You’ve finished your turkey dinner and you’re settling down with a Baileys when your phone buzzes. It’s your ex, getting in touch for the first time in 364 days.
There’s something about Christmas that encourages old flames to spill their feelings. And apparently there’s even a name for it: “marleying” – inspired by Jacob Marley, the ghost who comes back to visit Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
We blame Love Actually and the notion that, “at Christmas, you tell the truth”. But psychotherapist and relationships expert Lucy Beresford says it’s the rituals of the festive season that spark people to get in touch with their ex. “It can make people feel nostalgic for an old relationship,” she says, “although it often makes you see it through cranberry-tinted spectacles.”
It might also be the cold weather, suggests Beresford, as it makes some people long to be coupled up (also known as ‘cuffing’), like having someone to buy gifts for or kiss under the mistletoe. “You can feel compelled to reconnect with someone you enjoyed doing couple-y things with before,” she says.
Some may enjoy a festive reminisce, but for others, that sudden contact could reopen old wounds. Here, four HuffPost UK readers share their experiences.
‘I contacted my ex to apologise around Christmas’
Stevie, 34, from London, broke up with his partner after a two-year relationship, due to the struggle of juggling work, family pressures and partying.
“I was too young and too hectic to slow down and smell the roses,” he says. “Living together too soon and burning the candle at both ends ended up in me having to make a choice between her and work. Work won.”
But after a few chance collisions, Stevie contacted his ex around Christmas time to apologise for his past behaviour. “From there, the old energy arouse and fun conversation started to pop up here and there, normally after a stupid post on social or after a festival where we’d spotted each other wrecked,” he says.
“I’d say we’re friends now. I don’t think life situations could allow us to be as close as we were, but there is a genuine bond there that is undeniable – and I’m pleased I was mature enough to pull myself out of whatever headspace I was in, to rebuild that friendship.”
‘My ex has continued to contact me every Christmas’
Clare* and her boyfriend were together for five and a half years, before he ended it in July 2017 by sending her a five-page letter. “It was a complete surprise, both the dumping and how cowardly it was done,” says Clare, 30, from London.
More of a surprise, though, was the fact he messaged her that Christmas – and has continued to do so during the festive season each year. “I felt weirded out by the first message, but mainly glad I was out of the relationship,” she says. “It screamed of desperation and the old ‘little too late’ mantra.”
A highlight of their post-break up exchanges has been “a three-page festive WhatsApp love note”, detailing how he regrets breaking up with her. “I never respond – I have nothing to say. I received a nice little ‘it would be a good time to catch up now’ a few days ago,” she says. “Flattering, but no thanks.”
‘I roll my eyes when my ex gets in touch’
Shannon*, 29, from Sussex, broke up with her boyfriend 10 years ago after he cheated on her, but he still pops up at Christmas every year. “We don’t speak throughout the year, so I don’t understand why he feels the need to wish me a happy Christmas,” she says.
The pair come from the same hometown, so they’ll exchange a few awkward words if they bump into each other at the pub on Christmas eve. But he almost always sends a lengthy text the next day, reminiscing a shared memory from their relationship.
“It was tricky in the early years after our break up, because I wasn’t completely over it and quite liked the attention, but then it would make me feel shit when January came back around,” she says. “Now I just roll my eyes at the messages. Unless there’s a question, I tend to ignore it and hope it’ll die out.”
‘I like to know I’m in my ex’s thoughts’
Mark, 50, from Whitstable in Kent, broke up with his partner 10 years ago. “It was my decision, the relationship was a bit too intense for me,” he says.
For three years afterwards, he’d get text messages for three days from his ex – from Christmas eve to Boxing Day. ”[They’d say] ‘love you’, ‘so sorry we’re not together anymore’, ‘miss you’, ‘can’t believe we didn’t make it work’,” he recalls. “Then nothing for the other 362 days of the year.”
At first, he found the messages “strange”, but says eventually they “actually felt quite nice”.
“It’s lovely to know you are in somebody’s thoughts,” he says.
*Names marked * have been changed to provide anonymity.