Here's Why Your Exes Are Texting You During Quarantine
Whether you're the sender or are on the receiving end, don't panic—just follow these steps to figure out exactly how and why (!) this happened.
Isolation is difficult. Whether you live and are now quarantining alone, or you're just stuck looking at the same roommate's face (even if it's your mom's) day in and day out, the loneliness can be palpable. Like most others, you were probably used to getting your social fix from going out with your friends and interacting with your coworkers. But overnight, that's suddenly been taken away. This can lead to a lot of uncomfortable emotions that you can't easily ignore. So, for better or worse, for some, the first instinct is to find any way to escape them.
"I think right now, people need the familiar, which is why they start going back to unhealthy habits that they may have been moving away from pre-pandemic, whether that's smoking, drinking, binge-eating, or even going back to an old relationship," says psychotherapist Matt Lundquist. "I'm seeing a lot of people receiving texts from exes and reaching out to exes, particularly because there's such a shortage of intimacy right now, and so there's a craving for that. We also have so much time to ruminate that reaching out to your most recent partner for some semblance of redemption can happen fairly often."
Chances are, if you're reading this, you've probably been victim to a text (or DM or—gasp!—call) from an ex since the pandemic started. Perhaps you were the one to do the reaching out. If the former is true, you may have no idea what to do about it, why it's happening, or what it all even means. And if it's the latter, don't panic (why haven't we figured out how to unsend messages on smartphones by now?!). You may be feeling some regret it, are worried about a response, or may even be hopeful about the outcome—either way, it'll all be okay.
Here's what you can do if you're dealing with texts from an ex (or aren't sure what to do now that you started up a convo yourself).
If you received an unexpected text from an ex:
Figure out how you feel about the situation.
There are different kinds of exes—the one that got away, the toxic partner you never want to hear from again, that person in college you even forgot you dated—and so, hearing from one ex might be triggering in a way that's unique to that relationship.
"Even if you do have old feelings left for someone, many times, relationships ended for a reason," says Lundquist. "You don't want to fall into old patterns. But sometimes when feelings have ended, you can maintain a friendship, or the alternative could be true—you could have both re-evaluated what made the relationship go wrong and have the chance to work it out."
The only way you can figure out which scenario applies to the ex you just heard from, is to focus on how hearing from this person made you feel. Were you angry? Nostalgic? Excited? Before you even try to speculate about the intentions of the person on the other end of that phone, consider what you even want to get out of this dialogue. Translation: Think before you type. Remember there's no unsend.
Evaluate their intention.
Once you've figured out how you feel, it's important to find out where the other person is coming from—after all, just because you've moved on, for instance, it doesn't mean they have. "It could be actual remorse driving the interaction, or it could be loneliness, anger, or any other number of things," says Lundquist.
You'd know your relationship best: If you instinctively know that this person is probably going to hurt you (even if they do so unintentionally), it's good to remove your expectations from the interaction and face that probability. Alternatively, if you believe this person cares about your well-being whether you're together or not, you may begin to explore a more cordial relationship or, yes, even getting back together.
Respond appropriately (or not).
First, know that you do not have to engage with someone just because they reach out. This doesn't necessarily mean ghosting their "How's quarantine-life treating you?" text, though.
"Communication is often the easiest way to fix things, but it's the most underrated tool in relationships, or even potential relationships," says relationship expert Susan Winter. "If this person triggers you and you don't want to speak to them, this is the best time to be honest!" says Winter. "You can explain that they hurt you and you don't want to speak to them again." Conversely, "if it's a neutral ex, be civil and end the conversation and if it's someone you want to rekindle a relationship with, go slow and be friendly." Going slow and managing post-quarantine expectations is critical, as you'll find out below...
Refrain from making any huge decisions right now.
"Since emotions are heightened right now, what you want in the middle of the pandemic is not what you may want after the pandemic," says psychotherapist J. Ryan Fuller, Ph.D. "Something is happening right now which is a concept in psychology called selective abstraction, where you either overly focus on the positive or the negative of a situation when you're in crisis—and that's exactly what the COVID-19 pandemic is."
This means that when you're thinking about your ex, you could either be overly critical of them or too nostalgic about them for your own good, all depending on your mood. This could be entirely different from how you feel post-crisis, so hold off on making any rash decisions.
Now, if you sent a spontaneous text to an ex:
Ask for consent.
"I think the best thing to understand is when you send a text to an ex out of the blue, particularly when you haven't been in contact for a long time, you're opening up a ton of feelings " for both parties, explains Lundquist. Plus, at this stage, you can't possibly know how hearing from you has made them feel. "I would definitely err on the side of caution if you do get a response, asking if they're okay being in touch."
The emotional burden should lay more on the person who's doing the reaching out (that'd be you, girl), rather than the receiver who might feel uncomfortable speaking up about being uncomfortable with reconnecting. If you straight up ask if they are cool with it, this gives them the opportunity to say yes without making things awkward or drawn out. (Related: How to Handle a Breakup During the Coronavirus Quarantine, According to Relationship Pros)
Make your intentions as clear as possible from the get-go.
"No matter whether it's a 'checking-up-on-you' text that leads to a longer conversation or a text specifically aimed at getting back together, you should try to explain how you feel as soon as you possibly can," says Lundquist. You don't have to send a secondary text before they even respond asking "So, wanna get back together or what?" but transparency is always best, he emphasizes. You might want to be subtle at first to test the waters, which is fine, but whether you start to develop feelings again and want to give it a chance or really are done, you shouldn't lead the other person on if you can help it." Yes, even though quarantine can be lonely.
Making your feelings known and deciding how to go about it later is way better than months of uncertainty and curiosity—it just causes anxiety. And let's be real: No one needs more of that during a global health pandemic.
Accept that you may not get a response.
"When you reach out to someone you used to be emotionally involved with and they're still hurting or have moved on with their lives, you could be making things really uncomfortable for them," says Winter. "That's something you need to understand. They may respond meanly or not at all."
If that happens, Winter says you should just accept their feelings (or their assumed feelings if you never hear back) and move on. Even though, for example, you may have changed and are hoping for redemption, sometimes it's either just not meant to be or they need more time to contemplate how to respond. Just know that if you ultimately don't get the response you were hoping for (or none at all) the best thing you can do is try to accept it. "Someone else will be happier with you, and honestly, you'd rather be with someone who wants to hear from you anyway," says Winter.
Don't do any permanent damage.
Hopefully, by now you recognize that your needs pre-, during, and post-pandemic may be totally different, and reaching out to your ex might have felt like the right thing to do a few weeks ago, but now you aren't so sure. In fact, Fuller says that at the moment of texting, you're probably focusing mostly on the positive moments of your old relationship—darn you, selective abstraction thing. Plus, they can serve as a form of escapism from the uncertainty going on right now.
"You're likely bored of your current reality, or if you have a partner, are spending so much time with them that it's getting on your nerves," he says. "So you focus on the good in a previous partnership, but the last thing you want to do is have a crisis influence your normal decision-making strategies." Waiting to make those decisions until you see each other (or decide otherwise) post-crisis will help you make a choice you won't later regret.