Exes trying to get back into your life can feel irritating or confusing at the best of times. But it seems that during the coronavirus pandemic re-emerging exes has become a big thing. But why are so many exes popping back up? Is it simply a case of lockdown boredom, or is there something about this time that makes people reflect and want to heal rifts? We asked the experts to explain.
Why are exes reappearing during lockdown?
There are a whole bunch of different emotions at play right now, and the anxiety of the pandemic plus the loneliness of social isolation can make people want to reach out, says Gurpreet Singh, a relationship counsellor at Relate.
"The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty, unpredictability and questions around mortality, which makes people feel anxious and vulnerable," he explains. "If you add social isolation into the mix, people are suffering from loneliness and the fatigue of being locked down. So when people feel vulnerable with all of that extra time to think, then it's understandable that thoughts will drift to the past."
But don't rule out good old-fashioned boredom as a simple reason behind why someone may be reaching out. "While some people may genuinely be reflecting on their past, there's also a lot of room for boredom to creep in right now, and people could be looking for an easy way to fill the void," explains dating expert for Match Hayley Quinn.
But why is it exes in particular that we're tempted to reach out to, rather than those who are still in our lives?
Moments of vulnerability can make us want to connect with people that we feel familiar and comfortable with, says Gurpreet. And feeling low and lonely can make us search for things that make us feel better about ourselves, he adds. This could be something as simple as feeling validated knowing that your ex still fancies you.
What should you do if you want to reach out to an ex?
Rule number one: think about your reasons for getting in contact with them. Are you looking for a distraction, familiarity, or some validation? "Sometimes when we have an impulse to reach out to an ex it's not so much about them, but about an unmet emotional need we have," Hayley explains. "Take some time to refocus, and don't immediately act on an impulse." If you do decide to reach out, make sure you're straightforward in explaining your reasons to the other person, too.
"Remember that the image you have of them in your mind isn't reality, it's a fantasy," Hayley explains. So make sure you're not just remembering the best parts of a relationship and forgetting the negatives.
Secondly, think about whether you would've reached out if we weren't in lockdown, says Gurpreet, and don't let it cloud your judgement. Think about how this will play out when lockdown ends, and if you would actually want to see them in person. Try to see past any short-term validation you might get from them and think about the long-term impact. This still applies in normal circumstances, though - so nothing should change just because the world is on hold.
Make sure you consider the different outcomes. If breaking up with them was difficult the first time around, be prepared for going through the same thing again. And be prepared for the possibility that they might not reply to you, Gurpreet adds. If you're already feeling vulnerable, you might end up feeling even more hurt and lonely than you already do.
How should you respond if an ex reaches out to you?
Hayley suggests asking yourself three questions: "Do you feel the same? Has this happened before? And does it feel genuine?"
If you don't feel the same, remember that you have just as much power as they do over whether the conversation continues. It's completely OK to not reply - and no reply can actually be a reply in itself. Don't forget that the block tool exists for a reason.
Remember that if you do reply just to be polite you run the risk of setting the ball rolling on a conversation that you don't want to have, Gurpreet adds. But if you don't want to completely ghost them then politely explain that you don't want to be back in touch and leave it there.
Similarly, if this has happened with the same person before, then try to learn from it. "For example, if you know the second you reciprocate your interest that they'll disappear, then save yourself the heartache of a response," says Hayley.
And if it does feel genuine, and you're both on the same page, then take it slowly, says Hayley. "Remember you will need to re-build you relationship brick by brick so take it easy and don't end up over committing yourself emotionally when you don't have the chance to meet in person," she explains.
However, if you're unsure about whether to respond or not, then wait until lockdown is over and see if you feel the same, Gurpreet suggests. That way your judgement won't be clouded by swirling emotions.
People whose exes have resurfaced explain what happened
"Six of my exes have popped up" Maria*, 21
"So far in lockdown, four of my exes or people that I've spoken to have popped up on the Houseparty app and two others have messaged me. The weirdest time was when one ex joined a Houseparty group call with me, my friend and all of her friends that I didn't know. Houseparty is lethal for that, because anyone can join your call!
"He just came into the call and asked how I was doing, but I didn't want to have the conversation so I left. Later, I found out that not only did he stay and do a quiz with strangers, without me, but he won as well! I thought it was ridiculous, and sometimes I can't believe men have the audacity. But I honestly just think he, like everyone else, is really bored."
"I think he just wants some conversation," says Sabrina*, 20
"My ex popped up two weeks into lockdown at four o'clock in the morning, a time which obviously raised slight alarm bells for me. His first message was just, 'Hey you, how's lockdown going?' and even though we take five hours to reply to each other, he won't go away and keeps trying to make conversation.
"We're still chatting, and he's mostly reminiscing about the past. For example, he got me an Amazon Alexa for my birthday last July and keeps asking if I've been using it. At first I wondered why he was asking, but I think he's just trying anything to make conversation. I'm not sure if there are any underlying intentions."
"I think lockdown made her want to rebuild bridges," says Violet*, 24
But it's not just romantic exes who seem to be appearing out of the woodwork. The same is happening with friend-exes too. For Violet*, a friend she fell out with six months ago recently reappeared.
"First of all, she popped up to say happy birthday, which I guess is fair enough, even though we aren't friends anymore. But then three weeks later she randomly asked for my address to send me a present. Since then, she's been chatting and trying to carry on the conversation as normal, as if we were still friends. I appreciate the gesture, but it felt out of the blue as we haven't spoken for so long and didn't end on good terms. But I wonder if lockdown has made her want to rebuild bridges."