Why Do Exes Come Back When You’ve Moved On? (With Expert Insights)

You’re sipping coffee on a Sunday morning, scrolling through your feed, and there it is — a message from your ex. It throws you off a bit, right?

You’ve moved on, and life’s been great without them. But now they’re back, popping in your inbox, and you’re unsure what to make of it.

Let’s get real for a second — the reason exes pop back up isn’t always draped in romance. I’ve got some helpful info that’ll shed light on this whole reappearing act. Trust me, you’ll want to stick around for this to help you handle those unexpected comebacks with pure finesse!

They Finally See How Great You Are

Your ex starts to notice how awesome you are doing without them. They see you’re happy, confident, and doing well, which catches their eye. They remember all the good things about you that they can’t find in anyone else.

This makes them want to come back into your life. They think maybe they made a mistake by breaking up with you.

Example: You bump into your ex at a party. You’re having a great time, looking confident, and they can’t help but notice how much you’ve changed for the better.

They Regret the Breakup

We’ve all been there, right? A decision feels right one moment, and later, not so much. Your ex is in that spot now. They’re replaying the breakup and shaking their head, thinking it was a mistake, that they acted too quickly.

I guess hindsight is not just 20/20, but also, it’s got a dash of regret in there.

What this looks like:

  • Memories of happy times together keep popping up in their mind.
  • They haven’t clicked with anyone else the way they did with you.
  • Maybe, just maybe, they’ve thrown away something pretty awesome.
"Because the person is re-learning their identity and doing appealing things, they will eventually accept that the relationship has ended, gaining confidence with their new life without their ex. As this person is thriving, the ex could now see this person as more appealing. The ex might also recognize that they have lost this person and regret it; therefore, the ex does everything possible to try and get this person back."

— Mary "Mimi" Schultz, MS, LPC | Licensed Professional Counselor, Malaty Therapy

They Feel Like Things Weren’t Finished

Sometimes, breakups happen fast, leaving things unsaid. Your ex might feel like you two didn’t end things properly. They keep thinking about all the “what ifs” and feel stuck.

This makes them want to talk to you again, either to fix things and try again or just to end things better this time.

Example: Late one night, your ex texts you out of the blue. They say they’ve been feeling unsettled and want to talk, hoping to clear the air.

They Miss How Well You Two Got Along

You and your ex had something special: no awkward silences, no misunderstandings, just smooth and easy. Now, they can’t seem to find anyone who matches up to the connection you shared. It seems simple, but it’s pretty rare, and they notice it now more than ever.

They remember the good times, how you laughed together, and it makes them miss those days. Recognizing this, they start to think you might be worth another shot.

Example: They tell stories about you and can’t help but smile. They start to feel the gap you left behind.

They Feel Alone and Miss Being With You

They’re feeling the weight of loneliness and starting to see how much you mean to them. Without you, they don’t have someone to share the little things with. Those day-to-day moments, that support system you provided, are gone.

Now your ex feels the absence and realizes what they’re missing. The feeling of being understood and cared for — that’s what they’re longing for now.

Think about it:

  • Your presence made their life better.
  • You got them like no one else does.
  • They feel a void without you there.
"Even if you have moved on, they can be triggered by something (a tragic event or memory) that makes them want to come back to you in search of familiar support. This can make them feel as though they need to be with you again, but it could also be that they simply want the comfort they are used to."

— Rachel Eddins | Licensed Therapist and Executive Director, Eddins Counseling

They’re Jealous Because You’re Doing Well

Your ex sees you’re doing really well, and it’s hard for them. They’re happy for you but also a bit jealous.

They see you’re happy and successful and wonder if they made a mistake. They feel left out and miss being part of your life. Seeing your success makes them think about what could have been.

Example: Your ex sees a picture of you celebrating a success and feels mixed emotions. They’re surprised by how much you’ve achieved since you two split.

They Can’t Find Anyone As Good As You

Your ex has been out there, trying to move on, but something’s not clicking. They compare dates to you, and no one seems to measure up. It’s not for lack of trying; it’s just that you set the bar high.

It’s about the way you understood them, cared for them, and stood by them. Realizing this, they feel a pull back towards you.

Example: During a date, your ex finds themselves comparing everything to the way things were with you. They can’t help it.

"They've tried to date other people without any luck, or maybe the people they dated weren't as good as you. So now they're just going back to the best they can get — you."

— Christy Piper | Coach and Speaker | Author, “Girl, You Deserve More

They Want to Say Sorry and Fix Things

Your ex messed up, okay? And they know it. The thing is, it’s bothering them — a lot. They can’t shake the guilt, and it’s dragging them down.

They want to reach out, say sorry, and try to make things right between you. It’s not just about getting back together; it’s about clearing the air and fixing what’s broken.

What this looks like:

  • They’ve thought a lot about what went wrong.
  • Saying sorry is important to them now.
  • They hope to make things better, even if just as friends.
"The 'return' of an ex may stem from a multitude of reasons: From a realization that their perception was clouded by emotions to misinterpretations, or an enhanced awareness of the gravity of their own actions and how it contributed to the demise of the relationship."

— Zahara Williams, LCSW-S | Speaker and Consultant, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

They Want to Feel Good About Themselves

Looking back, your ex sees that they were better with you. You brought out their best, and now, without you, they’re not so sure of themselves. They want that back — the confidence, the strength, the happiness you helped them find.

It’s not just about ego; it’s about feeling whole again. Reaching out to you might be their way of trying to capture that feeling once more.

Example: After a bad day, they remember how you would lift their spirits. A smile creeps in as they realize just how much those meant.

They’ve Changed for the Better

Your ex isn’t the same person you once knew. They’ve put in the work, ironed out their kinks, and turned over a new leaf. Now, they want you to see their progress — not to brag, but to show that they’ve learned from the past.

They’ve picked up new habits, dropped some bad ones, and they’ve got this whole new outlook on life.

Example: They send you an update about a personal goal they’ve just achieved. It’s their subtle way of saying, “Hey, I’m better now!”

Your Success Makes Them Want to Be Better

Watching you succeed is making your ex want to improve their own life. They see the things you’re achieving, and it motivates them.

They think if they were with you, maybe they’d be inspired to do well, too. Your progress is making them reflect on their own goals. They hope by getting closer to you again, that motivation might rub off on them.

They’re Jealous of Your Life

Your ex is seeing how well you’re doing, and they’re feeling left out. They miss being part of your wins and enjoying success together.

Now they’re on the outside looking in, and the jealousy is making them consider reaching out. They realize they’re missing out on sharing these great moments with you. They wonder if they can be part of your life again.

This could mean: They’re scrolling through your IG like it’s the next best novel!

"If you're still following each other on social media or connected somehow via a friend group, exes may come back once you've moved on because they see a typically happier version of you they would want to be with or used to be with. Sometimes they're jealous of the new life you're living, especially if you have someone new you're dating."

— Talia Bombola | Certified Psychodynamic LMFT | Licensed Psychotherapist | Confidence and Assertiveness Specialist

They Just Broke Up With Someone Else

Your ex is back on the market. They tried dating someone new, but it didn’t work out. Now, they’re single again, and you’re looking like their favorite old hoodie — familiar and comforting.

Example: Barely a week after their latest relationship status update flips to single, you’re getting that “Hey, how have you been?” text.

They Really Want to Be Back Together

So, it’s gotten serious. They miss you. Like, really miss you. We’re not just talking about missing cuddling or your Netflix recommendations — though those are great, too. They miss the whole package — the late-night talks, the inside jokes, the support system.

It’s got them thinking that breaking up was maybe the worst decision they’ve ever made, and they’re hoping for a second shot at getting it right with you.

What this looks like:

  • They’re beyond the casual “let’s-see-what-they’re-up-to” stage.
  • They miss you so much; it’s got them rethinking all their life choices.
  • They’re hopeful about a new start together, learning from past mistakes.
"Sometimes, one does not realize how good something is until it is gone. After breaking up with a person, the ex might recognize that they do not like this life without the other person. Maybe the ex recognizes that the person they broke up with was actually a great match, and they miss the person."

— Mary "Mimi" Schultz, MS, LPC | Licensed Professional Counselor, Malaty Therapy

No One Else Compares to You

After you two split, your ex tried to find someone new. Turns out, it’s not that simple. They meet people, but something’s always off.

You’re the one they hold everyone up against, and no one stacks up. It’s a bit like having the best burger ever, and then nothing else tastes quite right.

What this looks like:

  • Every new person lacks something they loved about you.
  • They get that “meh” feeling with others, realizing you’re the gold standard.
  • They’re looking for you in everyone they meet.

They Keep Thinking About the Good Times

Your ex’s mind keeps replaying the highlights reel of your relationship. All the laughs, the trips, the Netflix binges that you thought were just ordinary — they stand out now.

Everything seemed easier and more fun when you were together. They’re caught up in what was, and it’s blurry the lines between then and now. They keep getting hit with waves of nostalgia.

Example: They stumble upon an old photo of you two during a fun day out, and it stops them in their tracks. Suddenly, they’re all wrapped up in the feels.

They Wonder If You Two Still Have a Spark

Okay, so your ex is curious. They’re thinking about the chemistry, the connection, the spark. Is it still there? Could it be reignited? They watch couples around them and wonder if what you two had could be that good again. 

They’re tempted to find out if the magic is unique to you or if it’s something they can find anywhere.

Example: They run into you at a mutual friend’s gathering. The room is buzzing, but they’re focused on you, and they feel that old familiar pull.

They’re Back Because of Money, Stuff, or Pets

Let’s be real — when you break up, sometimes there’s still stuff you both own that needs sorting out. Your ex might get in touch to deal with these leftover things, like money matters or who gets the coffee maker. And if you have a pet you both love, deciding who takes care of them can be tough.

They might be reaching out more for practical reasons than wanting to get back together. Or, it could be a sneaky way to keep talking to you.

Example: Your phone buzzes, and it’s your ex asking to meet and talk about who gets the blender and the records. It’s business, not a stroll down memory lane.

They Keep Thinking, “What If?”

“What if?” is a tricky question that can keep anyone up at night. Your ex is tossing and turning, thinking about the choices you both made.

  • What if they had done things differently?
  • What if the timing had been better?

They can’t help but replay different scenarios in their head where things turned out with you two still together. It’s this nagging curiosity that has them wondering if they gave up too soon and whether there’s still a chance.

They Want to Mess Up Your New Relationship

Sometimes, when an ex sees you with someone new, it bugs them. They might feel left out, or like they’ve lost for good.

To deal with these feelings, they might try to cause trouble in your new relationship. It’s not the most mature move, and deep down, they might even know it, but those feelings are driving them to act out.

Example: After spotting a cozy photo of you and your new partner on social media, your ex decides it’s time to slide into your DMs. Suddenly, they’re all about “catching up.”

"It can be challenging to break that special bond that forms when two people intimately mesh together. It almost becomes ingrained and intertwined with you. So no matter who does the breaking up, even if amicable, emotions and feelings are involved. Your ex may come back out of jealousy, not wanting to see you with another person, or merely not wanting to see you being happy without them."

— Doreen Blake | Author | Inspirational Speaker | Spiritual Teacher | Wellness Consultant

They Want to Know If You Still Like Them

Curiosity killed the cat, but in this case, it’s got your ex poking around for intel. They’re like a detective on a mission, trying to suss out whether there’s still a spark on your end.

They’re wondering if, after all this time and all the changes, you might still have a soft spot for them. It’s half-hoping, half-fearing the answer, but either way, they’re itching to know where they stand with you.

Example: Your ex sends you a message out of the blue, asking how you’ve been. They pay close attention to how you respond, looking for clues that you haven’t completely moved on.

More Takeaways From the Experts

“It can also be that they are not ready to move on and want to try and rekindle the relationship. Even if the ex is the person who broke up the relationship, it can be that people change or grow up, and they find that they might have made a mistake or they were not ready for a relationship at that time in their life.”

Rachel Eddins | Licensed Therapist and Executive Director, Eddins Counseling

“Sometimes an ex might come back because they need something from the other person. This could be anything from assistance with a problem they’re having to a need for emotional support. In some cases, an ex might come back in the hopes of rekindling the relationship. They might believe that things can work out if they just try again.”

Sharmin Prince, MSOL, CPC, Msc, CTP | Founder | Advocate | Coach | Author, “30 Morning Musings: Self-Love Journal

“One reason people likely come back is that, the truth is, dating is not as glamorous as they thought, and the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Until you get into the dating pool, you don’t realize that the dating pool isn’t a bunch of models sitting around sipping martinis while taking fancy vacations. It looks a lot more like weary travels after a red-eye transatlantic flight with lots of bags, some of which may have opened in flight.”

Paige Harley MA, M-HYI | Supreme Court Listed Mediator | Traumatic Stress Certified | Divorce Transition Specialist 

“It could be that they miss you, they want to get back together with you, or they are just curious about your new life. It is also possible that your ex has changed a lot, and you are now interested in them.”

Kayla Johnson | Addiction Treatment Specialist, Harmony Healing Center

“Your ex may not have seen your value throughout the relationship because they know you would always come back to them. However, now that you’re no longer there, they can now live through life without your presence and realize how much happier they were with you.”

Lauren Cook-McKay | Director of Marketing and Content, Divorce Answers

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it okay to feel weird when an ex comes back?

Yes, it’s totally normal. You might be surprised, confused, or even upset. It’s okay to take time to figure out how you feel.

What if my ex coming back affects my new relationship?

Talk to your new partner about it. Being honest with them can prevent problems. Set clear limits with your ex to protect your current relationship.

Can I be friends with my ex?

Think about if you can be just friends without old feelings coming back. Make sure it won’t mess up your chance to move on or any new relationships. Do what feels right for you.

How do I stop my ex from trying to come back all the time?

You need to set rules. If your ex won’t listen, you might have to stop talking to them. Remember that you are not obligated to entertain their attempts to come back if it’s negatively affecting your life.

Final Thoughts

So, what’s the deal with exes sliding back into our lives? It’s not always because they’ve been struck by Cupid’s bow again. They could be feeling a bit down without you or simply curious about your new life. It’s like getting an unexpected rerun of a show you stopped watching.

Your next move? Well, that’s up to you.

If you’re not dating anyone, sure, see what your ex wants. But if you’re already with someone else, you’ve got to think about their feelings — no need for any drama.

Just remember, whatever decision you make, trust in your ability to choose what’s best for your life. Going back or moving on, the key is your happiness. You’re writing your own story; make sure it’s a happy one!

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Jessa Claire is a registered healthcare provider. Music lover. Daydreamer. Thalassophile. Foodie. A hardworking Capricorn. Most days, an incurable empath. An old soul. Down-to-earth. Vibrant.

When she's not writing, she can be seen relaxing with headphones on or engrossed in her favorite fan fiction book.