Sunday, May 22, 2011

When it comes to our exes, what can we really ex-pect?

About every eight months or so, I can feel it coming on, the way my knees ache before it rains.  It arrives with either the advent of spring (although in NY right now that seems premature), or around thanksgiving, where I get a message from an ex I haven’t heard from in awhile.  And the more time that accrues since my divorce, the more exes (unfortunately) exist.

After my husband and I separated, I had the classic rebound. Although at the time, of course it didn’t feel like a rebound. It felt serious. I was in love, and had all the symptoms to prove it, including the depression and heartache that followed after he broke up with me, with no warning (in retrospect, there was naturally plenty of warning that I couldn’t see). It took me a long time to get over that one. But regardless, I knew it was over, and whether it was pride or the practical acceptance that there was never going to be a round two, I deleted his information and never initiated contact. Not a single impulse text was sent (doesn’t mean I didn’t write them).  

Everyone handles breakups differently. For me, it's like the flip of a switch. No matter how powerful the yearnings or temptations to reach out can be at times, when I know something is over, I resist. I’m not sure if it’s how I’m built, or a protective reflex - or both - but I am grateful that needy post break up reach-outs are just not my M.O. I always hear a voice (I think it’s my Israeli relatives, or my father’s), saying, “What’s the point? What do you want to get out of it?” And if I know that the guy can’t provide me with any more answers or closure, and it is something I need to find within myself, the option to abstain is obvious.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the same on the other end. Just last week, I heard from my last boyfriend (not a surprise since it’s recent), my ex-rebound, and my ex-husband. The last two relationships are 4-5 years old, and so I’m always surprised by the sporadic reemergence of their names in my inbox. The content of the emails vary, yet they all seem colored by the hue of regret, no matter how veiled the attempt. It feels like the metaphorical pebble is being thrown at my (closed and locked) window.

Why now?  Do they sense that I’m single again, or is it just the natural cycles of time, or the weather, that sparks discontent in their current relationships, and the consequential remembrance of the “one that got away?”

I have to say, it is not flattering to hear that you’re the one that got away. Especially when you’re the one who was broken up with or it seemed mutual. For some women it might provide a jolt of vindication and ego inflation (and I get that. You’re allowed to say “yay!”) But for me, at this stage in my life, it incites frustration.  I can’t help but wonder whether it is just a pattern I should accept, or whether it is me, and my choice in men - if I date guys that aren’t able to make it stick. But then why do they come back (not that they actually would, or that I want them to). 

Is it ego, or the pretty lens of nostalgia that tempts them back as a potential solution to their current relationship dissatisfaction? And of course it begs the question, what does it reveal about them, when they are in a relationship and emailing an ex-girlfriend?

Will I ever know the real reason, even if I decide to write back? Are these men able to express the underlying motivation for their sudden engagement?

Do they even know for themselves, what “the point is”?

Note: I intentionally didn’t wrap this post up with a neat little answer bow. Because I don’t know. (But I can rhyme!) So I’d love to hear what my readers have to say in this regard.


  1. If I reach out to an ex, it's either because I"m sooo sentimental or because I still am in lust with the idea of him, if not the reality of him (I'm happily married). With one ex of mine, he connects with me on occassion because I think he would still love to have a fling (it's been since college for goodness sake. He is/was gorgeous and probably couldnt believe I broke up with him.) With my ex husband, he reaches out to my family to get back at me. So, I think the reasons are complicated. Good thing you left the question unanswered!

  2. I have sent emails to one particular ex, usually benign, asking how he is. I think in that moment I convince myself that we can be friends, and that its ok. But deep down I probably just can't accept that we will never have contact again.

  3. I have no answer - my ex-husband periodically "checks" in on me or includes me on a blast work email (to keep me up to date on his work status?). The "check-ins" usually are about something mundane, but yet they come... The latest one requested information on a painting I kept, and although I put the ball in his court, I'm the one left wondering if I need to follow up for the artist's sake. Is it my bruised ego that wants to think he is pining after me? I certainly don't want him back, and after lots (and lots) of work and help, I finally put myself back together and allowed myself to be loved again (happily married with toddler), but do feel some kind of tug every time I see his name in my mailbox. Really wish he would just disappear...

  4. I receive texts every other day from the ex. It's definitely an ego booster but then after a while I get upset. The idea of him "checking" up on me as a way to "control" or his way to have me right where he wants me makes me LIVID. Couldn't he decide to make it "stick" (as you aptly put it) before he realized what he lost? Ugh.

  5. Oh one more thing...I love how men have finally learned to express themselves through emoticons.

  6. My perspective on this is quite simple (probably because I'm a guy (a friend but not an ex of Cougel)). And I will be daring and try to tie a bow because I think I know.

    There are 3 reasons exes reach out.

    By way of background, I'm 2 years divorced, have had several GFs since then and am generally doing fine at this point. For the first year after my divorce, I occasionally reached out to my ex-wife.

    I did it for the first reason. I don't email/call/text people I don't like or with whom I do not want to talk. I think anyone wondering why a guy is contacting you can rest assured that he's likely still working you out of his system or trying to gauge where you are to see if you are still interested.

    Reason #2 is not me but I know it is why some do it -- vindictiveness. Bitter peeps will contact exes to make them upset or for some other nefarious reason like control or to get information about what you're doing -- which can of course be used for control.

    Third -- and this applies to me for some ex-GFs over the years -- I still like them as people but we just didn't work out as anything more. I am still good friends with several exes so I know it does work.

    If an ex contacts you, you can rest assured it is one of those 3 -- the last one, however, is only going to be after some significant time and healing on both sides (all dependent on how long the relationship lasted).

  7. I don't have the answers, hon, but I love your honesty and willingness to share your experiences with the rest of us. Especially those who are not quite ready to get back out there yet.

  8. "Where'd He Come From?"June 4, 2011 at 3:42 AM

    I just found my high school flame after 37 years. I don't know how she feels about it. I never told her I loved her back then. She went to college, found some guy and had two kids. But finding her and telling her, finally, was on my bucket list. I doubt she was thrilled and the window of opportunity for "us" is certainly long past, but I am relieved; it just took me a while, you know.

  9. I admire your restraint in not contacting your exes! I'm not that good. In DC, I see a lot of them regularly or we have friends in common. That lends itself to staying in touch on occasion on some level. But, I admire that my level and tone of my communication varies, especially with those exes for whom I still have some feelings. Thought-provoking post!