By Chris Seiter

Published on May 9th, 2022

Today I’m going to look at one of the most common situations that our clients find themselves. Figuring out exactly why an ex would reach out to you and then suddenly disappear.

Unfortunately this type of mixed signal happens quite often and most of my clients are left wondering how the heck to make sense of it.

Ultimately, I’m going to argue that the primary reason that a lot of exes reach out to you and then disappear is a function of them falling victim to the nostalgia principle that avoidants often fall victim to.

Have no idea what that is?

Well, allow me to explain.

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Anxious, Avoidants And Them Disappearing

For the past few months I’ve talked nonstop about avoidants and how they react post breakup. No, it’s never a one size fits all situation but I’ll tell you what.

A lot of what we know about avoidants can explain a lot of post breakup behavior.

So, let’s start at the beginning. Most of our clients exes are avoidant,

Well according to this article I wrote up earlier in the year,

The Avoidant Attachment Style: They are a person that does not like a lot of emotional intimacy or vulnerability within a relationship. They typically revert a conversation back to someone else to talk about themselves to avoid the spotlight. Often that’s how you’ll figure out if they’re avoidant or not. Ultimately they are afraid of having a deeper emotional connection and it all can stem from their experience in childhood. They’ve learned that any time they are vulnerable, it can be used against them and therefore they don’t rely on other people.

Essentially in a relationship any time someone gets close or threatens their idea of independence they run.

Of course, to make matters more interesting most of our clients tend to be more anxious by nature,

So, the most common pairing we see amongst our clients and their exes is this,

Anxious (our client) + Avoidant (clients ex)

The School of Life, a worthy YouTube subscribe did an excellent video detailing some of the issues with this pairing,

This quote specifically caught my eye,

Tragically, this avoidant party triggers every insecurity known to their anxious lover. Under pressure to be warmer and more connected, the avoidant partner instinctively withdraws and feels overwhelmed and hounded. They go cold – and disconnect from the situation only further ramping up the partner’s anxiety.

What I’ve noticed is that often the anxious and avoidant pairing gets caught up in this cycle.

And by looking at this specific cycle we can actually gain insight into what is going on when your ex reaches out to you and then suddenly disappears.

The eight stages of the cycle are as follows,

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  1. The avoidant wants someone to love them
  2. They find someone (the anxious person) and believe their troubles are over
  3. The anxious person triggers their avoidant side and they start worrying about it
  4. The avoidant person starts thinking of leaving
  5. The avoidant person actually leaves
  6. Infused with independence the avoidant feels a sense of euphoria
  7. But it’s lonely being alone
  8. The avoidant starts to feel bad for themselves and wonders why they can’t ever find the right person

And around and around they go.

Now, it’s that return of the cycle that interests us. Specifically this part right here,

Them feeling lonely, depressed and sad leads them to start looking again and triggers the nostalgia principle.

The Nostalgia Principle

So, there’s really two things that happen upon the turn of the wheel above.

  1. They re-live the cycle out with a new partner
  2. They attempt to re-live the cycle out with you

We’re interested in that second outcome.

In this video,

I essentially argue that,

Avoidants are free to long for an ex once that person is unavailable out of the relationship, and typically out of contact so they are untouched by actual engagement and their deactivation systems aren’t triggered, revealing their long-suppressed attachment and switching their operating attachment wound from the fear of engulfment to fear of abandonment.

This is particularly helpful to us for a number of reasons. Firstly, it describes that often an avoidant won’t begin to miss you until a lot of time has gone by. Secondly, it shows that they still have quite a bit of fear operating behind the scenes.

Essentially it’s the perfect cocktail of chemistry to illicit the, reach out and disappear behavior we are focused on here.

So, my argument is a simple one.

The reason that your ex is reaching out to you and suddenly disappearing is because they are falling victim to this nostalgia principle where they momentarily want to re-live the best moments of the relationship. After they reach out though they start to second guess themselves. They fear a loss of independence again and bail which creates a complicated mixed signal for you to sort through.

This is doubly true if you actually respond to them. You see, avoidants love nothing more than the concept of a phantom ex.

The Importance Of The Phantom Ex

The phantom ex is a concept well known but we’re going to add an interesting twist to it.

First things first, what is it?

The Phantom Ex: In your exes mind they have a story of the one that got away. That one ex that if they could just get back all would be right in the world but it’s designed to be that way. An eternal beacon of light that the avoidant can never reach designed to keep all other romantic attachments away.

According to Free To Attach, one of my favorite avoidant resources,

The phantom ex operates because there is/was distance, not because the relationship was successful. But a fixation with a past partner affects budding new relationships, blocking them from getting close to someone else.

Why this is important is because avoidants don’t really want any romantic connections that threaten their independence so what better than setting up a situation where it’s impossible for someone to get close.

We’ve noticed a lot of exes like to paint YOU as a phantom ex and in their mind they build up the positive moments of the relationship a la the peak end rule,

If you don’t know what that is I highly recommend you watch this,

Essentially it’s an argument that human beings suck at remembering entire experiences so instead they compartmentalize them into two distinct points,

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  1. The peak
  2. The end

Essentially what we think is that your ex is reaching out because they fall victim to having nostalgia based on the peak moments of your time together.

Of course, the moment you respond they get pulled into the end moments of the relationship and I don’t know about you but not many ends to relationships are pleasant are they?

But this brings up an interesting question.

Is there ever a time when an ex reaching out to you can be authentic?

The Meaning Formula

I’m going to teach you a universal formula for measuring attraction so get your pencils out,

Undivided Attention = Interest

Let’s first apply this to your life before we start applying it to your ex. Think of the last time you gave someone your undivided attention.

For me, it was a book editor that I hired. One of my dreams has always been to create a story that people are obsessed with. Starting in 2020 I began that process and started hiring a team of individuals to create an experience like no other.

Among those individuals was a book editor, a darn good one too.

Anyways, every Tuesday we meet and discuss the craft of writing and how I can improve. He has my undivided attention because I’m extremely interested in what he has to say.

Now, there is obviously no romantic connection there but that’s not what I’m trying to dive into yet. What I’m simply saying to you that if you give someone your undivided attention it’s a good indicator that you are interested in what they have to say.

The same principle applies to your ex except here’s the fascinating thing. The more undivided attention they give you the more likely they are to have their avoidant side triggered.

Frustrating, right?

So, Why Do Exes Reach Out And Then Suddenly Disappear?

Well, most of our research has been revolving around avoidants so the first thing I’d look at is whether or not your ex is an avoidant.

If they are then it’s highly likely that the following cycle occurs,

  • A good amount of time has gone by post breakup.
  • The avoidant ex falls victim to the nostalgia principle
  • They start daydreaming about your peak moments together
  • They paint you as the phantom ex, the one that got away
  • This causes them to reach out to you
  • But reaching out to you has removed your phantom ex status and they start to fear that they’ll lose whatever distance they had to protect them
  • Worse, is the more undivided attention they give you and more interest they feel the more they feel that their independence will be threatened
  • And so they bail and disappear in an attempt to regain their long sought after independence

It’s not a perfect one size fits all explanation for every single situation but it is something we’ve definitely seen in our coaching practice.

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3 thoughts on “Why Would An Ex Reach Out And Then Disappear?”

  1. TwoWeeksBlues

    October 14, 2022 at 12:43 am

    I am on day 17 of NC. On day 11 he sent me a video of “our song” but he said nothing and neither did I. I haven’t heard from him since.

    I don’t know how to interpret the reach out with media instead of words and then the silence. What does this mean? Is there a chance he will reach out to me again?

    1. Coach Shaunna Nicol

      October 23, 2022 at 11:50 am

      The song message was him missing you its good you did not reply if you are in NC

  2. Anna

    May 18, 2022 at 9:54 am

    me and my ex dated for 5+ years. I broke up with him once 2 years ago and we got back together after 6 weeks. This time he broke up with me telling me we dont see eye to eye regarding marrige and general things we want in life (I think that those were things we could solve but he was in this bad mood for so long that I think it got to him and he was not able to communicate normally anymore). On the day he broke up with me (2.5 weeks ago) he told me that he doesn’t really want to break up with me and that he doesn’t have the courage to do it, but then he did. Then he regreted breaking up with me 30 minutes later telling me this is the last chance but then he did it again after we spoke telling me he needs to think about it. i called him a week later and asked him if he thought about it and he said that we are not together anymore and that theres nothing i could say that would change his mind, he wasnt even going to call me. I begged a little but since that day I started using the NC rule. I dont think im going to hear from him since he has a lot of ego and this emotional wall that he puts up in these situations, but the avoidant type doesn’t seem to match him since we did talk to me a lot about marrige and kids. I noticed that he is watching my stories on insta from his buisness account (which he hasn’t used for almost 2 years and is suddenly active). what do I do to make him come back? I know that he loves me and thats why he was so hesitant about the breakup, but im afraid hell move on. most of the articles regard avoidant exes so Im not sure everything is relevant to him…