Don’t date on the rebound. That’s the common advice to someone just out of a relationship and feeling bad about it. The unhappy new single is advised to take time and get over the old flame before trying to light a fire somewhere else.
But for people who take breakups the hardest — those who are “anxiously attached” — a rebound relationship might be just what they need, according to a paper by Geoff MacDonald, associate professor of psychology, and graduate student Stephanie S. Spielmann.
Seeking attachment is normal, whether it’s a baby with her mother, an adolescent with his buddies, or two romantic partners. But anxiously attached people are insecure about their attachments. They’re worried about rejection, need constant reassurance, and are abnormally preoccupied with the people they are attached to. When their romantic relationships end, anxiously attached people can have a hard time letting go – they often remain obsessed with the ex, try to get them back, feel abnormal amounts of sadness and anger, and can sometimes turn into stalkers.
Spielmann and MacDonald, along with co-author Anne E. Wilson of Wilfrid Laurier University, decided to look at what happened when anxiously attached people entered new relationships. They signed up 162 undergrads, administered questionnaires to identify the anxiously attached people, then asked questions about romantic history, status, and feelings about the ex.
As they predicted, anxiously attached people who had suffered breakups and were still single tended to still be stuck on the ex. Those who had a new relationship were more likely to be over the old one.
Of course, anxiously attached people in new relationships might simply have been the ones who happened to get over the old relationship the easiest – in other words, it was hard to differentiate cause from effect.
So the researchers tried additional experiments, in which they made people think finding a new partner was either easy or hard – in one case, by showing them bogus magazine articles that claimed most people either did, or did not, find another partner quickly.
Anxiously attached people who were convinced they would easily find a new partner expressed less longing for the old partner than did those who were convinced finding someone new would be hard.
But the researchers had some caveats. For instance, if anxiously attached people were so eager for a new relationship that they chose an inappropriate new partner – the classic rebound danger – then in the long term they might end up unhappier. Or, encouraged by the apparent ease of finding a new partner, they might end up focused on someone who was unavailable, again with potentially bad effects.
So is it good to date on the rebound? Further research seems to be necessary.