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What Would Sid Do: To Call or Not to Call the Ex, That's A Good Question

Should you call your ex? Let's look at your motivation and the Four Gates of Speech...


Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment he was a confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a spiritual life. Each time in this column we look at what it might be like if a fictional Siddhartha was on his spiritual journey today. How would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the workplace? What Would Sid Do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.

Have a question for this weekly column? Click here and I'll probably get to it!


My ex girlfriend and I split years ago. We ended things amicably and while we were both sad at the time, we knew it was for the best. I’ve been thinking lately it would be nice to reach out to her to say “hi.” What would Sid do in this case? Would it cause more harm than good? – I.L.


I don’t think there’s a blanket answer to this one – Sid wouldn’t say “Definitely call all your exes” or “Let the past be the past.” The first thing I believe our fictional friend Sid would suggest is that you look at your motivation for why you want to re-connect with your ex. Is it to form a friendship? Is it based in your own feelings of loneliness? Is it because you miss having them in your life? I recommend taking some time to informally contemplate this topic, so you are clear why you’re interested in digging up the past.

Having discerned your motivation, you can form a plan for moving forward. If, for example, you only want to reach out to your ex because you are feeling lonely, then that doesn’t really paint the picture for a good opportunity to reconnect. It may be confusing for both of you to feel out in your conversation whether your loneliness is based in missing her in particular or just not enjoying the uncertainty of being alone.

If your motivation is that you miss this person and want to transition into a genuine friendship with them, then you might want to go ahead and pick up the phone. Before you do, I think Sid would recommend you reflect on the various aspects that the historical Buddha laid out in terms of using your speech as a helpful tool – a tool of mindfulness and compassion. These are commonly known as the Four Gates of Speech:

1. Is what you are saying true? – This is more than just not lying to your ex. If you are calling up and offering one motivation (“I just wanted to see how you are doing”) when in your heart you have another (“I’m worried I’m going to die alone – want to get back together?”) you are going to get in trouble. Hold this question in your mind throughout your conversation, always reflecting on whether you are speaking your personal truth.

2. Is what I am saying necessary? – It’s natural to want to bullshit a little bit when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. You might boast about the work you’re doing, or let slip that you’re dating someone new, or just ask them a lot of inane questions. If you constantly come back to the idea that you are trying to only say what is necessary you will come off as truly genuine.

3. Is what I am saying kind? – Ideally, if you’re making this call it’s because you want to reconnect with this person in a positive way. Still, even if years have passed since you broke up with one another, certain topics may be taboo. This could be new romantic interests, or that time she caught you making eyes at her sister. Remember to treat your ex with infinite kindness and not drudge up topics that might be painful, unless you absolutely feel it’s necessary to get into that stuff. Which brings us to…

4. Is it the right time? – There may be some things that are worth saying during this initial conversation and others that you may need to sit on. Just because you’re excited to reconnect doesn’t mean that it’s the time to dive into murky waters. Choose your timing and focus on communicating your initial intention for the conversation.

Because I’m in a listy mood, I’m going to throw out a few more communication pointers, as articulated by the meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche:

1. Speak Slowly

2. Enunciate Clearly

3. Listen to Yourself

4. Listen to Others

5. Regard Silence as a Part of Speech

6. Speak Concisely

I believe if you can follow these basic principles your conversation will go swimmingly. Remember, your motivation is key, so if you discern that you might be picking up the phone for the wrong reasons don’t do it. And block that number in case you’re prone to drunk dialing. But if you are in tune with a motivation you feel is noble and of benefit to both parties, reach out to her. Good luck!

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The diagram is awesome and is my new desktop background!

By the way, 1-4 appear in a sutta in the Anguttara Nikay, but this is (and is not) missing the 5 criteria, which is saying it with good will and not ill will.
I think that if one is actually reflecting it seems unlikely that it would be out of ill will.

However it is possible that an ignorant person, speaking out of ill-will, might actually (and accidentally!) say something that is true, beneficial, accepted (or pleasing, accepted makes more sense!!), and at the appropriate time!!! (which serves him or her right!! haha).

I hope that last paragraph made sense.

great post

Just letting you know I featured this post, and the blog as a whole, on my recent post 'best buddhist blogs' http://www.allconsidering.com/2011/best-buddhist-blogs/

Nicely written

Thank you for this week's segment. I really appreciate your appeal for people to be genuine and contemplate their intentions on making connections from the past.

With metta,


Thank you Jen! I'm a big fan of figuring out the "why" before the "how."

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