Rethinking the Rebound
I am very glad that specific apps do not have unique notification sounds. I’m glad that as my phone dinged out what I knew to be the sounds of about 7 new Tinder notifications, my classmates were under the impression that I was receiving a lot of texts, or maybe that I had just posted a very popular tweet.
After silencing my phone, I wondered why I felt so embarrassed. I wondered why the little red bubble displaying the number “56” above the Tinder logo began to feel so lonely. I realized that I no longer felt super about talking to 10+ tinder guys at once, let alone the handful of “real-life” boys I’d been texting.
So yesterday I deleted the app. I finally graduated from a relatively plentiful season of rebounding. I’ve never been one to rebound in the past, but after an emotionally arduous breakup I can see why it’s such a popular habit, particularly when apps like Tinder make it so easy. Still, for some reason, it grosses me out. Rebounding is quite common, but the more I explore the concept, the more it makes my skin crawl. The more I consider it, the more desperate I am to be comfortably single.
There are lots of reasons people rebound - to stabilize their life, to ease their vulnerability, to latch onto somebody for help through the grieving process. My therapist says that wanting to rebound is normal. But in my opinion, satisfying that want can be counterproductive; the more one turns to new partners in the wake of a breakup, the less they are able to feel fulfilled on their own.
It’s easy to find oneself desperately on-the-market post-breakup. I was happy when I was in love. I am unhappy now. The answer seems obvious: fall in love again. But I’ve come to learn that this thinking is short-sighted - taking time to process emotions, mistakes, and expectations is vital in the healing process.
Even worse, by frantically rebounding, you teach your psyche that happiness can be equated to a romantic partner. Time spent single devolves into time spent searching for someone new to complete you.
I recently found myself doing just this. I spent my time wondering who would come next, swiping through possible suitors. But I eventually realized that any relationship born out of this desperation would be unfulfilling, cultivated through a false belief that a single person can pacify pain. I knew that the next step in this process would be to become bitter and resentful when someone failed to make me feel good again. I’d blame the other person, go through a hurtful breakup, and set off on yet another search for happiness in the form of a human. I have seen it happen before.
By rebounding in an effort to feel better, you shove the responsibility of your own well-being onto somebody else. The reality is, it isn’t their fault for not fulfilling you. It’s yours for thinking that they were going to make you feel better in the first place.
However it’s impossible to see this pattern through the dust storm of constant relationships and breakups, particularly when you’re afraid of emotional alone-time.
Until then, it’ll be easy to hate your exes for not making you feel whole. It’s easy to see an ideal partner not as someone who you love and care for and collaborate with, but instead, as the equivalent of a human sized puzzle piece. When you equate people with happiness, you expect your partner to adequately fill all gaps, rescue you from an innate incompleteness, save you from your inherent human misery.
Of course, we all kind of want that deep down. We all have gaps inside us, and we spend life trying to fill them, but convincing ourselves that they are human sized, rather than goal sized, passion sized, or self-sized will only serve to leave them empty. The assumption that a person is just a piece of your puzzle disrespects their vast and unique personhood, as deep and complicated as yours.
That’s what is particularly striking to me about jumping into a relationship to ease the pain of a breakup - it is, on a very basic level, lacking in empathy. It requires the belief that people exist for you, whether that's to hurt you or make you feel whole again.
When we do this, we shrug off all emotional responsibility and disregard that we’re engaging with another human being entirely - one who doesn't have the capability of resolving our pain or filling our emptiness. Lob that responsibility onto a relationship and congratulations, you've successfully made it codependent and assured eventual mutual resentment.
If you were unhappy prior to your relationship, then only temporarily appeased by the relationship, and now unhappy after it’s ended, maybe the emptiness has nothing to do with your partners. Maybe the key to happiness does not lie in someone else but rather in your own self-perception and worldview. And how can one possibly cultivate that while focussed on another person, or at least the pursuit of one?
If you're dissatisfied with life, particularly after a break up, and your solution takes form of another human, you're fooling yourself. I definitely was. But it isn't that easy, no matter how badly we wish it were.
It is that mirage of ease that draws us to this cycle. It's the same reason people associate happiness with monetary success, with new cars and expensive watches. Acquiring a car or a watch or a partner is far easier than approaching your happiness with a sense of personal responsibility.
But you can't treat people like cars or watches, and more importantly, you can't treat any of these things like one-stop cures to misery or boredom. We are active participants in our own happiness, not solely victims of our circumstances.
Don’t be the toddler who tries to complete his puzzle first by smashing other kids' puzzle pieces into the places he can't figure out. Don’t display your poorly-completed puzzle like a trophy as if speed is more important than doing it the right way (so, don’t force that guy you’re kind of dating to be your facebook boyfriend just to rub it in everyone’s faces).
I’m not saying that everyone must wait some designated amount of time before dating after a breakup (that is very much up to you), nor am I saying people should be celibate until they fall in love again (have your fun, the single life has its advantages). But if you find yourself aggressively on the market - going on dates with people out of desperation rather than genuine interest, purposefully lowering standards, or downloading every dating app available in desperation to find someone new - you may want to take a step back and ask yourself why you’re doing this.
I for one, am choosing to work on my own puzzle for a while, and I encourage you to do the same. Find your missing pieces in their real hiding spots - not new boyfriends but rather your interests, passions, and accomplishments, your favorite places, your hobbies and your art.
Plus, tinder takes up a lot of iOS storage space, and I’m trying to free some up for that new miitomo app.