Don’t Get Back With Your Ex, No Matter What Hollywood Tells You

By Laura Wheatman Hill | July 21, 2022
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I know famous exes JLo and Ben Affleck just got married, but I’m about to make the argument that, no matter what the media tells you, you don’t want to get back with your ex.

You’ve either already seen Netflix’s Persuasion, and have processed your feelings about how it’s not like the book, or you’re not going to see it because you don’t care or love the book too much. Either way, SPOILER, it’s about getting back with your ex. Lots of movies and sitcoms are. Don’t fall for it.

The Pattern

It goes like this: Meet cute. Chemistry. Will they? Won’t they? They do! They break up, usually because of something the guy did. In the end, they get back together, usually because of a big speech or at least show of love from the male lead.

The big climactic scene often (but not always) takes place at a wedding, when the female romantic lead is engaged to a clean-shaven asshole. Our hero crashes said wedding and either loudly (“Elaaaaaaaine”, The Graduate) or vulnerably (Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers) professes his love for the bride-to-be, who ditches her swiss army knife groom and runs off with our hero. Roll credits. 

The Examples

Most well done, of course, is in When Harry Met Sally. Some time after they sleep together, he slinks away, they have a big fight at a wedding that does not end in reconciliation (maybe because Nora Ephron is a good writer), and then on New Year’s Eve, he says all the right things, she cries, they get married. 

Heck, Shakespeare started it, with his will-they-won’t-they comedies—most notably Much Ado About Nothing, which has a stubborn man finally telling the woman he loves that he does, in fact, love her to bits, at a wedding, despite his ego. And while The Taming of the Shrew maybe doesn’t fall into the category, 10 Things I Hate About You, the arguably superior adaptation, has a bad-boy-gone-good plot to swoon over. 

TV shows do it constantly, too, usually at airports. I don’t need to list them here, but you know how they go: he’s gone or she’s gone for good, but NOPE, he’s back or she’s back and they’re sorry and they love each other again and it’s all fine. “I got off the plane,” she says, and the studio audience goes wild. Series wrap. Fans are happy. 

The Reality

This is not my life. 

First of all, as amusing as the new George Clooney/Julia Roberts “exes at their daughter’s wedding” movie (Ticket to Paradise) looks, I’m going to be lucky if both of us are even invited to our daughter’s wedding or, when our daughter comes of age, she even wants to attempt marriage after witnessing the train wreck her parents demonstrated.

And, after my last breakup, for weeks after I rounded the corner to my house and saw a white sedan, my stomach would drop a little because I was worried it might be my most recent ex, who was less likely to come to my house and apologize for breaking up with me in a five-minute phone call and more likely to come over and yell at me for the essay I wrote about it

Face Your Reality

If you’re not like me and Scott Pilgrim with vengeful exes to battle, it’s still unlikely you’re going to have a Persuasion-like reconciliation with your ex, no matter how much time has passed. 

First of all, your ex is far too stubborn in real life to even attempt an apology of cinematic proportions. They’re not sorry. They don’t want you back. They have convinced themselves that you are at fault for anything that went wrong in the relationship, and their mothers agree. 

Secondly, your ex doesn’t have a female writer telling them what to say to you to make you forgive them for the horrible things they said when they broke your heart. Shonda Rhimes’ staff is not there Cyrano de Bergerac-style feeding them lines. They will not magically say the thing to make you believe that they won’t hurt you again. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, why should you forgive them? Even if your ex delivered the perfect speech in the rain, at your wedding, which is at an airport, you still are exes for a reason, and that reason might be very, very valid. 

Don’t Go Backwards

The feeling I get when I round the corner and see the white sedan—which, by the way, is always one of the three my next door neighbor owns—isn’t hope, it’s nausea. Dread. I don’t want him to come back and make me hear his little unprofessionally written speech.

He loved me because I’m lovable, damnit. I gave my love to someone who took it and threw it on the ground like a toddler discards unwanted food. It shattered and, should he want to pick it up and put it back together, it is not one of those Japanese pieces of pottery that can be forged back together with gold, more beautiful than before. No. It exploded into dust and was gone in the wind, thrown in the trash and unable to be picked back out again. 

In Persuasion, the couple broke up because her family convinced her to dump him, which is a flimsy reason befitting the times. It does not apply to you and, if your ex didn’t think you were “good enough” to date at the time, you probably shouldn’t forgive them if they think you’re worthy now. 

Sally shouldn’t marry Harry: they do not communicate their needs well. Rachel and Ross are a very bad couple and pretty irresponsible coparents. We know those crashed wedding couples have regrets. The Much Ado couple probably died young or of the plague, and, while I admit I do rather like the 10 Things couple, they likely broke up once she went to college—and that’s okay. 

We can feel hurt that we never got a proper goodbye, never got the big speech, the true, epic love Hollywood promised. Did you really want to wake up every day next to Ross Geller when you could have been in Paris, though? Do you want to be legally shackled to the worst Batman? 

So, even if your ex calls you on New Year’s Eve and tells you they love the little crinkle you get when you’re looking at them like they’re nuts, remember that they were nuts for leaving you, they made you nuts while you were getting over them, and nuts is an ableist term. Your therapist and future self will thank you.  

Image: Nick Wall / Netflix

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