I've been thinking a lot about my ex lately. Do you believe there can ever be a point where exes have truly changed their ways, can really prove themselves and live happily ever after with the people they once treated poorly? —S.C.
Essentially, what you're asking is, if your life were Sex and the City, would Mr. Big ever become the guy who loves Carrie (that would be you) and treats her like the queen she's always been?
Not likely. People can change, of course, but unless there's some life-altering event like a religious conversion, kicking an addiction or getting over a serious illness, your ex isn't likely to have a "road to Damascus" moment. If the breakup and the aftermath didn't result in an aha moment that made that person realize he or she'd been taking you for granted, your ex is unlikely to do a 180-degree conversion months or years later and become the person you always envisioned he or she would be. That's most likely to happen on TV.
People grow, mature and get different perspectives on their relationship wrongdoings all the time, but it's usually when they are involved with someone else. The best you can hope for — and don't hold your breath — is an apology for what your ex put you through. That awakening often comes when exes are either in love with someone else who did to them what they did to you or are so blissfully happy that they want to erase their bad karma to keep the new relationship in tip-top condition.
Thirty-five percent of the 15,000 dating and relationship questions I've answered on Formspring are some form of "Do you think I should give my ex a second chance?" Especially around the holidays, people get to thinking about how their ex fit right in with the family at Thanksgiving, the thoughtful present on Christmas morning that proved he or she really "got" you, or the New Year's Eve celebration during which you looked across the room and wondered, "Is this really 'the One'?" and answered with a smile, "I think so."
I find the appeal of an ex isn't so much about having genuine feelings for the actual person, but more about not wanting to put forth the effort to find someone who is a better match. Looking for love requires effort and risk. So often, getting that old thing back means heading down a road with familiar curves and forgetting that path led to a dead end.
On the unlikely chance that your ex does have a change of heart, you shouldn't wait around for it to occur. Go ahead and live your life, and if the ex shows up as a changed person with actions to back up his or her words, then hear out him or her if you've somehow managed not to get otherwise occupied in the meantime.
When this happens, go slow. A lot of people make the mistake of jumping right back into the thick of the relationship because there are memories and shared history that make the situation comfortable. They forget that something occurred that led one of you to sum up the other person, evaluate that person's worth and decide, "I can do better or bad on my own."
You want to head back to what felt like home? Rebuild the foundation. Start by getting to know one another again. That means you date your ex and figure out who she or he is now that some time has passed. If you like the person your ex has evolved into, then begin working on fixing what was broken before so you don't run into the same dead end.
Maybe it was communication and the way he shut you out when things went wrong; perhaps it was the way she was too controlling. Whatever it is, address it and do the hard work of hashing out your past issues at the beginning of your reconciliation rather than waiting for them to resurface once the novelty of being back together has worn off.
One last thing: There is no such thing as happily ever after. Relationships have ups and downs, and they only continue happily for most of the time when two people are willing to put in the work to make the relationship survive. That doesn't just happen. There's a whole lot of effort involved.
Good luck, and happy holidays!
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.