Going through a breakup can be tough. It can leave you feeling restless and struggling to fill the white space left behind by the relationship. You experience a myriad of emotions, and sometimes, you feel guilty or even blame yourself for why the relationship ended. This is all the more reason it feels like a big fat kick in the teeth to discover that your ex is an overlapper: s(he’d) already begun a new relationship before breaking up with you.

You’re grieving the breakup and even missing them; they’re already on a new adventure with someone else.

You can’t help but feel replaced in these situations, and that hurts. There’s also feeling duped if discussions (and/or sex) took place during their overlapping. It makes you wonder what was real and what was fake. There you were thinking that your relationship still had a chance, and they already knew that it didn’t.

It’s painful and unfortunate, but sometimes we meet our next partner before our current relationship ends. It doesn’t necessarily mean that something happens, but yes, sometimes our heads get turned. We feel deeply attracted to someone, and we know we cannot continue as is. Some people know that their feelings have changed with no physical overlap. Some people start something else and then have to find a ‘good moment to break bad news’.

Let’s be real, though: some people use knowledge of a possible imminent breakup to be ‘open’ to new possibilities.

Many people have experienced at least one emotional overlapping at some point. And a lot more people than would probably admit it has started a new relationship before ending their current one. It’s not habitual, and it’s for a short period, and it’s likely regretted. In these instances, their actions don’t reflect who they are in the main. They felt deeply conflicted, guilty and even ashamed at the time, and sought to end their existing relationship as soon as possible.

Overlapping happens towards the end of a relationship that isn’t working, even though one of you might still be fighting for its survival. Or one might be unaware that the other party is even thinking of breaking up. The overlapper may justify their actions by claiming that the relationship was “practically over” or claiming that they told you they needed space.

Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl book banner

Habitual or even serial overlappers are always lining up their next option so it’s ready to use when needed.

  • They reopen negotiations with their ex behind your back.
  • They’ve got someone at work/the gym/club that they flirt with.
  • They’re confiding their problems (real or imagined) to someone at work (or elsewhere). Or they’ve become a shoulder to cry on for that person and forged a connection.
  • They’ve got someone mooning over them and being ‘indispensable’. For example, the woman who overlapped one of my friends took over her old job, and then played supportive friend to her then-boyfriend. Then she eased her way into a relationship with him a few weeks before my friend’s relationship ended.
  • They’re already strolling down memory lane on Facebook with someone from school/uni (the Returning Childhood ‘Sweetheart’).

Habitual overlappers don’t like to leave a relationship until they’ve got another one to go to.

The people they move on to are bridges providing an excuse and an exit from their current relationship. Or, an emotional airbag that provides a soft landing.

Many people don’t know how to break up.

It’s as if breaking up can’t be about not feeling the same way or incompatibility. Instead, the other party practically has to be a serial killer before they’ll leave.

Or it’s the whole “Well they’re not beating/cheating..” When they can’t ‘villainise’ the person, and in fact, this person is even trying to people-please the hell out of them or fighting hard for the relationship, overlapping becomes their go-to exit strategy. They can claim guilt and finally have a ‘legitimate’ reason to exit, or their new flame will pressure them to move on. Job done.

Let’s be real, some people don’t do being alone very well. I know a few people who’ve never had a clean break between relationships. They think they’re serial monogamists, but they’re more like serial feelings avoiders.

Some people need to have their ego stroked elsewhere when they experience relationship problems. It gives them reassurance because getting attention and possibly the offer of another relationship from someone else must mean that the problem isn’t theirs.

Overlappers don’t gain any insights from their relationships.

Instead, they just transfer and assume that new surroundings and a clean slate mean problem solved as if to suggest that they had no contribution and have nothing to learn.

It’s also safe to say that sometimes the new partner is/was unaware of the existence of their relationship with you when they became involved. When caught, no doubt it’ll be “Oh we were pretty much over by then!” or “Baby, I was afraid I’d lose you [so I lied]…”

To be clear, though, regardless of what state your relationship was in, ‘overlapping’ is cheating.

Even if it didn’t get physical, overlapping equals an emotional affair. If their new partner was under the impression that they were free and single, it means your ex deceived them as well.

Whoever your ex overlapped with may feel flattered now and enjoying the honeymoon glow, but they don’t realise that your average overlapper and cheater is demonstrating that when faced with problems and conflict, they don’t do problem-solving. Eventually, they may find themselves being overlapped too.

Note: If you’re with an overlapper, ask about their breakups. If they’re a habitual overlapper, you won’t be the only one, although bear in mind that they may try to fudge the numbers.

I remember when an ex sobbed about how devastated he was as he ironed the hell out of his cricket trousers a little over a week after our breakup. A week later, I was at our old flat collecting stuff and listened to the voicemails, most of which were for me except one from 5 am the week before. “Hi…. it’s me…. Just to let you know, I’ve landed… I’ll try you on your mobile”. I felt like a mug, especially because I’d felt guilty and thought we were both struggling with the breakup. Of course, he denied it. One year to the day after our breakup, my friend bumps into him at a party. She chats to his “new” woman. Turns out, they’d celebrated their one-year anniversary a few days before.

Being overlapped can leave you feeling ‘replaced’, discarded, rejected. It’s like “Can’t you wait until…the frickin’ bed is cold? Or until I’ve got my stuff out of your place? Can’t you wait until we’ve been broken up for a month?” But they can’t.

Overlappers don’t do facing feelings, thoughts, or even their conscience. Their overlapping hurts a great deal as it jumps right into your grief, forcing you out of denial and even short-circuiting bargaining (a grief stage) because it removes hope. It’s easy to feel like it ‘must’ be you if they’ve moved on. Actually, them moving on doesn’t mean that the relationship issues were your fault. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t care; they’ve buried their feelings and are on the rebound.

They’re just not that special that they bear no responsibility for their previous relationships. They’re definitely not emotionally Teflon-coated!

It’s only human to desire courtesy and respect. You want your relationship to mean something, but the fact that your ex moved on doesn’t mean that the relationship is and was meaningless; they just don’t want to face anything. And they want a fresh start as soon as possible. It doesn’t mean that their new partner is better than you; it might mean that they’re ‘there’. Your ex will process the breakup while in a relationship (they’re probably avoiding it…). That’s not what you’re doing, and that’s a good thing.

Your ex’s new relationship may or may not work out. And if it does, again it’s not about you but more that they’re still the same person but have found someone who their values and characteristics (even if they’re dodgy) click with. Or maybe their current partner will ignore issues.

Ultimately, don’t lose sight of why your relationship wasn’t working as it’s all too easy to forget the reasons and make their new partner and this idea of you being ‘rejectionable‘ and ‘replaceable‘ the reason. All that’s going to do is ensure that even though you haven’t moved on, you don’t learn anything new either.

It’s not something you said. It’s not something you did. Overlapping reflects their character, not your worthiness.

Your thoughts?

Baggage Reclaim is a labour of love. If you find it helpful, a tip would be greatly appreciated to keep it going.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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