Are You On A "Feedback Loop" When It Comes To Your Ex?

If you can't seem to shake your ex, learn more about what a feedback loop is.

Love & Relationships

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one, who can absolutely attest to the fact that, if there's one thing 2020 provided, it was the opportunity to go totally ham when it comes to checking out what various forms of media provides. What I mean by that is, you've probably never been on Twitter as much, binge-watched television shows as often or checked out movies that you never ever would've considered otherwise, had it not been for this pandemic.

Well, a movie that I personally, that actually serves as the inspiration for this piece, is entitledOpen Tables. It's basically about a whole bunch of white people, who sit around dinner tables, in order to share tales of their relational experiences. Out of all the stories, there was one, in particular, that had me be like "wow". See, there was this couple who were basically on the verge of breaking up. Then, the guy ended up having an accident that caused him to have a bout of very short-term memory loss (kinda like the movie 50 First Dates when Drew Barrymore's character could only remember a day; then she would go to sleep, wake up and mentally start the same day all over again). The woman, his ex, took on the challenge to be his temporary caregiver; since his short-term memory was shot, he was perfectly fine with that. The woman then decided that she would take advantage of his injury by getting him to do all of the things that she wished he had done when they were "officially" together. Pretty soon, she realized that she had fallen for the man she "made up", only for him to eventually regain his memory and want nothing to do with her. Why? Because they had already broken up and he remembered it. Finally.

When the woman went back to the doctor to share how absolutely devastated she was to know that her relationship—the one she had manipulated into becoming just how she wanted it—had once again come to an end, the physician said something that was super on-point. "He was on a feedback loop. You all were on a feedback loop". Then the doctor followed that question up by looking the woman directly in the eyes and asked, "My question is, what made you stay so long?"

Feedback loops. Y'all, won't it preach? Some of us are still caught up in cyclic patterns with our own ex (sometimes, it's even more than one ex) and it's all because of our own customized feedback loops. Are you ready for me to break this down even further so that you can fully and finally get free?

How a “Feedback Loop” Plays Out in a Lot of Relationships


Listen, if anyone is a top candidate to rock a "Feedback Loop" T-shirt, it would definitely have to be me, chile. Articles that I've written on this site like, "Why Every Woman Should Go On A 'Get Your Heart Pieces Back' Tour", "Why Running Into Your Ex Can Be The Best Thing Ever" and even "You Love Him. You Prefer Sex With Your Ex. What Should You Do?" are just three documented examples of how I know what it's like to be in this kind of pattern with a man from my past. That said, even though I've already provided you with a fictionalized example of what a feedback loop is, perhaps you're curious about how it tends to play out in the real world? I get that, so let's start with looking at two definitions of the word "feedback", OK?

Feedback: the furnishing of data concerning the operation or output of a machine to an automatic control device or to the machine itself, so that subsequent or ongoing operations of the machine can be altered or corrected; a reaction or response to a particular process or activity

Alright, so since we're human beings rather than machines, for the sake of where I'm going with this, when it comes to the definitions that I just provided, swap out the word "machine" for "experience" and the word "device" for "mind". Then, you're able to better understand that feedback is data that comes directly from an experience, that goes into the mind, so that the experience can then be altered or created. While we're here, it's also worth noting that feedback is the reaction or response that comes out of when this happens too.

Whew. Let's now present this in a way of dealing with an ex. Every single relationship that we have collects data. Our mind collects data. Our heart collects data. If we were sexually active with them, our body collects data too (check out "We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'"). OK, well when we're on a feedback loop with someone, it means that the data that our mind, heart and body collects is oftentimes altered. Altered by whom? Altered by us.
  • We may alter it by only reflecting on the good times with our ex.
  • We may alter it by focusing on how great the sex was while ignoring how bad the relationship was.
  • We may alter it by minimizing how unhealthy the dynamic actually was.
  • We may alter it by telling ourselves that we were the only one with the problem or issue (or they were).
  • We may alter it by telling ourselves that it's better to be with him than to be alone.

And when we manipulate data in this way, it's very easy to then get a call from our ex or even want to reach out to them—you know, in order to react or respond—because we aren't working with all of the info that we should. We're only seeing what we want to see while ignoring the parts that caused us to end it with them in the first place.

Again, I know exactly what it's like to be caught up in this because, one some level, I've been going around and around with my first love for a couple of decades. No joke. Matter of fact, just last month, we spoke again and there was a part of me, for the billionth time that was like, "maybe…just maybe" (what in the world?!). The good news is I've learned to love myself more than him (that hasn't always been the case) and so, when he told me, also for the billionth time now, that he still loved me and wanted me in his life and we even broached the subject of trying to be friends, I actually considered it. Yet when I told him what I expected from my friendships and again he did not follow through, I realized that what was really going on is I was getting over my feedback loop. Well, kinda.

What I mean by that is, the way he was even able to get 30 minutes of my time, yet again, is due to my own feedback loop that I still need to silence more than I thought. Because he was my first everything, there is a 19-year-old part of me who still giggles at his jokes and finds comfort in our incomparable familiarity, even all these years later. But y'all—there ain't enough time in today or tomorrow to tell you all of the reasons why we needed to break up—and stay broken up. I will always have profound feelings for him (virgins, be careful who you give it up to; the bond tends to be indescribably profound) yet the loop has to break. Once and for all. Because while he continues to be fine and some mo' fine and there is a chemistry that is bar none, I now get that the manipulated data is the ONLY THING that truly catches me up. It's also what's caused me to waste a lot of time, pondering irrelevant "what ifs" too.

So now that I've put some of my business out in front street in order to paint a clearer picture, ask yourself—are you currently in a feedback loop with someone? Is there a person who you share data, in the form of experiences and memories with, who you keep manipulating/editing the reality of the situation, in order to justify still involving—or even lightly engaging—yourself with them? If so, what really are you getting from that? How is "running around in a loop" getting you anywhere?

How You Can Prevent Using a “Feedback Loop” with an Ex


If you after seeing a feedback loop for what it is, your immediate response is "F—ck! I am most definitely in a feedback loop. What do I do now?" first, don't beat yourself up about it. Chile, it happens to the best of us. Second, I'll lightly touch on a few tips that can hopefully break you totally free—so that you can create better and more beneficial data with someone else.

Write a goodbye letter about the relationship. To yourself. In order to break free from the manipulated data that you've been feeding yourself, the first thing that I recommend is writing a goodbye letter to and for yourself; not so much about the break-up as the feedback loop that you've been in as a direct result of it. Make sure to include why you're in the loop, the experiences and memories that you've been leaving out about the relationship, and why that man is your ex for a reason. Then conclude it with why you deserve more and better (because you do). Store the letter somewhere where you can access it, each and every time you are tempted to "get back in the loop" again, so that it can serve as your reality check, when all common sense and discernment are totally out of the window.

Stop rehearsing the past; with yourself, friends or with him. I've gotta admit that, probably the main thing that keeps me and my ex going through over and over…and over again, is the fact that whenever we do speak, it's only a matter of time before we find ourselves walking back down memory lane (editing out most of the icky stuff, of course). That ends up feeling so good that we both tell our friends about it and, based on who that is, sometimes they feed into the feedback loop by talking about how precious or romantic all of the reminiscing is. Then, once get the cosign, we keep playing it back over and over…and over in our minds until we convince ourselves that it's meant to be. Somehow, someway, we're gonna make it work.

Listen, we rehearse things either to get better at them or to not forget them. So, if you want to truly break out of the feedback loop with your ex, that means you're gonna have to start a new narrative. Yep, you're going to have to leave the past in the past—right where it belongs. With you, your friends and with him.

When engaging with your ex again, be clear about why. It would be unfair to not put on record that there are people who are able to stay friends with their ex. Issa (from Insecure) even tried to make us believe that it's possible to be friends with an ex's new boo. Shoot, back in the day, our managing editor even said she could handle still having sex with her ex. To all of these scenarios, the main thing to keep in mind before even considering them, is why you would do it. It needs to be more than because you miss ole' boy. When you're in a relationship with someone, it changes you. You need to consider how having any kind of "realness" with him will benefit the person you are now—the one you've become, in part, as a direct result of the relationship and it coming to an end. If you can find five good clear reasons, along with a male and female friend who can see the sense in it as well (because sometimes we need folks to see our matters from the inside out), then it is possible that you can keep an ex in your life and not run in a feedback loop with them. Tricky yet possible.

Be honest about what is required to fully move forward. One more tip. I'm gonna be honest with you—while I don't think that it's impossible to keep your past in your present, it does usually require some extraordinary finessing; especially if one or both of you have some sort of strong attraction or feelings for one another. Back to my ex, because there are always things, even about his personality, that I'm always gonna adore, I'm honestly playing myself to say that we can be "just friends". And it's the lack of honesty that gets me caught up in the feedback loop, no matter what, oftentimes when I absolutely least expect it. Yet isn't it interesting that a feedback loop is all about manipulating data? Therefore, doesn't it make perfect sense, that the way to break out of the loop, would be by being as genuine, sincere and honest with oneself as possible?

Sis, do you need your ex in your life? If so, why? Because if keeping him around is going to leave you stagnant in some way, being "stuck" in never good. The people in your life should help you to move forward. Otherwise, you really should strongly consider leaving them behind.

Listen, this pandemic led me to that movie and that movie brought me to a phrase that I'll be using for a really long time. Feedback loops are manipulated data that we tend to respond to—and you deserve to not be manipulated by anyone; including yourself. Some exes suck forever. Some ex dynamics can be restored. Yet no relationship should have you running around in a loop that will get you absolutely nowhere. If you're in a loop, download ALL the data and react accordingly. A feedback loop might seem beautiful at first but it's not the total truth and a lie is just that—a lie. Choose wisely, sis.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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