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When Is It a Good Idea to Get Back in Touch With an Ex?

Only do it if you've healed from your breakup.

by Katie Moritz
January 9, 2020 | Love

It's common to feel nostalgic about an old relationship. You might find yourself daydreaming about good times you had, or thinking about what you could have done differently to make it work. Maybe you even wish you were still in touch with that person. After all, they were an important part of your life. It's hard to let that go.

Reaching out to an ex is something that happens often, but it's not something that should be done without a lot of thought. No matter if you want to get in touch to see if you can rekindle your romantic relationship, start a friendship or just get some closure, there are important things to consider first to protect both you and the other person from being hurt.

Figure out your feelings

Why do you want to get in touch with your ex? Knowing the answer to this question is important for navigating the situation. Make sure you aren't just lonely, or bored, or wanting attention.

"Ask yourself: What do I hope to gain out of rekindling this connection?" millennial dating coach Elsa Moreck said. "You'll want to make sure that your attempts are pure and come from a wholesome place.

"If you're hoping to sabotage their new relationship, or lead them back on to keep them in your romantic pipeline, then you'd do best to shut down your efforts."

If you are hoping to rekindle what you had, make sure your ex isn't in a relationship before reaching out, said Stef Safran, a Chicago-based matchmaker and dating coach.

"It's not a good idea to be friendly with an ex if you still have romantic feelings, especially if that ex has moved on to a new relationship," said Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of "Dr. Romance's Guide to Finding Love Today."

[ICYMI: Why Romanticizing Past Relationships Will Ruin Future Ones]

Be thoughtful with your contact

Once you know you really do want to be in contact again, "unless the ex has demanded that you not contact him or her, or has a restraining order, it's OK to contact him or her with some kind of neutral message," Tessina said. "Maybe to let him or her know about an event he or she would care about, or just to say 'Hi,' in a low-key way."

In fact, being on good terms "can be a very good idea," she said, "if you both can be mature about the relationship and not continue fighting over what went wrong."

Illustration of a man and a woman with a heart emoji between them. Rewire PBS Love Ex
When you're trying to rekindle a relationship with an ex, whether it be romantic or friendly, it's a good idea to make your intentions known.

That being said, make sure you have closure on your breakup before reaching out.

"The best time to reach out to an ex is when you've fully processed and healed from the breakup," Moreck said.

"In other words, share your scars, not your wounds. You'll only be able to have a high-quality conversation once both of you have gone through the grief and arrived at a place of emotional maturity about what transpired. From that place, rebuilding is made much more possible."

When you're reaching out, start slow. Don't "overwhelm someone" with lots of texts, Safran said.

Instead, if you're hoping to meet up to talk, "focus on the goal of getting together in person to see if there is potential to build on the initial relationship," she said.

Keep your communication simple, and focus on setting a date and a time for a meeting.

And if you reach out and "don't get a response, don't keep pursuing it," Tessina said.

Have no expectations

It's really, really hard — maybe even impossible — but try to not have expectations about your meetup. There's a strong possibility it won't go anywhere, either friendship-wise or romantically.

"Remember, just because you want to rekindle the connection doesn't mean your ex does too," Moreck said. "Be prepared to take full ownership of the situation and handle it with grace if that ends up being the case. In the end, we belong to no one and no one owes us anything."

Touching base and catching up is sometimes all a person wants to do with an ex, especially if there are residual negative emotions there.

"Sometimes a good first 'date' is just that — a good first date, but nothing more than that," Safran said. "Remember that sometimes people may not want to take the relationship beyond the first meeting."

If you do become romantically involved again, tread lightly — it might not lead to a full-fledged relationship. The comfort of being with someone you already know can be very seductive. This can cause a potential pitfall, Safran said.

"Sometimes people are only looking for temporary companionship, not to get back together," she said.

If you do end up rebuilding either a friendship or a romantic relationship, remember the importance of boundary-setting when you're getting to know each other again.

"Setting boundaries creates mutual respect and consideration," Tessina said. "These qualities allow people to be close without emotional harm."

Moreck shared five things to look out for when opening communication with an ex:

  1. Don't reach out if they're in a new relationship. Wait until they have a solid foundation with their partner before injecting yourself in the picture.
  2. If the relationship included abuse of any kind, make sure you've worked with a therapist before reaching out to your ex.
  3. If your intent is not to get back together, make sure you make that abundantly clear.
  4. Don't use your ex to validate yourself or fill a new void. If you broke up with your ex, be mindful of their healing process and don't try to lead them on to satisfy your need for attention and/or your self-induced loneliness.
  5. Don't have sex with them. This is the most common pitfall people commit when rekindling ties with exes. They're your ex for a reason — don't blur the new boundaries with sex.
Katie Moritz
Katie Moritz was Rewire's senior editor from 2016-2020. She is a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores and pho. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.
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