There’s nothing like precautionary social distancing to make a person obsess about their love life.
The first few weeks were great; the Tinder-prowling self-isolation boyfriends were tolerably dim but pretty and the endless flow of validation from dating apps kept me in a chipper mood.
The crushing loneliness hadn’t quite hit yet. I was just delusional enough to feel content with my single life until I got a text from a slightly old hookup who was dangerously close to breaking the heart of this callous columnist.
While this time of social distancing is great for harmless online flings, what happens when old flames get rekindled during this unprecedented time? As much as I’d love to say that past hookups and exes are as disposable as a self-isolation boyfriend, I can’t lie to myself. In some cases, old flames and social distancing might be the perfect opportunity for deep contemplation and growth. In other cases, it may be a recipe for emotional disaster. It’s playing with fire, but we have to decide whether the possible warmth of an old flame is worth the chance of getting burned again.
Despite the terrible conversation opener and the nagging temptation to leave him on read, we talked all night. He was sweeter and softer than before, and the stupid game of 20 Questions gave me an excuse to smile at my phone.
We’re still talking, at times briefly but sometimes into the night. We’ve even broken social distancing guidelines to catch up. At this point, the whole fling is as up in the air as an untethered balloon.
Right now, hundreds of people are being forced or pressured to stay home. Either way, everyone has a whole lot of time to think about current, past and future relationships. It's the perfect recipe for people to reach out to old friends and old hookups with a new or different perspective.
I won’t completely knock the premise of old flames being reignited because sometimes — in movies and fairytales — second chances in a relationship turn into something with substance. But other times second chances turn into emotional relapses that leave you stuck in the all-consuming grief of losing the relationship again.
This risk highlights the danger of an old flame. Exes and old hookups can feel comfortable — almost like home, but if home was the back of a Mustang after a Death Cow concert. Ignoring the oddly specific imagery, it is deceptively easy to sink back into the feeling of being in a place you know, even if that place isn’t good.
That’s where a person has to make the decision of whether or not the old flame is worth the possibility of getting burned again. If you are going to entertain the premise of rehashing an old relationship while social distancing, or at all, you are going to have to be OK with the idea that it may end just like it did before.
History has a nasty way of repeating itself, and while that cliche isn’t true 100% of the time, a person has to make peace with that idea when taking a risky trip down memory lane with a phantom from the past.
Old flames can be destructive. They can burn down walls and emotional structures, and if they’ve done it once, there’s always the possibility they’ll do it again. Old flames can also turn into comforting camp fires that bring light and warmth to the dark places of our hearts.
One must decide if the risk of the first option is worth the payoff of the second. At least we all have plenty of time to contemplate this seemingly eternal existential question while stuck in our homes.