Should you go back to dating an ex?
Anouszka Tate answers more of your sex and relationship questions, this week looking at the tricky issue of exes
A woman I was with for a while a few years ago is kind of back in my friendship circle through a friend of a friend. There will probably be a fair few social events that I’ll bump into her at. What do you think? Should you date an ex?
There are a lot of memes – particularly aimed at women – along the lines of ‘don’t take him back’. If it’s a gif there’s probably a sassy hair flick involved. Our Internet friends are empowering us to set boundaries when we’ve been treated with disrespect, which is an incredibly important message, but I don’t think ‘never go back to an ex’ is a hard and fast rule. As ever, real life is more nuanced than that.
So, should you date an ex? The first thing to consider is how messy the break up was. Did the relationship just fizzle out but fundamentally you still think they’re a decent human and obviously quite fit? Fine. I don’t see a problem. You’re a grown up, you’re capable of making your own decisions. Sometimes I’ve found it’s even better when you go back after a few years – you have the foundation of knowing each other’s bodies and desires, with the added wisdom of time, experience, and reflection on what you perhaps ballsed up a bit first time round.
However, if we’re talking about a serious relationship that broke down for very clear and significant reasons then no, you can’t just casually wander back to an ex without a care in the world. I’m not saying ‘never go back’ quite yet, just that more thought has to be put into communicating to ensure you’re definitely both sitting at the same place on the casual-to-serious spectrum.
If at any point you get the feeling that your ex is seeing this as an opportunity to rekindle the relationship when you were just hoping for a bit of familiar fun, stop. Don’t let yourself become a puppet master, cruelly picking someone up and putting them back down – both emotionally and physically – whenever it suits you. There are plenty of other people you can sleep with without simultaneously serving up an emotional gut punch.
It works both ways. If you realise there are still feelings there for you but she’s well past it, stop. The warmth of familiarity can all too easily see you sleepwalking into an exercise in self-flagellation. (That’s when our mates with their memes might have a point).
We all know I’m a big advocate for being friends with exes, but I also strongly feel there needs to be space and time for a while first, if only because you need to reset how you interact with each other. Often we fall back into bed with an ex just because it’s muscle memory. Being touchy feely with them is the only behaviour we know.
In your case time has passed, so that muscle memory may well have faded by now, but be mindful of not slipping back into over-familiarity too early on. Years have gone by, people change. Get to know the person she is now, and then decide if you’re still attracted to her. Be conscious of the process rather than being on auto-pilot.
It might be that by ‘going back to an ex’ you mean you’re considering giving the relationship another shot. There are times when it’s incredibly mature to acknowledge the mistakes made in the relationship the first time round. Time away from a situation will have taken the emotion out of it. You might now be able to see that she was entirely right all those times she got upset when you did whatever you did. She might have since been in a relationship that’s made her realise she took the things you did for her for granted.
In some cases it’s responsible to accept and apologise for faults, and commit to changing and growing together in the future. In others, you know you’d just be re-entering a toxic cycle of everyone repeating the same behaviour and expecting the outcome to be different. Hope and optimism are admirable, but be realistic about how much has really changed.
In conclusion, I’m going to whack out my old broken record again: communicate. Communication doesn’t always have to mean a full blown deep and meaningful, it can just mean checking in. A couple of minutes of thoughtful chat can afford you months of great casual sex, or save you years of heartbreak.
What are you confused, curious, or concerned about? Ask me a question in the comments below or on my Instagram page, and I’ll do my best to answer in my next column!
Photography by Max Budny.
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