Let’s say it’s a Saturday afternoon, and you’re having a lovely day minding your own business. You slept in, you grabbed coffee with a friend, and you even ran a couple errands on your to-do list. Now you’re curled up in bed binge-watching Succession and eating Halo Top straight from the container. Then, all of a sudden, your phone flashes with a new message from… No. It can’t be. You ex, whom you haven’t heard from in months?! Mild panic ensues. How should you respond to your ex’s text? Should you even say anything at all?
When you’re not expecting it (or even when you are), a text from your ex can ruin your whole day. Why on earth are they trying to contact you after a long period of silence? No matter how innocuous the text looks — maybe it’s something along the lines of, “How’s it going?” or, “Congrats on the new job!” — it can certainly feel like there’s something deeper going on. Before you rush to respond with something snarky, put your phone down and take a deep breath.
According to clinical psychologist and author Dr. Beth Kurland, receiving a text from an ex can fire up some of the brain chemicals that affected you when you were first in love. Dopamine is responsible for making you feel happy and carefree, and the body releases it during sex, a make-out session, or any particularly happy moments with your partner. And now, even though you’re no longer together, this text can send your brain right back to that place. "When we break up and later get a text from an ex, this can re-trigger and activate that same neural circuitry," Kurland previously 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."
The text can also remind you of all the pain you experienced when the relationship ended. A 2004 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that remembering your ex can trigger responses in your brain that are typically associated with acute grief. In an instant, you’re transported back to those feelings of heartbreak, wondering if you’d ever be able to interact with your ex in the same way again. No wonder the text hits you hard out of nowhere.
As for how to handle the situation, it really depends on how you feel. Leigh Smith, a researcher at the University of California Davis, previously explained to Elite Daily that your brain could respond to the text in a couple of ways. "When we encounter a stressor — like a text from an ex —there are two primary ways we can react,” she said. “We can either one, believe we have the resources to cope with the demands of the task. Or two, we can feel like the demands of the task outweigh our coping resources.” If you’ve had enough time and space to heal from the breakup, maybe you’re fully confident to respond without freaking out. But if it was a messy split, or if you’re not fully over your ex, you might feel overwhelmed by the mere idea of trying to craft a message to send back.
First thing’s first: prioritize your own health and healing. If you don’t want to respond, you 100% do not need to. Kurland warned against jumping too quickly to engage with your ex again. "Our first impulse might be to follow that pull toward 'reward' and become re-entangled with an ex when we know this would not be good for our long term well-being,” she noted. But instead, try being mindful and intentional about what you think is best. Take as long as you need to decide about the next best step — and maybe wait until those chemicals in your brain have calmed down.
If your ex is trying to reconnect with you, and you don’t think it’s a good idea to see them, be straightforward about this over text. Dating coach Diana Dorell previously told Elite Daily that “less is more” is usually a good philosophy. “There's no need to over-explain, to justify, or defend why you’d not want to see them, it's really none of their business,” she assured. “What you can do is tell them, ‘I appreciate you reaching out to me, I want to let you know I’ve moved on and I wish you all the best. Take care.’ That really is all you need to say.”
If they’re asking for a simple favor, or something that’s easy for you to respond to without stressing, you can choose if you’d like to open up conversation with them again. But remember that you do not need to give your ex your time and energy, especially if it could come at the expense of your well-being. Sure, this person was once really central to your life, but that time period is over, and your ex should respect your wishes if you want to cut off communication entirely.
Even if you do want to be friends with your ex again, it’s crucial to talk about boundaries with each other, to avoid any potential confusion or hurt feelings. "I think there is immense pressure to be chill and drama-free,” Dr. Alexandra Solomon, clinical assistant professor and staff therapist at Northwestern University, tells Elite Daily. But she notes that this pressure can keep you from speaking honestly about how you’re feeling. It is completely OK to ask your ex why they’ve reached out, and to try to clarify what they hope to gain from the interaction.
Regardless of whether you choose to respond, you should make that choice based on your needs, rather than a feeling of pressure or obligation to seem “chill” or “over it.” You’re on a forward trajectory, and the last thing you need is to feel pulled unexpectedly back into your past. Craft a response after you’ve had some time to think and determine what’s best for you. Your ex should respect your commitment to your healing — and if not, who cares? You don’t owe them a thing.