Rebound Relationships: Are They Really Such a Bad Idea?

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Conventional wisdom says that you should take time out to process a breakup before you start a new romance – but can rebound relationships actually work for some people?

When she was 27, Auckland lawyer Katie* had a huge crush on Stu, her colleague’s charismatic friend. When they drunkenly kissed one night, she was giddy to find out that Stu felt the same. “Well, I could sense that he maybe didn’t feel quite as strongly as I did,” Katie says, “but he said he liked me and wanted to see what could happen between us”.

They were together for just shy of a year. “Then he dumped me, by text message, on my BIRTHDAY, because he didn’t want to fake it at my party. So kind of him! I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was going great. I felt like the biggest idiot – I’d just bought some sexy lingerie, FFS – and I cancelled my party and cried for a day straight.”

Katie had zero plans to try to meet someone else anytime soon. “My mum and my best friend told me I needed some time to be single to process everything – and I thought the same.” But, a week later, Katie got dragged along to a friend’s party and talked to the guy sitting near her, James. “We spent a few nights together. I liked him, but at the start it was a fling to prove to myself, to other people and to Stu, if he heard about it, that I was less heartbroken than I actually was.

Nine years later, Katie and James are married with children. “It’s funny how everyone was initially like ‘Oh, no, it’s too soon, rebound relationships don’t work out. But actually, the ‘rebound’ helped me see I’d been going for the wrong sort of guy, and that I deserved to be treated well by someone smart, grounded and emotionally mature.” James knew about her heartbreak, but he was okay with the situation as long as their own relationship was moving forward.

A ‘rebound’?

As therapist Micaela Stein puts it, “a rebound relationship is defined by being in a relationship based on a reaction to a previous relationship, where one or both members are still contending with issues raised by the past breakup”.

“A rebound is often brief, and can be emotionally confusing, as members can be unsure of what they want and are still heavily emotionally engaged with the past. Most people find themselves in rebound relationships unconsciously, but sometimes it is very intentional.”

So, for instance, you might want to distract yourself, or want to help yourself forget your ex, or want to have someone there for you emotionally, or want to remind yourself you’re still a catch. Is there ever a good reason?

Well, we’ve all heard the conventional wisdom – whether that’s passed down by our mother, or via the definitive guide to knowledge that is Cosmo magazine – warning us against rebound relationships. Take your time to get over your ex and process your feelings before you start a new romance, we’re told. Don’t rush into anything new. And, logically, that makes sense. Plus you might not want to subject someone to being ‘just a rebound’ if you’re still hung up on someone else – and if the ‘rebound person’ could develop feelings for you. So many people take that time out for good reasons. And to be clear, being single can be a great thing.

Good or bad?

“Rebound relationships” have a terrible reputation,” writes Faith Hill in a story for The Atlantic called ‘Rebound Relationships Are Totally Fine’.

“A romance ignited shortly after another ends seems chaotic – like an opportunistic ricochet rather than an intentional search for compatibility,” she writes. “After a breakup, people are commonly told to take their time grieving before they start dating again. And people dating someone who’s fresh off a breakup are told to be wary – of being used as a distraction, or being treated carelessly by someone fumbling through their own heartache. But research doesn’t seem to support the idea that rebound relationships are inherently toxic or doomed to fail.”

One study called ‘Too Fast, Too Soon?’ looked at participants recovering from breakups. Those who had found a new partner were more confident in their own desirability, more trusting of other people, and less likely to say that they still had feelings for their ex. Another study examined ‘rebounders’ who’d been in their new relationships for a year-and-a-half on average. The quicker those subjects had jumped into that rebound, the higher they rated on measures of well-being and self-esteem.

And is that really such a crazy idea? If getting over someone can happen at the same time as getting to care for someone else, then why not? Entering a new relationship can help you emotionally detach from the previous relationship. The word ‘rebound’ means the act of resilience or recovery – and bouncing on that particular trampoline may lead to something unexpected.

When I asked around, many women told me they’d had rebound relationships that had worked out. That had passed the ‘rebound stage’ and evolved into serious, long-standing romantic relationships.

Marketing manager Amanda* and her on-and-off boyfriend of four years split 12 years ago, at his request. She was in no hurry for a new relationship. “A fortnight after the breakup, I had what was meant to be just a rebound fling – and we’ve now been married ten years! Hilariously, my ex got together with his now-wife on the same day, and we joked that we ‘fixed’ each other – we were at uni so we definitely did some growing up together that set us up well to move on, and are still friends.” Staying friends, however, isn’t always possible or advisable – usually it’s much healthier to completely break ties. The person you rebound to will probably prefer that, too.

Of course, rebound relationships aren’t for everyone. If you’re hoping to get back together with your ex, don’t involve someone else. If you’re still spending half your day crying, ditto. But if, for instance, you’re still thinking about your ex a fair bit, but know the break-up was necessary, don’t rule out a rebound. However, do clue in the new person. You could say, for instance, that you’re still hurting but you’re working through that process and excited to see where this new relationship might go. Once the other person has all the requisite information about how you feel, it’s their choice.

And who knows: you might, like Katie, end up falling in love.

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