By Arianna Stern
Maybe you’ve tried all the popular remedies for getting over a breakup, like heart-to-hearts with your mom, getting a new haircut, or ranting to your friends—and none of them have worked. You’re still feeling lonely and doubting yourself. So if you see the opportunity to have a fun little fling, you should take it, right?
Well, depending on who you ask, rebound relationships are either a cure-all or a harmful distraction. Even dating experts don’t have a clear-cut answer on this topic, although they do agree on one piece of advice: Proceed with caution. Here’s what you should know before diving into a rebound relationship.
There are good and not-so-good motivations
There are a couple main reasons for rebounding that relationship coach Maya Diamond sees in her practice. “It’s a really good distraction,” she says. “It allows people to delay experiencing any feelings they may still have regarding their past relationship.” However, it’s a temporary fix at best. Diamond insists that processing emotions is the only way to get past the pain of a relationship that’s ended.
On the other hand, Diamond believes that rebound relationships can be a way to experience things that were missing from the last relationship. She gives an example: “Say you didn’t have sex for six years in your marriage, and you want to experience sexual intimacy, but you’re very clear with people that you’re not really emotionally available,” she says. That can be a healthy decision. For some, rebound relationships can also spur self-discovery. “When you end a long-term relationship, you need to go through a process of rediscovering who you are without that person, because your identity was linked to them,” says Dr. Kelly Campbell, a professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino. “Sometimes people do that through dating.”
Both experts agree that rebound relationships aren’t universally healthy or unhealthy, but it’s helpful to understand your reasoning for pursuing them. By being realistic about which of your needs a rebound relationship can actually meet, you maximize your chances of having fun and feeling satisfied.
You could reinforce negative patterns
One of the risks of getting right into a new relationship after ending an old one is that you may not be giving yourself the space that’s needed to analyze what did and didn’t work for you. It’s possible that if you don’t take the time to process your last relationship, you may recreate old, unwanted dynamics with your rebound. “It can set you back from having a healthy relationship to move forward with,” says therapist Kiaundra Jackson.
Additionally, when you jump straight from one relationship to the next, you risk “missing an opportunity to fully heal,” says Jackson, because you aren’t taking time to examine your last relationship before dating again. Even if you feel that this doesn’t apply to you (and it might not), it’s something to keep in mind.
Someone could get their feelings hurt
The risks of rebound relationships are not at all one-sided: you may end up accidentally hurting your new partner if they feel like a stepping stone or a distraction. However, when two people truly just want something casual, rebound relationships can be positive all around. Just be sure that’s really what you and your partner are looking for, says Jackson. “If one person wants something more, that can cause a lot of difficulties, and could potentially end in heartbreak.”
It could turn into fulfilling, long-lasting love
Sometimes, a rebound relationship can evolve in unexpected ways and become something long-term. “You could get into a rebound relationship, but it’s actually a really good match for you,” says Diamond. If that happens, “you may have to do the work of healing your past relationship while you’re in that new relationship.” That healing work can mean everything from journaling to therapy.
Whatever you choose, have compassion for yourself in grappling with the relationship that just ended. If you take stock, show yourself love, and present yourself honestly, you’re setting yourself up for a fulfilling relationship next time—whether you call it a rebound or not.