Why Does It Bother Us When Someone From Our Past Starts Dating Someone Else? Here’s My Take

We’ve all been there before: that person you were seeing a few months or years ago for a while starts dating someone new. Perhaps you hear it from a friend or you see them post with their brand new significant other on social media (and of course, you end up stalking their profile).

You know that it’s pretty irrational to be annoyed or upset by the news, but you do anyway. Why do we do that?

Personally, I Have Been Going Through It

man and woman holding hands
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Phuoc Le
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Phuoc Le

The reason I started thinking about this at all is that, a few weeks ago, a mutual friend let me know that the guy I had seen/hooked up with over the course of a few years had started dating another woman. In all honesty, I had not talked to this guy or even really thought about him in over a year, so I was shocked to find that I felt a little irritated by the news.

Like, It Is So Irrational

i'm allowed to get over any guy instantly but he has to remain obsessed with me forever sorry i don’t make the rules!!
Photo Credit: Twitter / @mpnightmaregirl
Photo Credit: Twitter / @mpnightmaregirl

Hear me out: I literally uttered the words, “I would rather die than end up with this guy long term” a couple of years ago. I objectively have no interest in dating this guy: I think that our values are deeply different, I hate his friends, and the fact that he self-identifies as an a**hole just never sat right with my spirit.

Truly, there was no reason for me to really feel upset by him moving on, so what the hell was wrong with me?

I Mean, Don’t We Always Want What We Can’t Have?

man looking over at a woman who is looking in the opposite direction
Photo Credit: Pexels / Trinity Kubassek
Photo Credit: Pexels / Trinity Kubassek

It’s one thing to decide that you don’t want something on your own. It’s another thing entirely to be told that you can’t have a thing. In fact, it seems that the more that we’re told we can’t have something, the more we want it. It’s like telling a teenage girl she shouldn’t date the bad guy—it just makes her want it more.

There’s even actual psychological theory to back up these claims.

The Scarcity Effect Could Be To Blame

sandy desert
Photo Credit: Pexels / Cheryl Wee
Photo Credit: Pexels / Cheryl Wee

The “scarcity effect” (also often referred to as the “limited edition effect”) is a psychological phenomenon where, when we feel like an item is more scarce or inaccessible, we see it as having increased value. In this situation, a member of your romantic past going from being fully accessible to being in demand (dating someone) can trick our minds into thinking they have increased value.

Another Principle That Plays In Is Loss Aversion

woman sitting on the floor in the dark
Photo Credit: Pexels / Sofia Alejandra
Photo Credit: Pexels / Sofia Alejandra

“Loss aversion” is a psychological phenomenon where people would prefer to avoid a loss over acquiring something of equal value. In fact, feeling like we’ve lost something or missed out on something can create a lot of cognitive discomfort for us as human beings.

In many ways, this plays into the concept of “the one that got away” or “what ifs…”—it’s a fear that we might have actually missed out on or lost someone.

It Can Also Come Down To Vanity

woman posing dramatically
Photo Credit: Pexels / Ferdinand Studio
Photo Credit: Pexels / Ferdinand Studio

As selfish as it is, it’s nice to feel like we’re wanted even if we don’t particularly reciprocate the feelings. Even when we’re single, there’s almost a sense of comfort in knowing that there is someone out there who would probably come back to you if you wanted that. It’s a horribly vain thing to think, but it can still rub you the wrong way to feel like that person has moved on.

Perhaps It’s Just My Own Insecurity

woman crying while hugging pillow
Photo Credit: Pexels / Alex Green
Photo Credit: Pexels / Alex Green

The more I mull over the situation, the more I wonder if I really had no interest in dating him or if I just convinced myself of that because I never saw a real relationship forming between us properly. Sometimes it’s easier to convince yourself that someone is incapable of being in a relationship than consider whether they just wouldn’t want to date you.

However, seeing them with someone else makes it clear that it’s something they were always capable of and, perhaps, they just didn’t want it enough with you.

And Maybe It’s Just Circumstance

woman with head against window looking out
Photo Credit: Pexels / Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas
Photo Credit: Pexels / Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas

Then again, I think that if I was in a relationship at the moment, none of these thoughts would have even crossed my mind. With the fact that my romantic endeavors and other aspects of my life haven’t exactly been the greatest lately, it really could just be that I’m unhappy with where I’m at, and, therefore, seeing someone from my past thrive might only bother me at this moment because of how I’ve been feeling about my circumstances lately.

In Any Situation, Watching Someone From Your Romantic Past Move On Can Be Jarring

silhouette of couple walking on beach at sunset
Photo Credit: Pexels / Asad Photo Maldives
Photo Credit: Pexels / Asad Photo Maldives

One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around is that, when you date someone, you only get a slight window into who they are and vice versa. When things end, you’re kind of left with this one version of them in your mind that probably isn’t all that accurate in the present.

The parts of them that once belonged to you will never really exist again, and that can be scary to accept.

All In All, I Wish Him The Best

woman looking deep in thought
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Kyle Broad
Photo Credit: Unsplash / Kyle Broad

When I put all of my feelings about the situation aside, I’m able to say that I’m happy that he found someone else who makes him happy. I know, objectively, that my current feelings about him moving on are less about him and more about myself—and more importantly, they are temporary. I know that, at the end of the day, I don’t really miss him and that, in the long run, I’ll feel a little silly about how I feel now.

Until then, though, I can let myself feel a little vain and upset.