Dater X: The Ghosts Of Exes Past

Everything went swimmingly on date number two with Officer Handsoming. In fact, it was perfect. Much to my delight, he did not morph into a stage-five clinger, ask my breast size or give me any indication that we will ever end up on an episode of “Dateline.”

Instead, he took me to a new wine and burger bar (knowing that I’m a sucker for Cabernet Sauvignon and red meat), opened doors and listened intently as we chatted. Time flew by while we talked about the movies that make us cry (“The Family Stone” and “The Green Mile” for me, and “Remember Me,” for him), what it was like growing up with divorced parents, and how much we both love Jennifer Lawrence, because, honestly, who doesn’t? We continued the date back at my place, where we rented a movie, got under the covers and rounded first base like naughty teenagers. And when we finally stopped sucking face, I wore my newfound beard burn like a badge of honor.

“I really like you,” he told me. “I’m already looking forward to next time.”

I feel the same way, but from the moment Officer Handsoming left, I’ve been plagued by thoughts of my ex-boyfriends. I’ve found memories rushing back to me at random moments — the night Patrick Bateman told me he loved me for the first time; he whispered it in my ear when he thought I was sleeping and the time I wore sexy lingerie for Don, surprising him at his house in nothing but a trench coat with a red corset underneath. I was flooded with images of my two-year anniversary with my high school boyfriend, Pete, who lit my room full of candles, put on a tux and whirled me around in circles singing “Fly Me To The Moon.” I’ve also found myself nauseous, thinking over and over about the gut-wrenching moment I discovered Patrick Bateman was seeing someone else.

I know it’s normal to think about past relationships, but I hate that I can’t stop thinking about the men of my past when I’ve finally met someone I like. It’s unnerving and exhausting.

For five consecutive nights now, I’ve had vivid dreams about Patrick Bateman. Mainly, they involve him returning to me after we’ve already broken up. He tries to win me back with charm, apologies and promises of a happy ending, and, despite my hesitation, he usually succeeds. I spend the rest of the dream in love, but worrying that I’m being lied to/cheated on/headed for disaster, all the while trying to persuade my parents that Patrick Bateman is worthy of my affection again. And sometimes, there’s sex.

In last night’s dream, Patrick Bateman came over to my dad’s house, where he tried to convince me to have a quickie in the bathroom, despite the fact that my parents still hate him and he knows I would never do that in my dad’s house because getting caught would be a death sentence (not literally… but maybe). I found myself longing for him in the dream, wanting to be with him sexually, but pulling away from him emotionally, knowing that it would end with me being brokenhearted. Dream Me wondered if I wanted Patrick Bateman back again because he was familiar and comfortable, or if I wanted him back because I still love him underneath all that anger. I woke up sweating.

In an effort to go on with my day and forget about Patrick Bateman, I got up to shower and brush my teeth. The water washing over me sparked a memory of one time we made love in the shower, collapsing on the floor when we were done, just a tangled heap of wet skin. I stood there thinking about how natural it felt and reliving that moment, before I snapped out of my trance and forced myself to think about what Officer Handsoming and I could do on our next date this week.

But that didn’t work. On the way to the office, I spilled hot coffee on my hand, which left me with a small, irritated burn on my right ring finger; the exact spot where a pearl and diamond ring sat loyally every day for almost two years. At one point, I considered that ring a placeholder for the ring that would eventually occupy the same finger on my other hand— the engagement ring that Patrick Bateman and I picked out together before I discovered his lies.

My former therapist used to tell me that dreams about exes are a “totally normal” way to cope with my fears of being hurt again, and that I should see it as my body’s natural healing mechanism. But this so-called “healing mechanism” feels like anything but. In fact, I’ve been feeling weirdly guilty about hanging out with Officer Handsoming when all I can think about are my exes. It’s like I’m cheating on him before we’ve even begun. I know I’m interested in Officer Handsoming, attracted to him, and want to see where things go, but I feel like with all these haunting thoughts, I’m having trouble being present.

If I were going to “shrink” myself, which I’ve become very good at since I stopped actually seeing my therapist, I’d say that on the surface, my dreams would seem to suggest that I miss my exes. But that’s not it exactly. I realize that the timing of these dreams and their correspondence with my budding romance with Officer Handsoming might actually suggest that I see the potential to fall for him, just as I did with the others, and that is what’s terrifying me. With all the other duds I dated, I never really had to confront that fear because I never took them seriously. Meeting Officer Handsoming has forced me to deal. Dreaming of sex with Patrick Bateman doesn’t mean I miss him. More likely, it’s a sign that I long for intimacy, but not just with anybody. I need to find someone who I respect, who my family respects, and who respects me, in order for it to be meaningful and fulfilling.

All these memories that I’m trying to suppress, all clustered together, formed whole relationships and instead of seeing them as a roadblock, I’m going to have to think of them as what they really are: Building blocks for the next relationship, whether it be Officer Handsoming or someone else.

I’m going to have to accept that this is my way of moving on. If I keep picking at the scabs, they’ll never heal. But if I can let them fall away naturally, remember how they got there, and proceed with caution, I can step into the bullpen knowing that I very well might get knocked down … but ready for whatever comes my way.

[Photo from Shutterstock]