On the A40 I stopped the car to have a word with myself. The Burger King at the large shopping estate had been the checkpoint, the final 20 minutes, on the route to my ex-girlfriend’s place. That day, it had been 20 minutes plus nine years.
“Am I really doing this?” I asked aloud. I did, of course, do it: drive into the same street, park the car on the same kerb, knock on the same white door, and see the same face smiling back at me.
Pandemic life has meant periods of loneliness and boredom that have prompted a surprising number of people to get in touch with ex-partners. It’s a trend Twitter has dubbed “out of the woodwork” and around one in five reached out to an ex during lockdown, with Google searches for “Why am I dreaming about my ex” shooting up 2,450 per cent during the first month. Now even ultimate early aughts couple, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, are rumoured to be dating again too.
“Looking back is sometimes easier,” dating expert Kate Mansfield explains. “Apps can be challenging, and speaking to an ex can seem like a simpler route to feeling good about yourself.”
A quick search throws up hundreds of forums about hook-ups with former partners, written like reality TV show titles (“Relationship Re-Run!” or “Loved Again in Lockdown”). One user called Bex says she and her ex “bonded again over the show Normal People”, while another, Animesh, admits he felt the urge to apologise for his mistakes six years ago.
My reunion began with some casual scrolling through Facebook albums (remember them?) and wondering how my ex was finding lockdown. From there, it was surprisingly easy. We were both at home in isolation, single, spending too much time online, and flirting again. We started talking over the phone and suddenly there I am, during our brief bit of freedom last summer: A40. Burger King.
She opens the door, looks at me, smiles, and it’s awkward. We’ve FaceTimed, but I’m nervous and feel like introducing myself for the first time. Dee looks great and I get a familiar jolt of attraction.
I should own up: sex was already on the cards. Most incidents of people who come “out of the woodwork” involve sex, with seven per cent admitting breaking lockdown to sleep with an ex-partner. One anonymous user on Quora says the “no-strings attached nature of a fling with her ex” was what had tempted her most. “When you return to an ex, you likely know what the other enjoys,” adds Mansfield, “so you might be anticipating great sex. But ensure that the feelings are reciprocated before you try anything.”
We spend the rest of the evening snuggled up. The what-ifs and we’ll-never-knows begin as we relax into our magic bubble. Only in an absurd end-of-times scenario could we have been united like this.
We share a kiss and say goodbye. None of it feels weird — at least not yet. Not until I’m on the road and I’m alone. Burger King was when I used to sigh with relief at having left after an argument. But I don’t sigh this time. Whatever this is, I just look forward to seeing her again.