Q. This letter is about a bad boyfriend who died and is still haunting me. I dated this man about eight years ago. I broke up with him after about seven months, and learned about two years ago that he died of an overdose. While we were together this man was a complete nightmare — Jekyll and Hyde, jealous, paranoid, smothering. When it was over I felt grateful and happy to be out of it, and barely thought of this man. I met my long-term partner about 18 months after we broke up.
The issue is that ever since I found out he died two years ago, I have had regular dreams about this man. They are all horrible dreams and I cannot, for the life of me, understand why my subconscious mind is giving this guy any headspace at all. I do not miss him, I did not love him, I barely feel sorry he is dead. How do I rid myself of this ghost once and for all? It’s been two years since I learned about his death and more than eight years since I last spoke to him, and the nightmares are still a fairly regular occurrence.
A. I feel like every day at Love Letters is “How about therapy?” day, but there’s a reason, right? When we can’t figure out why our brains are stuck in a pattern, we need to talk it through until we figure it out.
It’s possible you have more feelings about this relationship than you know. Maybe it’s something like, “Wow, I can’t believe I was so miserable with that man.” Or maybe it’s more about sadness … because whether it affects you now or not, it’s a terrible story. Sometimes we want to revisit bad experiences so we can contextualize them.
It could also be a symbol of stress and other things, your mind’s go-to topic for unpleasant themes. I don’t know.
The point is, please talk to someone, even if it means going to a group (meeting online these days) for those who’ve had relationships with people dealing with addiction. I know you’ve moved on, but the relationship was traumatic. So was the news of this man’s death. The value of the relationship doesn’t change your need to acknowledge that it happened.
I guess my advice is to listen to yourself. You seem to be fighting the message, and maybe if you allow yourself to interrogate it, it’ll change.
Sometimes dreams are not what they appear. In other words, your dream might not have anything to do with the man who died or that relationship. There is something to the dream, though. I’d talk to a therapist to unlock it. There is no point in doing this on your own.
You’re still feeding the fire although subconsciously. Look, you just wrote two paragraphs about him, continuing to give him headspace. Maybe fill your life with more activities, people, etc., so your day is busy and you’re exhausted at night. Sigmund Freud wrote a book titled “The Interpretation of Dreams.” Perhaps that will help, but since it will continue your habit of thinking about this man, probably not a great idea.
Just because it was not a long relationship and not one that you consciously think about doesn’t mean it can’t affect you. You may have fears about the future because of that awful experience, or you may wonder why you attracted someone like that. Find a good therapist and talk it out. In the meantime be thankful you attracted someone better. Good luck.
I dunno. Maybe he meant more to you than you think. Or maybe your subconscious is out of whack. Maybe he’s haunting you from beyond. I sometimes have dreams about random kids I went to second grade with and haven’t seen in 35 years. Don’t read too much into it ... the mind is mysterious.
“How do I rid myself of this ghost once and for all?” Therapy. Literally just therapy, and you’ll probably have to go for a little while. I think you know that, and yet you’re here trying to take a shortcut. Did you think that would work? Go to therapy.
Occasionally, I will have a nightmare about my ex. We have been divorced for 12 years, and I have had no contact with him for at least six years (we only had contact then to sell our house). I am mad when I have one of those dreams because it reminds me of a bad time but I don’t feel there’s any hidden meaning there or that I need therapy. But luckily they don’t happen often. If it’s really bothering you to the point that you can’t get him out of your head, then you probably should go to therapy.
There’s any number of reasons you could be stuck in this pattern. The road not taken, thanking your lucky stars, being so intimate with someone who’s now dead, ad infinitum. If you’re unable to shake this, then get some professional assistance to shake it loose.
I’m late to this party, but thought I’d let you know of my own experience with dreams. They’re usually about your subconscious mind processing your experience. They are less about emotional experience than literal substance, and they usually work themselves out once your thinking and feeling brain reconcile themselves. Give it time. Journal. Talk to a therapist if they cause you long-term distress. It’s all a normal part of being human.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to email@example.com. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.