How To Make Sense Of An Ex’s Confusing Behavior

Making sense out of chaos, given the stakes and emotions involved, is one of the most daunting tasks to face once the curtains have fallen on a relationship. In a wild attempt to cover all my bases, I’ve attempted to structure the article in three distinct acts.

I’ll discuss why confusion is both natural and prevalent, what we can do to reduce its impact, and end with a personal take on what several popular confusing signs actually mean.

The Complexity Of Fear

No matter the stakes, no matter how fragile the situation, the first thing we need to realize about any confusing breakup scenario is that we allow it to exist.

Let’s forget our collective exs for a second a take a look at our own internal wiring. Most of the time we allow confusion to reign simply because it’s comforting.

In the short-term, a confusing situation allows us forgo the pain of rejection or loss that will materialize should our expectations regarding reconciling (or moving on) not be met.

If we didn’t fear potential fallout, making sense of intent wouldn’t be an issue, because we could simply live in perfectly sterile, imaginary world where we could force absolute decisions. Where yes and no have no real emotional impact.

  • We would eradicate crumbs by simply ignoring them.
  • We would eradicate mixed messages by demanding straight answers.
  • We would extinguish frustrating mind games and subtle cues by taking messages at face value, without reading between the lines.

The more we look at the root causes of confusion, the twin evils of fear and insecurity, the more it becomes clear that deciphering intent is simply a question of reducing complexity. That’s right, we need to simplify.

A Reasonable Compromise

Admittedly though, the reason we are in this conundrum is precisely because we do care, and thus it is all but impossible to distance ourselves from our expectations.

So what do we do? We compromise with our insecurity.

This means making an effort to reduce the assumptions we make, and more importantly, not rewarding confusing behavior (your ex’s) with attention.

The reason this works is because the bottom-line about back and forth, hot and cold, or mixed message behavior is that it can only work with our complicity. These confusing behaviors are simply low-risk ways for our exs to chart the waters. Much like a submarine “pinging” the surrounding environment and mapping the results.

Let’s imagine they want to know whether or not you resent them. What better way than to find out the answer than by asking you a mundane, neutral question? They risk and offer nothing, but — should you answer them — they can get a rough idea of how you feel towards them. Just by answering (regardless of how you did) you have demonstrated that you care enough, or are polite enough, to allow communication.

At its core, confusion is the fear of uncertainty. If we’re going to see how deep the rabbit hole goes with any degree of certainty, we need to close that particular valve. At least until they are forced to take responsibility for their feelings and ask the big questions (if they really want the answer to important questions).

For those fearful that not engaging in frivolous contact might spell the end of contact itself, bear this in mind: If all it took was your refusal to participate in a game of egotistic musical chairs to fatally sever your connection, was it worth holding onto to begin with?

I would say that it isn’t.

Decoding Confusing Behavior

Now that you’ve survived my overly verbose disclaimer, I’m going to review some typical confusing behaviors and their meaning (based solely on personal experience and feedback from the website itself). Here we go:

Playing hot and cold

If your ex seems to bounce frustratingly back and forth between closing the romantic distance and performing a disappearing act, you’re probably dealing with an ex attempting to keep their options open in the face of uncertainty.

Breakups are a way to embrace new experiences and desires, but they also involve losing aspects of the past that we savor. You can’t have it all. Even in the most brutal of relationships, there is always something to miss.

The mistake here is judging your ex’s inability to let go with a genuine desire to reconcile. While it may mean they miss you, and have come to realize their mistake, chances are this is only a reaction to the emptiness and absence of readily available comfort that a breakup breeds. If reconciliation were to occur, and no real relationship reparation had occurred, this “emptiness” would simply evaporate and leave you both at square one.

Love and hate

Love and hate have something in common, they both stem from strong emotions. If your ex acts like they hate you, bear in mind that they wouldn’t feel the need to externalize their feelings unless they hoped to gain something from it.

Sometimes it is merely an attempt to appease subconscious regret by attempting to bring you down (thus making you seem less valuable). But no matter what their message is, it is clear that they continue to care, or they wouldn’t depend on you for any kind of validation.They’d disappear without a trace.

Something to prove

Have they mysteriously transformed overnight into a disco-dancing crusader? Is their Facebook timeline more colorful than it has ever been? Have they lost five pounds of fat and gained ten of muscle?

Sure, breakups are an opportunity to turn life around and make good use all that new found free time and energy on something constructive. But let’s face it,  in most cases it is nothing other than a subconscious call for attention. If not aimed directly at you, then at something or someone that will free them from their emotional rut.

Crumbs and hints

Much like playing hot and cold, crumbs and hints (and the resulting much ado about nothing) are signs of existential indecision. The only difference is that crumbs can be a constant feature of post-breakup communication, rather than just a sporadic occurrence.

If reconciliation is what you’re after then I would guess that signs of constancy are a better overall indicator of interest than hot or cold behavior is, because at the very least they are demonstrating that you continue to be on their mind on a constant basis.

As with any mind game however, hoping that crumbs are proof positive that things might one day pan out is a risky indulgence. As mentioned earlier in the article, it is precisely this kind of frivolity that I would take stand against.

The word on the street

Rumors and the use of mutual acquaintances are — if I do say so myself — rather cowardly ways of muddying the waters. I say this because rather than take responsibility for their feelings, the use of the third-person will end up placing the maddening burden of uncertainty on everyone but themselves.

If acquaintances are being used like pawns, in the advancement of a mind game of their choosing (and you’re fairly certain that it is the case, rather than a result of subjective over-analysis), then it is more than just confusion, it is a character trait that would best be avoided!

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