You can be going about your day just fine and then — bam — a text from an ex lights up your phone. A message from an ex, no matter what it says, can cause a real record-scratch moment. It can interrupt your focus on whatever you may be doing at the time and dredge up some confusing feelings. You may feel anxious because you weren't expecting the message, sad because you miss your ex, reluctantly hopeful because you're curious if they want to back together, or angry that they contacted you when you asked them not to. Regardless of how you're feeling, know that it's valid for this experience to have an impact on you. But no matter what, you might feel shaken up, and the message might leave you wondering why a few simple words from your ex can throw you so off balance. What gives?
"A text from an ex you still care about may send you into a serious session of overthinking and wondering what it means (i.e., do they want to get back together? Did they realize it was a mistake?)," says Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, licensed psychologist an author of Questions That Need Answers: After the Breakup. "I think it's important to be gentle with yourself and your feelings, so if the text brings up some stuff for you and then the day goes downhill after that, allow it to happen and then develop a plan for how you'll try to have a better day tomorrow."
Unexpected contact with an ex can be particularly trying if you still have feelings for them, have asked them not to contact you, or if you have a lot of unresolved emotions surrounding your breakup, Bradford explains. This is because an ex reaching out can carry a lot of weight, especially if the message is out of the blue and their intentions for contacting you may not be readily apparent. According to Bradford, even though it may be tempting to discuss these complex thoughts and feelings with your ex, it is best to seek out a trusted friend or a therapist for counsel. By taking this topic and its consequent feelings to a third party, you are giving yourself time to reflect without any confusing or potentially hurtful revelations from your ex.
Another reason this sort of text can be impactful is because sometimes exes don't say precisely what they mean. Sometimes the act of texting you with a seemingly innocuous question can have an ulterior motive — which isn't emotionally fair at all. For example, an ex, who I've asked not to contact me, texted me over the holidays about returning two of my items (an earring and a sock). She said she was moving to Tuscany for a job and wanted to return them. She also inserted the line, "Glad to hear we're both doing better now, no hard feelings about any of it." I clearly didn't need the items back, so she was mostly just trying to find a reason to tell me she was moving and also insert anything else she wanted to add. So even though trying to return a random item may have felt harmless, it was really annoying and hurtful to get a text from someone I don't want to talk to.
"The effect of a text from an ex can be incredibly varied and depends on a lot of different things. It depends on whether you still have any lingering feelings for your ex, how long it's been since the breakup, whether you are in regular communication, etc.," says Bradford. It makes sense that you might struggle with the emotional responses of such a random surprise and it can be different for everyone. Taking time to process, talk it through with friends, and consider your response for a second can all help ease these emotions.
Regardless of your ex's intentions, your feelings in response to their attempt to contact you are valid. And the reasons for their impact are definitely varied. Bradford stresses that if this does ruin your day, you can cope by considering what you can do to ensure you have a better day ahead of you tomorrow. It may also help to consider the boundary you would like to set with this ex. If you are comfortable with contact, consider setting their number to "Do Not Disturb" so at least their text wouldn't pop up on your phone out of nowhere.
And, if you really don't want to hear from them, it's totally you're right to tell them the opposite of Kim Possible's popular slogan, "Don't call me, beep me, if you want to reach me."