Before reconnecting with an ex, you have to be totally conscious of your intentions.
I was shocked to spy my old boyfriend’s face pop up on Facebook in a group photo from a college friend’s recent party. After he’d dumped me, I hadn’t seen him in years. Ready to end the animosity between us, I private messaged him.
He didn’t answer. I felt rejected… again.
Then I realized I was fine with no contact. Why? Because I now had a great job, a sweeter guy, and was better off without him.
Reconnecting with an ex can be fraught. Just ask Rihanna and Selena how it feels at music awards to bump into Chris Brown and Justin Bieber. After re-meeting my five worst breakups of all time to find out what had gone wrong and publishing a novel about a former boyfriend who snubbed me in public (pretending he didn’t know who I was), I’ve devised a code of rules on amorous reconnections.
When reconnecting with an ex is okay:
Whether it’s to say hello, express remorse, or resurrect your relationship, consider re-calling your lost love if:
1. You’re compelled to apologize.
If you treated somebody horribly and later wish you hadn’t, it’s never too late to say you’re sorry. But a brief note via social media is much smarter than showing up at someone’s home or work unannounced in the Nirvana T-shirt you stole from him.
Keep it short and sweet, the way AA amends usually go. Say what you did wrong and what you feel bad about. “I’m sorry I left without explaining to you what was really going on. I never meant to hurt you and I hope you’ll accept my belated apology.”
Ask yourself if it’s the kind of mea culpa you’d appreciate getting, and if so, atone away.
2. You have big news.
If you’re about to wed, divorce, give birth, your parents are splitting, someone close died, or you’re coming out or transitioning like Caitlyn Jenner, you may want to share a major milestone with your former confidante. Perhaps first visit a counselor, clergy, or therapist to explore your expectations. (Making someone jealous is not a good motivation.)
Then, if you’re compelled to give your ex an update, so they don’t find out on Facebook, do it low key. Try a short, innocuous letter, email, text, IM, or leave the phone message, “When you have time, I’d love to talk,” and consider having coffee.
When I told one former beau that I was getting engaged, he emailed, “Congrats. Can I be your second husband?” That made me smile and almost erased the bad juju from our breakup.
But make sure not to spill your gut-wrenched confessional poetry in a long, heavy, emotional drunk text, or reach out at midnight on Valentine’s Day.
3. You can handle a brash brush-off.
When I asked my high school boyfriend out for a drink to talk about what happened in our past, he emailed, “I’d rather take out my own appendix with a bottle of Jack and a dull spoon.” Luckily, I was in a good emotional space, and stole his line for a laugh in my book. But it did hurt my feelings.
You may learn that your ex is now living blissfully with a woman who’s smarter and cooler than you are, is still angry, or wants nothing to do with you. So if you email him, expect nothing in return. Plan dinner and a double feature with your best friend and turn off your iPhone so you don’t check your messages incessantly.
4. You’re finishing old business.
My friend Amy was always bothered that she’d never returned money from selling the engagement ring her ex-fiancé had given her. Though she assumed he was now blissfully wed and well off, she finally sent him a check with a note explaining the debt. She was surprised to learn his wife was ill and he was appreciative of the money.
In my case, an ex-boyfriend recently asked to borrow $250. He’d been generous when I was a broke grad student, so I obliged, calling it a gift. He wrote me a lovely thank you. In a weird way, being able to aid him assuaged some of my guilt and helped us both.
5. You’ve never forgotten.
Leaving the tearful phone message, “I’m still not over you!” is overkill. But if you’re single and can ascertain that your ex isn’t currently involved with someone, there are classy ways to reconnect without embarrassing yourself.
My friend Michelle sent a nice holiday card to the fiancé she’d left in grad school, writing the line: “Truthfully, you’re the best guy I ever met and I still think about you.” He called her and they wound up married, long after their original broken engagement.
When to stick to the no contact rule:
On the other hand, never revisit your romantic history when:
1. Someone close to you is tying the knot.
Feeling lonely or frustratingly single while having to be a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding isn’t a good reason to re-locate your last lover. This impulse is based on jealousy or competitiveness (externals), not an authentic longing for someone special and specific.
It didn’t work for Julia Roberts or Kate Hudson in any Rom-Coms and it won’t work for you either.
2. You hear he moved on.
There should be a law that the dumper has to wait until the dumpee finds a more perfect partner. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.
Seeing photos on Instagram of your ex who said he wasn’t ready to commit to you — now giving a ring to your replacement — doesn’t justify you texting him “WTF,” sharing the hashtag #SlittingMyWrist, or SnapChatting your hottest half-naked selfie kissing three girlfriends.
I once wasted hours web-stalking photographs of my ex’s gorgeous fiancée who was quieter, years younger, and skinnier than me — until a friend who stopped by ordered me to “Step away from that computer!”
Instead, call your mom, sister or bestie to freak out, swear and cry with, without trying to connect with him. That’s how you move on.
3. Everything is up in the air.
When I just landed in Manhattan at twenty, I bumped into a hot guy I’d once hooked up with and thought: it must be destiny. More like self-destruction. A creep doesn’t change his lines in a new location.
Switching colleges or graduate schools, moving to a different city, or applying for jobs in different fields can be stressful changes that challenge your equilibrium. But lying on your back isn’t the way to land on your feet. Try to be brave and independent for a while, instead of desperately booty-calling.
4. You just met someone new.
The quickest way to sabotage a fresh start is to regress by returning to the relative safety of your past. Freud called it “repetition compulsion.” I call it Ex-Traction.
I admit, right after I started dating the awesome man I wound up marrying, I had a last rendezvous with a loser who couldn’t commit. I left his place feeling ill and forever banished him from my life, never mentioning it to anyone (until now).
When you begin to date somebody with potential, it might feel weird and scary and make you want to escape. That’s actually good; doing something different is always a little uncomfortable. Now’s the time to de-friend and un-follow your ex, or you’ll soon have two exes to obsess over.
5. Life sucks.
After feeling rejected by your latest hookup or being scolded by your parents, teachers, or boss isn’t the time you need an instant gratification reunion with someone who could cause more damage. Ditto, if you’ve been drugging or drinking too much, screwing up work, school, your finances, or internship.
Even if your ex is willing to hold you while you cry, re-latching onto somebody when you’re a needy basketcase could create more problems than it solves. Instead of your old boyfriend, call a new therapist.
As my (happily married) shrink told me: “Love won’t make you happy. Make yourself happy. Then you’ll find love.”