Holiday

How to 'Marley' this holiday: The art of texting with exes past

Relationship experts answer our questions about sending and receiving romantic holiday feelers.

Relationship experts answer our questions about sending and receiving romantic holiday feelers

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

"Marleying" is the term for the phenomenon of reappearing to an ex during the holiday season. It's named after the character Jacob Marley, whose ghost is the first to haunt Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. And it happens all the time. What is it about the holidays that raises spectres of romance past? What should you do if you meet one? What should consider if you're thinking of pulling a holiday haunting yourself?

We asked therapist and relationship coach Janna Comrie, and dating coach and sexologist Shan Boodram for advice.

Why now?

According to Comrie, there are lots of reasons to reach out this time of year, so it's not necessarily weird that you should hear from an ex or feel inclined to reach out to one. "A lot of people assume the negative in these things, but sometimes you reach out because you're thinking of the person or their family or just thinking 'I miss my friend.' It's the holiday season and people think that good will and good cheer will drive the interaction." Often, this is exactly what happens. Boodram, now married, says, "One of the things I miss a lot about being single are the birthday and Christmas texts. I don't know anyone who doesn't have this experience."

That said, good cheer and friendship are not the only reasons exes send out holiday feelers. "Nobody wants to be alone on the holidays," says Comrie. "The holidays are a nostalgic time. If you had a good one with your partner before, the mind remembers, the body remembers." And sometimes, says Boodram, people use the holidays as a pretext. "That's how I actually got together with my husband," says Boodram, "I waited until his birthday to slide into his DM's and leave a really long comment. I had been following him for a year before that…. I messaged him under the guise of being a good person, but really I was trying trying to get in there."

How to figure out what's going on?

Think about what you want for Christmas

The ghost of Christmas present is all about the emotional effect of the holidays on your decision-making. Boodram says "It's a hard time of year for everyone. If you are in your normal flow with work and your own friends and life, you probably won't feel as lonely as if you are surrounded by family who are all coupled up." All of this might incline your December self to re-engage with an ex who your January-to-November self would avoid. "Go slow with this and analyze your emotions," says Boodram, "make sure that you're not making a decision in the moment as a reaction that could cause you months of pain." On the other hand, says Boodram, if you find that you "just want to send good holiday vibes," that's a great reason to reach out.

Before you start speculating about your ex's feelings and intentions, Comrie recommends considering your own. Before you reply — or send the first text — thinking about the possibilities that might open up. "Ask yourself if you would date them if the opportunity came up," says Comrie, "Why? Why Not? Would you have sex with them?"

And, like Scrooge, it's a good idea to consult the ghosts of your romantic past, present and future. If you're thinking about re-engaging with an ex, Comrie recommends thinking about your history together. If you're interested in friendship, think about what made them a good friend. If you're looking for more, consider why you broke up and whether anything has changed. Seriously ask why you think it will be different this time around. "If nothing is different," says Comrie, "you're going back to the same relationship, then it's likely to end the same way." Finally, says Comrie, look ahead to the future.  Even if you're just contemplating a little fling while home for the holidays: "Ask how you're going to feel afterward. If that fling winds up touching your heart, how are you going to feel about being halfway across the country come January?"

How transparent should this ghost be?

While both Boodram and Comrie believe your contact with your ex should be guided by your intentions, they differ slightly in their approach. Comrie leans toward openness and transparency about your intentions. People can be suspicious of old flames, and Comrie thinks it would help "if people would just be more straightforward." If you're just thinking of them and want to wish them "happy holidays", then go ahead and tell them you're not looking for anything else. On the other hand, says Comrie, "If you want more, it doesn't hurt to say that either." If you're unsure how they feel, then Comrie thinks it's better to ask than to guess, because, "When you project on somebody how they might feel without asking them, that's not being fair to them. It's getting close to mind reading."

Boodram agrees that communication is important, but doesn't think you need to say everything up front. "In communication," she says, "it's not what you say; it's what you want to accomplish." If you're still trying to figure out what your ex's intentions are, all-out earnestness may not be the best strategy. When they're initiating the conversation, Boodram says, "If you start by asking 'What do you want?' 'Why are you contacting me?', it can come across really brash, and you might get the reverse of what you're looking for." Instead, Boodram recommends treating your interaction more like a poker game. You can match their bet by just returning a "Happy holidays!" for theirs. You can raise the stakes by asking a question ("how's your family?"). Or you can "fold and decide you don't want to play that game." Whatever the case, Boodram is all for reading your ex's signals before laying down your whole hand. "Be calculating. Go slow. Know what you're intended goals are," she says. Also, if you're playing Marley, Boodram advises "100 per cent do not make it look like a group text. Be very clear you're intending the message for them, by referring to their social media or something else personalized."

When Marley's ghost appeared to Scrooge, he was understandably alarmed. But after he considered his past, present, and future, he ultimately embarked on a better path. If you reconnect with anyone from your romantic past this holiday season, try to do the same.

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