It’s that time of year again! Cuffing season is now upon us, most of us will be heading home for some good ol’ nostalgic vibes, and there will likely be opportunities for a second-chance romance floating around in that crisp, cold air.
As many of us return home for some holiday downtime, singles will likely be hit up with texts from long-lost loves, or run into their old flames around town (or at that bar night that everyone you know from high school will hit up). There’s rarely a more enticing chance to embrace the season’s cozy romantic vibes than in familiar territory with somebody that you used to know (or maybe still do).
But if you take the plunge, will it be a season to remember or forget? It could be either. Honestly, going home for the holidays is a really weird time for relationships. The brevity of the visit makes it easier for a hot fling, but the history you have with a potential romantic connection means there’s more potential for real, legit feelings to spark. Eek.
I’m a big believer in making decisions from a place of strength, not weakness, so I’ve come up with some handy-dandy questions to ask yourself as you consider indulging that weakness for an old love. Before you press play, take a hot second to assess the situation.
1: What’s going on in your life now?
There’s a surprising amount of transition as we move from summer to fall. Lots of us make commitments to ourselves to hunker down during the cold weather months and focus on personal goals. A lot of us have whirlwind courtships during that May-to-September heat, with feverishly high expectations that die as soon as the leaves start to fall.
If you find yourself single, you’re probably, naturally, going to feel that pang of grief when you see couples on the street, hands intertwined, grabbing coffee while the snowflakes dance around them. However, before you hit up everyone in your little black book, it’s best to pause and consider why you’re reaching out.
Cold weather can be a great time to reassess romantic goals. If you’ve been avoiding serious commitment for a while, it can feel like a great time to take a leap toward something substantial. On the flip side, it can also be a time when you’re looking for anyone with whom to survive the cold, and someone you have history with is an easy option. Really, only you know.
Which brings us to our next question.
2: Why did it end?
There are good reasons to entertain an old flame, and there are really, really destructive reasons, which is why you need to be honest with yourself. First, ask yourself why it ended or never got off the ground.
There are a plethora of reasons to leave said person in the past, all of which involve the recognition that you two are totally different people. Maybe one person was way more into it than the other. Perhaps you two tried to make it work, and discovered you’re completely incompatible. Maybe there’s a little bit of bad blood, because one person cheated or did something equally shady. All of these are really good reasons to avoid that can of worms. Don’t send the text, don’t indulge the urge.
There’s really only one good reason to reconsider a relationship with someone from your past: There was an issue of timing. Maybe when you first expressed feelings, one of you was going through something life-shaking or pursuing something time sensitive (recovering from a tragedy or breakup, going for a big goal, etc.). Or perhaps you were both too young and silly to get your ~stuff~ together, but you always held a special place in your heart for that person…
3: Would you both be on the same page?
Let’s say you arrive home before Thanksgiving and find yourself at the bar with your buddies, or you’re just chilling at somebody’s house. All of these people? You’ve known them forever! So naturally, you start talking about people from your mutual pasts, and then boom. You start wondering what so-and-so-former-flame is doing.
With hometown connections, there’s even more room for the misinterpretation of feelings than with people you meet in your adult life. Why? Because you likely have years of history, even if they aren’t consecutive. My best advice is to completely avoid old lovers who were once super-into you. Unless your feelings have dramatically changed, rekindling that flame is likely to lead to a full-blown disaster bred of boredom, loneliness, nostalgia, and probably a little alcohol. Give the person some peace and keep the door shut.
If you choose to hit them up, you want to be sure you guys are on the same page — you’re both cool with a fling, you’re both cool with leaving things open-ended, or you finally want to pursue more.
4: Are you still friends today?
There are people from our pasts that we only see scrolling through our Facebook timelines, and then there are those we stay in touch with because we genuinely want to and because we do care about them. Sometimes, those are people we once had romantic chemistry with — but it didn’t really matter, because everyone was young and decidedly not serious.
Even if communication isn’t always regular, you might keep tabs on at least one potential flame from back home in a very friendly manner because you’ve got a lingering “what if?” vibe when it comes to their role in your life. You like them, maybe even a lot. They don’t fit the “friend” or “former flame” box neatly; they kinda fit both boxes. But if you consider your old flame an actual friend first, then think carefully about rekindling that spark.
Friends, with whom we have both sparks and history, are not great candidates for hookups despite how tempting it seems; there are too many high-flying feelings when you’ve been hanging out in someone’s peripheral circle since the years of braces and acne.
These people are really only candidates for relationships, which you may or may not want right now. Some people are meant to remain in that nebulous friend/flame/hometown “maybe” role in your life until you want to progress toward something serious (if ever). Don’t ruin a friendship for a romantic holiday fling.
If you’re not ready to make something work long-distance or talk about *what it all means*, then keep those holiday meetings on platonic terms. However, if you are looking for a special someone (for keeps), I’ve found there are few greater stories than having a person from the past materialize in the present at the perfect time.
Sometimes Mr. or Ms. Right was always under your nose. If you’re ready for that, don’t be afraid to finally say yes.
Jenna Birch is a journalist, a dating coach, and author of The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.
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