In accordance with the social distancing guidelines associated with COVID-19, it’s now been more than a week since I’ve left my apartment to interact with other human beings. I’m officially past the point on the boredom continuum that involves singing Taylor Swift songs to an audience of stuffed animals. And, it bears mentioning that I’m an independent contractor who’s used to working from home. While employing that (decidedly strange) means of passing time—among other strategies like video chatting with friends, trying digital fitness videos, and sticking with as many daily habits as I can—didn’t surprise me per se, a different one certainly has. That is, the strangely strong urge I have for reaching out to an ex during this time.
And to be sure, I’m not the only one who’s been feeling this pull of desire to open up their ex files. Evidence of that? The incoming text messages I started receiving few days ago from five separate exes. They’ve run the gamut of tone from essentially “wanna quarantine and chill” to “hey there, stranger, just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing during this stressful time” and everything in-between.
I almost didn’t respond to any, but then I thought to myself: You’ve been feeling extra anxious as of late about being single and alone, and you’d probably be willing to excuse past wrongs committed by an ex if they might just be meant for you. Because—I’m now fully daydreaming—maybe you are meant for each other and this very pandemic is what’s reuniting you. Maybe the silver lining to all of this is that you’ll find your soul mate—someone who’s been under your nose the whole time. So, maybe—I continue daydreaming—by reaching out to an ex via text (or returning a text from an ex) during this time of social distancing, it’s plausible that you’ll strike up conversation, continue talking digitally and then eventually, when conditions are restored to safety, you’ll have the ultimate re-meet-cute. And slow motion will definitely be involved.
But then, I wake up from my daydream and reality sets back in: I’m a single twentysomething living in a 600-square-foot apartment by myself in Los Angeles. And I realize that there aren’t enough streaming sessions of The Class by Taryn Toomey to distract me from the anxiety-provoking prospect of being isolated from friends, family, and my usual routine for an indefinite amount of time. As a resident of LA and the state of California, I have been instructed to stay inside unless for essential movement. But you know what can distract me from that reality? Familiar banter and flirtation with people whom I have a history of chemistry. Ricky Martin said it best: Nobody wants to be lonely, and sometimes, reaching out to an ex can be just the antidote to help make sure that no one is.
“It’s natural to want to reach out to someone who made you feel cared about or protected. It would be really nice to have someone who has your back right now.” —clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD
So, is reaching out to an ex during the pandemic a good idea, okay idea, or worst idea ever? “Most of us are feeling the isolation and anxiety right now. We’re deprived of looking people in the eyes, of physical touch, and casual comments about our day,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “There’s also a lot of uncertainty. It’s natural to want to reach out to someone who made you feel cared about or protected. It would be really nice to have someone who has your back right now.”
But is it, you know, healthy to reach out to your exes during this time? “It depends on why! You might be really vulnerable now,” Dr. Darmus says. “If you two are still friends, maybe. If you haven’t been talking, or talking tends to turn out badly, no. Your reasons probably aren’t the right ones.”
As another litmus test to gauge whether texting your ex is a smart idea? Consider what it is you’re looking to gain from the conversation. “What is it you need? Physical touch? Safety? A sense of being loved? Trying to live it up in case life is never the same?” Um, can I say all of the above? (…I’m getting the sense that texting your ex during the pandemic is, in fact, not a good idea.) “Respect your emotional needs, but find another way to satisfy them,” Dr. Daramus says. “Can you get physical touch from a pet? What else would give you some physical pleasure without taking too big a risk? If it’s safety, maybe talk to a friend and make a pact to take care of each other. Or buy a weighted blanket. Whatever the emotional need, get creative about fulfilling it without your ex.”
Dr. Daramus adds that you’re probably glamorizing your past with an ex, and only thinking about the good memories when you consider reaching out. So, work to remind yourself of the reasons you two aren’t together anymore. (Like, um, the time you found another woman’s necklace in that his bed, but he said you shouldn’t be upset because you two weren’t exclusively dating, though you had agreed not to sleep with other people. …Just me?)
“Of course you’re going to need connection right now, but quality matters as much as quantity,” Dr. Daramus says. So, moral of the story: Texting your ex with whom you’re not currently in contact is probably not the world’s best idea, even during a pandemic, when it comes to prioritizing your long-term emotional health. (Let’s see if I can follow my own advice for once.)
Here, Dr. Daramus shares her tips for maintaining human connection (of the not-ex type) while being stuck at home. And there’s a scientific reason why your anxiety around COVID-19 may be super high right now.
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