Ask Dave-Should she call her ex-girlfriend?

They had a great relationship, but her illness got in the way. Is it time for a fresh start?

By Dave Singleton

ear Dave,
I recently broke up with my girlfriend of a year-and-a-half. Both of us are in our thirties. Dave, the first 15 months were awesome; we laughed, loved, and enjoyed lots of the same things—movies, dinner and golf. She stayed over at my house most of the time, and I’d stay with her occasionally. We rarely
You don’t know what she’s thinking right now.
fought. But then things changed when she became ill and had to be hospitalized. I saw her every night at the hospital and always stayed until she fell asleep. After a week in the hospital, she was released, went home and her mother took care of her. I didn’t see her at all that week, but I called every day. Since her illness, she hasn’t been able to do much, which is understandable… but our relationship ground to a halt. We talked every day, but grew distant. After two months, we ended the relationship by mutual, but hesitant, decision. Since then, I haven’t seen or talked to her. I still have deep feelings for her, but I’m afraid to call. What if she wants nothing to do with me? I miss her and want to get back together, but I’m afraid of being rejected. Please point me in the right relationship direction.
– Lonely Heart

Dear LH,
If you look in a dictionary under the term “circumstantial breakup,” I think you’d see a picture of you and your girlfriend. If ever there was a breakup based on timing or illness, yours was it.

OK, “circumstantial breakup” isn’t a real term. It doesn’t exist. But clearly, you were on a great romantic trajectory until her illness knocked you off your romantic pedestal, hurling you into an unwelcome separation.

The anxiety around an illness serious enough to require hospitalization and a lengthy convalescence is enough to shake the firmest of foundations. It is especially fragile terrain to navigate with a relatively new relationship.

I think you should call her. If you get her voicemail, leave a friendly, caring, and respectful message, such as: “Hi, I’ve been thinking of you and hoping you are on the mend. I miss seeing you and I’d like to catch up. If you feel up to it, please call me when it’s convenient.”

You don’t know what she’s thinking right now. She could miss you, be angry, or relieved that the relationship is over. Another option: she’s been so focused on healing that she hasn’t had the energy for anything else. You can’t know until you ask, but my guess is that it’s the latter.

I don’t want to oversimplify what happened between you, but if things were great pre-illness and then
You have options and there’s no fire alarm.
terrible post-illness, you owe it to yourself to try for a reconciliation. Know that the answers to your questions about reuniting hinge on understanding what drove you apart.

Experts say that history ignored is doomed to repeat itself, unless you obtain clarity. According to psychologist Dr. Robi Ludwig, “In some cases when it’s situational, such as you are too young or your life takes you in different directions, then you can reach out and do certain things that can help you reunite.” If the breakup was due to ill-timed circumstances rather than irreconcilable differences, you’ve got a better shot the next time around.

You and your ex might have been too preoccupied, anxious and upset to appreciate what you had or weather a major storm. If you decide to call, follow these steps:

Analyze what happened.
In retrospect, what would you have done differently? Would you have insisted on seeing her in person and found a way to be patient with the situation? Why did both of you feel you couldn’t wait until she got better to make such a big decision? Why did you make a decision at such a difficult time? Was it a lack of understanding that recuperation would require you both to put a hold on the fun parts of your relationship? Were you angry? Was she? What issues surfaced in your final talks? Are they still concerns? If you reunite, what would be different?

Don’t reunite out of desperation.
You have options and there’s no fire alarm. If you approach her, do it slowly to regain a connection and rebuild trust. Most experts advise you against making huge changes in your life if you and your partner are fearful, depressed, or facing a major life change. It’s not wise to make big decisions during such stress. Wait until you both are better prepared to attempt a healthy and relatively unobstructed future together.

Don’t fall back into old patterns.
A new start requires new rules. The old ones (i.e. allowing for distance through lack of real communication) didn’t work, so forge new ways of interacting. Minor problems become major if they’re swept under the rug. Start working on strategies to make your rekindled romance work. If you give it another go, I hope you’ll have a better understanding of how you’d both handle future problems.

Bottom line: The “right relationship direction” points toward contacting your ex. But do it from a position of power, love, and strength. Don’t rush any decisions. Ask her forgiveness if you feel it’s warranted. With careful consideration, your once-lost love just might be reclaimed.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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