This is a uniquely bad moment, too, in which to be cut off from interpersonal contact. In times of danger and fear, when people are confronted with their own mortality in a more acute way, they search for meaning more intensely, Seidman noted; this means that they think a lot more about their families, work, religious beliefs, and intimate relationships. That could lead some people to reach out to a past partner in hopes of reuniting, confessing their lingering feelings, clearing the air, setting the record straight, or apologizing. “If you’re reevaluating your life,” Seidman said, “that’s definitely a place I think a lot of people would go.”
In addition to making people want to reach out to their exes, the stress of a global pandemic gives everyone an excuse to do so. Until a few weeks ago, Ali Salcedo, 25, hadn’t talked to her ex-boyfriend since they split up last summer. It was a difficult breakup, Salcedo told me, so she and her ex had taken time away from each other in order to heal. By late March, though, Salcedo was ready to be back in communication. She wasn’t sure how her ex would respond if she were to ask how his family was doing out of the blue—so she opened with a work-specific question, about how his branch of the company they both work for was handling a coronavirus-related issue.
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Initially, “I was kind of expecting it to dead-end,” Salcedo said. But when he answered, “he was actually very conversational. He gave me thoughtful, substantial responses.” They went on to update each other about their families, about work in general, even about motorsports, a hobby they share. Coronavirus protocols provided an opportunity for Salcedo to extend an olive branch of sorts to her ex without it seeming forced or flirtatious, and Salcedo told me that they continued texting intermittently over the next few days.
Seidman agreed that reaching out to an ex to ask with genuine sincerity how they’re doing seems more appropriate at this particular moment than during normal times. Ordinarily, “it looks kind of fishy,” she said. “But because of what’s going on, everybody’s feeling like you should check in on people.” Seidman added that she lived in New York City in 2001, and in the days after 9/11, a number of characters from her past called just to ask whether she was okay. Whether that was truly all they were after is hard to say, she added, but the tragedy provided a respectable reason for getting back in touch.
When I spoke with Andrew Heflich of Chandler, Arizona, he was hoping that’s how his exes were interpreting the messages he sent earlier this month. Heflich, who has three kids and has been divorced for about two years, had been self-isolating for several weeks and told me with a chuckle that he “maybe had a little too much to drink” that evening. So he texted three women he’s dated since his divorce, saying, as he paraphrased it, “Hey, just wanted to check in to see how things are going, how you’re handling things.”