Relationship expert Nicole McCance on how to handle an ex trying to get emotionally close during physical distancing

ICYMI, it’s 2020 and the “you up” text from your ex has officially been replaced: In the time of COVID-19, the hottest new booty call is the “hope you’re staying healthy” text. Received one recently? It turns out, you’re not alone. While everyone is taking this time to physically distance, a ton of exes are also taking the time to try to reconnect with former partners.

Not only were Gossip Girl actor Chace Crawford and his ex, Rebecca Rittenhouse, recently spotted going for a physically distanced stroll together, but users on Twitter have been detailing their own experiences of exes sliding in to their DMs, popping up on Facebook Messenger, and hovering on their Instagram Lives.

Honestly, it’s a pandemic of its own. Not to mention, kind of perplexing? We’re in the middle of a major health emergency, so why is my ex sliding into my DMs?

Well, it turns we shouldn’t be *too* surprised if we see a message from “DO NOT TEXT BACK” pop up on our screen. Nicole McCance—a relationship expert and registered psychologist—says she’s not at all shocked to hear that exes are sliding their way back into old partner’s inboxes during this period of physical distancing. Mainly, because it’s one of the only tangible ways we have to cope with the uncertainty around us. With COVID-19 shutting down all “non-essential” services (which is defined province by province), “all of our coping strategies and distractions we usually turn to—[whether it’s] going to the gym, drinks with friends, etc.—are not accessible right now,” McCance says via email. “Most people are home alone, sitting with their thoughts, [and] that’s not usually a good thing.”

It’s not hyperbolic to say that it’s scary out there. “The truth is if we leave our houses our lives could be threatened,” McCance says. “Whenever it comes to life or death situations, I think it does put things into perspective.” And with your ex-beaus already concerned for the safety of their family and friends, it’s not *too* out of the blue that they’d think about other people who’ve meant a lot to them. Including their exes. “People have more time to think and process right now than ever before. Maybe they are coming to their senses about what matters,” McCance continues. “They may be taking stock and wanting their future to look different than their past, after realizing that life is short.”

But regardless of their intentions, what’s important is that during this time, you’re taking care of yourself and protecting your heart. So what do you do if your ex does inevitably slide into those DMs? McCance has some tips.

If this person is *not* good for you, do everything in your power to ignore them

First of all, it’s important to consider who the person is and what their effect on you was and probably continues to be. If said ex is a super jerky person, whose presence is unhealthy and ultimately won’t make you feel better (when you know, you know), there are a few ways to curtail yourself from responding or inviting more conversation. First, reach out to a close friend and speak to them before replying to your ex. “They may talk some sense into you and remind you of why you broke up”—something that we can tend to easily forget, McCance says, especially in the most dire of situations.

If that doesn’t help? Think a little bit to the future and the potential consequences of inviting someone back into your life. While it may be hard to picture when this period of physical distancing will end, think of yourself on the other end of this pandemic. “When life goes back to normal will you regret speaking to them?” McCance asks.

And if the answer is yes, the best way to stop yourself from hitting send? “Keep yourself as busy as possible,” McCance says. As cheesy as it may sound, all of this time to yourself presents the perfect opportunity to date yourself.  That could be everything from taking the time to make home-made meals and take bubble baths, to taking part in virtual therapy and journalling. “If you focus on personal growth during this down time you will only find a better partner later, since you will know your worth even more,” McCance says.

Regardless of what you do, the key is to stay busy. “Organize your house, write that blog you’ve always wanted to write, go for a walk, paint your nails,” McCance says. “Do anything, except respond.”

But if you are looking to hook-up virtually—that’s totally cool, too

Hey, not every relationship ends on a bad note! For those whose exes come with limited baggage (LOL, is that even a thing?), or people who are just comfortable engaging with a past lover, it’s totally OK to virtually reconnect with an old boo. You just have to make sure you’re clear about what you want—and what this is. “I think being really clear that you don’t want to get back together and there is no future, but you are both supporting each other through this crazy time, is important,” McCance says.

Above all, be honest with yourself. McCance advises checking in with numero uno (a.k.a you) and making sure that you’ll be able to cut ties once life goes back to normal (whenever that may be). And if you determine you still want to reignite that old flame, be it for emotional or more *ahem* physical *ahem* support (hey, safe sexting can do wonders), just make sure you’re fully aware of potential consequences. While re-connecting now can help pass the time and help you feel less lonely in the moment, “once this is all over and life goes back to normal, you may have regrets that you reached out [to an ex],” McCance warns.

Whatever you decide, don’t beat yourself up

If you do decide to hit “reply” to that text, the most important thing to remember is, as McCance emphasizes: “Don’t be hard on yourself right now.” We’re living in a time where there really are no rules; and that includes when it comes to dating.

“I think this time is so unprecedented that whatever you need to do to self-soothe and feel calm, just do it,” she continues. “Don’t judge yourself. You can make better choices later when the world is back to normal and you have your life back.”

With limited access to most of the things we love, including our friends, family, fresh air and IRL experiences, “I think if it brings you comfort reaching out to someone you used to love—do it.”