We got to the bottom of when it is (kind of) OK to touch base with an old flame and when you shouldn’t even think about it.
In a perfect Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind world, we’d be able to break up with people, take only the good lessons we learned along the way (or, more realistically, the three or four good bands or movies they brought to our lives) and move the hell on. No regrets. No drunk text messages. Certainly, no breakup sex.
But, oh, it can be complicated. Once upon a time, you liked that person for a very good reason — no matter how difficult it may be to remember those qualities as you’re using every four-letter word you know to describe them to friends while you down your (third?) whiskey sour.
For the purpose of this post, let’s assume you’re thinking about getting in touch with an ex whom you know isn’t right for you. Maybe you didn’t click on an important, fundamental level. He cheated. You cheated. He now has a wife, two kids and a very happy dog.
Here are five times experts say it might be acceptable to get back in touch (and one time you absolutely, positively should stay away).
1. Someone close to your ex dies
If a close member of your ex’s family, or a friend you got to know while you were together, passes away, Amy Baglan, founder and CEO of MeetMindful, says there are a few ways you can handle it in order to show your respect — and showing up unannounced at the wake isn’t one. “If he tragically loses a loved one, it’s appropriate to send a card,” Baglan said. “Don’t text though. You don’t want to give him the impression that you’re available to chat regularly or are interested in rekindling the relationship.”
2. There’s a need for closure
Now, this is a tricky one. We all think we want closure — but, by closure, we usually mean: We want to pry open our ex’s heads and find out the real reason they were such humongous douchebags. Calling an old boyfriend in an attempt to figure out why the sparks fizzled is only going to disappoint you. On the other hand, psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman says some types of closure are important in order to carry on with life and have healthier future relationships. “A need for closure that is specific and reasonable,” Coleman specifies. “An example would be an abusive ex who has been working a program (such as AA) and wants to reach out and make an apology.”
3. You must discuss finances
If you lived together and/or have unresolved financial issues, it’s your responsibility as mature adults to communicate until you resolve those important matters, Coleman said. If your breakup was so bitter you can’t imagine sitting opposite your ex and feuding over how to handle a property you co-own, enlist the help of an objective third party.
4. You have children together
Your responsibility as good parents and role models for your children has to come first and there’s very little way to avoid having to speak to a co-parent, so the best thing to do is learn how to talk to each other. Marriage and family therapist Christina Berdebes tells clients to keep five simple rules in mind when contacting an ex: Be clear of your goal in the conversation, prepare yourself so that you don’t steer away from your goal the minute you hear an ex’s voice, have a piece of paper ready with points you want to cover in your conversation, make arrangements ahead of time to call a friend right after so you can vent and get support and remember the plans you’ve made to move on from the relationship.
5. It wasn’t over. It still isn’t over.
OK, all you romantics, you’ll like this one. Since there is a possibility that old flames can reignite, Coleman has given you the go-ahead to make contact with an ex if (and only if) you are both unattached, want to explore the possibility of trying again and feel the timing/circumstance and/or issues you had in the past have been addressed. “The caveat here is that you need to be prepared for your ex to have no interest in this, hear what they have to say, and let it go,” Coleman said.
And the one time you need to move on…
His new girlfriend/wife or your new boyfriend/husband is not cool with a reunion.
You can argue with everyone you know about this until the cows come home. We know you don’t want to sleep with your ex again. We believe you when you say it’s just platonic and you make better friends than lovers. But if there is any doubt in his new girlfriend or your new boyfriend’s mind — if they feel even the slightest bit anxious or unsettled about this reconciliation — you need to respect their wishes and stop contacting him. “In order to build trust in your next relationship, you have to show respect to your partner,” Berdebes said. “You can not make a new foundation when the old one is in the background.”