Carolyn Hax: Girl of his dreams? He’s in for a rude awakening.

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Advice columnist

July 24 at 11:59 PM

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I screwed up and lost a terrific woman nearly 12 years ago. I’m married with kids now, and the regret has been worked through, therap-ized, counseled, etc. I’ll go months without a problem and then I’ll have a dream about her and it all comes back, the second-guessing, the regret, the guilt, and it will be with me for weeks.

My closest friends believe I’m still in love with her. I’ve brought it up with my counselor. I know that’s not fair to my wife.

I don’t know how to work past something that comes when I dream about her, since that’s not something I can control.

— Grieving the One Who Got Away

Grieving the One Who Got Away: You can’t control the dreams, no.

But you can control how you think and frame things when you’re awake. So you can, for example, control how much you indulge your impulse to keep seeing your ex in your mind as exactly the person you knew 12 years ago . . . or idealized 11.5 years ago, ahem.

She’s not that person anymore, she’s 12 years different. Same goes for you. And the way you felt about each other then . . . let’s say 12.5 years ago? That, had you stayed together, would be long gone by now, overwritten multiple times by the feelings and the relationship you and she shaped with your actions and experiences.

And, no, don’t counter with, “We would have grown together since.” You could also be six years divorced from her by now, probably over some version of the same thing that broke you up back then.

Because you did break up. You did “lose” this person through some choice of your own. You had your reasons, and it’s time to be as convinced of those as you are of your attachment to your ex.

Short version, stop mythologizing and making stuff up. Yes it’s not fair to your wife, but it’s also not fair to you.

And it’s not! real! So when you have your next dream, wake up with perspective: appreciation for a fond memory, a mental refresher that this is only fiction and only occurs subconsciously a few times a year, and a warm hug for your wife.


Reader suggestions:

●Figure out what this woman represents to your unconscious and it might feel easier. Maybe you’re dreaming of your lost youth, or the sense of possibility you had at 26, or the dream of moving to another country, or . . . whatever it is. It might demystify the dreams as not being about her, but about you and your relationship to your life.

●Chances are you aren’t grieving/missing this person, but the person you were/wanted to be back then, or a dream of your life back then. Focus on exploring with your therapist what that missing piece is and see how you can attend to that (missing sense of adventure, whatever) in your life today.

●Soooo . . . you intend to compound this mistake by screwing up and losing another wonderful woman (a.k.a. your wife)?

Ah. There’s that. Thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax at Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at