When a rebound relationship isn’t really a rebound

You’ve probably heard of the term “rebound”—a word used to describe getting involved with someone right after the end of the relationship as a means to lessen the pain of the breakup. (What’s up, basketball!) Naturally, rebound relationships aren’t necessarily the healthiest; they don’t actually lessen the pain, but postpone it (and, often, increase it if that rebound relationship doesn’t work out). They also aren’t fair to the person who’s serving as your rebound, as you’re getting that person emotionally invested in you when you’re not in the right state of mind to be truly emotionally invested in them.

Rebounding is the exact reason why many friends and family members are very wary of their loved ones getting into a relationship soon after a breakup for fear of a postponed (and more intense) heartbreak. But I’m going to say something a little controversial here.

I don’t think it’s OK to call someone out if you think they’re rebounding. And I don’t think you should ever let someone tell you when it’s OK to date again. Everyone has their own healing process. And while we’re all trying to look out for our friends, judging their choices after a break-up can lead to a whole lot of hurt feelings.

Let me explain: A little over a year ago, I broke up with my college sweetheart (we’ll call him Guy #1, for the sake of clarity) of three years. That was at the end of October. By the beginning of December, I was casually dating Guy #2, who had been one of my good friends for years; by the end of December, Guy #2 and I were official. And because there were only a few months between my relationships with Guy #1 and Guy #2, people assumed that Guy #2 was my rebound.

But because I was the one doing the breaking up, this wasn’t viewed with concern and pity. Guy #1 was bitter that I had broken up with him after three years and talked badly about me (at one point even suggesting I had been cheating on him with Guy #2); I was shamed for what others deemed to be not only cruelty on my part, but bad decision-making.

Here’s what all of them didn’t see.

For months, I had been debating whether I was happy in my relationship with Guy #1. I wasn’t allowing myself to truly see the reality of the situation—that we needed to break up—but I knew something needed to change. And because I couldn’t accept the cold, hard reality of the situation, I found myself subtly trying to change Guy #1 into the person I needed him to be.

Of course, I wasn’t successful. You can’t change a person if they don’t want to change, nor should you. But breaking up with someone you care about is unbelievably difficult, and it took me months to finally come to terms with what I needed to do—and then, it took me weeks to actually do it, because I need to be 100% sure that it’s the right decision before I can end things for good. The thought of making the wrong decision and causing both of us pain for no real reason made my gut twist, and I needed to be absolutely certain.

By the time I had ended it, I had been grieving the inevitable end of my relationship with Guy #1, one step at a time, for months—without being cognizant of the fact that we were truly, undeniably going to break up.

Breaking up with Guy #1 was truly difficult, as were the resulting couple weeks after, but because of my relationship grieving process, the truly difficult part happens before the breakup. My brain must painstakingly analyze every angle before I can do anything, writing list after list, comparing pros and cons, battling it out. Crying myself to sleep every night, my stomach turning until I almost throw up, laying in bed with no energy to move for days. . . all the while feeling guilty that I may be stringing this person along because of my process, but being too afraid to put them through pain without knowing, in my heart of hearts, that it’s the right thing to do.

After all of this, I’m able to bounce back quickly, because my body is all out of tears. I know I’ve made the right decision by letting this person go. And it feels as though a weight has been lifted off my chest, because although I miss this person and their friendship, I know the end — coming out of this intact and happier than before — will justify the pain.

But people felt the need to judge my decisions based on what they only knew from the outside.

Some come up with formulas, like you’re supposed to wait two or three months for every year you were with that person. Other say that if you were with that person for a significant amount of time, you should wait six months. When people found out I was dating Guy #2, I was defying ALL rules, both for some of my loved ones and for watchful eyes ready to judge. At worst, I was the heartbreaking b*tch who bounces from relationship to relationship, caring not about who she hurts; at best, I was rebounding, dating much too soon without giving myself time to be single.

But all of this was speculation. I knew the truth: That I was ready for a relationship, and I was ready for love. I didn’t see a reason to stay single for societal expectations.

There are rules in place that say you should be single for X amount of time. And whether it’s a loved one telling you they’re worried about you, or an article in some magazine telling you to “reclaim your singledom,” or jerks pretending to be friends but actually judging your every move, it’s possible to face a lot of judgment when you start dating again after a particularly intense breakup.

But none of that matters. There’s only one true rule, a rule I had to learn the hard way: All that matters is that YOU feel ready. You do you, and it’s all going to turn out fine.

[Image via NBC]

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