During periods of isolation and uncertainty such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we tend to seek out comfort in the familiar. For many, this has resulted in either texting–or being on the receiving end of texts from–exes. Our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist appeared on WNYC’s All Of It with Alison Stewart to discuss why people may be reaching out to former partners during the pandemic, as well as how both the texters and recipients can reengage with transparency, honesty, and consent.
Calling them ghosts of relationships past (though texts from exes don’t necessarily have to be creepy) on the segment “Messages from Another Dimension,” host Alison Stewart cites a study from The Kinsey Institute that around one in five people have reached out to a former partner since March 2020. According to Matt, there are a few reasons why this could be happening. First, quarantine has made dating or meeting new sexual partners tricky. In this respect, Matt notes, “reaching out and connecting with an old flame feels like it has less barriers to entry.”
In addition, Matt observes that this is one of the most intensely emotional times he’s experienced in his therapy practice since September 11. “One of the things we do when emotions are intense and we’re scared is that we seek out meaningful emotional connection and we seek out that which is familiar, which is where exes come in,” Matt says.
For those thinking of texting an ex, Matt suggests managing expectations, as well as being clear with both yourself and your former partner what you want (To hook-up? To get back together? To have a(n old) fight? To resolve something? To check-in during a stressful time?). It’s also important to recognize that what you want may not align with the person on the other end. “When we’re talking about an ex, we’re talking about a relationship that ended and it probably ended for a good reason. We all love a story about a reconnection becoming something meaningful and I’m sure that happens. More commonly, this leads to disappointment,” Matt explains.
For those receiving a text, Matt’s advice is similar: manage and bring clarity to expectations. Though he acknowledges that urging directness about intentions is something therapists say that people sometimes laugh at, roll their eyes, and insist is more complicated, Matt continues: “I think ultimately in situations where there’s emotional vulnerability (where there certainly is here) and situations where it’s easy for intentions to be confused or misunderstood, the closer you can get to direct, honest transparency, the better.”
And if you don’t want to engage at all, simply not responding is a perfectly acceptable way to handle an unwanted text. “If somebody doesn’t respond to a text, that’s a pretty clear indication that they’re not interested in engaging and a good sign to move on,” Matt says.
However, this doesn’t mean everyone should be immediately dismissive of an ex’s communication. There can be a middle ground where exes can be friends or friendly, as well as get together now during a scary, lonely time with the shared knowledge that it will likely not be forever. Matt observes, “I feel like it’s really important for people to get as creative as possible. And that’s part of a broader question for what it means for people who are not partnered or not quarantining with family to create rich meaningful social connections.”