Wise Guys: Why Do Men Get in Touch with Past Flames?

Advice from three of our guy friends. This week a straight woman asks, “Why do guys get back in touch with old flames? Booty call? Rekindle the romance? To prove they’re over the woman? Just to say hi? Just got dumped and need an ego boost?”

Straight Married Guy (James Glazebrook): At the risk of talking myself out of an advice column, men and women are essentially the same and act/think identically in 95% of all situations. So any reason you can think of for getting in touch with an old flame, the same goes for guys and their exes. I’ve never stayed in contact with anyone past the break-up, because I can’t imagine getting past the bitterness and resentment, or the leftover love and lust, and being Just Friends. As such, I’ve only ever been the get-in-touchee not the, um, -toucher. But in my limited experience, guys — and girls — never get in touch with former lovers “just to say hi.”

For instance, I recently accepted a Facebook friend request from an ex. We were together for a couple of months over a decade ago, and even in that short time I managed to cheat on her, so I felt sufficiently distanced by time and my old, cold lack of concern to safely socialize with her. I was curious to know what she’d been up to (roller derby!) and to catch up with her and the town in which I had grown up — and grown up fast after making mistakes like that particular infidelity. The wall posts went back and forth amicably enough… until I revealed that what I’d been up to. Namely, getting married and moving out of the country. I haven’t heard from her since! So, innocent intentions on my part — but she was on the prowl, right?

Gay Single Guy (Jay Dyckman): I find that most guys get in touch with old flames when they are at “rock bottom” moments in life and need to convince themselves that (a) at one point someone had feelings for them, (b) that unlike the stinging rebuke of a recent ex they are actually capable of affection or (c) they are truly horny and have no other options on the menu.  All three are a complete mistake.  The only reason you should ever get back in touch with an old flame is the “you might have contracted an STD” call or the “I’d like my T-shirt back please – it’s my favorite.”  That’s it.

Straight Single Guy (Tyler Barnett): The reasons for men to visit the ghosts of girlfriends past are numerous. Our exes already know us intimately, they understand us, they have seen us at our worst and best and they can usually make us feel better, fast. We all have days where we feel insecure, out of shape, out of the game, heartbroken or (and more often the case than not) just bored.

After a breakup especially, we tend to think about every girl who has ever thought we were amazing, probably to reassure ourselves that we are! We want to be reminded that there ARE others out there that love us, desire us and miss us. We need to be reminded that there HAVE been other girls who thought we were the sexiest, smartest, most perfect men on earth so we can say to ourselves, “It’s her loss for breaking up with me.” And you know what? It works.

Our “wise guys” have been a rotating group of contributors, some of whom wish to remain anonymous and some of whom like the attention. This week’s Straight Married Guy is James Glazebrook, a British writer/illustrator working in Berlin with his photographer wife on their cool blog, Überlin; our Gay Guy is Jay Dyckman, an LA copywriter; and our Single Straight Guy is Tyler Barnett of Tyler Barnett PR in LA. To ask the guys your own question, click here.

This post has been updated.


  1. I got a facebook request from a guy I dated in 1978 for about two years. I agreed to brunch and he states he has always loved me. He has been married twice with grown kids and divorced both times. I find his feelings very sappy and I get the feeling he is conniving trying to spend more time with me and declaring we have “found” each other again. I do not feel any attraction to him at all and cannot decided how to just state only friendship. Any suggestions ?

    1. Just tell him: “I’m sorry, but I do not feel the same way”. I suspect that once this is stated he will quickly lose interest in you.

  2. i have a question, an old flame of mine got in touch with me, we dated for just a short time, distance was an issue. He stopped by my house to tell me he was getting married about 4-5 years after we went our separate ways. I would always wonder if he was still married, and at one time i had a dream of a ‘feeling that he was divorced, well i was right. Only recently when we touched base with each other did i find out, he stated he tried finding me but had no luck, i guess my loss, i have been married for 25 years now but all through the years i would wonder what if?

    1. Oh Penguin, that seems so sad. But here’s another way to think about it: When you ask yourself “What if?”, you’re probably filling in that blank with an idealized fantasy, a picture of all the positives that could have come from that imaginary relationship, not bothering with all the potential — and inevitable — negatives. Enjoy the fantasy, and meanwhile maybe try to be actively, mindfully grateful for the relationship you do have.

      1. “What if’s” are always just a creative story written by your imagination. It’s very seldom based upon any sort of reality. Ultimately most ‘what if’s’ lead to unhappiness in one’s real life, and so you should never give them any value.

  3. I have an old fling that continues to pop up everywhere I go often. He thinks that I’m in a relationship but I’m actually married with no ring( yeah you heard right no ring but that’s another story). We never never went out on a actual date or anything it was always just sex, really great sex. He is a very attractive guy with money and a car, not sure of his living arrangements. He always used to ask me what do you like to do…do you wanna go somewhere or something but I always kept as friends because I knew he was the play boy type…I haven’t been with him in over 10years and now he keeps popping up everywhere. Honestly I really miss him and I wish I could have him just as a friend with benefits. I don’t want to be married anymore, my husband doesn’t appreciate me, he is not romantic, he doesn’t support me, and the sex is trash unless he hittn it from the back. We don’t go any where. I mean for goodness sake I don’t even have a ring, haven’t for over a year now. I asked him to get me a ring, he got angry and took his off…should I say the hell with him and hookup with my old fling. Help please I’m so tired of feeling like this.

  4. This has happened to me a lot, years later. Usually he broke off contact when things were just about to start seriously.

    Gay men , as males do not like being vulnerable. It’s scary when someone is the right one for you, and you might get hurt.

    So the danger point is actually when there’s nothing to stop it going ahead. Men will concoct a usually fictitious difficulty. Or just stop contact, and you won’t know why.

    My way to view it.

    1. If he got in touch with you after many years, particularly if he’s attractive and has no problem getting interest, you were clearly the stand-out in all that time.

    2. If he is not willing to share how his life is going, or is evasive about it, you know things aren’t going well for him. If he contacts you on Valentine’s Day, that just about guarantees it.

    3. It may well be the case that just as he screwed up with you, he’s done so with everyone else since.

    What can you gain?

    Well … take your flattery from the first point, and take your consolation from the last point.

    Feathers in your cap. Thanks buddy!

    And then cut off all contact.

  5. “It’s her loss for breaking up with me.” ..Oh thanks.. Except.. They didn’t ..I did.. >.> One doesn’t even want to know I exist anymore and other shit is just complicated bs!

  6. Needing advice pls. A man that I once knew many years ago contacted me on Facebook 2 years ago and supposedly had searched me out for 10 years. Before we got separated….mind you, we never had sex, he laid a kiss on my forehead to say goodbye to me before I moved out of state later that same day. Only after I left town did he reveal to me that he was in love with me. Fast forward….after he reached out, I learned that he was married and I wished him well via email, but then admitted that I loved him too. That’s the only email we ever exchanged, and I told him that because I respected his married status now that we couldn’t be digital friends. ..this was in 2013. In 2014 I’m looking through my Twitter account and see that he’s following me. He said that he was happily married, yet he contacted a woman (me) who he never even kissed on the mouth or touched intimately aside from that forehead kiss. I can’t stop thinking about him. What’s the deal?

  7. I need a male advise please. I had a long distance relationship almost for a year, short story, he freaked out about the commintment and broke up with me. It’s taking me almost 2 years now to finally put all the pieces together and understand why we broke up. In the past 2 years we didn’t stop talking until last april, after that he would stop talking to me, responding emails, text any contact, it was hard but finally let him go, this past sept on my birthday he texted me with beatiful words, I said thank you and we exchanged a couple of words after that, I email him a few days later with something really funny and not response, so I emailed him back and finally told him I was not interested in the birthday/ holiday I say hi kind of thing, so I stopped communicating, until 3 days ago he emailed me at 2 am, just saying hi, and he shared a song (Lord is it me, from Supertramp). He also said beautiful stuff about me and my kids…I don’t want to read between lines but this makes me confused, please help ?

      1. Jothe discI have a guy Johnny in San Diego that used the same line after doing the same thing, used momma at age 64 for an excuse. You deserve someone that adores you respects you.

    1. He’s playing you. It’s a common manipulation trick. The time he doesn’t respond for weeks+ means he is with someone. You’re like the back up if it ends or he is bored. Move on and never look back.

      1. You hit the nail on the head, Xavier. He’s not genuinely interested in her, he’s manipulating her for an ego stroke, that’s all.

    2. Girl the same thing happend to me!!! I really cared about this guy but at the end of the day he was just not for me!!!! YOU have to determine if he is for you and the kids and make up your mind!!! He is going to continue to mess with your mind as long as you allow him to, Girl I am not saying this to make you feel bad because Im sure you already do. This is the hard truth. The same thing happend to me and I kept thinking of all the bad shit he did to me and then when I would be on top he would text me and I was STRONG enough to say hell no! If you can’t take me at my vulnerable state you don’t deserve me!! Love ya GIRL!!!!

  8. I agree with figleaf about OLD FLAMES being different than an EX… I have exes that I have no interest in getting in contact with, they are all exes for very good reasons.. But I also have an old flame,(just the one) which I look at very differently. I WOULD LOVE SOME MALE ADVISE PLEASE… We were together 11 years ago, we spent 9 inseparable months together, very happy,passionate & we would of been together for a lot longer, but he had a seasonal job in the town I lived in,& we both knew it HAD to end when his job did. We were both young,(I was 20 he was 21) we had jobs/careers starting & taking us in completely different directions. Over the next year we stayed in close contact even when his job took him overseas for 6 months, we sent emails,letter & had lots of long phone calls, we made several attempts to get together but things just got in the way,(a car crash being one of them..)Eventually we both started seeing other people & just accepting defeat & moved on with our lives…. 5 years later he found me on friends reunited,(which I didn’t really use, so we lost contact again shortly after)Then a few years later he found me again on facebook. Now for the past 3 years or so we’ve been friends on facebook sending the odd messages back & forth kinda just checking in on each other some messages more flirty than others. He’s away a lot with his job(he in the forces) each time he was going away,I would message him & say goodbye & stay safe & he would always make a point of saying if he didnt reply it wasn’t because he didn’t want to, it was because he cant & that he would do as soon as he could,he always ends his messages with several kisses.. BUT until now either one of us or both of us have been in a relationship…… we’ve finally arrange to meet & its happening next week, I’ve always thought of him in a special way & I didn’t think I still had the same feeling I had 11 years ago, now we’ve finally arranged to meet I’m starting to think my feeling never really went far & could return with a bang!! I cant stop thinking about him & I keep getting butterflys about meeting up. I know he will be different than the boy I fell for to the man he’s become & that my excitement may only be down to all the nice memory’s I have of him & us.. In his last message he asked if he’d be stepping on anyone toes.. & that he was getting quite excited about catching up. Now all of a sudden my brain has gone into overdrive, & I’m thinking about it all way to much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not meeting up thinking/hoping to become girlfriend/boyfriend again. Just that if all goes well & we do feel something other than friends that we may/could possibly progress on to others dates & start getting to know each other all over again. But now I’m worried I’m over analysing the whole situation.. & that he thinks of me as nothing more than an old friend & just thought it would be nice to catch up… After all these years could still have the same feelings for me?? Why would he ask if he’s stepping on anyone’s toes, if we’re just friends catching up this one time over coffee & nothing more?? When a guy is quit excited about meeting up with a girl is it because he thinks it could lead to more & that he REALLY likes her…… Would really like some male views & advise on the whole situation before I meet up next week…

    1. Being in contact with an ex. This would be the hardest thing. My ex became an ex for a reason. My reason was that we were too far from each other and that my parents did not agree to the relationship. Today after 20 years, she is married with four kids and I married with three kids, I still have feelings for her. I was immature then and did not pursue her enough. I think she has moved on but I am still in the past. She was a great girl and I really do miss her very much. Any ways getting back my ex would be the wrong thing now as it was back then as there would be more packages to come, that is the children and upsetting our respective spouses. Too much stress. Well just seeing her has bought so many memories and I would like to hug her and kiss her once and move on.
      Exes are very hurtful we should all stay with the love of our lives and work hard to stay together no matter what. Hard work does come handy. I wish I had tried at that time. Don`t know how to get her out my head. this is very hurtful.

      1. I am wrestling with the get in touch with the ex situation at the moment. We have not been a couple in almost 10 years and haven’t spoken in person or via the web in at least 4-5 years. She was my first intimate girlfriend and I loved her more then anything.

        The way it ended though was so anticlimactic as initially she said she needed a break from us. Then 4 months passed and officially it ended with a whimper. I still had strong feelings so I tried to stay friends but it was just to awkward. I didn’t just want to be her friend but I tried my best. Eventually we lost touch altogether. I’ve moved on and have a very happy LTR at the moment.

        Then the other night she randomly pops up in my dream. I distinctly remember saying the words…I know I can never have you again but I will never stop loving you. Woke up in WTF haze and then of course went through old stuff and found tons of pictures from those happier days we shared.

        The girl has a kid and I think a boyfriend/husband at this point. I feel a little drawn to sending her a note on facebook just to say hi and kind of thank her for the great memories we had. But honestly another part of me feels that would be the stupidest thing to do at this point.

        I think I also probably still feel this way because a real reason for closure on our relationship was never really given. It was kind of like well hey that’s it. Like the abrupt ending to great movie. i probably won’t contact her more for the fact that she has a whole different life from when we were two young kids who were in crazy love/lust for one another. I just always wonder had I made a few different decisions when she said we need time apart would it have changed anything? Probably not…

        Memories can be great but they also bring back the painful ones as well. I guess that is just the way life is.

  9. At my wedding, I had three of my old flames. I liked ALL of them or I wouldn’t’ve invited them. Of course there were EXES I DIDN’T invite. They chose to come to proving to them that I was took, but I still LIKED them! Nothing could happen with them in the future and I would care about them as PEOPLE! And they are and I wish(ed) them well.

  10. Good grief, I must be the most “whacked” of them all. (or I agree with Fig!)

    Think about it ? which side you want to be on ? I am going to the party tonight, if I see Exe, Old Flame ? do I want to be in the most awkward of situations or worse, hiding ? or do I say hello to her, … Just like you do to a friend and move on… to that one you have your eye on ?

    Lets just say I try hard to avoid having to avoid an old flame.

  11. Clarification: The question says “old flame,” most answers are about “exes.” I think there’s a pretty big difference. Exes aren’t so much old flames as much as they’re someone you went down in flames with. Exes are the people you’ll probably never reconcile with.

    Meanwhile old flames are more about sort of “loved and lost” relationship — ones where it just didn’t work out, not because it burned out.

    I don’t see anything necessarily ominous about contact with old flames. In fact it’s kind of healthy. And in fact if your partner isn’t comfortable having contact with an old flame it might be a sign that he isn’t (or let’s hope just wasn’t) all that good at picking partners. In which case you should worry more that your partner doesn’t have contact with old flames than if he or she does because, I think, that would be a sign that you may not that good a choice and so before long you’ll end up the latest entry on his or her do-not-call list.

    I’m still friends with a surprising number of my old flames, and I always enjoy hearing from them when they ping me on facebook or otherwise get in touch. It’s nice to hear how they’re doing, who they’re involved with, who their children (or, sometimes these days grandchildren!) are, where they’re living and so on. I suppose on some abstract level there might be a risk that an old flame might rekindle a romance but in practice not. I think you realize pretty quickly a) why you were attracted to them in the first place but also b) why you didn’t stay together.


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