So I looked into it. And what I found was that, yes, some people felt that their exes were texting them, getting back in touch after weeks, months, even years of radio silence, just because they were lonely and bored and maybe horny.
The other reason people are texting their exes is to patch things up or to clear the air or apologize. One of the more compelling things I heard in my reporting was something called terror-management theory, which is this idea that when people are confronted with their own mortality, they start to seek meaning. They start to think about religion more and also things like their personal relationships and their family relationships.
A lot of people right now are confronting, some of them for the first time, this idea that death is very possible and very close. And they are feeling this impulse of I should apologize to this person or maybe I should clear the air and get back on good terms with this person or I should resolve this conflict that I let linger.
Hamblin: So it’s not about the other person. It’s about the reacher-outer?
Fetters: As always, yes. A lot of these people are confronting this idea of I could die.
Hamblin: I like that your two alternatives are that people are either experiencing tremendous existential grief and trying to put things in order so that their soul can be at peace forever, or they’re horny. How would one go about distinguishing, if they were to read a text message, what the motive on the other end might be?
Fetters: If you receive one of these text messages, or if you’re sending them, a “you up?” text has an air of impulsivity that’s palpable.
Hamblin: Do you have a sense of how many of these reach-outs are genuinely motivated by concern for the other person? Do you think that’s happening a lot, or is it just weird stuff about mortality and sex?
Fetters: When I started reporting the story, I thought there was going to be a lot more shady, late-night drunk texting going on. And what I found was a lot of people who felt, for example, “I just really wanted to make sure that my ex-boyfriend’s grandma, who is immunocompromised, is okay.” Or: “I just thought this would be a good time to check in and give us something to be kind to each other about and get back on a good note together.”
It has given a lot of people cover to reach out to their exes that they maybe wouldn’t have known how to reach out to before.
Hamblin: What about crushes? They’re reaching out, right?
Fetters: Yeah, a lot of the same stuff applies here. The same reasons you would reach out to an ex during this time are sometimes the same reasons you would reach out to a crush to reveal your feelings to them.
One of the obvious things is that everyone’s bored, lonely, spending a lot more time with their own thoughts. And if you had some crush that you were spending a lot of time thinking about before, you’re probably thinking about them a lot more now.