Let me paint you a little (not so pretty) picture. You get dumped. Brutally, brutally dumped. Needless to say, the breakup leaves you heartbroken and devastated. You spend months and months mourning the loss of your relationship until, finally, one day, you wake up feeling a little better and start to move on with your life. You're finally feeling like yourself again and putting yourself back out there, when, like clockwork, your ex reaches out to you.
If you catch yourself spiraling a little, it’s OK. Receiving a text or DM from an ex can trigger some strong feelings. Being suddenly thrust back into the emotions of your breakup can even activate the part of your brain that perceives pain, according to clinical psychologist and author Dr. Beth Kurland.
"When we break up and later get a text from an ex, this can re-trigger and activate that same neural circuitry," Kurland told Elite Daily. "We crave that same pleasure we once experienced with this person, which can help explain why it is so hard to let go of an old relationship and why it can even become an obsession."
And unless your ex’s message has a clear and direct question or purpose, such as an invite to meet up and talk things over (being friends is an option), there’s a good chance that your ex unexpectedly hitting you up is a case of what Bela Gandhi, president at Smart Dating Academy, calls “breadcrumbing.” This means that by giving you random “crumbs” of attention without a clear purpose, they might just be stringing you along “with no intention of actually doing anything,” Gandhi previously told Elite Daily.
So, what are you supposed to do when an ex contacts you years later? Here are some lessons from the real experiences shared by women on Reddit based on their own stories of when an ex came back years later out of the blue.
She laughed with her fiancé about her ex's message.
One dude I dated like four years ago reached out to me randomly in the last few months. He complained about women and dating to me, told me how great he’s doing, and called himself a lone wolf. My fiancé thought it was hilarious. Eventually I stopped responding.
She knew better than to let him back into her life.
Dated him for 4 years, he was my first love and broke my heart countless times. He reached out to me over two years after leaving me and getting engaged 3 months later (surprise - they didn't work out) He didn't even apologize, just wanted to "check up on me." I told him to f*ck off and never contact me again and he acted so shocked/offended. Lol. Too many heartbreaks, and I know myself too well to allow him back into my life in any way at all.
He kept reaching out until she deleted him off her Facebook.
Yeah, my cheating university ex used to reach out to chat and ask how my life was going every now and then for ~5 years after we broke up.
I chatted with him politely a few times out of curiosity and told him my life was awesome. I deleted him off Facebook a few years ago so I’ve not heard from him since then. There is no relationship, I have no desire to stay in touch.
He watches all of her Instagram stories even though he doesn't follow her.
No, but my ex who I dated for almost five years keeps viewing my Instagram stories, and he doesn't follow me. He sees them almost as soon as they're posted and it's creepy. We broke up almost three years ago and he has a girlfriend of two years.
He reached out during her grandma's funeral.
Not a long ago an ex wrote to me during my grandmother's funeral. I was in a relationship with him for many years but at the end, he had many problems and he didn't treat me as he should and he cheated me. I am happier without him in my life. I know he found a new girlfriend after only 2 months. We broke a few years ago and i'm still single by choice.
He wrote a very complicated message about the fact he wanted to know how my life was doing. My answer was cold but polite. He understood that i didn't want to talk with him so he didn't continue. He always knew that i prefer not to be friend with my exes.
A college course on feminism inspired him to reach out and apologize to her.
My ex got in touch after a couple of years of no contact to essentially apologize for being a douche. He took a gender discrimination course at the university and apparently it opened his eyes to a lot of shitty stuff he'd been doing, both to me and to other women. So he messaged me and apologized. We have not had contact since then.
She sent him a cold response, and he took the hint.
Absolutely. I got a message a year after our break up of him apologizing for how he treated me while we were dating. He asked if we could be friends and I said no. Haven't talked to him since but it feels good to have gotten my apology.
He reached out after their difficult breakup, and things went surprisingly well.
High school boyfriend of 4 years. We broke up because we were on different pages in our lives at 21. It was hard on both of us. We went separate ways, didn't have much contact. Then 4 years later I had just gone through another breakup and he text me out of the blue. We caught up over drinks. And then again the next week. And we've been together for about a year now.
They had a nice conversation until he sent her an unsolicited dick pic.
He messaged me on Facebook and we spent some time catching up. It was a nice little conversation until he started telling me how I was still hot and he was dumb for cheating on me. Then he sent an unsolicited dick pic. I blocked him because I wasn't the least bit interested.
Years after the breakup, they have managed to stay in touch.
It was an amicable breakup and we now email catch up every few months, but I haven't seen him since. We invested a lot of time in one another so it's nice to learn how the other is turning out. We dated about 8 years ago and he reached out around the 5 year mark.
I once reached out though, in a moment of guilt and stress, to an ex in attempt to apologize for everything that happened (at that time 4yrs in the past.). Was blocked instantly, 100% deserved.
Of course, every past relationship is different, and you should take it on a case by case basis if you get a surprise message from an ex or you’re the one reaching out to an ex years later. You can use these women's experiences as anecdotal insight, but remember to go with your own instincts if your ex hits you up out of nowhere.
Kross, E., Berman, M. G., Mischel, W., Smith, E. E., & Wager, T. D. (2011). Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(15), 6270–6275. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1102693108
Dr. Beth Kurland, clinical psychologist and author
Bela Gandhi, president at Smart Dating Academy
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