Sex. Remember that? For a lot of singletons, it’s a distant memory. But as lockdown restrictions begin to ease, opportunities for it are increasing. However, after a year of not meeting anyone new and interesting, many are finding themselves with only one prospect: sex with an ex.
While the pandemic has seen a surge in the number of people using dating apps – according to Bumble, May is set to be the most popular month for its users to set up dates – many have eschewed them altogether.
Usually, the issue of sleeping with an ex is a polarising one, but given the year we’ve had, it’s not surprising that people want to retreat to what they know. Sleeping with an ex doesn’t necessarily require the niceties of a new match and – no matter how subpar the person – you generally know what and what not to expect from them. After the dry spell that coronavirus caused, people want instant physical intimacy without having to invest. “My exes are just bored and want some fun,” says 27-year-old Promi who has been contacted by no less than three. “They want to fulfil their hot guy summer dreams without putting any effort into new romantic endeavours. As usual, cis straight guys are being lazy, unimaginative and predictable,” she notes.
33-year-old Alex who has done both the approaching and who also has been approached, says he doesn’t have many qualms about meeting up with an ex. “The action doesn’t outweigh the emotion and complication of it all, but it’s been a really long time since I last had sex, and I’m not a fan of dating apps that involve a lot of the same repetitive conversations. I’m so comfortable with one of my exes, and we’ve missed each other. It’s okay to crave old faces and old habits.”
So, psychologically, why do we feel a pull towards the past? Katherine M. Hertlein, a couple and family therapist and professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Health at the University of Nevada, says it’s to do with ‘state dependent memory’. “When we break up with someone, it’s because things are not going well. So we end things; and we start feeling better. Then we start having memories consistent with our improved mood state. We have memories of happier times with our partner. We fail to realise the reason we feel positive is due to the break up and mistakenly attribute it to positive times in the relationship, which leads us to think we should get back together.”
Indeed, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Michaela Thomas, a clinical Psychologist, couples therapist and author of The Lasting Connection , recommends stalling on the idea, until you can answer certain questions. “As lockdown restrictions ease, some may wish to meet up with an ex, to feel good for a moment after a long time of loneliness," she explains. “You might get an instant reward, but it may also leave you with difficult feelings afterwards. You might not feel good about yourself, if you were previously hurt by your ex. You don’t want to open the door to invite hurt back into your life.
“One thing to ask yourself is ‘ Is this helpful, or harmful, for me?’ There might also be blurred lines about what this means. Are you getting back together, or is it a casual hook up? What are the hopes and expectations for each of you? The second question to ask yourself is, ‘is this helpful, or harmful, for my ex?’ If you were the one ending the relationship, and now reconnect with them, you might be sending them false hope that you’ll get back together, even if you intend for it to just be casual. You don’t want to open the door to invite hurt back into your ex’s life.”
Boundaries are essential when sleeping with an ex – especially if you’re adamant about keeping it casual. To establish them, sex therapist Jay Torro says, “figure out what you really want from the beginning, make everything really clear. Secondly, find out what your partner’s terms are. And lastly, be selfish, don’t forget about yourself, my advice for clients is worry more about yourself.”
Not all relationships end explosively or for bad reasons, though. Thomas says the pandemic has made us reflect on our priorities. So, for those who want to reconnect with the one that got away, go ahead. “If your reason for wanting to meet up is a realisation that the relationship ended too soon, that there’s something to rebuild, then discuss it openly with the ex-partner.”
Coronavirus may have altered the world, but we guess some things never change. We’re creatures of habit, after all.