As every news report likes to remind us, we’re currently in the midst of ‘unprecedented times’, as the health crisis goes on and we spend longer separated from our loved ones than ever before.
And with these times, for many of us, comes an entirely new set of behaviours, whether it’s a running hobby, a taste for baking cinnamon swirls or… contacting people you wouldn’t usually dream of speaking to. Yep, I’m talking about your exes.
While heading to the pub with your mates is out of the question for now, the majority of us have been left with a lot of time on our hands; time that can lead to reflection – or downright stupidity, depending on which way you look at things.
Before writing this, all it took was a quick call-out on Twitter to have my inbox flooded with people who have found their DMs filled with messages from former lovers, whether it’s a one-night stand they shared a night of passion with, or an ex-partner who broke their heart when they called things off.
In fact, research by Match dating expert Hayley Quinn found that 27% of singles have been contacted by an ex during lockdown.
‘One of my first boyfriends got in touch from when I was about 16,’ one woman who wanted to stay anonymous told me. ‘Not really heard from him since, until he slipped into my DMs on Instagram. Bearing in mind he’s now married, he has been regularly sending me nudes of himself. The cheek of a married man – when I turned him down, he said it was just a fantasy.’
Obviously, it’s completely wrong not only to send unsolicited nudes, but also to do so while married to someone else. Sadly, these kinds of stories aren’t uncommon, among both single people and others in relationships.
But, why? What is it about a pandemic that makes people feel the need to delve into the archives of past lovers and intrude on their present?
Well, according to relationship expert Anna Williamson, it’s because ‘suddenly feelings of vulnerability, uncertainty and loneliness have taken over’.
‘When we feel vulnerable in particular, we reach out for anything (or anyone) that gives us comfort, stability, and safety,’ she told . ‘In some cases it is also a sign of boredom and an itch that needs scratching to fill the void. The familiarity of an ex can seem like the solution to fill that gap but this is almost certainly a whim and not a genuine desire to rekindle.’
These thoughts are echoed by clinical psychologist Daniel Sher, who explained it’s in human nature to seek out connections with others, and therefore reaching out to those you’ve previously built relationships with can seem like a good place to start.
‘Humans are social creatures: the drive for attachment is literally hard-wired in our brains,’ he told . ‘When we are deprived of social contact, we’ll do anything to feel a bit more connected. From this perspective, it makes complete sense that a person would reach out to their old flame.’
However, while understanding the logic behind an ex getting in touch might be easy, deciphering what to do about it can be a hell of a lot more tricky. The last thing anyone needs during these difficult times is to have the added stress of trying to work out the true intentions of a former love; a concept that is often hard to grasp, even at the best of times.
It might be obvious that your ex just wants some comfort, or even a little bit of fun to ease the boredom, and if you’re okay with that then that’s fine. But if they’re giving off the impression they’d like to get back together, it’s important to remember that things aren’t ‘normal’ at the moment, and what you want now won’t necessarily be what you want when post-pandemic life resumes.
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder/co-CEO of My Online Therapy, told :
I would encourage someone to think very carefully about whether this is a wise decision. Evaluate the pros and cons of getting back together and what that might look like – both the short-term and the long-term. Would you be able to get support and friendship from this relationship without causing yourself any further psychological damage?
As tempting as it might be, you want to avoid putting yourself in a situation that is going to make things more upsetting and difficult for you in the long-term. If the relationship was complex and challenging the first time around, I would encourage someone to think carefully about whether this is a positive move for them during an already vulnerable time.
‘Be forthright in asking what has prompted them to get in contact. Don’t feel obliged to entertain small talk if you would rather cut to the chase and find out the reason for contacting you. Once you have the facts, it’s a lot easier to then work out your next move and to feel in control,’ Anna advised.
‘I would caution my client to wait until the quarantine/lockdown is over and then if there was appetite to pick up the connection again, do it then. With a level of normality resuming it will be far easier to differentiate between a genuine intention from an ex, or simply reaching out through boredom/loneliness – if they’re still keen it might be worth a further chat, and if they scarper then you know you’re best off out.’
While caution is, of course, key, that doesn’t mean to say meaningful relationships can’t be formed (or resumed) during these times, as many people reached out to say the current climate had brought them back to loved ones.
One couple had previously spent 14 months in a relationship before ending things on good terms a few months ago, but they said lockdown gave them time to reflect on how much they missed each other.
Now, Will and his girlfriend have spent the past three months having date nights over FaceTime and keeping their rekindled love alive through the excitement of knowing they will be able to reunite soon. It can’t be easy, but the real challenge – according to Anna – will come once normal life resumes.
‘Isolation has been tough, particularly for those single and feeling lonely, nostalgic, and craving company and comfort. When we are in a bubble it is easier to cultivate intense relationships and connections, particularly with someone we have experienced that with before, without the outside distractions that other person is our sole focus,’ she explained.
‘This is why we see such quick intense relationships in reality shows such as and . When you are in a locked-down situation you throw everything at it. When normal life resumes and other influences creep in, it can be a real test to see if the relationship has longevity, or if it was just the convenience of lockdown love/lust.’
With lockdown restrictions beginning to ease and some semblance of social life beginning to creep back in – from a safe distance, of course – it will be interesting to see if the DMs continue to come in, or whether the exes will vanish as quickly as they reappeared.