Rosie Green’s dilemma: should you reply to an ex’s text?

Until my marriage break-up I didn’t have that many exes. Two to be precise: a school days one and a gap year one. The latter, when we broke up, shaved off his surfer locks and sent me his curls in the post. Which was interesting – although his darkly romantic (or just plain weird?) gesture was somewhat undermined by the fact the hair was in a shoebox that was obviously once home to a pair of his mother’s Kurt Geigers.

Now, after a couple of years of dating, I have collected a few more exes and I realise that they exist in a weird realm – one minute that person is an all-consuming presence in your life, the next they’ve disappeared. So they are familiar and yet a stranger. Like a song, or a smell, an ex has the power to pull you back to a moment in time.

David Venni

Women tend to absorb the fairy-tale narrative around exes. If they broke up with you then the ultimate dream is that they wake up one day full of regret and longing, tortured by the error of their ways. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are a case in point. It’s generally acknowledged that ‘Waity Katy’ played a blinder. When she and William broke up she sat on her hands. She was not papped leaving an insanely hot personal trainer’s house at 6am in the same clothes she’d been wearing the night before. Nor did she post about the monarch-to-be’s manhood proportions on social media. No, she got a job, went out with the girls and was seen with a ‘handsome heir to a shipping fortune’. When William and Kate got back together the nation rejoiced.

There’s another ex file lodged firmly in my mind. In her 20s my friend Ella was heartbroken when her financier husband left her, moving to Manhattan to follow his Wall Street dream. For months she was red eyed and rail thin and we counselled her, supplying endless margaritas and self-empowerment mantras. Then she picked herself up, moved on and got herself together. Shortly after she was in New York for work. She went to a restaurant for dinner and he was there. Their eyes met and they talked into the night. Twenty-four hours later he was at her door with a gobstopper Tiffany ring.

A Kansas university study says half of couples get back together. Which is why, in a new relationship, exes can seem like a threat. When I wrote about my marriage break-up in the press I got messages from men in my past. One was from my childhood crush. My 14-year-old self was obsessed with him and would stare at the back of his neck in chemistry class. Of course, when he contacted me in 2020 there was zero attraction.

Now every so often my phone pings with a message from an ex. Sometimes it’s just a friendly ‘Hello’ but sometimes it’s more ‘Can we go out for dinner?’ Last week I got an ex message. No, not from the ex (the husband of 26 years who broke my heart) but from a man who had been significant nonetheless. It invited some light banter and shared memories with a side order of suggestiveness. And it felt natural (and polite) to message back in a similar vein. But now I’m in a relationship that would not be right. Like eating a tub of ice cream, it might feel good in the moment, but would be bad for me long term. Because the truth is my ex and I are not friends; we have history.

In When Harry Met Sally, Harry doubts whether opposite sexes can ever truly be platonic friends. And that seems even less likely when it comes to exes. Any communication you have with an ex is morally dubious. Would I like it if my boyfriend flirted with an ex? That would be a big fat no.

Anyway I did message him back, just to say I didn’t think contacting me was appropriate. Which felt insanely grown-up – and maybe a little presumptuous. Hey, I’m still learning.