I’ve always been hungry for love. But I’m equally terrified of being disappointed. Which is why, in my post-break up agony where I sobbed to my friends that “it hurts, it really, really hurts” and the temptation to find someone, anyone, to make the pain go away is so real, I’ve never acted on it. My friends soothed me, gently advising me to take time out to be alone. Singlehood good, they said. Rebounds, bad.
Four years of singledom later, I wonder if I might have taken things to the extreme. I’m now the one who comforts my weeping friends, reciting the same litany I was fed—be alone for a bit and be kind to yourself. Take this time to figure out who you are and what you want, without a plus one.
I wouldn’t have questioned this stance if not for a conversation I had with a friend about her romantic history. Charlene* has been happily partnered up for three years, but prior to that, she’d been through something like 10 rebounds— almost one for every break-up. In fact, mid-way through the conversation, she blithely said, “I can’t remember the exact number.” She doesn’t hide the fact that the rebounds were purely to help her get over a breakup, and they weren’t guys she would ever seriously date.
Charlene says diving straight back in is easier than having to confront her feelings about a split. “You go out more, dwell less on the past, and feel less depressed,” she says. After the storm passes and the sadness recedes, she cuts her losses. “I tell them that we’re not compatible, and then I end contact,” she adds. These fleeting encounters rarely last more than a month, and she always tells them that she’s fresh out of a relationship.
While not everyone has Charlene’s steely resolve, I was curious as to how big of an advantage a rebound relationship could really be. So, I dug into my friends’ relationship histories to find the answers.
It can teach you to make better choices
After breaking up with her abusive boyfriend Peter of three years, a heartbroken Gina jumped straight into another relationship with Charles – a colleague who had been pursuing her for months, and Peter’s polar opposite. Where Peter had been an aggressive go-getter, Charles was unambitious and indecisive. . “He was gentle, mild-mannered, and I knew he would never hit me. Looking back, I was holding him to such a low standard,” she says. The relationship lasted just seven months (he eventually left her for someone else), but the clarity she gained had far more lasting effects.
Gina was tired of just settling. “After these two terrible relationships back to back, I realised I should take a good look at what happened,” she added. Her friends rallied around her, and she went on a six-month relationship ban. Over this period, Gina came to some realisations about herself and what she wanted out of a relationship – especially when she realised a new relationship wasn’t always a salve for old wounds. “I saw that I was perfectly capable of being single and happy, and I would rather be alone, than in a bad relationship.” During her dating hiatus, she met a guy who would eventually become her boyfriend – but instead of jumping right in, she held off and told him to wait till the six months was up. He did, and they’ve been together ever since.
Gina’s experience went totally against what I’d been told about rebounds being emotionally damaging danger zones we should stay away from. She might not have been discerning when it came to the men she dated, but a rebound relationship – and the second bad one in a row – had been just the shock treatment she needed to pull herself out of a bad place.
Similarly, Jenny rebounded with a colleague after her ex-boyfriend cheated on her while she was travelling for work. Mark was extroverted, a heavy drinker and into the nightlife scene. “In comparison, I had only been clubbing three times before I met him,” she said. “Then, I thought that as long as two parties enjoy each other’s company, that’s enough for a relationship.” After a two-week holiday together where Mark was hitting the clubs every night, Jenny realised that their lifestyles were just too different, and they broke up.
It hit Jenny then, that there was a pattern to her behaviour—that she had always been in a relationship, and as a result of that, the other relationships in her life had suffered. “After that rebound, I finally had time for myself,” she said. “I used to think that I needed to spend all my time with my partner – I saw that I had been neglecting my friends and family. I had to experience the rebound to see this for myself.” She spent a year working on rebuilding these relationships, before entering the dating scene again.