CONFESSION: I still dream about old boyfriends…
… and I’ll bet you dream of your past loves, too. EVEN IF you’re happily paired with your partner.
The more I talk with other men and women about their dream lives the more intrigued I am by what we dream of, how we dream, and what’s really happening when particular people and events show up there. Our dreams are the subconscious processing we do while we sleep, and so they provide a window into a deeper world within for us.
During our waking hours, our subconscious is busy piling up our emotional experiences in our subconscious. During sleep, we sort out, wash, and fold this subconscious “laundry.” However, most of the time we neglect to then wake up and put the laundry away so we can make sense of things, learn, and see the wisdom our dreams deliver to us.
“Night is when we are closer to ourselves, closer to essential ideas and feelings that do not register so much during the daylight hours.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estés: Women Who Run With the Wolves
Becoming aware of and tending your dream life is ESSENTIAL to emotional and spiritual health. Our subconscious communicates in image and story - so we can stop looking at these communications as literal representations of something to be FIXED and start with a heart of gratitude and curiosity instead. It shows us our deepest needs and desires… playing them on repeat with the symbols and stories of past loves until we wake up and GET IT, finally.
Waking from an emotionally intense dream that has brought up anger, rage, jealousy, or even arousal – when connected to an old boyfriend or girlfriend – can become especially disturbing.
When those dreams start reoccurring, we can begin to wonder if it means we still have feelings for the person or something that needs to be resolved in that relationship, which is quite confusing and even distressing when the old love is from ages ago – whether that’s our middle school, high school, or our young and free adult years.
My own dreams about old boyfriends were almost always reoccurring… and I wrestled for some time trying to pin down exactly why I was having them.
I’m happily married. I have no contact with the old boyfriends now. So, what gives? Why do we dream about these flings, connections, and loves from our past?
Why, even when we are happily partnered with someone for YEARS do we still have vivid recollections that evoke such emotional turmoil in us?
As I dug in to my own psyche, dropped the judgement and fear of my own dreams, and got curious, I realized that there was ONE particular high school boyfriend who showed up very frequently and others who I rarely dreamed about.
Here’s what I learned: It’s not about him, it’s about me.
The emotions, the turmoil, the struggle… had absolutely nothing to do with needing that person back or wanting to reignite that romantic fire. Instead, it has everything to do with wanting a part of ourselves back and wanting to reignite THAT fire.
The reason we dream about people from our past and remember it in our waking hours is because there’s something we need to PAY ATTENTION TO.
When I found myself asking: Why THAT guy? Why THAT fling? Why not the boy I dated for years? Why the one I dated for hardly a month?!
And, while I was at it – why did he always appear as he was THEN and not as they are now (older, taller, less fit, etc.)?
This old friend came as a messenger, a symbol of something to my subconscious, showing me a part of myself I had forgotten and longed to remember.
Had I come across this part of myself in my waking hours, I would have shut it down instantly. But, to this dream, I listened.
The boyfriend who appeared in my reoccurring dream had asked me to a 6th grade dance, passed notes with me for a week in 8th grade, and then dated me “officially” for a about a month in my sophomore year of high school – likely due to the fact that I was a good friend of his sister. He turned out to be incredibly flaky, neglected to invite me to social gatherings with his friends, and we could barely hold a phone conversation.
We had almost zero compatibility… except for the fact that I found him very physically attractive. You could have even called it carnal.
The big shift came when I started asking questions like:
How did I feel when I was with this person in the past?
What residual emotions do I have from the dream?
What part of me did he give me permission to be?
What did he arouse in me that no one else had… that I miss in myself now?
In what ways did I feel empowered in our relationship that I don’t now?
I felt desired and wanted in that relationship. I felt that I could let the good girl image go as it was of no value to him. In my dreams I often played the temptress – keeping myself just out of his reach, seemingly just for the sake of playing the teasing game. I enjoyed the power I felt I had. I enjoyed the visceral, physical connection. I enjoyed being able to step out of my intellectual self. I enjoyed feeling uninhibited in being myself.
I was no longer judging my inner world and shaming myself for having silly dreams about someone who wasn’t a part of my life, I was open to learning.
I had never chosen a single other boyfriend in my life *purely* on physical attraction… For once I had given myself permission to be “shallow.” I felt empowered in our relationship to be carnal, even though all we did was kiss twice the whole month we dated. Something within me was liberated.
What I found was that these dreams came up whenever I was repressing this part of me… the part of me with raging desire for my life, my dreams, and my husband. Not just sexual libido, but the kind of libido that keeps you going, driven, inspired, and taking action in all areas of life. Each dream scenario would play out how I was feeling about my own libido at the time… Was it chasing me? Was I chasing it? Was it ignoring me? Was I ignoring it? Was it a fight, a struggle, a glimpse and nothing more?
Once I stepped into gratitude for the way he showed up in my dreams and opened to the deeper message from my subconscious, I found that dreams of him occurred less often over time. I started intentionally taking action to connect to my carnal libido and desire - without the shame that I was somehow “shallow” for doing so. I reignited my ability to stand in my power, and unapologetically be every part of me.