expressed love for you.

Perhaps it would be good to focus more on the most important man of your life: Jesus. You might do well to intensify your prayer life and sacramental life, and to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. (For ideas on prayer, see the vocation.com offerings.) Possibly a retreat would be helpful too, with guidance from a spiritual director (you might look at the retreats available here). Ultimately the best relationships are the ones with Christ in the middle.

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