Why Do You Want To Text Your Ex? A Therapist Explains The Urge
I know the feeling all too well. A certain someone — be they an old fling, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, or a one-time hook-up — pops into your mind, and your fingers start to twitch. It starts out innocently enough: You just scroll through their Instagram feed, maybe browse their latest Facebook posts... But then your thumbs start to twitch. Before you've even realized what's happening, you're fishing their number out of your deleted contacts and crafting a text, "just to see how they're doing." But, why do you want to text your ex at all? What gives us that urge in the first place?
According to relationship therapist Anita Chlipala, LMFT, there's a whole host of reasons that might explain that thumb twitch.
"You wonder what they're doing, maybe [you're] wondering if they're out on a date, an ego boost to see if they respond, you're bored, you miss them, [or] maybe you think there's hope and they'll change their mind and want you back," she explained, ticking down the laundry list of possible explanations. That burning desire to text an ex or old flame doesn't necessarily mean you still want them (though it might!), but it likely means that you're, well, curious about their life or their family or their potential lingering interest in you.
But let's not forget that curiosity killed the cat, and it can just as easily squash your chances of moving on from that Ghost of Partners Past. Before you can treat the problem, you need to understand it. Here are three reasons why you might be making your ex's hotline bling, plus a few tips to help you kick the habit.
They've Left A Void
"You spent time together and now that you're broken up, you have a void that used to be filled by your partner," explains Chlipala.
No matter how great or challenging your relationship may have been, your ex was undoubtedly occupying some shelf space, both in your mind and in your heart (especially if you two were an iconic pop duo à la Britney and Justin). Once your relationship comes to an end, your ex might vacate that spot in your heart, but the shelf where they sat remains. Also, breaking up leaves you with so much more free time, and like, what are you supposed to do with yourself?
As someone who consistently struggles with that whole "moving on" thing, might I recommend picking up a new hobby? I know it sounds silly, but experimenting with something new — whether it's joining a book club, enrolling in a cooking class, or starting a new workout regime — is a surefire way to take your mind off of breakup matters, and hopefully keep you from drafting that "How are you?" text to your ex!
You Really Do Want To Stay Friends
"The person who did they breaking up might want to be friends," Chlipala explains. "[But] the partner who was broken up with might misplace significance and think the communication means something when it doesn't."
If you were the one who ended things in this relationship, it might be easier for you to see your ex in a friendly, almost platonic light, so shooting them a text likely seems harmless. But, while it might be inconsequential for you, it's probably sending mixed signals (or even false hope) to your ex.
"It's OK if you don't end the communication right away, but you do want to pay attention to whether the communication is making it more difficult to move on," says Chlipala. "Staying in touch can prolong your pain and keep you from meeting someone else."
In the same vein, staying in touch can prolong your ex's pain as well, and you don't want to stretch out their breakup recovery time any more than you'd want to stretch out your own, right?
You're Just Looking For Comfort
"There's also comfort in the familiar," notes Chlipala. "You might [be letting] your thoughts run rampant, thinking you're never going to find someone again, and that you'll be single forever, and so your fear gets the best of you and having a connection with your ex provides you with some comfort."
If this sounds like your situation, remember: Exes are like dirty, old, security blankets. They were lovely for a time, and they served a purpose, but it's probably time to ditch them (ideally for a new, cleaner blanket that's even better in bed!).
At the end of the day, there's a reason you two broke up, and there are so many fish in the dating sea. So, if there are not pets or kids involved, "remind yourself that they are an ex for a reason," advises Chlipala.
And, in the wise words of Dua Lipa, "Don't pick up the phone."