I’m back with my ex, Mack. But it actually feels like we just met.
I originally met him when I was 21 years old and living far away from the West Coast in Chicago. That was the first time we dated. We reunited almost a year ago in San Francisco. It turns out, a lot changed in the time we were apart. Our bodies were different. Our personalities were more evolved.
When we were younger we spent hours together, listening to music and lounging at my apartment, talking forever. He would wait for me to finish my college newspaper job and walk me home from the office in the middle of the night. I remember feeling flattered when he asked me to meet his father and step-mother.
Then, he went on tour. He came back and he didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore. I was graduating early and moving to Los Angeles in a few weeks. It wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t super dramatic, just sad. We broke up in a cafeteria.
We said goodbye at a party months later. My friend had thrown the party for me during my final hours in Chicago, and it was a pleasant surprise to see him there. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t see him again for nearly 10 years.
I was the one who initially reached out a decade later. I sent him an email and asked him how he was doing.
I was hesitant to reach out. I didn’t know if he had the same email address anymore. I figured he probably had a life going on, but I felt optimistic about catching up with him and having a conversation again. I asked him how he was doing. I told him I was coming up to San Francisco on a work assignment, and that I’d love to see him. He responded the next day and said he’d love to see me, too. When it got closer to my trip, we started texting. Then we didn’t stop texting until I stepped out of an Uber and saw him again.
He was still hot. Same big smile. Same big eyes. Same scratchy voice and hairy chest. He was so warm and welcoming. I immediately knew I was in trouble, and that this was a real crush. He watched me eat a taco. He kept staring at me. We talked about all the things that happened during the last decade.
The good thing is, years later, we were able to find humor in all the messed up stuff we did the first time around. But we were also honest about it. It was raw. It was the sexiest, most real conversation I’d ever had with a man.
We've always had a lot in common, from our Arabic names to the fact that we’re from the same tribe and religion in Lebanon. We have a background that connects to who we are both spiritually and culturally. Our culture, in so many ways, is an important bond, from the food we eat to the way we speak Frablish—English-French-Arabic in our own language together.
The next day, I knew I wanted him to be part of my life. He wanted me to be part of his.
So... Should you get back with an ex?
"It depends, and it's not as easy as if it's a good idea or bad idea," says Hillary McBride, a psychotherapist and researcher.
While McBride cannot provide advice to people she is not in a therapeutic relationship with, she did suggest stepping back and asking yourself a few questions:
"I recommend asking: Who is the ex? Why did you break up? Have the issues that caused the break up been resolved? Are you getting back together because you learned something about yourself, and feel differently? Or because you're lonely? Do we feel pressured? Do we actually want to be together, or is it just hard to meet someone new? Do we know how to sit with our sense of sadness about the relationship ending, or not?"
If you've answered these questions honestly and feel like you're approaching the reunion with a healthy mindset...
Start with communication.
"Ask yourself and the other person what's different between now and when you were together last, and what the plan is to make changes if that is necessary,” McBride says. “If need be, it could be a good idea for each person, if appropriate, to take ownership of the mistakes they made previously. Think about being able to identify how you want things to be different this time.”
This was something really difficult to discuss: how our breakup hurt my feelings, and how we never truly talked about what had happened between us. Those were tough conversations, but we had them—even though they were deeply painful. Each discussion has helped us build more trust and a stronger relationship.
“It can feel so good to be with someone who understands us, who we have a history with, but we end up getting stuck in the same old patterns, and it's not healthy for us to be together,” McBride says. “So, having intentional, thoughtful, sober, conversations about being together can help mitigate some of the pull we feel towards people who we have some measure of comfort with.”
During those difficult conversations, focus on "I" statements about your emotions, and don't sling judgments or accusations, she says.
Saying I feel fear about what could happen instead of I feel that you're going to hurt me again "can help us communicate in ways that don't trigger the other person's defensiveness,” McBride says.
She recommends counseling to help work out the kinks and set new goals. That way you can create something different than what you had before.
Listen to the people around you, too.
"I would definitely check in with a friend or family member who may have been familiar with the previous relationship and get some feedback about whether they think it is a good idea or not,” says Shane Birkel, LMFT and Host of the Couples Therapist Couch podcast.
In my case, I checked with a best friend, my college roommate Elaina. Her impression was that I was happy with him back then.
On making your relationship work with your ex:
Here's some good news: Timing may work in your favor.
"Sometimes when couples are younger they just aren't mature enough yet to have a serious, adult relationship," Birkel says. "Meeting again when they are older might be better timing for them."
That was the exact case with Mack and me. When I talked to my boyfriend before writing this article, that continually came up. We weren’t ready for each other. We had family messes and traumatic events we needed to heal from that truly prevented us from having healthy relationships at that age. We weren’t where we needed to be until now.
"After so many years, I would look at this situation as though you were starting a new relationship,” Birkel says. “Just because you might have dated for a year in the past, don't expect the other person to be ready to dive right back in. Show up and act in ways that are trustworthy, respectful and kind."
In my case, we’ve been together almost a year. He’s lived in San Francisco. I’ve lived in Los Angeles. We see each other about every six weeks or so. We make it work. It feels new. And in June, we won’t do long distance anymore. Almost 10 years later, we’ll be together in the same place again. No goodbyes, just goodnights.