These long days and nights of quarantine have made us start doing things we probably wouldn’t, under normal circumstances. Whether you’ve devoted hours to baking the perfect sourdough or putting together 1,000-piece puzzles, you may have a whole new set of hobbies than you did a month ago. If you’re someone who enjoys firing up Google and seeing what people from your past are up to now, you’ve probably already done that several times.
But that’s where things can get complicated. One Google search can easily lead to another, and all of a sudden you’re scrolling through your ex’s Instagram feed. And whether you’ve been stuck inside alone, with a partner who gets more annoying by the day, screaming kids or ungrateful roommates, it can be easy for your mind to wander, thinking about what it would be like if your life had played out in a different way. And that’s when the temptation to get in touch with an ex sets in. This may seem like a good idea right now, but trust us—it’s really not.
Why we’re so tempted to get in touch with an ex
We don’t have to tell you that living during a global pandemic is stressful. Not only are we all stuck at home, but there are also other constant reminders of COVID-19 every time we turn on the news, log onto social media or catch up with family and friends. “It’s almost like ambient anxiety in the world right now,” Dr. Kate Jansen, an assistant professor of psychology at Midwestern University and expert in health communication tells Lifehacker. “This ongoing stressor is compounded by a serious disruption in most of our routines: work, socialisation, exercise, entertainment are all different and sometimes gone. This sets the stage for us to make decisions we might not make otherwise.” Like getting in touch with an ex.
If you fall into this category, Jansen says that you should take a moment to think about why you want to reach out to someone you used to date. For instance, scrolling through old social media posts could make you feel nostalgic, so you should consider whether this nostalgia is for that person, or for a time before your life was disrupted. “It’s very reasonable to be mourning the loss of your life ‘before,’ Jansen explains. “This could lead to romanticizing a past relationship, and feeling tempted to reach out when you wouldn’t have a month ago.”
Over the past few weeks, psychotherapist and relationship expert Haley Neidich has had several clients bring up the fact that they have been texting their exes—or at least thinking about it. “It was evident in all of these cases that the individuals were struggling with filling their time in a structured way, not connecting enough with other people (socially isolating) and experiencing worsening depression,” she explains. “When we have intense and uncomfortable emotions or we feel out of control—as we all do now—we have a drive to regain control and soothe our challenging emotions.”
According to Neidich, our desire to get in touch with exes could also happen because we haven’t fully processed a break-up, and now that we have so much time on our hands, are finally allowing ourselves to feel the emotions that are naturally coming up. “It is normal to find yourself fantasizing about an ex due to loneliness and fear,” she says. “This is a scary time for everyone, and our minds will naturally look for ways to ease that discomfort.”
Why it’s probably a bad idea
In most cases, getting in touch with an ex—pandemic or not—isn’t usually a great decision. “While there are some outliers to this, people break up for a reason, and getting back in touch often leads to regret and puts us in more pain,” Neidich explains. “What we are all living through right now is not a normal circumstance and it is causing many people to make decisions out of fear.” Neidich suggests asking yourself if you would have contacted your ex prior to being in quarantine: if you wouldn’t have done it then, don’t do it now.
And you also run the risk of learning that your ex is in a new relationship. Of course, you’ve probably already done your due diligence and looked the person up on social media, but some people are private about relationships, and it may not be obvious. If you’re already feeling vulnerable, finding out that an ex has moved on with someone else can make you feel worse.
“The discovery that your ex has a new relationship is pivotal is the grieving process,” Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and co-star of Sex Box (WEtv) tells Lifehacker. “Most folks entertain a certain fantasy that reconciliation of romance and all-good love will resume. Once faced with a pool of ice-water when you learn your ex has a new relationship the ending and death of the fantasy must be faced and the true mourning process begins.” Sure, mourning the end of a relationship is healthy, but the middle of a pandemic may not be the best time to start that process.
What we should do instead
If you’re tempted to reach out to an ex right now, chances are you might be lonely—which makes sense, given our new socially isolated lives. According to Jansen, you may actually be missing regular interaction with your current friends and support systems—not your ex. Start by setting up scheduled times to virtually meet up with your friends. “It’s tempting to blow these things off, or to have a more difficult time following through with the appointment when we’re feeling anxious or bored, but it’s so important to keep your friend and family network strong in times of stress,” she explains.
And if regular phone calls or group Zoom chats aren’t cutting it anymore, Jansen says that you can get creative by hosting virtual happy hours, taking a FaceTime walk together, playing video games online together, watching tv or movies together via Netflix party, or livestreaming exercise classes as a group. “Pick a social activity and really commit,” she says. “Once you’ve started you’ll probably be glad you did. After your social needs are met and you’re feeling connected, then re-evaluate if you still feel that urge to reach out to an ex.”
Also, Neidich says that craving to call an ex is a signal that you’re feeling emotionally distressed and are looking for an outlet. “Sticking to a routine, regular video chats with friends and getting connected to yourself through meditation and mindful movement are much healthier ways to self-soothe.” So when you’re tempted to pick up the phone and get in touch with someone, pick a friend or family member—not an ex.