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.
Last week, the actor and singer thrilled fans when they recreated 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 [Jennifer and Ben] 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,” said 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,” she added, saying that for this reason it was 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 people were contacted by a bored ex or past acquaintance over the first lockdown in 2020. A US study of 5,000 people found similar results and 15% of singles texted an ex during the pandemic (March-August 2020). A quarter had an ex reach out to them during those months.
Quinn said Covid had prompted people to re-evaluate their lives and that there was a “huge dating trend of rekindled romances”. Quinn said the pandemic meant people who were long-term commitment-phobes were turning around and wanting relationships.
But she cautioned that returning to a former partner needed to be for the right reasons, not because there was no one else on the horizon. “A good relationship should bring stability to life, not constant turmoil,” she added.
Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and the chief science adviser at Match.com, said the pros and cons of getting back with an ex depended on “the kinds of problems in the relationship and why the couple split”.
“But I can say that people do change,” she said. “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.”
Fisher added: “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 re-commitment.”
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 in 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,” she added.
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.