We’ve all seen the memes about social distancing being the worst time/the best time/a time to reach out to an ex. There are the ones that posit it’s the perfect time to change your Netflix password that your ex still happens to have and the ones that nod to the fact that neither you nor your ex have anything better to do than make contact. What these memes don’t address is the very real struggle of missing someone or not even being totally sure if you actually do miss them. Sure, you may be feeling lonely right now (I’m there with you), and your mind may wander to that certain someone. But should you actually reach out? Are your feelings real? Or are they merely a result of weeks in isolation? Before you get into I-think-I’m-gonna-text-them-territory, you need to figure out the root of your emotions.
“It’s hard to pinpoint [exactly] why these feelings of missing an ex may come to the surface but, most commonly, it’s the familiarity of the person and the reality that most people would prefer to be with someone rather than alone,” says Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW, founder of Manhattan Wellness Associates. This desire for a partner — or even perhaps just a casual companion — is part of a scarcity mindset that is particularly prevalent in this moment. In the dating world, we fall into the belief that there are either not enough possibilities or there is no one better than an ex (or someone you’re currently with), says Silvershein. When your mind starts going there, it’s easy to convince yourself to get back in touch with someone with whom it didn’t work out, because it seems better than taking a gamble, especially at a time where there are so few opportunities to meet someone new.
“Take time to reflect on what exactly you miss about this person,” says Silvershein. “Are you missing the warm body, the company, the dinners, or their ability to listen and empathize with everyday challenges? Typically, when an individual is feeling lonely, they only remember the good times. Make sure that you are looking at the entire picture.”
Another good way to decipher the root of your emotions is to find support and love elsewhere, suggests Silvershein. Connect with friends and family, including those who you can’t currently see through texting, phone calls, and FaceTime. When you speak to them, are those feelings of missing your ex as prevalent? If you feel occupied, happier, and less lonely just by talking to other people, your feelings are likely not about your ex but about craving human contact in general.
If you’ve done the hard emotional work and concluded that you do, in fact, miss your ex, what now?
“Before reaching out to an ex, consider what your goal is,” says Silvershein. “[Ask yourself] what you want to get across to your ex and [to what end].” Maybe you’ve been unable to move on and have realized you’d like to give it another shot with this person. If so, make sure you are able to communicate what you want and have a plan for sharing that information before you send the first text.
Sasha*, 24, and her ex of three years broke up shortly before this all started and felt like they had unfinished business. “About a week before the pandemic, we talked about getting back together,” she says. “Now that we’re in it, isolation is making us confront a lot of our issues. I have so much time to think. It can be intense and emotionally draining to talk about the reasons why we broke up in the first place, and trying to figure out how we’re going to do things better [when we do get back together]. If we hadn’t had a conversation [about the breakup] prior to the pandemic, I think I would have reached out [once it began]. There were a lot of raw emotions and unanswered questions. Reconnecting during this time has been helpful for both of us.”
As is true in any anxiety provoking situation where you’re taking a risk, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before contacting your ex. Silvershein recommends reflecting on the best case scenario, worst case scenario, and most likely scenario. This practice helps you feel more control of the situation and comfortable with any outcome. You also want to be aware that reaching out may open up a can of worms that your ex wasn’t planning on unleashing. So if they don’t respond or ask you not to contact them again, you need to respect their boundaries and wishes.
Hold On A Sec
You may have realized that you don’t yearn for your ex, and thinking you did was just a lapse of judgment in the name of boredom. The problem is, you still feel lonely. In this case, Silvershein cautions that reaching out may do more harm than good.
That’s what happened to Carter*, 25, after she contacted her ex of four years. “We ended things amicably about three months ago,” she says. “We stopped texting, I think because he found out I started seeing someone else. My ex is kind of a hypochondriac, so I used the pandemic as an excuse to ask how he was handling things. We talked a little, and I offered to drop off some [treats] outside his apartment. He agreed at first, but then said it wasn’t a good idea and hasn’t been responding. I reached out because of all of this isolation craziness. If I had the opportunity, I’d be seeing the guy [I am currently dating], not texting an old flame. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t followed up. It complicated the breakup. I was doing really well and now I feel like I’ve backtracked.”
To avoid hitting up your ex and regretting it, Silvershein recommends combating loneliness by creating a schedule of social engagement — AKA Zoom/FaceTime dates with friends, family, even colleagues.
“Reaching out and being shortsighted about [getting in contact again] can lead to unwanted drama,” says Silvershein. And in these times, we definitely don’t need any more of that.