The aftermath of a relationship that ends can bring up a lot of complex emotions. Heartbreak is a grieving process that everyone handles differently. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all timeline for it, if your ex is still angry or acting super weird months after your breakup, those might be signs they’re pretending to be over you or that they’re struggling to move on. Let me explain.
First and foremost, remember that you’re under no obligation to keep tabs on your ex post-breakup. Your priority is you, period. But if you’re on good terms or trying to stay friends, it makes sense that you’d be observing or questioning their behavior. It’s also important to remember that not everything is what it seems, and what you perceive as them being “over you” might be completely different from what they’re actually feeling.
“Somebody might not even realize that they’re pretending to be over their ex. They might actually believe, ‘Hey, I’m over them!’ because they’re just not super aware of their internal feelings or don’t want to go there, so they kind of put blinders up,” says Emily Simonian, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in couples and relationship issues, and head of learning at Thriveworks.
While it’s not okay to assume your ex hasn’t moved on based on just ~vibes~, I spoke to three dating and relationships experts about some common signs that might mean they’re not as over you as they seem. Here’s what they had to say.
1. They seem almost too fine.
Especially if it was a long-term relationship, seeing your ex move on right away and be “totally fine” could be a sign they’re anything but. “They want to seem like they’ve got everything handled and don’t want to appear vulnerable to basically keep the door open for getting back together,” explains Simonian. “They’re basically saying, ‘I’m okay. This didn’t affect me, and I’m hoping that you see that and want me back.’”
2. They’re outwardly angry with you.
“Anger is a telltale sign there might be hurt feelings, and that you still have an affect on your ex,” explains Simonian. After a breakup, it’s normal for either or both sides to feel angry or resentful, especially if it wasn’t an amicable split. Nevertheless, if your ex is picking petty fights or bringing up unresolved conflicts, it’s possible they haven’t moved on. Being overly critical or belittling of you and ridiculing your new love interests are some other antagonistic behaviors you can expect from a bitter ex, says Shadeen Francis, LMFT and certified sex therapist.
3. They deny the breakup.
Denial is another telltale sign that an ex isn’t over you. Your ex might hit you up to hang out like nothing happened, or try to make future plans with you despite you no longer being in a relationship in hopes of rekindling a romantic connection, says Francis.
4. They’re overly involved in your love life.
If your ex seems just a little too interested in who you’re dating or whether or not you’re on dating apps, that probably means (you guessed it) they haven’t moved on. Similarly, if they give you unnecessary information about their love life that you didn’t ask for, that could be a front to try to prove they’re okay and have moved on, says Francis.
5. You’re a regular subject of conversation or focus, even when you’re not in the room.
Bringing you up in conversations that seemingly have nothing to do with you or talking about you with mutual friends is another sign they’re having a hard time getting over you. If they’re really hung up on you, they might even keep posting about you on social media, in which case it’s probably time to have a different conversation about boundaries, says Francis.
6. They’re trying too hard to be friends.
If you can’t be with someone romantically, a friendship might seem like a good close second, but that’s way easier said than done. “Maintaining a friendship can sometimes feel like a good placeholder for somebody who just doesn’t want to let you go,” says Simonian. But friendship just isn’t a realistic option for many exes, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean you can never talk again, but it might be time to talk about putting more space between you. “If you’re broken up and it’s really over, you just don’t keep the door open, because it makes [moving on] harder,” says individuals, couples, and sex therapist, Caitlin Cantor.
7. They ask for less meaningful things back.
Sure, your ex might actually be really attached to that gray sweatshirt they loaned you one time, but if they’re asking for things you know they don’t really need (like letters they wrote you or old photos), they might just be trying to find an excuse to see you. If your ex genuinely didn’t want to see you, they wouldn’t reach out to try to get back items they no longer have an attachment to, says Cantor.
If any of these signs sound familiar, before acting, ask yourself how important it really is to you whether your ex is over you or not. Be honest: Why does it matter either way? All the experts I spoke to agreed that if you suspect your ex isn’t over you, but you don’t want to get back together with them or set boundaries that will put permanent space between you, letting them just not be over you is a viable option—you don’t have to do anything about it.
“In many ways, a partner’s lingering feelings are not our business,” explains Francis. “We cannot dictate how another person feels, nor should we try to control how they process the end of a relationship. As long as they’re not crossing your stated boundaries, it isn’t our place to pursue this.”
If you do want to have a boundaries conversation and you feel safe confronting them on your own, they recommend speaking to them either in person or over the phone to avoid sending or receiving mixed messages. “There’s a lot of tone quality, facial expressions, and body language involved in face-to-face conversations, so you’ll get more information from your ex’s non-verbals in person, or even on the phone through tone of voice,” says Simonian.
A good way to start is by using the “sandwich approach” to soften the blow. Lead with a positive or neutral statement, deliver your message, then close with another positive or neutral statement. “That might look like saying, ‘I’m still so impressed with you as a person and I always will be, but I feel strongly that I can’t be with you romantically. And although it’s hard for me to tell you this, I respect you and I want to be honest with you,’” shares Simonian.
Relationships are tricky, and it’s really effing hard to completely stop caring about an ex. But whatever part of the breakup journey you’re on, just remember to prioritize and protect yourself no matter what. You can do hard things, even if those hard things involve setting boundaries with someone you care for.