Why So Many People Are Contacting Their Exes Right Now
There are many reasons why the current crisis may motivate us to contact an ex.
Posted Apr 24, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and will continue to have, major effects on our physical health, our economy, our work, and our mental health. But it also has profoundly affected our social relationships. Social distancing has meant finding new ways of interacting with others, and forgoing other ways of connecting. But it also might cause people to get in touch with former relationship partners. There are several reasons why people might reach out to exes during quarantine.
It's hard to find romance when you can't leave your house.
This kind of goes without saying. Clearly many traditional avenues for meeting new people or developing relationships are off limits. You won't be meeting anyone at a bar or party or flirting with a co-worker at the water cooler. This may cause some people to turn to dating websites and apps to meet new people. But not everyone is comfortable with online dating. And more than that, for some people, online dating may not fit their current mood.
If you're feeling particularly anxious or sad about what's going on in the world, casually flirting with a stranger on Match.com may not feel appropriate. When we meet new people, we usually start out talking about relatively superficial topics. So if you're not feeling very light, you may be in no mood for flirty banter. With an ex, you've already developed emotional intimacy, so you can dive right into more serious conversations.
People may feel especially lonely – or even bored – right now.
People have a basic need for human contact. When we lack social ties, we tend to suffer both mentally and physically. So when you're forced into a situation where your social contact has been severely limited, you're going to want to do something to remedy the situation. And contacting an old flame could be one way to do that.
People may also find that without their normal work, social, and daily activities, that they're simply bored. Reaching out to an ex might seem like a way to add spice to a monotonous routine. There are many reasons why people keep in touch with exes — sometimes it is to keep them on the "back burner" as a possible relationship partner, but it can also be because you still feel some closeness to an ex, or your ex just continues to be part of your social circle. Any of these reasons could cause you to contact an ex when you're looking for a way to pass the time or a way to connect with another person.
This might be the perfect excuse to reach out to someone.
Sometimes people may genuinely have a desire to emotionally reconnect with an ex — a desire that may predate quarantine. This could be hopes of getting back together, or just feelings of nostalgia or care for someone who used to be an important part of your life. Thus, the current crisis may give people an excuse to contact an ex. People may normally feel uncomfortable reaching out "for no reason." This might be especially true if they don't want to get back together with the ex but do genuinely want to see how their ex is doing. Normally, they might be concerned that their ex will falsely perceive any contact as an attempt to rekindle the romance. But in the midst of a crisis, checking in on people feels more normal — it may even feel like the right thing to do. And this can make people feel more comfortable reaching out to an ex.
Reconnecting with an ex may be a way to find meaning in life.
Looking at the current situation, it certainly presents an existential crisis. That is, people are thinking about death and about what's really important in life. According to Terror Management Theory, when people think about death, it increases their drive for meaning. Meaning can come in many forms – work, religion, family, social causes – and intimate relationships are high on that list for most people. In fact, one series of studies showed that reminding people about death increased their feelings of commitment to their current partner.
In the midst of an existential crisis, people may look back and think about their past relationships. They may feel a wave of nostalgia for a once-important romantic relationship that has now ended. They may be taking stock and wondering if a particular ex was "the one that got away." All of this may cause them to reconnect with those exes.
What should you do if you're thinking of reaching out to an ex?
There are many different reasons why you might want to reach out to your ex, as I just described. The first thing you need to do is ask yourself why you want to get in touch with your ex. Are you bored or lonely and hoping for a short-term flirtation? Are you genuinely concerned and curious about your ex? Are you hoping to rekindle the romance?
Then you need to think about how your ex is likely to interpret your outreach. For example, if you have no interest in getting back together with your ex, but you know they are still harboring feelings for you, then you need to make sure that you're not leading them on or causing them to get re-attached. Or the situation could be reversed, where you're the one who hopes to get back together with your ex. Your ex may be especially responsive to your texts or calls right now because they're bored or lonely – you need to carefully read the situation and make sure that you're not building up false hopes of a post-pandemic romantic reunion.
There is nothing inherently wrong with getting in touch with old flames during a crisis, but it's important to think carefully about your motives and what you hope to get out of it, as well as how your ex is likely to respond.
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