After a few long months (fine, a year), you’re finally, finally feeling over your ex. Naturally, this is the exact same moment they decide to reach out with a text message to “see how you’re doing.” Ugh.
The moment you see their name pop up on your screen, along with a message that starts with a breezy “Hey, stranger,” you know the deal: They’re lonely, reminiscing and looking for a hookup. Or maybe they just want to be friends? Or wait, maybe they’re actually genuinely sorry for how things ended? You have no idea how to respond—if at all—to this stomach flip of a text. So we reached out to Channa Bromley, a relationship expert with Relationship Hero, and Maria Sullivan, the vice president of Dating.com, for some advice.
1. Phone a Friend to Jog Your Memory
Some time has passed, and you don’t have the same visceral reaction to thoughts of your ex. But this doesn’t mean they get an automatic pass back into your life. Something happened back then that hurt you, and even if you’ve forgotten how heartbroken you felt, rest assured that your friends can remind you.
“You probably broke up for a good reason,” Bromley tells us. “If the breakup isn’t fresh, it’s easy to forget or gloss over that reason because time does heal wounds. You don’t want to have an aha moment later on, where you’re like, ‘THIS is why we broke up!’ Start by talking to people who knew you when you were with your ex. Text a girlfriend and ask her, ‘Did I shine brightly?’ ‘Was I happy?’ ‘Do you think this person is good for me?’” and watch the truth roll in.
2. Trust Your Gut
Quick, what did your face look like when your ex came back from the dead? Did you smile? Turn red? Roll your eyes into the back of your skull? That initial reaction was likely tied to how you two left off.
“You’re more likely to answer that text if you ended on good terms and are still friendly with one another,” says Sullivan. “However, if you are happy that they texted you, there is a good chance that you aren’t over the relationship yet and might still be interested in trying to patch things up.” But if you’re visibly flushed, upset or anxious, “Chances are the relationship is over for good and you don’t need to waste your time speaking with someone who did something so wrong to you. I would recommend not answering because there is no good that can come from the interaction.”
3. Look Beyond the Words on the Screen
If your ex is a smooth talker, they might begin to cloud your memory of the past. But take a step back, check yourself and look at their actions instead. Is there any proof that they’ve changed the way they treat your friends? Do they no longer talk to other women inappropriately? Have they learned to appreciate you?
“Look at effort and actions versus words,” Bromley says. “Words are easy. Their effort shows true intent. Don’t be swayed by your hopes. Instead, take a step back and maintain perspective.”
4. Practice Restraint When an Ex Texts
We know, as soon as your ex texts, your fingers start twitching and you can’t stop thinking about how to respond. You want to totally blow up their phone, but instead of text-vomiting everything you’ve been bottling up for the past four months, wait a sec, take a deep breath and…do nothing.
“How the conversation starts—and how many texts are sent—can usually give you a better idea of where it’s heading,” Sullivan says. Giving your ex some time to fill in the awkward silence on their screen with more messages might be exactly what you need to figure out their intentions.
“Make sure to let your ex lead the conversation,” Sullivan continues. “That way you can figure out where it is going and what the purpose of it is.”
5. Never Feel Obligated if It Doesn’t Serve You
You’re a people pleaser, and you tend to accommodate everyone else before you take care of yourself. When an ex reaches out and your gut tells you to run, don’t feel like you have to text back in order to be a good person.
“If your goal is to ‘get over it and get on with love,’ then you are not obligated to respond,” Bromley says. “Sometimes relationships reach a completion point, and that’s OK. If it is painful to communicate with your ex, and you don’t have extenuating circumstances, like children, then it is self-honoring to not respond if you don’t want to.”
Remember that you may not have come first in that relationship—or ever with your ex—but you do with yourself. If the best thing you can do for your mental health is to swipe left on their name and press delete, you have our full support.