The number looks vaguely familiar. But still, it’s unlisted so, as you’ve done many times before, you send it to voicemail. Impatiently, you await the inevitable marimba-ringtone indicating a new message, which you expect is most likely a telemarketer or an automated reminder of your impending dentist appointment. No such luck.
Press play. The caller takes an audible breath on the other side of the line. It’s a recognizable inhale of someone gathering nerve. What follows is an awkwardly upbeat “Heyyy…”
Your Ex called. Not any old Ex. We can’t make a blanket claim that all exes are irreparable relationships. There are the casual exes or childhood exes where time and maturity have allowed a friendly check-in. This is not that person. This is the heart wrenching, tumultuous break up. The once great love of your life whose exit drove you to dye your hair or adopt a puppy. They are the cause of you blowing a huge meeting and having the most inappropriate rebound activities of your adult history. THAT Ex.
The possible contents of the message are limited. There’s the customary “Let’s catch up,” “I miss you as a friend” or a lead into “Let’s give it another try.” (Side bar: you were never just friends with this Ex.) No matter what the message says, the first thought is, “Well, what do I do with that?” What DO you do with that?
For most of us, none of the above is very pleasant. It re-opens questions of self-doubt: was it real and what went wrong? Questions that took months or years to resolve, or that were suppressed just enough that you’ve learned to ignore them. Either way, its disturbance is annoying. Listen, brood, repeat. Analyze what’s been said, how it was said and what it actually means. Well, there is no way to know unless you call back. Decision time, you think to yourself, do I call back? Does the fact that I am thinking about this that much mean I shouldn’t call back? Why do I care this much? It must mean I’m not over it. Clearly I should not call back. This could open doors that I have been trying to slam shut for months! I’m not calling back. But what do they have to say?!
Regardless of how it ended, there is always a little part of you that wants to hear “I want you back.” It is the competitive human spirit. Early 2000s boy-band, *NSync, earned a gold record harmonizing about it. It is about the WIN. In most cases, unfortunately, that’s not what the call is about.
While addressed to you, the call is all about them. There is a need attached and it is probably not fulfilling of yours. Usually associated with insecurity, it can be something as small as their first grey hair or doubts about their current relationship. It’s perhaps a life you know nothing about anymore but for a time, you were their rock. You were their common sense or maybe just their biggest cheerleader, and that’s what is missed. This moment is rarely about you.
As for me, I didn’t listen to the message. I would like to say it was because I was so above it all, so over it, that I didn’t feel the need to hear what was said, but it was the opposite. I was afraid to hear anything at all. I ran through my entire inventory of questions before the end of the awkward “Hey.” When I recognized the voice, I handed it over to my BFF for her to listen and delete. As time went by and I received other sporadic calls, I politely responded with a non-engaging text.
There are 313,000 YouTube how-to videos about your ex calling. There are also Vines how-tos and even Powerpoint presentations. There are also around 74,000 videos about how to trick your ex into calling you. I can confidently advise—don’t watch any one of those 74K. The truth is, there is no set rulebook explaining how to approach visitors from our past lives. My rationale (or irrational) is in no way a proper response. Sometimes, it helps to turn to music for our answers. And, because referencing *NSync wouldn’t be completely representative of me, I’ll more appropriately leave you with Toronto indie band Stars, “I’m not sorry, there’s nothing to say.”
Kim Nieva is a Los Angeles-dwelling San Franciscan, which means she’s from Oakland (which really means she’s from a small suburb called Hayward). Thirteen years of Catholic School rebellion inspired her to pursue a career in the Music Industry and is currently a creative in music publishing. You can often find Kim persuading people into giving her high-fives for lame or inappropriate jokes. @YeahKimSaidIt
Featured image via Shutterstock