There is no state of skepticism quite as poignant as that of the return of a left-for-romantically-dead ex. What do they want? Why now? How do I feel about this? Our gut-borne defensiveness is not coincidental, and is absolutely not misplaced. It’s there for a reason, a reason which is at least a thousand words longer than I had honestly expected it would be.
Part 1 – Questions To Ask Ourselves
What is prompting them to reach out now?
The only difference between today and yesterday is context. If no outstanding reasons have made them reach out (they’ve suddenly moved back in town), then we would be well served by asking ourselves what the nature of this context is.
If their newfound interest is a product of their past romantic failures (post you), does that make us special, or does that make us just a better (but less than ideal) option?
Being better than the rest, from a hindsight perspective, isn’t necessarily a bad thing for us. It may even well bode well with regards to a future relationship, but at the same time if their interest is only through the lens of recent failings it may mean that we are only contextually a better option, and the same reasons that forced you apart the first time around will persist once they have dealt with the contemporary baggage.
Granted, time and experience are unparalleled teachers, and there is always the chance that they may genuinely feel that they took the past with you for granted, but be on the lookout for exes who are clearly looking to rebound and find some comfort (as someone they feel they know, you remain accessible) to ease their current predicament at your ultimate expense.
What is their stated intent?
No, it goes without saying that an ex who contacts you from out of the blue isn’t always having second thoughts, and this may well be a subtle and deceptive preamble before asking you for a favor instead (for example).
The only way to manage over-analysis and potential disillusionment is to resist redefining the contact around mixed messages. If there are remnants of fragility, and hope is giving you the jitters, this is understandably difficult to do — but do it anyway.
As always, there is obviously a difference between stated intent, and what their intent actually is, but there’s no way around this problem unless we spontaneously develop the ability to read minds. If you remain adamant about black-and-white communication however, and refuse to cater to an ex’s need for comfort, or a quick self-esteem upper, then they will quickly be forced up the ante or look elsewhere for their fix.
If an ex is forthcoming about their contact just being a quick catch-up, even if you sense that there’s something more lurking below the surface, then give the contact the importance that it deserves — which is to say not much (other than being a pleasant way of dissolving post-breakup resentment).
What does the nature of their communication betray about their emotions?
Understanding the hows and whys of their communication can help give us clues as to what their underlying intention (beyond the stated intention) actually may be. In any case, it’s probably in our best interest not to guesstimate too much and remain on the conservative end of the expectation scale.
- How personally are they communicating? An ex who appeals to the personal side of things (your history, inside jokes and characteristics about you few may know) is attempting subtly to establish a personal bond. While the intention isn’t always flatly romantic, it usually is a sign that they miss your presence in their lives.
- How personal is the medium of their communication? There is a vast symbolic difference between a call and — say — a faceless, toneless E-mail. One embraces opening the gates to potential hurt or resentment, while the other remains deeply segregated behind thick defensive walls. If anything, this shows how willing they are to risk and commit to their professed expectations. Should the means of communication escalate naturally from impersonal to the personal, it is a good sign they are beginning to feel more confident.
Important: Personal history will play a large role in deciphering clues, as some people are fundamentally more comfortable breaking the ice than others! If your ex has a history of manipulative behavior, you’re probably better off ignoring this section entirely and walling out any and every form of mixed message.
What is our intention?
It is by no means a given that a simple declaration of interest by an ex ends up striking a resounding chord with us down the line. Even if we fundamentally disagreed with the breakup, time apart will have changed both you, and your ex, in unpredictable ways. Nor is there any guarantee that time will have brought the resolve or wisdom necessary to transform what was once broken into something that may now work.
In essence then, deep down, are you really — realistically — willing to take another hit? Or is this all just a way to satisfy some deep-seated karma-borne curiosity?
Part 2 – Questions To Ask Them
Wanna meet halfway?
If our expectations are never externalized then for all intents and purposes we/they may well assume there is no spark or point of romantic origin. There is a fine line between forcing clarity, protecting ourselves and kick-starting reconciliation, without risk there is rarely ever a reward and so at some point, should we feel optimistic enough, we have to start communicating intent back.
Now that we’ve begun to take an educated guess (or as close as we realistically can given what we have) about their intent, it’s time to decide what signals we are going to send back.
While it is natural and occasionally also justifiable to hide behind the notion that “they broke the relationship, so now it’s up to them to fix it”, I can almost guarantee that reconciliation will not succeed along these lines of logic because your lack of feedback will usually cement the notion that you aren’t interested. On the plus side, one needn’t profess undying love or take an insane leap of faith either.
The best way to begin building up the walls of trust and affection is with small, concrete steps. Not only is this more comfortable, it is also a good way of weeding out impatient ex’s who need something now, to curb temporary pain. Draw it out, but move inexorably closer to your desired end.
How do we do that? Well…
- By slowing escalating the medium of contact. If you’re currently emailing back and forth and are interested in moving forward, switch to live chat such as MSN, Skype or Facebook. If you’re currently back and forth with calls, why not propose an informal face-to-face?
- By starting to piece together a communication schedule. Routine is the hallmark of any relationship, in the sense that you are both prominent fixtures of each others’ everyday lives. Why not slowly move towards that goal by establishing something of a fledgling communication routine?
- By accepting the pillars of their message without judgment (for now). Feelings are feelings, and are rarely logic based because they deal with aspects of our minds that are not subject to conscious oversight. Which also means that most of their post-breakup assumptions and conclusions will seem remarkably alien to you. By allowing them to openly vent their insecurity without undue resistance, you are encouraging them to be more honest. The corollary of which is an atmosphere which will allow you to open up and say what you feel you need to say without fear of being shutdown or being labeled as delusional.
For those of us who are skeptical about being proactive in the face of someone who once let us down, I would add that — for what it’s worth — they did take a small, but still courageous leap of faith in breaking the wall of silence that separated you, and therefore throwing something back does not mean being needlessly naive. In any event playing along is the only way to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
All of the above
The questions we posed ourselves in the first part of this article are also great questions to ask them. Even if you feel they are being less than honest, there will nevertheless be a torrent of cues, clues and feedback that will help you crystallize what is going on behind their mask.
The most common opposition I get from readers and friends on this topic revolves around the idea that being too direct can often scare them off, because it can sound abrasive or intimidating. Sure, it is always a possibility that addressing the elephant in the room may be less efficient than getting there in stages. At the end of it all however, if all it took was a direct question to scare them off, how much were they really prepared to invest in you to begin with? If anything it seems to me to be a fantastic way of forcing clarity, and their reluctance to play along is an answer, even if it isn’t the one we hoped for.
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