You spent night-after-night praying by the bed, chained your cell phone to your wrist and generally couldn’t believe it wasn’t ringing with their voice on the other end (despite your gut telling you the phone was about to go off — you just knew it would didn’t you?). Then, when you’ve finally begun to come to terms with the seemingly inevitable, when the mists of pain begin to thin, and a way forward is revealed — you get the call. And what an anti-climatic call it usually is.

But hold on a minute. Most of the time it’s not what you want to hear. A favor, or a jolly chit-chat that will leave you wondering whether they realize you were once in a romantic relationship. What’s going on here? What is this? And perhaps most importantly — why now?

This article is primarily for those of us, and I estimate this to be the vast majority of humankind, who are not given the benefit of transparency from our exes when they do call. Or have a tendency to over-analyze intentions and messages. If you are stumped, here’s my take.

P.S: The article is perhaps a little more wordy and thorough than necessary, if you are merely looking for a summary signs that and what they mean, feel free to skip to the bottom section of the article.

Our Intentions

It’s time to focus on the only intentions that matter. Before we even begin to consider what they want, it’s time for an honest self-assessment. Here’s what we know:

  • If they dumped us, they were able, even if only for a second, to envision a life without us.
  • If you dumped them, the relationship had become unsustainable and draining.

If they are looking for reconciliation, and you were the one that was forced to bite the bullet, are you willing to go through the pain again? It is easy to cave in to short-term relief and hope, but statistics show decisively that when reconciliation does occur again a breakup scenario soon re-occurs.

If you want them back, and you are sure it isn’t your fear, rejection or low-self esteem doing the talking, then onwards-ho. If you are merely curious, or are seeking an ego-driven guilty revenge it may be cleaner to insist on limited or no-contact.

Their Intentions

It is almost impossible to not over-analyze every nuance of language and phrase when we care deeply and harbor hopes of re-uniting. Having said that, we simply cannot trust our gut when so much emotion is involved (our brains will find ways to believe whatever it is that we wish to believe). It is therefore in our self-interest to begin to take all contact at face-value and to have enough courage to enforce directness. Before we begin to look at how to tell what they want, consider following these rules of thumb from here-on-out.

  • If you do not wish to be a friend, or to be pigeon-holed into a backseat driver relationship with your ex then let them know. Politely turn down doing small favors, and have them respect your space.
  • Realize that anger or bitterness stem from caring. See through the charade and do not respond in kind.
  • Put yourself first.
  • In all cases, make sure you are not driven by guilt — period.

Typical Post-Breakup Signs Uncovered

In the main there are three main reasons why an ex would contact you. These are:

  • They miss your friendship.
  • They wish to reconcile.
  • They are having trouble moving on.

Signs they miss you as a friend

It is easy to fall prey to false hope when your ex chatters with you light-heartedly — and an ex looking for their “buddy” will do just that. They will tell you how special you are (and mean it), how much they miss you, and how empty they have felt since the break up. But don’t be fooled, this does not necessarily mean they wish to reconcile.

It is only when you approach a deeper level of conversation that an ex who doesn’t wish to reconcile romantically will begin to recoil. An ex who misses you as a friend will resist talking about your past relationship in the way “that you used to”. If they make sure to steer clear of the past, particularly the bad times, then there may be little interest in repairing your romantic connection. Exes looking to reconcile will usually eagerly approach the topic of mistakes-made, and be the first to offer an armistice.

Signs your ex wishes to reconcile

The only variable that will dilute how direct an ex will approach you if they wish to reconcile is pride. The more prideful a person is (and you know them best) the more indirect the message will be. In almost all cases, they will prefer to throw a neutral sounding well-wishing message first — to gauge your feelings towards them.

Exes that feel that the break up was a mistake will usually be quick to take up the blame for the past. They do not back off from talks about the break up itself, and make sure all the lines of the communication are open (they might even suggest upgrading the quality of your communication from say, an email exchange to a chat messenger).

The main difference between a ex looking for friendship and an ex seeking reconciliation is that emphasis will be less on how your respective lives are faring, and more on the connection between you. Attempts to connect your emotional dots are an attempt at restoring intimacy.

Signs they are having trouble moving on

This is certainly the most harmful and confusing contact for the dumpee, and it clearly occurs more often than I previously believed (before I began writing about relationships and talking to visitors). The ex who isn’t sure what they want.

An ex who is having trouble moving on lacks the self-confidence necessary to steer their lives away from you, and at the same time does not wish to reconcile. Instead, they are using the dumpee in order to give themselves strength by leeching affection and confidence from them. This is confusing because they will exhibit a plethora of romantic-like signals; affection, attachment, maybe even the desire for sexual intimacy.

In my opinion the only real indicator that you’re being used is the lack of consistency of their contact and level of involvement. They are only sporadically supportive (then they back off without a trace, only to re-appear once again) and be painfully hot and cold with their attention. Be advised that an ex playing emotional peek-a-boo is doing so without any regard for your feelings. I do not wish this to sound as if I feel they are horrible, because by and large they are not, the lack of empathy stems from pain which leaves little room for empathy.

My sole advice would be to slice through the shades of gray and insist on actions, and not words. If they can’t play by your rules, then close the curtain on their insecurity permanently.

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20 Comments

  • Layla
    Posted Mar 28, 2013 at 12:59 pm 0Likes

    I agree whole heartedly with this article and enjoyed reading the others I found, and so I am hoping that you can help me. I was going out with this guy for nearly 4 years, living with him for most of the time and we were pretty serious. He always talked about marrying me and the future we were going to have but then out of the blue he decided to move out and string me along for the next couple of months before dumping me horribly and telling me that everything he wanted with me was a lie, that he didnt love me and that he didnt want a relationship. He was cruel and emotionless, acted like our relationship meant nothing and that I meant even less to him. Then a week later he was dating some girl he’d met through a so called “friend” of his. So I completely stopped talking to him, the only time he contacted me in the months after that was about getting his stuff back but I didnt respond, just dropped it off at the address he gave me when he wasnt home. That was before the end of last year. At the beginning of this year he moved to a different state. A month or so ago, I bit the bullet and texted him to let him know I was still geting his mail and so I did the polite thing and asked how he was. We ended up texting for 5 hours, just meaningless chatter about nothing really. Ever since then he’s texted me at least once a week, even told me that he’d be in town later in the year but didn’t ask to meet up, he also said that he had stable accommodation where he is that I could stay at if I ever travelled his way. This week he boasted about his new job but texted me when I was trying to sleep. I told him to text me about it the next day and he didnt, and still hasnt. I’m just so confused. After the way he ended things he knows I’d rather dig my eyes out with a melon-baller than see him or even talk to him ever again. Why is he talking to me now? It’s been nearly a year since he dumped me, I’m over him and have moved on. Why is he pretending to care how I am or what I’m doing now? Is it my fault for doing what was the polite thing to do by asking him how he was in the first place? I don’t understand why he is doing this? Am I over thinking this because I think he has some kind of agenda just because I dont trust him and hate his guts? Please help me, I’m so confused and upset about this and I hate that I feel this way!

    • The Unknown
      Posted Mar 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm 0Likes

      Hi Layla, I’m glad my articles gave you some food for thought, though I don’t claim to be an authority by any means (who ever is when it comes to ze olde heart)!

      My initial impression is a little brutal, frankly. While he was stringing you along, it seems clear that he wasn’t content to limit his options. This seems like an exact repeat of this behavior. What he’s doing with his new GF (new flirt, or whoever else), seems to be in line with what he was doing to you. Namely, keeping his options open. I find that these kinds of character traits are born out of insecurity, and a desire to maintain emotional control.

      You did nothing wrong, you were mature and polite. The fact that you are NOT numb, demonstrates care. Unfortunately, he isn’t as transparent. And seems quite happy to manipulate and use in order to rearrange his options in his favor. I wouldn’t read into his motivations and intentions, sometimes there’s no making sense of things. I can certainly relate to that, the same exact thing plagued me for years.

      The bottomline is that caring “enough” in this case would mean overriding his guilt, pride or other such emotion, and communicating directly. If he is not able to do that, he isn’t worthy of your attention.

  • Layla
    Posted Mar 30, 2013 at 4:23 am 0Likes

    I wish I knew your name so I could thank you personally for this insight! While I was waiting for your response which was incredibly quick! Thank you! I read all your other articles and found them incredibly insightful and completely relevant! You write so well and speak from personal experience which makes it even more relatable, thank you so much for replying and putting my mind at ease about my situation! Hearing your opinion really helped me take a step back and not be so emotional about the whole thing. Please keep up the good work, you have valuable knowledge and insight that a lot of people are in desperate need of!! Thank you again!! :)

    • The Unknown
      Posted Mar 30, 2013 at 5:30 pm 0Likes

      Thank you very much! My thoughts remain long-shots due to not being able to judge the individuals involved. But I will never shy away from giving my opinion. There is every chance that am completely wrong. So be it, I am of the opinion that people are looking for a “view” to help cement their own opinions, and not a condescending black-and-white tirade. If my words have any meaning, it is preceisely because I have, and will continue to, fall prey to my own relationship screw ups ;) Thanks again!

  • Jane
    Posted Apr 29, 2013 at 8:35 pm 0Likes

    I met this guy who looked very athletic and challenged me to a run, we exercised alot together and we started hanging out more and more and I fell for him. The first 2 months were amazing! We enjoyed each other’s company, laughed alot, I felt comfortable with him in my home, we went shopping at the farmers market and cooked together. He introduced me as his girlfriend before we even discussed it and told me that he feels the relationship naturally progressed and this is the first relationship where he doesn’t feel pressured and is surprised he stayed through the 3rd month. He wanted me to meet his mom and asked me to meet my family, which he did. In the 4th month he started getting very jealous and every little thing would set him off into this rage. He picked alot of fights for things that seemed insignificant, one time he kicked me out of his house and let me walk home alone because he thought I was cheating because I didn’t want to tell him what my plans were for the next day (I was planning to take him wine tasting and strawberry picking). Even after I spilled the secret and told him why I was being so secretive, he never apologized for over reacting or letting me walk home alone at night. I should have left then. Sometimes he was really nice to me and we had great times together. Right before my birthday he told me he never developed feelings for me and he was just riding along to see if the feelings would develop after the 2nd month, but they never did, that the relationship just never took off to the ‘next level’ and he didn’t see me in his future. Usually I’m able to keep my composure but I broke down that night and cried in the fetal position. He stayed with me and held me while I cried, I didn’t beg him to stay or anything, I just cried. I was heart broken, lost 25 lbs, my confidence took a hit and I’ve stayed away from men since. He wanted to be ‘friends’ but I told him I didn’t want to get hurt and that I respected his choice to end things. I always kept it civil, even if I wanted to say differently. When my friends bring up my name, they say he acts like he misses me, blushing, smiling and gets a look on his face. One day I ran into him and his face lit up and he gave me a big smile and paused what he was doing but I just said a polite ‘goodnight’ and kept walking. Then he texts me out of the blue to ask me to go running if I didn’t still hold a grudge. I don’t respond for the next month. I finally respond and tell him that I don’t hold on to grudges or people who don’t want to hold on to me. I’m obviously still heart broken and avoiding him because I know I’m’ emotionally fragile right now. He seems to just be non-chalant about everything like it doesn’t affect him at all. I even heard that he started dating. Like I was just a notch on his belt. Sometimes I’m doing better, and sometimes I can’t stop crying and I’m not even sure why. What’s up with his mixed signals? Or am I reading into it too much?

    • The Unknown
      Posted Apr 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm 0Likes

      Hello Jane, sorry to hear about your situation!

      Your feelings are natural (ups and downs) for someone who envisioned a future together and who had real feelings. There is a genuine foundation of grief to plow through.

      His mixed signals are something to absolutely discard, cast the smokescreen of hope aside and judge him purely based on his actions, not his insinuations, lest they litter your healing and catalyze further grief down the road when expectations don-t come to pass.

      He took a step away when it was convenient to him, and took a half step forward when it suited him. Sounds like a trait to me, and not indecision. The fact that he asked you whether or not you hold a grudge just validates the fact that he knew he acted selfishly. If he knows that you still wish for reconiliation, and he can’t override his own pride in order to crystalline with his intentions with you (out of respect for your feelings) he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

      Sorry for my brutal overview, and thanks for passing by!

  • Lynn
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 4:09 am 0Likes

    I could seriously read this blog all night! Very interesting…! So much insight.
    Question however…
    My ex and I still “work together” and see each other almost everyday. He will text me stupid crap like “what you up to” or “what should I do tonight” or “I don’t know what do with my day off”…
    WTH is this???
    Why the heck do I care and for the most part why do you want me to care!?
    Any insight on that mumbo jumbo???

    • Lynn
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 4:11 am 0Likes

      Lets not forget the “I miss you” and “I still love you but this is what’s best for now” texts…!
      Those are my fave!

    • The Unknown
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 11:31 am 0Likes

      It looks like he’s pretty insecure, Lynn. It’s natural for him to be a little shaky, however he can’t have it all at your expense (especially given the fact that he broke up with you). Ultimately, it is up to him to piece his life together. You can’t be his emotional caretaker after a breakup, you have your own life and feelings to worry about :)

  • Lynn
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 2:21 pm 0Likes

    When he broke up with me, he told me all the things I had done to hurt him emotionally. Never taking responsibility for what he had done to me. So I’m thinking I should approach it like “I need to heal. And reflect on the things I did to
    You so I don’t do them to anyone ever again, etc…”?
    Because he keeps telling me that ” your not ready to get back together” and that “you haven’t learned anything yet. And you haven’t been broken down and humbled yet”

  • The Unknown
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 3:19 pm 0Likes

    Don’t get sucked into guilt games. You need to heal, but not so that you don’t hurt him again. But so this relationship stops hurting you.

  • Lynn
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm 0Likes

    I 100% agree. Is it best to tell someone in person that you need space to heal or will
    A simple text suffice?

    • The Unknown
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 4:42 pm 0Likes

      Ideally in person, so you can answer any follow up questions. But do whatever is most comfortable for you. At the end of the day you’ve already broken up.

  • Anonymous
    Posted Aug 12, 2013 at 2:42 am 0Likes

    My ex broke up with me after 7 months officially dating, because he was moving and didn’t know if he could do long distance and wasn’t ready for a commitment. This was 2 weeks before our big vacation together (which he paid for and neither of us went on) and my birthday (which he didn’t wish me a happy birthday) My ex and I haven’t spoken in 2 months. He sent me a text at 3am one month after we split saying “i’m sorry”, which i ignored. We haven’t even seen each other in 2 months. But he saw me out with friends on Friday for the first time. He walked past, stopped and stared, then walked out of the bar. My friends and I walked inside and then he came back in and sat in the corner and stared at me looking upset. He then left again and sent me a msg saying how hard it was to see me and asking if we could talk. I told him that this was his choice, and he responded that he knew, but that didn’t mean he doesn’t regret it and why can’t I even talk to him? I told him to stop playing games and he said that he wasn’t, he just got upset when he saw me. We saw each other again the next night out at a bar, and he tried to make me jealous with another girl by holding hands with her. He kept leaving the bar (which i stayed at all night) and coming back in with her, 5 separate times. He also stared at me the entire night and looked upset when other guys would talk to me. I just ignored him all night and continued to have fun with my friends. A mutual friend of ours told me not to be upset about the girl, because she was their friends recent ex girlfriend and that he was using her to make me upset and jealous. he’s moving away in a few days, and i sent him a msg today saying that i would like to get my stuff back before he leaves and that i think this will be good for us and gave him my cell number in case he no longer had it. he said he’d really like that and asked what items he had (i’d asked for my things back a couple times the week after we broke up and he just avoided it or said he was out of town). i’d really like to meet in person to thank him for breaking up with me, but why would he finally contact me like this (after seeing me looking good at a bar) and play hot & cold? does he regret his decision and want me back? i just don’t understand any of his actions post breakup… i mean trying to get me jealous with another girl is just pathetic. and why does he continue to stare at me like that when i’m out having fun with my friends?

    • The Unknown
      Posted Aug 12, 2013 at 2:14 pm 0Likes

      Heya Anon,

      Perhaps the breakup made sense to him on an objective level at the time. The problem with attempting to move on is that it is only ever partly a conscious process. You can convince yourself it was all for the best, but you can’t reason with inevitable emotional fallout.

      In this case, it looks like a traditional mix of guilt, regret, insecurity and desire. The cocktail of confusion. The most probably reason for his mind-game is that his guilt over breaking up prevents him from being direct and transparent with you, for fear of rejection. In order to get the point across, he is attempting to bait a reaction out of you, in an effort to make it easier for him to bridge the divide.

      does he regret his decision and want me back?

      Despite the mixed signals, be advised that it may be his insecurity talking, rather than a genuine desire to start over. By breaking up with you he has torn his comfort zone asunder, and is probably feeling a little lost, and emotionally naked. It is natural for him to instinctively want to fill that gap. But unless his regret is catalyzed by a real desire to rekindle romance with you (and not a fear-induced response), it will probably all be a case of history repeating. Or, given his propensity towards games, he might bail once again when his self-esteem has been buffered at your expense.

      Drawing it out is the only way to see how this pans out, by reaching a point where his romantic ambitions are no longer clouded by insecurity. But time is something you don’t seem to have. In any case, I would advise (just my opinion, and as always, I could be wrong) resisting the urge to over-analyze his actions. If he cares enough, he will swallow his guilt and pride and stop trying to bait a response.

      If fear is the only thing holding him back, how strong can his feelings really be? Not strong enough for you to risk further pain IMO.

      Best of luck!

  • Anonymous
    Posted Aug 12, 2013 at 8:36 pm 0Likes

    Thanks Unknown,
    His excuse for breaking up was that we only had 2 months left to be together, that it was really hard to be around me since he was leaving soon, he wasn’t sure if he could handle a LDR, and he wasn’t ready for a commitment if I were to move out there in a year to be with him. When he told me these things, he cried harder than I did.. and then went and cried to all his friends. The option I gave him (and everyone else, which he ignored) was to stay together for our final two months, have a great time, and end amicably as friends (still remaining in eachother’s lives to an extent).. but he chose HIS option, since it was so difficult for him to be around me. I know he’s VERY insecure and really intimidated by me and he knows what a huge mistake he made, especially in the way that he broke up with me (out of the blue, he panicked and packed all his things at my house, in front of me, and then walked out on me). Even his friends have all told him what an a**hole he was. I feel like he wants to talk to me and maybe explain himself, and I know I’ll regret it if I let him leave with out giving him that chance. I still love him so much, despite how badly he broke my heart. I’m his first serious relationship (longer than 2 months) and we’re 3 years apart (he’s 22 and i’m 25). He agreed to meet and give me back my couple things before he goes… and I know it’s probably a bad idea, but I think I need to hear him out for myself.. to help me let go and finally heal. Do you think this is a good plan to just let him talk? What should I say or NOT say to him? I planned on thanking him for breaking up with me, but i’m worried i’ll get angry and start telling him off (which he certainly deserves). I’m also really worried that he’s still playing games with my head and heart and possibly hoping to have me “one last time” before he finally leaves… which will NEVER happen! (I’m a lady and he’s been elsewhere!) I’m just unsure how to handle this… I want to be the bigger and better person, but I also want to make it clear that he treated me like sh*t and I deserve much better.

    • The Unknown
      Posted Aug 12, 2013 at 9:36 pm 0Likes

      I recall a similiar situation at the end of my college days, two months before we were destined to part ways or reach an absurb existential compromise, bang — take a guess what happened?

      I don’t think there are any ways to both secure oneself against potential hurt, and settle any introspective what-ifs might plague us down the line at the same time. In my case, I erred on the side of clarity and shut down communication entirely.

      At the time I fretted constantly over whether or not I had been too blunt. Looking back, I have no regrets. At the end of the day I realized that putting the foot down, NC, and other protective walls to escape the madness of mind games, are just words. Someone who cares enough will circumvent pride and embarassment to say what the have to say. Terror or no terror, pain or no pain. I had taken the breakup bullet silently for her sake, I could do without the mixed messages. This time, for my sake.

      In this sense I don’t think its a good plan to open communication open endedly. While I completely understand your reasoning, I personally feel it is his realization to make, and should be initiated by him, and not prompted by you.

      Regarding your healing and hearing him out. I am very wary of adding closure to my expectation list. It is usually the first hope to break under the test of time, and I feel that seeking it only adds more emotional tripwire to the healing process (because any pang of grief naturally reminds us that we havent moved on and resets any pretense of healing).

      On top of all this, and perhaps I am cursed with ill luck, but contact with exs, ESPECIALLY exs who might not know how they actually feel, will tend to provoke more questions than answers. His actions at this point denote a patent lack of self-control. Which makes me feel that he is currently in no place to discuss anything in a reasonable and semi-permanent way. Chances are his feelings are changing on a day to day basis.

      He may promise the world, or retreat into his man cave, either way, I wouldn’t read into his actions. Chances are the following months will allow him to come into closer contact with his fears, and once he does you might get your chance at closure — even if it is at a remove. I just dont feel that now — given the turbulence — is the right time.

  • Anonymous
    Posted Aug 12, 2013 at 10:39 pm 0Likes

    So you think I should just pick up my things and leave? I already know in my heart that I could never take him back.. by tossing me aside so easily I will never trust him again, and no trust is a 100% deal breaker for me. Or should I sit down and see what he says? Allow him to say it, if he even does have anything to say, then walk away?

    • The Unknown
      Posted Aug 12, 2013 at 11:15 pm 0Likes

      You could give him the chance. But as you say this is his first real relationship. Given the propensity for hurt, confusion and desire he may very well speak out of trauma, rather than out of any objective and selfless need to tie loose ends and end the experience in a dignified way.

      I suppose my opinion may be a little delusional. Yes, I would pick my stuff up and leave. Because, and again, this is a entirely personal opinion, separation is just a word. He can try to bridge that gap at any time in the future (emphasis on try, it’s obviously not entirely up to him).

      The world’s a small place, and time and distance in this day and age aren’t quite the barriers they once were. At any given moment, at any given place he could find a way to communicate with you should he wish to. At least then you will have the certainty that his intention is crystalline, because in order to apologize or explain himself he will have had to brave his fear and pride. I suppose you could say I have come to dismiss the words, and judge via the actions.

      I have nothing against the idea of a chat, but I don’t necessarily agree that this face to face is a make or break moment to have it. Admittedly I do tend to take the long and patient view of breakups. Which, heh, hasn’t always served me well.

  • Elle
    Posted Jul 6, 2014 at 4:16 pm 0Likes

    Trying to shorten things here…
    I have been in a complex, long distance relationship for 4 years. the last 3 have seen me trying to get us back, and apologise for hurting him, there was no cheating, but due to circumstances I lied to him about something pretty NB ( my ex fiance was involved in this, and the person I want back doesnt trust me, and is pbviously very hurt as before he got this “news” I was about to move country to him, and he hasnt forgiven me, or has felt v betrayed). for 2 years, or so, he oscillated between hurling abuse at me and telling me he loves me, and because I felt I was to blame, i let him, hoping he would forgive me. One last ditch attempt valentines 2013, and it “Almost” worked, but didnt, ….I decided to cut contact, ….broke it a few times, until a FB incident happened where I commented on a pic, (we are not FB friends, but I could see a pic), he BLOCKED me, and I confronted him, he said he had gotten flack from numerous people on his side for being in contact with me etc…I never replied, and 6 months passed. i cut him from my life, what he had done had left me no choice…then on my birthday (7 months later), he opened the door and sent me a Birthday email. I thanked him and left it at that…a few months went by and I broke down and sent him a “I miss you sometimes and wonder where we would have been msg”, I got nothing back. I wasnt surprised…and just left it, (it was through whatsapp, and he never picked it up, said he hadnt been online since before i sent it) – anyway a few weeks went by and out of the blue he initiated contact, it was on a different phone no as he was travelling…and I didnt recognise the number, which in a way was nice as opened up to some nice banter before I realised who he was. Long story short, this was the longest “banter” we had since I hurt him, no abuse, he was chatty and flirty, this has gone on for about 5 weeks, with a least 1 long convo per week, UNTIL NOW – its been 3 weeks and he has not initiated any contact….(The messages he sent BTW were reminiscent of the OLD days, where we used to flirt and banter,I have NOT seen this since before everything happened, sent me pics, video clips of sunsets with him int them etc) – So 3 weeks later and nothing? I dont understand what is going on…Feeling held to randsom by all this, – I know for a fact his tone was very different with me, but he has pulled back completely now, WHAT SHOULD I DO? :-(
    L
    thanks

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