Why does an ex suddenly call out of the blue?

We're broken up, it's over -- so what is he thinking?

Published March 3, 2006 12:01PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I dated a guy for six months. We got into an argument one evening, and I decided to end the relationship. He was caught off-guard by this, but later in the conversation said, "Maybe you are right. Maybe this isn't working out." A few days went by, and I decided I had made a terrible mistake in breaking up with him.

I called him back and asked him to give me another chance. He wasn't interested. Fast-forward four months. I have to work with this guy (conference calls only) but it's been relatively normal. However, the other day he called and left me a voice mail, calling to "say hello" and then at the end of the message he casually said he missed me. Just recently he asked me if I was going to be in Southern California anytime soon (I live in Northern California). I told him I was, and he mentioned at least three or four times that it would be great to get together and catch up when I am in town. He also reminded me that we still have a bottle of wine to drink together.

What gives? How can this guy go virtually dark on me over the last four months and then spring up out of nowhere, saying he misses me and asking to get together when I am in town? I don't want to think he has bad intentions, but my antennae are definitely up. I guess I just don't understand the "boomerang" effect and why guys tend to look backward to girls from their past. Do you have any words of wisdom to share?


Dear Puzzled,

Sometimes guys tend to look backward to girls from their past because they are looking to drink a bottle of wine and get laid.

That seems kind of crass. I guess it is. And if that is what you mean by "bad intentions," then yes, perhaps he has bad intentions.

But it is also a matter of two people seeing the same thing in different ways. You may have thought you were in a relationship in which one's decisions about whether to see the other person would be based on how one felt about the other person. Seeing the relationship as an emotional phenomenon, you would then naturally ask yourself, How can he have changed in his feelings about me without any contact? What could have brought this on?

Such a question assumes that his feelings about you have changed and that is the reason for the call. But his feelings may not be central to his decision. It might be more his condition than his feelings about you in particular. Sometimes guys are lonely and bored and just thumb through the old book. And sometimes guys make rather heartless calculations, in which there is only one goal and that is to get laid, and someone who is a known quantity is a better bet than someone new. Or maybe he has recently broken up with someone.

It's difficult to say. It may be simple or it may be complicated. It may be innocent or it may be sinister. You also have unfinished business. There may be an element, unconscious perhaps, of wishing to restart the thing only to re-end it on his terms. There may be an underlying struggle over who defines the relationship, who says when it's over. He may be saying, in effect, that it's not over till I say it's over.

But everything about this relationship is utterly voluntary. You are free to do whatever you want. If you want to drink that bottle of wine with him and sleep with him, you can. If you want to call it a relationship or not a relationship or whatever you want, you can do that.

I know this is all rather equivocating, but I can't really know what's going on in his head.

I do know this: Regardless of what has gone on in his head, the offer he's making is fairly clear. He wants to get together with you and drink that bottle of wine. Yes or no?

P.S. In whose possession is this bottle of wine? Did he give it to you, or you to him?

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