In Dreams

Why We Dream About Past Loves

And what the dreams can teach us about our own yearnings, then and now.

Linda Merad

By Lindsay Goldwert
Feb. 23, 2022

If you’ve slept, perchance you have dreamed about an ex and woken up wondering, “What was that all about?”

The good news for chronic analyzers: An intense dream about a person you cared about months or even decades ago doesn’t mean you’re secretly pining for them. Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher at Harvard University and the author of “Pandemic Dreams” and “The Committee of Sleep,” who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, said that a number of factors can spark a dream about an ex-partner.

“Triggers can include an anniversary of a death or a breakup or a divorce decree,” she said. “But dreams can also be a reaction to how we feel about our present relationships.”

Instead of looking at dreams about exes as a sign of still being hung up on them or as a signal to look them up on social media, Dr. Barrett said to think of them as a chance to examine your current emotions and how you’re coping with them.

“The whole idea that we process deaths or breakups in an ‘all or nothing’ way is deceptive,” Dr. Barrett said. “Life is a continuous ‘getting over it.’ These things never fully disappear.” (

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