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.
You might meet the love of your life
So I had gone from thinking “rebounds are bad” to “rebounds are bad but you can still learn something from them”. But two women’s stories pushed this even further, when I heard how their bounceback guys ended up becoming Prince Charming. The idealist in me loved the idea, but the realist saw it as a mere stroke of luck. Were the fates just on their side? After speaking with them, I realised that there was a method behind the madness.
Belinda started dating her current boyfriend just two weeks after she broke up with her ex of four years. In the aftermath, she admitted trying to fill the emptiness by reconnecting with other people. James* was a casual friend from university who was based in India, whom she had lost touch with. As it turned out, he too was recovering from a breakup. After two weeks of confiding in and supporting each other, the pair realised their connection was more than just a platonic one.
James was the one who first broached the subject, telling her that he had feelings for her, calling her pet names, and wanting to know where he stood with her. “He was very serious about his intentions, saying straight up that he liked me, that he wanted to come to Singapore to meet me, and see where things went,” says Belinda. Her friends were alarmed at how fast things were developing, and warned Belinda that this was probably a rebound on both ends. But Belinda was willing to take a chance on James. “This man was there for me emotionally, so why not put myself out there? How long can I be sad for?”, she says. The gamble paid off – the pair have been together for three years. They are still in a long-distance relationship but are working towards living in the same country, and eventually getting hitched.
This idea of seizing opportunities was also what motivated Sarah to date her current boyfriend of two years, Michael, just a month after a previous relationship fell apart. She had fully intended to stay single, but a drunken encounter with Michael changed that. While she dismissed it as a one-off, he didn’t. “Michael was very persistent,” recalls Sarah. “I decided to give it a go because we had been friends for a year and I knew he was a great guy. I figured that if I waited to get over my ex, what if Michael and I miss this chance?”
I admired how Belinda and Sarah both didn’t believe that there was a ‘right’ time to start dating again. Instead of seeing a rebound as a possibility for failure, they chose to see it as a second chance at finding happiness. It might have come sooner than expected, but hey, no one’s complaining.
You’ll be happier and attuned to your feelings
To be fair, Sarah and Belinda’s positive experiences with rebounds came down to choosing men who were respectful and willing to cope with their post-breakup blues. But clinical psychologist Vanessa von Auer, of VA Psychology Centre, says there are legit reasons why rebounds can be good for you. “They can be a source of hope, happiness, much needed fun and increased self-esteem, especially if you go into the relationship with open eyes and no agenda,” she says.
But it does require work. In Sarah’s case, being honest with Michael about how she was still grappling with her feelings helped. “Of course I had concerns – I didn’t want people thinking I cheated on my ex, and I was scared that my feelings for Michael were not real,” she explains. “What helped was that I was always open with my boyfriend. You can’t lie to yourself that you’re okay when you’re not.”
She also made no secret of the fact that she had feelings for both men – residual sentiment for the past relationship and burgeoning affection for the new one. She even told Michael that she was still texting her ex. That meant Michael was able to go into the relationship with his eyes open. Because of her communication and Michael’s patience, Sarah’s feelings for her ex faded and the pair are still going strong today.
It reminds you that there’s always a chance to find love
But be prepared – not all rebounds will end in a happy ending. Kenneth Oh, relationship coach with Executive Coach International, has a more measured perspective. “There’s no right way to distract yourself,” he points out, explaining that some people choose instead to throw themselves into work, or go on an extended holiday. All distractions have their pros and cons. “Understand what you’re getting yourself into with your decision. If that’s a rebound, you accept that it might work out, or there might be risks.” It would be overly simplistic to classify a rebound as “good” or “bad” – it all comes down to what you choose to make of the experience.
All things considered, my perspective has been rejigged. It’s not to say that I’d be immediately looking to nab a man the next time a relationship fails, but I can confidently say that a rebound relationship’s definitely something I could be down with.
*All names in this story have been changed
This story was first published in the June 2018 issue of Her World magazine.