You aren’t the only one
To make the whole global pandemic thing worse, there’s been an uptick in folks dreaming about their ex.
Fear not: COVID-19 isn’t conspiring to get you and your ex back together. And no, “dreaming about an ex” is not a symptom of the illness.
Certified dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg says that generally speaking (read: pandemic or not), it’s very (very!) normal to dream about an ex. So why exactly has the implementation of physical distancing led to an increase in ex dreams?
Below, Loewenberg and three certified therapists answer that very Q. Plus, what 23 different ex dreams are trying to tell you — if anything.
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Why the pandemic is to blame for your ex dreams
There are a few reasons why the novel coronavirus has led to your ex landing in your dreams.
You’ve got more time
Whether you’ve been recently laid off (condolences) or just bored without the gym or bar to fill your non-working hours, Loewenberg points out that most folks have more unoccupied time on their hands.
“Lockdown has given many folks way more time to ruminate about their interpersonal relationships — including their exes,” she says.
Basically, the dreams are simply a symptom of increased time dwelling on the past.
You’ve been sleeping more than usual
Many people are also logging more hours snoozing than they were pre-pandemic.
“Without a morning alarm (or with a later alarm), during quarantine, many people now are able to enter the last stage of their REM cycle,” Loewenberg says.
And that stage is associated with deeper sleep and dreams recollection.
So, not only are you dreaming about your ex more, but you’re also more likely to remember it. Ugh.
“Right now, we’re collectively experiencing loss of life as we knew it,” says Brooklyn-based psychotherapist Aimee Barr, LCSW. “It’s very common for past figures to make an appearance during times of grief.”
Even if you aren’t quarantining alone, odds are physical distancing has led you to spend way less time with people you care about.
“It’s normal for the subconscious to return to a point in your life when you could spend as much as you wanted with people who, at the time, cared for you and vice versa,” says Loewenberg.
“Due to a heightened sense of fear and uncertainty in our waking life, many of the dreams people are having right now are anxiety dreams,” says Sula Malina, therapist in training at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC.
“Meaning, many people are having dreams that play out another anxiety-inducing situation (like a breakup or a painful relationship).”
It usually relates to one of these underlying issues
Every dream about an ex is as unique as that ex themselves, but Loewenberg says it generally comes down to:
- emotional dissatisfaction
- sexual dissatisfaction
- unresolved feelings about the ex or that breakup
- resolved feelings about the ex or that breakup
Exploring specific dream scenarios
These wild times have led to a long list of wild dreams, ranging from scary to sweet to violent. Below, we touch on the most common.
If it’s a long-ago ex
“Dreaming about a long-ago ex — especially a first love — is incredibly common,” says Loewenberg. “That ex becomes symbolic of passion, uninhibited desire, unafraid love, etc.”
These dreams are your subconscious mind’s way of telling you that you want more ~spice~ in your life.
If it’s a recent ex
It might seem like your subconscious is trying to sabotage all the hard work you’re doing in your waking hours to get over this person.
On the contrary, Loewenberg says, “Your subconscious is actually trying to help you heal and process how you’re feeling about the breakup.”
If they were abusive
Dreaming about an abusive or toxic ex (think: physically or mentally abusive, serial cheater, etc.) is a very common trauma response, says Malina.
According to Loewenberg, if you’re dreaming about an abusive ex, it’s likely because in your waking hours you’re still trying to find a W-H-Y behind what happened.
If you’re “beating yourself up” about this past relationship in waking hours, the dream could symbolize the abuse you’re now putting yourself through by ruminating.
If you miss them or they miss you
What qualities did your ex have that you’re missing from your life right now? For example, if your ex was funny, schedule a Zoom date with another funny friend.
What qualities of yours did your ex help bring out in you? Time to tap into those without the help of your ex!
If you want them back or they want you back
Again: Think about the qualities your ex had that you liked, or the qualities your ex had when you were together that you want back in your life!
If someone is apologizing
An ex apologizing in your dream ≠ your ex really is sorry IRL!
Rather, it’s just your brain conjuring up a scene of exactly what you wished that ex had said.
And if you’re the one apologizing? Chances are you recently did or said something that you regret. The dream = your first attempt to make amends.
If someone’s confronting the other about past wrongs
“If you’re having a dream where you’re confronting someone, you’re confronting the part of you that was harmed by that person,” says Loewenberg.
“It’s your way of slowly coming to terms with the ways you were harmed.”
If you’re getting back together
Babes, time to look deep and examine whether or not you actually would get back with an ex, should they come crawling.
If you would, it’s time to spend some time remembering why you broke up in the first place. Likely, those were some pretty damn good reasons! (A therapist or protective BFF can be very helpful here).
If, however, in your waking hours you have ZERO interest in said ex, the dream is a sign that you’ve made peace with the relationship and learned the lessons you needed to learn from it. Exciting!
If you’re falling in love again
Loewenberg says it suggests that you’re yearning to feel cared for and loved right now. A pretty freakin’ understandable want in the middle of a pandemic, no?
If you’re getting physical
Aka kissing, touching, and the like. In dreams, sex = connection.
So, it’s time to examine whether you actually want to reconnect with this ex. This is another instance where making a list of reasons you broke up can be helpful.
Loewenberg adds, “If you have a kid together, it’s not about the sex or kissing, it’s about connecting for the sake of the child.” Good to know!
If you have a kid together
Don’t go picking up a pregnancy test just yet!
In dreams, kids represent promise and new growth. Here, the dream likely means your ex allows you to give birth to a new part of yourself.
If you’re fighting
“Dreams like this suggest there’s a current conflict in your life,” says Loewenberg.
Given that we’re all going through major routine upheaval right now, this is normal.
If someone’s cheating on the other
“If your ex actually cheated on you, and you’re dreaming about them cheating on you, it’s a sign you’re bringing feelings of distrust into your current relationship,” says Loewenberg.
“If you’re dreaming that they did, even if they didn’t, then chances are there’s something in your current relationship that’s causing you to feel like the third wheel.”
Think: the Xbox, TV show, or child.
If you break up all over again
Was the split recent? Cut yourself some slack! You’re still processing.
Was it a while ago? Ask yourself what else in your life is making you feel rejected. Did you recently get fired due to COVID-19? Has one of your BFFs started texting or calling way less?
If they’re in a new relationship
Cool, cool, so you’re coming to terms with the fact that your ex is going to (or already has) moved on.
The takeaway: Time for you to do so, too!
If they’re in danger
Depends on whether or not you’re trying to save them.
If you play the knight in shining armor, there’s likely a lesson you need to take with you from the relationship.
For instance, did your ex bring out your more extroverted side? Your subconscious is reminding you to flex your schmoozing muscle IRL.
If you didn’t try to save them, it’s actually a sign that you’re letting go of that relationship. Buh-bye!
If they died
Congrats! This dream suggests you’ve let go of the past and are ready to move on.
If they kill you
Murder = forced end. Ask yourself: Did I lose a part of myself during my relationship with my ex that I want to get back?
For example, your:
- ability to trust
- sense of self
If you kill them
Sayonara, baby! Chances are you’re having this dream cause you’ve killed off any lingering bitter feelings you had toward your ex.
That said, if you’re still carrying around a lot of anger toward your ex, this dream could indicate you still have a lot of anger and hurt to process.
Exploring pandemic-specific dream scenarios
Usually, the thought of seeing an ex IRL is a nightmare… So why now that there’s zero chance of seeing them are they making their way into your coronavirus-themed dreams? Let’s investigate.
If you’re single and dreaming about them
You don’t miss your ex. You miss human interaction! And feeling loved! And kisses!
Loewenberg recommends reflecting (not for too long, though) about the positive qualities of this ex.
Your subconscious could be putting together a list of qualities you want to seek out in a partner once this *gestures around* is over.
If you’re in a relationship but isolating alone and dreaming about them
How did your ex make you feel in your dream? Sexy, adored, cared for, or special?
Time to plan a digital date night with bae. Your subconscious is telling you that you’re feeling a little neglected right now.
If you’re isolating with a current partner and dreaming about them
Again: How did your ex make you feel?
If it’s something positive, chances are it’s been a minuteeee since your quarantine bae has made you feel that way, and you miss that feeling.
As Barr says, “Now that people are together 24/7, it’s easy for relationships to feel stale.”
She suggests trying to actively plan date (and hanky panky) nights to help reignite the spark.
If you dream that they develop COVID-19
If you still have some ugly feelings about that ex, Loewenberg says: “Your subconscious is using the virus as a metaphor to show you that you still have some ickiness left over from your ex that you need to work through.”
LOL, yes, your ex = the virus.
If you’re very over your ex, Loewenberg says it could indicate that something in one of your current relationships (romantic and/or sexual, or not) is feeling unhealthy.
Are you becoming codependent? Are you taking each other for granted? Solve for that and the dream will stop.
So… when are these dreams a red flag?
According to Barr and Loewenberg:
- when they become a consistent thing (read: nightly or bi-nightly)
- if you wake up feeling distressed and have a hard time shaking the feeling
- if these dreams mirror fantasies you’re having while awake
What if you’re in a relationship — should you tell your partner?
While communication in relationships is generally a good thing, Barr and Loewenberg agree that telling your current boo that your ex-boo is chilling in your subconscious is going to do more harm than good.
“It’s likely going to make your partner insecure and jealous, without giving you or them anything,” says Loewenberg.
Still, as Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, CST, the director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC, says, “There are no ‘shoulds’ when it comes to relationships, as each relationship and person is different.”
Kahn adds that these questions can help you figure out what’s right for your relationship:
- Do you want to tell your partner and if so, what are your intentions and motivations?
- Are there any consequences for yourself or in your relationship if you were to tell your partner?
- How do you feel about those consequences?
How to talk about it
Should you tell your partner the intimate details about these dreams? Probably not.
But, as Barr points out, our partners are really intuitive. So if these dreams are affecting, disturbing, or haunting you, your S.O. has likely noticed.
That’s why if your partner asks you what’s going on, Barr suggests sharing the fact that you’ve been having some disorienting dreams.
- “I know I’ve seemed super in my head recently. It’s because I’ve been having super vivid dreams featuring scenes of my past, and it’s been disorienting for me. But I’m here, I love you, and you have nothing to worry about.”
- “You’re right, I have been in a weird mood. My dreams have been really disturbing recently, and they’ve been haunting my waking hours. I promise to let you know if I want to talk about it further.”
How to address the underlying issue
While sometimes a dream about an ex indicates a lingering love, resentment, or affection toward that ex, it doesn’t always!
Sometimes it highlights:
- dissatisfaction in a current relationship
- dissatisfaction with current life circumstances
- that you’ve moved on from the ex
- that you’re ready to move on from the ex
Ultimately, your next move depends on what the underlying issue is.
Regardless, Barr recommends speaking with a teletherapist.
“They’ll be able to help you unpack why these dreams are happening, as well as come up with a specific plan to help you stop them.”
The bottom line
Global pandemic or not, dreaming about your ex is pretty common! And it doesn’t always have anything to do with your ex at all.
What you decide to do about the dreams depends on what’s behind them. But the only way to put quits on the dream for good is to deal with the root.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York–based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.