Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 1–Moving On?

Disclaimer: This is something I actually started writing quite some time ago (the date in my journal is a month ago to the day). This topic grew and unfolded in many different directions from the original inspiration as I started putting it on the page. Due to this prodigious growth, I’m going to break this up into pieces, trying to focus each post on different aspects of this topic that I want to discuss. The first piece is about rebounds, primarily, having recently gone through a breakup and seeing people’s ideas and reactions about moving on. Sometimes they are geared toward grabbing the next person who comes along. This will be discussed alongside a discussion of our conceptualizations of romantic love and all the hidden issues that lie in those unanalyzed concepts. I aim to present a more mindful approach to yourself and Love in these posts.


A common maxim proclaims that there is no better way to get over the last than by getting under the next. Yet, what is the draw of a rebound? Why is it both a sought remedy and a denigrated followup to a broken heart?

Heartbreak challenges our ideas of ourselves and our world. Suddenly, a shared companion in the adventures of life, in your perspective, and in your memories is gone. There’s a hole. This absence is almost palpable, like an aching scar after a piece of oneself has been removed. Everything–and I mean almost every moment–makes it ache. You yearn for the ache to subside, and the easiest way is to cover up that hole–that lack, that ache–with something else, or in this case, someone else.

Furthermore, this pain is the loss of an entire way of life, a path into a now lost future. Where there once was a “we”, there is now just an “I”. Now, you are left alone with a broken idea of partnership, with that of a feeling incomplete, again as though a part of your identity had been removed, as though part of your story had been cut off. Is this identity crisis and this idea of love/partnership so painful that we must rush to find that completion elsewhere, even if only temporarily, until the edge has worn off?

I think that there is something to be said for being present to the pain of this loss–facing it head on. Covering it over with someone else is a band-aid, a denial of the pain of this moment. Psychological research speaks of the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Moving on to someone else right away may seem like acceptance, a quickening of the grieving process, but it’s really a refusal to look back and feel. It’s a denial of the old loss through the replacement of a new gain. Perhaps, it’s no surprise that from my experience, rebounders act either as though their previous relationship never existed, or they are still tied up in knots about it and can’t stop talking about it if they start.

Under all of this discussed so far is the problem of identity (as I’ve previously pointed at our personal story in the experience). If you observe the way people talk about romantic love and how they seek it, it’s primarily about ego identity. A narrative of completion of one’s self in the Other lies at the core of so much talk about “Love” (here capitalized to emphasize our concept of it: Love as an idea, a placeholder of sorts while we investigate, and of course, we mean romantic love). We look for salvation, completion, rescue, and an ultimate, intimate connection–a holy communion– with the Other in Love. As such, Aristophanes’ depiction of Love as finding your other half to realize an original but now lost wholeness is so familiar. It’s human, all too human. From this familiar notion, Love is approached often as a communal “I” (We as one) or as another person who completes “me”, who fulfills many aspects of who “I am” and makes me whole. The continuation of the search and the desire for completion in the other is a bolstering of the story of “me”, the drama of ego. There’s a search here for certainty when life shows its uncertain, dynamic, unfolding nature–a sacred chaos of emergence. We seek an “I am” here in the arms of another, and this is completely understandable given the expression of the experience of loss that I have shared here. However, the confusion in this is that these experiences of pain and loss reflect on an underlying truth about my “self”: the dynamics of change are taken as a threat to my “self” as some set entity, when they are in fact, an expression of it–an unfolding, a time-being. The confusion is precisely around this idea of lacking something, no matter how much pain and desire for things to be otherwise may make it feel that way. The search for love as completion of myself with my “other half” is often denigrated, with the response: “I am already a whole person”. However, this duality of whole vs. incomplete merely continues the problem of ego. “I” am neither “whole” nor “incomplete” in their standard senses of needing or not needing more to be something. I already am sacred and luminous, neither “whole” in the sense of “perfect” or “incomplete” in the sense of “lacking something”. I am whole and perfect in the sense that I am precisely what I am in this moment, a particular configuration of conditions with the possibility of awareness and present, active compassion, yet this is always going to be pulled and covered over to some extent by my desire to not feel pain, to not suffer, to cover over that which I don’t want to face. As such, there is great value in standing present for the pain of losing a partner; it could be a moment for us to experience being awake to our lives as they are and acting from that open, tender place: a love which is not about my story, my self-bolstering, or my gratification–an active feeling and giving rather than the receptive filling of a lack. There’s no need for a rebound if you can be present to your own life as it is: not as you think it should be in your idealized concepts of yourself, Love, and what you “want”. Ultimately, this is about your relationship with yourself. Are you ready to look at that and question everything you take for granted? Are you ready to mindfully show up to your feelings and bring that into your next partnership, with whomever that may be? This is an invitation to actively embracing as I-You rather than the separation of I-It. You have the chance to gratefully feel the ebb and flow of your “self” with the beating of an open heart, but this requires the courage of staying present to those feelings and not running from them into an idea of completion and gratification: running into desire for pleasure rather than the love of your life, your fate, your world.

“We want to be perfect, but we just keep seeing our imperfections, and there is no room to get away from that, no exit, nowhere to run. That is when this sword turns into a flower. We stick with what we see, we feel what we feel, and from that we begin to connect with our own wisdom mind.

Without the maras, would the Buddha have awakened? Would he have attained enlightenment without them? Weren’t they his best friends ,since they showed him who he was and what was true? All the maras point the way to being completely awake and alive by letting go, by letting ourselves die moment after moment, at the end of each out-breath. When we wake up, we can live fully without seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, without re-creating ourselves when we fall apart. We can let ourselves feel our emotions as hot or cold, vibrating or smooth, instead of using our emotions to keep ourselves ignorant and dumb. We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a fully human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life.

Looking at the arrows and swords, and how we react to them, we can always return to basic wisdom mind. Rather than trying to get rid of something or buying into a dualistic sense of being attacked, we take the opportunity to see how we close down when we’re squeezed. This is how we open our hearts. It is how we awaken our intelligence and connect with fundamental buddha nature.” – Pema Chödrön, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”, p. 72.

It doesn’t need to be this way unless you keep playing a game that you are constantly trying to win.

Mundane Inspiration – The Words of House Martell

As I’ve struggled in recent months with the emotional upheavals that life bears in greater transitions, I’ve found solace and inspiration from myriad sources. One unlikely candidate that has been uplifting for me has come directly from the Song of Ice and Fire Series. Some of you may be familiar with this series of fantasy novels. Many would be more familiar with the TV show based on these books: “A Game of Thrones”. In any case, the various noble houses in the series each have their own family motto of sorts, their “words”. The rulers of the desert lands in the far south of the Seven Kingdoms, House Martell, have the words:

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

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The Sunspear Sigil with House Martell’s Words

The words accompany the house’s sigil: The Sunspear. A symbol that radiates a determined strength and fullness. The sun shines out, and not only will he not be bowed, bent, or broken, he will overcome all obstacles with the sharp point of that radiant spear.

I do not offer this imagery and these words as some sort of call to violence or rage. Rather, if you are going through hard times, and I see so many going through their own heartbreaking transitions right now, you can resolve yourself to be unbowed, unbent, and unbroken. You are a warrior in the sense that you can discover your own strength, dignity, and basic goodness, no matter how difficult life may be.

Remember: you cannot control the events of the world, the myriad unfoldings of the universe, or the trials and tribulations of your fate. However, you can control how you react to them. So, stand tall. Shine. Resolve yourself to face them, not run away from them. Smile upon them with that glowing strength, and you may just find that you can bear so much more than you ever thought possible.