A general rule of thumb is that if you’re comparing your current dating prospects to your past partner, you’re not ready for a new relationship.
This isn’t always true, though, says Pamela Larkin, a therapist who specializes in relationships.
There are times when comparing a partner or potential partner to an ex is okay, and even healthy.
“There is an appropriate level of wanting to make sure you don’t repeat certain patterns,” she says.
By examining how your current partner differs from or is similar to your last one, you might be able to avoid the pitfalls that led to the end of your previous relationship.
Here are two ways to compare a potential partner to an ex that are helpful — and two that aren’t.
Compare: how you feel
More important than what the other person is doing or not doing is how you feel when you’re around them.
“Maybe you didn’t have as much excitement with that first person or were always wondering when you would feel a sense of joy or love,” Larkin says.
Do you still find yourself waiting to feel more definitively? Or maybe it’s the opposite and you feel much more definitively about the future.
This comparison can help reveal if you’re falling into a pattern of dating someone because they like you versus dating someone because you feel happy when you’re around them.
People often compare communication styles, Larkin says.
And while it’s good to note whether a partner’s way of expressing themselves works for you, it’s also necessary to understand that there isn’t one right way of communicating.
“I think you shouldn’t expect that the other person is going to communicate the exact same way as the first person did,” Larkin says.
It is helpful to know if someone is going to be emotionally available, Larkin says.
Perhaps your ex’s work schedule made it so they were not able to prioritize you in the way you needed. Are you dating another workaholic? Does this new person have more energy to meet your needs?
“When you’re able to reflect on what was missing, you might be able to look at the new person and ask yourself, ‘Do I feel like I have that here in this dynamic?'” Larkin says.
Many people, especially if they lived with their ex, can get caught up on irrelevant habits, Larkin says. You might think things like, “They don’t make coffee the way my ex did” or “They arrange the dishwasher differently from my ex.”
This isn’t helpful and can actually “stifle your ability to see the new person,” she says.
Comparing can be healthy when thinking about the big picture: shared values, availability, long-term goals. But when you start picking a person apart for not being exactly like a past partner, that’s when it can become toxic.
“Remember,” Larkin says, “there is a reason you and the last person didn’t work out.”
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