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Sometimes the Love of Your Life Is an Ex

Sometimes the Love of Your Life Is an Ex

In 2013, when she was in college in Iowa, Rachel Muse Connealy had a first date with a man she was certain would be her future husband. She turned out to be right, but the road to marriage took a few turns.

After a few years of being in a relationship, he moved to New York to start a Ph.D. program and she moved to Europe to live with family and gallivant across different cities. Eventually they realized they couldn’t make the distance work.

Ms. Connealy, now a business owner in St. Petersburg, Fla., realized she had a decision to make: “I’m either moving to New York and marrying this man and stopping what I’m doing to be part of his life,” she recalled thinking, “or I can’t do this anymore and I have to figure out who I am, outside of this relationship.” A short time later, in 2017, they broke up.

Ms. Connealy said the split was difficult to accept, in large part because neither cheated on or betrayed the other person. They still shared a Spotify account and talked. But their communication dwindled until it dried up completely. They each dated other people and remained broken up for about three years.

In 2020, during the pandemic, they both were back in Iowa to be with their families. He was doing a daily walk with his mother for charity, and one of the paths they were taking was directly through the city she lived in. They were soon back together, and are now married and expecting their first child.

“I definitely had my come-to-Jesus moment of like, this is who I am,” Ms. Connealy said. “And I have to stop running from the fact that this is the only person I will ever love.”

Despite the many reasons getting back with an ex is not recommended, it can be hard to resist. The appeal of returning to a past partner is agonizingly familiar to many, and the reasons vary: Sometimes you try again because you’ve both matured and changed for the better. Sometimes it’s better to stick with the “devil you know” than risk dating someone new who may be worse. Sometimes the investment in a long relationship makes it hard to consider starting from scratch. Sometimes it’s their delicious cooking. Sometimes the sex is just too good.

In the second season of the Max series “And Just Like That …,” Carrie reunites with her ex-fiancé Aidan, waking up in his hotel after spending a week together in bed. While it is still unclear where the two are headed in the coming episodes, they have become very reacquainted and are moving fast.

Twenty minutes into the eighth episode, the pair are already shacking up in Che’s expensive Hudson Yards apartment and are shopping together for pepper mills at a high-end home goods store. They are planning for her to visit his farmhouse in Norfolk, Va., and meet his three sons. Carrie even tells Miranda that she’s been having orgasms she has never had “in her entire life” and she wonders whether her marriage to Big was a mistake.

Both Carrie and Aiden seem very eager not to waste time taking things slow. In its speed as well as its out-of-the-blue-ness, their reunion is not without real-life precedents.

Perhaps the most famous couple to get back together long after a split is Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, who initially dated from 2002 to 2004, the year they officially called off their engagement. They began dating again in 2021, almost two decades after they first got together, and tied the knot in the summer of 2022.

In a post for her newsletter celebrating her marriage, Ms. Lopez wrote: “We did it. Love is beautiful. Love is kind. And it turns out love is patient. Twenty years patient.”

There are some who don’t think it’s ever worth it to get back together with an ex — or even to stay friends with one. Ari Medina, 27, who dates women, said she had met a lot of lesbians who have remained friends with their ex-partners, something she can’t relate to.

“I’ve had toxic exes,” said Ms. Medina, who is a photographer. “It’s like, why would I want to be friends with someone who did this to me?”

For Haleigh Shell, a 21-year-old preschool teacher in Chattanooga, Tenn., getting back together with her ex included some bumps. They first got together when she was 15; she was a high school freshman and he was a senior. They broke up when she was 17, after he went to college in Virginia and they both found long distance too difficult to manage.

He was always one of those exes that you’re still in love with,” Ms. Shell said in a phone interview. “But it’s just wrong timing.”

After their split, she got together with another man, whom she had an on-and-off relationship with for a little over a year that she described as “rocky” and “toxic.” She eventually had a child with him when she was 19, but still kept in touch with her high school ex.

“We always met back up when he would come home from college,” she said. “We would go hang out, talk catch up and we were very much still in love with each other.”

After she had her daughter, Ms. Shell said her child’s father moved to Mississippi and wasn’t great about keeping in contact. Her ex from high school, Kashawn, who had been eager to meet her daughter, graduated from college last October and moved back to Tennessee. They soon got engaged and are expecting a child in January.

“I always thought that maybe once he graduated college and settled down a little, that we would find our way back together,” she said. “And even when we were seeing other people, I feel like we could never really stay away from each other.”

Send your thoughts, stories and tips to thirdwheel@nytimes.com.

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