Relationship experts have warned against romanticising the idea of getting back with your ex-partner, after it was confirmed that one of the most famous celebrity couples of the early noughties – Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck – were indeed back together.
The actor and singer thrilled fans recently when they re-created a famous intimate image from J-Lo’s 2002 music video for Jenny from the Block to mark her 52nd birthday, 17 years after their break up.
"Part of what makes the Bennifer" – Ben and Jennifer – "story so enticing is that it fills a neat romantic narrative: two people who were in love but things came between them and they find each other again 20 years later," says the dating coach Hayley Quinn.
Relationships can work, and people can get back together at different stages of time, but it is important not to romanticise getting back with an ex. If 20 years have passed, then they will be a different person to the one you met originally
“Relationships can work, and people can get back together at different stages of time, but it is important not to romanticise getting back with an ex. If 20 years have passed, then they will be a different person to the one you met originally,” she adds, saying that for this reason it’s important to “approach it like a blank slate” and not think you’re jumping back “into an old relationship”.
Lopez and Affleck are not the only couple to have reunited during the pandemic. Research from the dating site Match found that a quarter of UK users were contacted by a bored ex or past acquaintance during the first lockdown in 2020. A US study of 5,000 people found similar results, and 15 per cent of singles texted an ex during the first six months of the pandemic. A quarter had an ex get in touch with them during that time.
Quinn says Covid has prompted people to re-evaluate their lives and that there is a “huge dating trend of rekindled romances”. Quinn says the pandemic means people who were long-term commitment-phobes were turning around and wanting relationships.
But she cautions that returning to a former partner needs to be for the right reasons, not because nobody else is on the horizon. “A good relationship should bring stability to life, not constant turmoil.”
Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and the chief science adviser at Match.com, says the pros and cons of getting back with an ex depend on "the kinds of problems in the relationship and why the couple split".
“But I can say that people do change,” she says. “And this pandemic has triggered singles to look for a committed relationship. So if a couple broke up in the past because one individual wanted to settle down and the other wanted to play the field, the pandemic may have changed their priorities.”
Singles are now having more meaningful conversations, with more honesty and transparency, and self-disclosure. And it's reasonable to think that exes may be having more honest discussions. That can lead to recommitment
Fisher adds: “If the relationship had a lot of good parts, we do tend to remember these. And this pandemic gave people a lot of time to think about their past and their future. Our recent studies at Match have shown that singles are now having more meaningful conversations, with more honesty and transparency, and self-disclosure. And it’s reasonable to think that exes may be having more honest discussions … That can lead to recommitment.”
Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, also thinks that going back to a former love can work – but only if you have changed.
“It depends on the maturity of the couple and … how much space and time there was between splitting up and getting back together. And, to some extent, it depends on what happened in that interval when you were apart.
“When you’re older it is more likely to work out, as you tend to benefit from the lessons of why it went wrong. When we are older we tend to be more reflective rather than impulsive.”
Blair thinks the story of Lopez and Affleck has captured people’s imaginations because the idea of a love lost and found again is romantic. But the moral, she says, is not to jump back in but to take the time to understand why the relationship did not work last time, so you can learn lessons and try again. – Guardian