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Rebound relationships are not as bad as you think

Not just an effective way of moving on, they can also help people find long-term love

The reputation these relationships get doesn’t match their reality. (Pexels)

By Nona Uppal

LAST PUBLISHED 31.08.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

My first brush with rebound relationships was via a CD of the 2009 movie, The Rebound, which I had rented out to watch with my friends. A few years later, I would find myself in one too. While the relationship failed for a bunch of reasons, the only factor that mattered to everyone I talked to was: “It was a rebound relationship. Doomed to fail, obviously." Years later, in conversation with a friend who rebounded herself into finding a successful long-term love, I realised that the reputation these relationships get doesn’t match their reality. 

Even etymologically speaking, the largely negative conception doesn’t hold up. From ‘springing back after a collision or impact with another body’ to ‘returning to a path of health and recovery,’ the origins of the word ‘rebound’ are less charged than we’d think. And a lot of people, it turns out, approach rebound relationships with this originally intended meaning — recovering from relationships that felt like ‘collisions’ or ‘ill health’ of sorts. 

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K, a 22-year-old analyst based in Alwar, found herself rebounding in the aftermath of an emotionally demanding relationship. “My partner was so emotionally dependent on me that it felt like I was their counsellor rather than a partner." For Stuthi Shetty, a 28-year-old writer from Mumbai, the rebound followed a toxic relationship as well. “He didn't like me dressing a certain way, talking to other boys, and was extremely possessive. He even threatened to use my secrets with my future partners to get back at me." 

This idea that people pursue rebound relationships as a way to heal from failed relationships has been scientifically observed too. A 2009 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin determined how rebounding is particularly helpful as a tool of moving on for those with anxious attachment styles owing to “optimism for one’s romantic future, as anxiously attached individuals are less attached to ex-partners when they are optimistic about the availability of future partners." 

But despite this ‘healing effect’, there is something culturally unsettling about rebound relationships. Take Taylor Swift, for example, who was famously spotted with The 1975 singer Matty Healy in the wake of a break-up with her former partner of six years. Then there is Ariana Grande moving on from her marriage to a dramatic affair with her co-star, Ethan Slater. The online judgement that followed these celebrities wasn’t just about the fact that they were moving on, but rather that they were moving on too quickly. The ‘ick’ we feel when we’re confronted with the idea of such relationships is because the lines between the past and the present get blurred; people who enter rebound relationships are not entering them with a clean slate, which complicates matters for all those involved.

However, is it possible that the overlap is a good thing? Afterall, sometimes the grass simply is greener — all it takes is walking over to the other side. Sometimes rebound relationships make not only the faults in the previous one glaringly obvious, but also alert people to what they really need in romantic love, after all. “Dating my now-husband as a rebound, I realised there was such a massive personality difference between him and my former partner. My husband was gentle, sweet, and loving, something I didn’t realise I needed when I was going after the bad boy who feared commitment," recalls Priya Hajela, author of Ladies’ Tailor, published by HarperCollins India. “For example, my former partner was always late for things; there was a lack of respect. My husband, on the other hand, was always on time and would usually be waiting for me."

The question still stands: they might help, do they last

In my opinion, they work as much as other relationships do. Shruti, a 25-year-old product designer from Bangalore, who has been with her rebound-partner for six years now, was once certain her’s would fail. “I thought it would be over in a few weeks. But a few months later, when I stopped thinking about my ex, I realised I was falling in love again." Hajela, too, is celebrating her thirtieth anniversary with her rebound after marrying him very quickly after her last relationship. 

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When they don’t last, though, at the very least, rebound relationships offer a new perspective to those who feel burned by their past, as was the case for Stuthi, whose relationship ended due to her partner’s passing away. “My rebound partner helped me look at life with a positive outlook after an extremely toxic relationship. Most of all, he was a really good friend to me, which was something I missed during my former relationship."

It is understandable, though — why we have such a tough time swallowing the idea of rebound relationships. Not only do they take a pin to the hope that romantic love should last forever, they alert us to the fickleness of romance, too. However, it is perhaps this very fact that we should be grateful for. By taking the power away from the myth of “one true love" and allowing for romance to be abandoned when it doesn’t fit right or when something else fits better, rebound relationships represent the most important truths of all: life and love can both go on.

Delhi-based Nona Uppal writes on love and relationships. She is on Instagram @nonauppal

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