Love and guilt in lockdown: The exes who got in touch with each other

Lockdown has prompted many people to reflect on past relationships that ended badly.

Here is a selection of stories sent in by people to the BBC.

We forgive each other for the past and now might have a future

I was contacted in early May by my ex-girlfriend. A simple “Hi” on WhatsApp. She had taken a gamble that I hadn’t changed my number in the past eight years, and she was right.

My ex-girlfriend and I were together for a year in 2009 and then spent a couple of years in a complicated status. We had not parted on the best of terms.

I have had other relationships before and since, but she was always the one that got away, the one I would have settled down with, the one who made me feel things nobody else ever has.

That simple WhatsApp message started a conversation which, during the past six weeks has only paused for sleep. We have sent messages, shared video calls, and even met up once (adhering to lockdown rules). Sometimes we’ve chatted long past sunrise.

It seems that everything that went wrong all those years ago has long since been forgiven on both sides. We are both a little bit older, more mature, and able to admit our mistakes.

Things have certainly moved at quite a pace over the last couple of months. It’s too soon to predict the future but, for the moment at least, it seems that we actually have one.

It’s looking likely that we will get back together, but we’ve decided to wait and see how things go once we both go back to work full-time. The pandemic may have brought about untold suffering and misery, but somehow, it has brought two people back together who should never have been apart.

Michael, UK

I had to reach out to my ex after a lockdown dream

In 2009 I met a guy. It happened out the blue. I was walking to the shop across the road from where I live. He said, “Hi” and so did I, then when I got home I went straight back out again as I knew he liked me. I made it look like I’d forgotten something from the shop and we stopped and he asked for my number.

We fell in love with each other, but he said he was bisexual – although he later admitted he was gay, like me, but could never come out as he was scared of what his family and friends would say. Even though I had never met James before, I discovered that I knew his dad – he lives on my estate.

After meeting up in secret for years, all of a sudden he disappeared and I didn’t see him for over two years.

Then, out the blue, he got in touch. We met up and he confessed he had met a girl and was due to marry her.

Anyway, one thing led to another, and we kissed, had sex, and started seeing each other again – although he said his fiancée must not find out.

One day he was on his way round to see me and we were messaging each other saying how much we wanted each other and exchanging explicit messages. But he had left his Facebook logged on at his fiancée’s house and she saw our messages in real-time.

They split up and we continued to see each other, but he went into denial about his sexuality. I ended it because he wasn’t prepared to come out and since then he’s back with her and had two kids.

Three weeks into lockdown I had a dream about him, even though I haven’t seen him in eight years. I discovered I still had all the messages from when she found out, and his old number.

I texted him and asked him how he was. Two days later I had a call from a withheld number and it was him. We chatted for nearly 30 minutes and I said to him, “I just had to call”.

He said we shouldn’t really be talking and had his missus never seen the Facebook messages then we would still be seeing each other now. He said he never regretted anything we did. He said he understood why I contacted him and maybe we would talk in another eight years.

Mark, Rugby, UK

I forgave my ex to release him from the guilt

I contacted a significant ex to tell him I had forgiven him – he didn’t ever do anything particularly awful, but we were together for five years, 15 years ago, and he put me through a lot of heartaches.

Oddly, although I was the one who was heartbroken at the time, he was the one who carried the pain – I knew he had always felt terrible about it. I moved on, went wild, and then settled down.

I have been married for more than 10 years and have three children, he is just beginning his “family life phase” and I feel a deep, probably everlasting, warm love and fondness for him, and genuine care.

At the start of Covid-19, I felt not everyone would be untouched by this virus, and I wanted him to know that I had moved into a platonic, positive form of “memory love” for him and that he was absolutely forgiven.

I didn’t use quite such blunt words, but I told him what truly great, formative memories I had from our time together and essentially released him from the weight of the guilt that I knew he carried.

His response was the most open-hearted, vulnerable, loving (not romantic love), grateful, and moving email I have ever received. He was always emotionally unavailable when I knew him, and I hadn’t quite expected it to mean so much to him.

It then opened up more communication where I was able to be a support to him.

It’s fascinating how Covid-19 has reached its tendrils right into the core of who we are. I love these small little shifts in our human behavior, little clicks in the cogs of time, etching our stories as part of an enormous whole.

It took courage to suggest he might want my forgiveness – he could have come back all cool and brushed me off, but I didn’t really mind taking the risk. If one of us dies unexpectedly that experience is now just a positive, loving part of our lives.

Katie, New South Wales, Australia

I don’t forgive him, but I respect him for finally apologizing

Illustration showing a man in naval uniform looking out to sea while a woman with tears on her face looks on wistfully, with the text, "I'm so sorry for everything"

I received a WhatsApp apology whilst in lockdown from my ex-husband who I divorced two years ago. It was completely out of the blue – the only communication we’ve had in the last 18 months has been short, sharp, and only related to pick up arrangements for our son.

He had an affair on-board his ship with another naval officer. They maintained the affair for five months before I found out and confronted him – I was at home with our two-year-old son, patiently awaiting his arrival home from deployment.

We had been together for 10 years when I filed for divorce.

He moved in with her, they got engaged and we were abandoned.

It was brutally heart-breaking, but I never let my emotions get the better of me, and maintained decorum throughout. He never explained, and certainly didn’t apologize for his actions. It made the recovery for me much harder and longer, and when she dumped him 18 months later I hoped he would swallow his pride and admit he did wrong.

Then suddenly, two weeks ago, I got a message saying he was so sorry for everything. It was long and well thought through. I actually cried when I read it as it felt like I was finally able to close the lid on the divorce box and completely mentally move on.

It came from nowhere – must be all the isolation and time he has to think about where he is in his life. I don’t forgive him, but he earned some respect back.

Deborah, Plymouth, UK

Thirty-two years have passed, but I’d like to apologize to someone I cared about for hurting them

I grew up in an industrial area of the country and on leaving school I found a dreary position of employment in a local factory.

With each year that passed, I found the area to be increasingly insular and claustrophobic. I wanted more than weekends spent drinking and enduring my life in a grey factory.

I found planning my working tour of Australia liberating and enjoyed the fact I had an escape plan. It was 1988, I was 21 and on arrival in Perth, I felt exhilarated and elated. Everything seemed new, colorful, fresh, and exciting.

I found the different nationalities of the people in the backpackers’ hostel just as interesting as the new country I was in. Everyone seemed to have a buzz, a plan, and a destination. I felt at home instantly.

Debah was from Yugoslavia – dark-haired, with olive skin and beautiful. We embarked on a casual relationship. Between work, going out with new mates, and generally living it up we saw each other. Debah wanted to get to know me better and become more of a couple. I decided against this and we went our separate ways.

The rest of the year passed by like a wonderful dreamlike experience.

On my return, I went to university. A profession, house in a pleasant suburb, and family followed.

I usually sleep quite well. Lockdown for Covid-19 had barely been in place and I awoke in the middle of the night thinking of Debah after almost 32 years. Gradually conversations that we had come back. They weren’t good. I found these quite unsettling and somewhat shameful.

Whilst out as a group in a club she had come over to me and asked if I would like to go back with her later that evening, to which I replied, “I’ll see what’s on TV first.”

She didn’t swear or glare, she just went back to join her friends with quiet dignity. I remember being happy at the time with the comment as it got some cheap laughs.

After a few days of deliberately avoiding Debah at the hostel, she sought me out and stated that she knew I didn’t want to see her and that she didn’t want there to be any bad feeling between us. Later that month I continued traveling without saying goodbye.

The truth is if we had got any closer I couldn’t have left her without a traumatic upheaval later. I found it easier to put up a front of indifference and belittlement than to take a chance of there being a greater hurt later. I don’t know why it’s taken 32 years to rise to the surface.

Since the literal awakening at the start of Covid-19, it was constantly on my mind why I treated Debah so appallingly. It’s not a comfortable feeling at all knowing that I deliberately hurt someone whom I cared about. It’s not someone I recognize as me. But, unfortunately, it was me.

I don’t have Debah’s address but I do have a strong desire to apologize. I hope she stayed in Australia and avoided the Balkans conflict that ripped apart her country. Wherever she is I know she will be living with dignity.

Michael, UK

Reaching out to my ex is bad for my mental health

Image showing a woman holding her head as though in pain or disbelief, with a thought bubble which reads, "Is that really you?"

I was on a bus and the song Hello by Adele came on my headphones and I had this urge to find my ex, Mark, who had totally wrecked me when I was in my early 20s. We’d gotten engaged at his suggestion, but the whole relationship was plagued with red flags I missed from behind rose-tinted glasses.

I’d found myself back home in Wales and more than a bit lost having dropped out of university. I now know that I was experiencing the first flushes of the clinical depression that has dogged me for decades. I manage it much better today.

Mark had broken things off after a period of cruel behavior. He strung me along for a good few weeks until I finally realized he was done with me. I was truly broken. He was my first real love and I never really gained the closure I wanted. I found him on Facebook but his profile was shared with a woman.

In 2015 I emailed an old address I had for him but got no response. Then in lockdown, I once again had that pull, but this time it felt self-destructive. Whenever I look for him it feels like picking at an old scar that hasn’t quite healed properly, reopening a wound that should have closed years ago.

I searched on Facebook but the old joint profile was gone. I found a profile for him alone. I saw his face and again my insides twisted like I was going to throw up. I sent a message, one simple sentence, “Is that really you?”

I’m not sure why I still look back at him. He hurt me so completely it’s taken me all this time to really let myself feel ready to seek a relationship.

The profile disappeared. He’d clearly blocked me once he saw the message, so I still don’t get my closure, and I likely never will. Maybe he’s actually ashamed of what he did but isn’t ready to connect.

Whatever it is, I’m still forging on. I have a good job and my mental health is much better. I have an excellent group of friends and whilst I am still utterly single, I don’t mind. I’m happy with who I am these days and each day things get a little better. The pain isn’t gone. I’ve just moved much further from it.

Rhian, UK

By the time I decided to apologize it was too late

With lots of time during the lockdown, I looked back on my life and thought of my first boyfriend who, after three intense years when we were teenagers, decided he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life with me and I never heard from him again.

I recently felt like contacting him to say that, in retrospect, it was the right decision to go our separate ways and I have had a happy life, hope he had too. But then I found he was no longer alive. I would say to get in touch if it will not upset anyone, but don’t delay as long as I did – I waited 62 years!

Marion, Norwich, UK

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