Believe it or not, fantasies about an ex are actually up there with some of the most common sexual fantasies for people of all genders. Now, if you’ve seen Netflix’s Sex/Life, you’re likely already jumping to conclusions about what this could mean. Does fantasizing about an ex mean you aren’t over them? And if you’re with someone new, what does it say about the health of that relationship? Should you tell your partner about these fantasies?
With these questions swirling through my head, I sat down with Doctor and Certified Sex Therapist Kristie Overstreet to learn more about where these fantasies come from and how to navigate them.
Right off the bat, Overstreet confirmed that this is a very common fantasy that comes up even more often than you might think among both single people and couples. “We are humans with hearts, and we have to give ourselves grace and not beat ourselves up,” she reminded us.
Every situation is different, but if you’re single, Overstreet said fantasizing about an ex does not necessarily mean that you want to go back to that person. Rather, she explained, fantasizing “could be a healthy way to look back on what was good in the relationship” and draw on it for pleasure in the present moment.
For those in a relationship who still fantasize about people from their past, the common assumption is that there are issues with your current partner that leave you looking back and romanticizing past relationships. Overstreet said that while this could be true in some cases, more often than not, fantasies can be “a way to use the past relationship to help enhance the current relationship.”
Overstreet suggested asking yourself what role the fantasy is playing for you, what the purpose of it is, and what cup you are trying to fill up. What benefit are you getting from these fantasies? Clarity on these questions will help you determine whether this is a healthy fantasy or if you might need to explore it further. Where might the fantasy become harmful to your relationship or your ability to thrive on your own? Look out for these three indicators that there could be something deeper going on.
1. You can’t find happiness in your current relationship or single life
It is perfectly normal to go through periods of monotony in long-term relationships or to get frustrated with single life. You should, however, be able to find happiness in your current situation and not be using fantasies of your past to escape from your present. If you’re unable to find moments of happiness where you’re at now, fantasies of the past could be doing more harm than good because you’re simply putting a Band-Aid over a bigger issue.
2. You find yourself comparing everything to your ex
In the event that you’re unhappy in your current relationship, Overstreet said “you can fall into this spiral of, ‘maybe I need to get back with my ex,’” or you begin trying to replicate an old relationship with a new person. Drawing on fantasies or past experiences to enhance your present-day sex life can be a (very) good thing, but you’re never going to replicate it exactly—and the comparison trap can be a dangerous one.
3. You are unable to connect with yourself or your partner
“If you are stuck in a space of fantasy and all you can do is think about your ex, you are not being present in the moment with yourself,” Overstreet explained. The most important thing is to make sure you’re still able to stay present and enjoy the moments you’re in right now. If your fantasies are getting in the way of that, you could be treading into unhealthy territory.
At the end of the day, fantasies are a normal and healthy part of our sexual fulfillment. Where things start to get tricky is if you’re letting these fantasies of your ex get in the way of your current relationship with your partner or with yourself. If you’re relying on the past to make you happy in the present, you aren’t giving yourself a fair shot to really be happy today.
Overstreet’s final advice? “Ride it out, get out of your head, and out of the emotion.” Play out the fantasy, but come back to yourself afterward and make sure you’re finding moments of pleasure in your current situation, too. And beware of rose-colored glasses because I can tell you this much: My best sex was definitely not with my best partner.