After a four-month long-distance relationship, Jen Glantz’s boyfriend broke things off with her in what she calls a “semi-passive way.”
“We are both entrepreneurs. One day he called me to tell me he was moving to Thailand for a few months,” Glantz, author and host of the “You’re Not Getting Any Younger” podcast, told HuffPost. “I said, ‘OK, cool, I’ll go too.’ He said, ‘No, Jen. You weren’t invited.’ That phone call made me realize that his way of breaking up with me was moving around the world.”
Because of how poorly he handled the situation, Glantz told him she was done with the relationship. But just one week later, her ex started texting her again as if everything was totally normal between them.
“It was tough because even though I was brokenhearted, I still got jitters when I saw his name pop up on my phone,” she said. “It took everything, every ounce of courage and self-confidence to ignore his texts.”
Ultimately, Glantz said she realized these texts were her ex’s way of keeping her in his orbit without fully committing to the relationship.
“The texts showed me how much of a coward he was,” she said.
Glantz’s story is a common one in today’s dating landscape. It’s easier than ever for exes to keep tabs on you and pop back into your life whenever they please. We asked therapists to explain why an ex might be texting you post-split and how to respond (or not) if it happens to you.
Why your ex might be texting you again
We can’t tell you precisely what your ex was thinking when they picked up the phone to text you, but how and why your relationship ended likely played a role in their decision to strike up a conversation.
If your ex was the one who initiated the breakup in the first place but then decides to start texting you again out of the blue, it can be baffling. You may think to yourself, “Hm, this person made it clear they don’t have feelings for me anymore. And, yet, they care enough to randomly ask what I thought about the ‘Toy Story 4’ trailer.” So, what gives?
“The likeliest possibility is that they are reflecting about the relationship and are missing you,” psychologist Samantha Rodman said. “Most of the time this would be for romantic or sexual reasons, but sometimes they might just want to be friends again.”
If the relationship ended on bad terms or your ex feels the breakup was their fault, they may be texting you out of guilt and a desire to make things right, Rodman added. Another possibility? You two have a bunch of mutual friends so your ex just wants to smooth things over before you inevitably run into each other at the next group birthday dinner, friend’s wedding or other social gathering.
“Resuming communication could also be a way of testing the waters. Whether they are hoping to get back together or develop a friendship, texting is a low-risk way to gauge your interest.”
And if you were the one to break things off, your ex could be reaching out in order to get some closure.
“If they felt the split was abrupt, confusing or left them with unresolved feelings, an ex might reach out to gain clarity,” therapist Anna Poss said. “Resuming communication could also be a way of testing the waters. Whether they are hoping to get back together or develop a friendship, texting is a low-risk way to gauge your interest.”
And who knows: Your ex could be sitting at home bored, just fishing for attention from an old flame to pass the time. Maybe she’s drunk and horny. Maybe he’s feeling sentimental after “your” song popped up on Spotify.
If you’re not sure what your ex’s intentions are in resuming contact (and you actually care to know), Poss said not to waste time analyzing all the possibilities in your head — just ask.
“We can’t read minds and any assumptions could create more stress and conflict,” she said. “You can say something along the lines of, ‘We haven’t spoken in a while and I was surprised to hear from you, so I wanted to check in.’”
The mixed emotions of receiving a text from an ex
Seeing your ex’s name pop up on your phone can produce a visceral reaction, like the one Glantz mentioned above. Your stomach drops, your heart starts beating faster, your palms get sweaty. Sometimes, it’s a rush of excitement. Other times, it’s a feeling of validation (OK, they do still miss me after all). It can feel really good to hear from this person, even when you recognize this person wasn’t right for you or the relationship had simply run its course.
“For some, receiving a text message from an ex can be comforting on a certain level because it’s confirmation that you still occupy space in the ex’s mind and it’s further proof that the attachment [you shared] was real,” said marriage and family therapist Jon-Paul Bird.
But after the initial excitement from the ex text has worn off, the feelings that follow can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you’re relishing the fact that you’re still on this person’s mind. On the other, you’re frustrated because you don’t want this communication to derail the important progress you’ve made in moving on.
“A breakup involves going through a grief process,” Bird said. “That random ex text can cause some emotional backsliding and stunt some of the healing process.”
In other cases, receiving a text from an ex can immediately bring up feelings of annoyance, dread or even fear — particularly if the relationship was a toxic and unhappy one that you want distance from.
After a breakup, Bird said, some people just need “an emotional cutoff and want to remove all evidence of their ex from their life.”
To respond or to ignore: That is the question
Know that you have every right to ignore a text from your ex — especially if replying will put your mental health or safety in jeopardy.
“If you feel dread or anxiety at the prospect of communicating with your ex again, or if your relationship with them was unhealthy or abusive, it may be best for your mental well-being to [not respond],” Poss said.
But what about when the relationship was, for the most part, happy and healthy? Maybe you’ve even been toying with the idea of getting back together with this person down the road. In that case, respond to your ex’s texts in a friendly way, Rodman said. Ask them how they’ve been, keep the conversation going for a bit and then see if they’d be interested in catching up in person.
“If you really feel that the conversation is going well, see how they respond to a casual invitation to hang out, like, ‘Maybe we should grab coffee this week,’” Rodman said. “If they don’t take you up on this immediately and give you a time and day, then you can probably conclude that they were just being friendly, rather than wanting to rekindle your relationship.”
Other times, you may have had a fairly amicable breakup but you’re just not interested in pursuing anything romantic with this person. You don’t want to blow them off completely by ignoring their texts, but you also don’t want to give them the impression that you’re open to getting back together.
“If you think you’d like to be friends eventually or, at the very least, avoid future awkward encounters, write back and say hello, but don’t text back too quickly and don’t make any plans,” Rodman said. “This keeps the door open for whatever type of friendship you may want to have in the future, but makes it pretty clear that you’re not yearning to reconnect with them romantically or sexually.”
Glantz offered some parting words of wisdom that we can definitely get behind: “When people decide to leave your life, let them. But you leave theirs too. End the texts. Take the time you would use to write something brilliant back for self-care.”
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.