"I want you back" is a simple little phrase. It's been sung by Jackson 5, sung-danced by *NSYNC, and now even crooned by HAIM. However, hearing those four little words in real life can be more divisive.
When an ex comes back into your life saying they want you back, it's a lot. The idea might be music to your ears, or it might make you want to move to Canada.
You've finally unfollowed them on Instagram. You are no longer crying on your pizza regularly at 2 a.m. thinking about them. You've erased them from your life (and your phone). Then — boom, un-ghosted. They're back, they are haunting you, and you have no idea why.
When an ex comes back into the picture, you have every right to doubt their intentions — especially if they were the one to break up with you. How can you tell if they really still love you or if they are just bored?
Elite Daily spoke with dating experts about four honest reasons your ex may want you back that aren't just because they "love you."
1. They're Lonely
It's hard to go from having a partner-in-crime to doing everything solo. Loneliness is palpable and can be more painful than the break up itself.
"While in a relationship, we develop physiological attachment to our partners that makes us want to be attached," explains behavioral scientist and clinician Clarissa Silva. "Often that neurological desire is not really related to wanting to be with your ex, it's the desire to feel attachment and love."
Your ex might be coming back because they are having trouble adjusting to the single life, rather than missing you in particular.
"If all he can say is 'I've just really missed you' without describing exactly what he misses, then chances are he's still just reeling from the loss and just wants you back to get rid of that pain," explains relationship expert Mark Stefanishyn.
Late night texts and Instagram likes are a far cry from "I've gone to a therapist and I'm different now."
So if your ex isn't being clear on exactly what has changed and why they want you back, chances are they're just feeling lonely. You might recommend they download Tinder or adopt a puppy instead.
2. They Need Confirmation Of Their Self Worth
Exes come back for a multitude of reasons, but more often than not, they are looking for some confirmation that they are a human being worthy of love. In a society that values relationships, being single isn't the most chic and thus, can make people uncomfortable.
"If someone associates being single with being undesirable, unwanted, or broken, then the end of a relationship can feel so terrifying that they'll say anything to get away from those fears, even things like 'I've realized I do love you and I've changed,'" explains Stefanishyn.
If your ex is spiraling about their value as a person, be careful to take their words at face value, too.
Additionally, your ex might be back because "their identity was so involved with being with you, and they feel they don't have one without you," explains dating expert Thomas Edwards. "That may sound great on paper, but puts a lot of pressure on you to validate their confidence, self-worth, and overall identity."
Remember that you are not a personal self-help book; you are a person with feelings, too.
3. They've Idealized The Past
Dating is super scary. A date means that you have basically agreed to hang out for at least an hour with a stranger who could be a psychopath. It's hard to be vulnerable with a stranger, and it's hard to invite in the possibility of rejection.
"Sometimes we idealize our exes because we haven't found a replacement or don't want to go through the dating process," explains Silva.
It's so easy to romanticize a relationship in hindsight. You might think "things weren't really that bad" or "no one will ever be as spontaneous as my ex," but in reality, you have no idea until you get back out there.
Your ex might be using getting back together as an excuse to not get back out there. You might be doing the same thing. Try to treat dating like going to the gym: no excuses. Meeting new people will help you move on.
If you're romanticizing too, scroll back to those nasty texts you sent each other during a fight. Don't torture yourself, but get some perspective on why you chose to end the relationship.
4. They've Actually Made A Mistake
If you are still not sure whether your ex is reaching back out for all of the wrong reasons? Maybe give them one more shot. "Rekindling with your ex can help reveal why you chose to remain apart," explains Silva.
If you choose this immersion method, keep your heart protected. Getting back with your ex, even for an evening, can be really complicated.
Make sure you carefully consider your ex's reasons for reaching back and wanting to get back together. If they just seem lonely, insecure, or like they are living in the past, maybe (definitely) go back to being broken up.
And remember, you get to decide if you like the new version of your ex too.
"A good rule of thumb for deciding to get back together it's should feel like two different people starting an entirely new relationship. You should feel like you've changed and you should be able to sense that there are new aspects to your partner that you are interested in getting to know," says Stefanishyn.
Exes are like fire: Even if they're burned you once before, they can be very intriguing. Be careful not to get too close.