You know the moment. Maybe they texted, sent a late-night Snap, slid into your DMs or liked a Facebook post that’s just a little too off the beaten path. That’s right. Your ex/former flame is back, and they’re looking to lure you back in. Don’t give in (at least not without some caution)!
Those of us who have been dumped, ghosted on or just plain treated poorly by a former romantic interest know your pain, and we’re here to make sure you don’t fall back into this painful cycle. Read on for a variety of steps to take when your ex tries to strike something up again!
1. Don’t engage
It isn’t worth it. If they’ve decided to slither their way back into your life after hurting you, it’s likely their motivations aren’t good—they should be able to respect your space otherwise. You shouldn’t have to deal, especially if talking to them is going to bring up bad feelings and stress. If you take this route, simply delete whatever they’ve sent you and move on! Keep doing you.
“One of my exes reached out to me on my birthday,” says Katie Sall, a junior at Illinois State University. “Even though it was kindhearted, I wish he knew that it sort of broke my heart all over again after not speaking for months and also sort of killed my birthday. My tip would be to hold your ground and remember why it didn’t work out in the first place.”
In the long run, you’ll be happy that you didn’t give them the satisfaction of knowing they still had a grip on you. “Not everybody deserves to hear how you’re doing, and not everybody deserves your time,” Katie says. “It’s okay to take a step back and realize that you don’t owe them anything!” You have to put yourself first before you can think about welcoming anyone else, romantic or otherwise into your life.
Related: What It’s Like to Run Into Your Ex
2. Don’t stalk their social media
It can be near impossible — especially for those of us who never want to hurt anyone’s feelings — to avoid checking in on a former romantic interest when they’re not still in your life, let alone if they start talking to you again. “Stalking your ex on social media only serves to hurt you,” says Grace*. “They’ll constantly be on your mind and you’ll get no distance from what happened.”
If you have to, block them or delete their number. Their feelings aren’t relevant at this point, and you need to put yours first! It might very well be better for your mental health to have them completely out of sight, and that way they’ll start to fade into the background.
They’ll stop popping up in your brain every other thought, and eventually it will get easier to deal with the pain or the unhappy memories. “Removing your ex from your social media is a good step in the process of getting over them,” says Grace. If you have to justify blocking them another way, consider how you’ll make them wonder what’s going on if they can’t get in contact with you. Then they’ll be the one stressing! Nothing wrong with a little payback.
Ideally, the happy memories will even start to outweigh the bad, and you can look back on the relationship (or whatever it was) and remember why it did make you happy and what it taught you.
3. Have an honest conversation
If you think you can do so and that it will be productive (that is, they will be honest too), then maybe it’s time you had a talk about what happened and why it isn’t cool that they’re trying to get in touch again.
Maybe there’s potential here for growth and closure that won’t leave you wondering about what it was exactly that went wrong or what you could have done to change the way things ended. “My advice for exes coming back in your life would usually be ‘No, do not pass go, do not entertain them,’ but if the relationship is still genuine, you both understand what went wrong and mutually want to work on making things right, then go for it!” says Ashley Drayton, a 2015 graduate from Georgia State University.
Confronting the person you used to be involved with can lead to a variety of conversations. “The last guy I was dating started reaching out to me shortly after we broke up and I was very confused,” says Annie*. “I’m happy I talked to him afterward because I called him out and told him that he treated me like garbage, and that wasn’t okay at all.”
There’s nothing wrong with expressing your feelings about the way things went and how what they did impacted you. “If someone treats you poorly, don’t let them in right away with no questions asked. They’re your ex for a reason,” Annie says. “I’m so glad I kept my guard up with him and told him off.” Hopefully they’ll take what you said seriously and not put someone else through the same thing — that’s about the best you can hope for from an ex!
4. Take note of your progress and remember why things ended
Since they got out of your life, things have undoubtedly been better. Even if the relationship was good at the beginning, there’s a reason they’re gone — it wasn’t meant to be. Think of all the time you spent grieving and annoying your friends and going over every moment a million times. You don’t need to go through that again!
Getting over them and the relationship took so much time and effort, and it may very well seem like things could be different now — try to think objectively. They didn’t treat you well and you weren’t good for each other, and it ended. If it’s meant to be, it will work itself out, but don’t give in just because they are making this power move! If they are being genuine, they’re going to have to work harder than that — and you’re worth working hard for.
If you’re reading this and you’re thinking about reaching out to your ex yourself, consider whether you’re doing it for selfish reasons. “My ex-boyfriend contacted me about eight months after the relationship ended with an extremely long text message,” says Stephanie Huynh, a freshman at Lehigh University. “He basically told me his version of the breakup and how he still wanted to be friends after everything we had been through.”
Unless there’s a legitimate reason for the contact, err on the side of leaving them alone. “If you ever want to get back in touch with your ex, do it with good intentions, not just to make yourself feel better,” Stephanie says. “There is another person on the line, and bringing up old, painful memories isn’t worth it sometimes.” If it’s still painful or sad for you, the case is probably the same for them.
5. Be the bigger person
If you’re in a place where talking to them won’t screw up all the amazing progress you’ve made, there’s also nothing wrong with being nice and polite! It’s also a great way for you to maintain control in the situation.
Former romantic interests always manage to show up at the worst times. “After I got into my first committed relationship with my now husband, I turned into a guy magnet,” says Emilie Trepanier, a senior at The University of Utah. “Former flames who ghosted on me or simply said ‘it’s just not working’ suddenly appeared back in my life.”
If they’re trying to get under your skin, they won’t be able to if you’re playing it cool and letting their dumb moves roll off your back. “I continued to be nice to them because I sort of saw it as one big joke because they knew they’d treated me poorly in the first place, [and] it felt kinda good to say that they missed their chance on me, not gonna lie,” Emilie says. Snaps to that.
Hardest of all is making the decision to continue talking to them. Self-assess first, and determine whether this is something you can handle and whether or not it will be beneficial for you to keep them around. “I realized when you care about someone, when you have simple admiration for what it is, and you enjoy their presence in your life (even if that’s just knowing you’re on good terms), I [would] personally rather be around to support them as a genuine friend, then as nothing at all,” says Danielle Pransky, a junior at Montclair State University.
If you’re both mature and stable enough to handle it, maybe test out the friendly waters. “Feelings can definitely complicate things but if you like them as a person and they treat you well as a friend, I don’t think it’s a bridge that necessarily has to be burned, maybe you just don’t have to talk as frequently,” Danielle says. “Creating that distance helps a little bit as well as meeting new people.” Maybe having them around can keep you more aware of what you’re looking for and what you know isn’t good for you!
Whether or not exes have a radar for when you’re just starting to get your life back on track (let alone just getting involved in something new and good), we’ll leave for science to determine. For now, just follow these trusty tips, and you’ll keep moving on to bigger and better things! Don’t forget — there’s nothing wrong with falling in love with yourself first.
*Name has been changed