Damn Good Advice: Stop Texting Your Ex ‘Happy Birthday’

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Getty / Photo Illustration by Mike Kim

Three-time Bachelor/Bachelorette hopeful (four if you count Bachelor in Paradise), Nick Viall, has just released the relationship advice book Don’t Text Your Ex Happy Birthday, out now on Abrams Image. In this near-titular essay, he cautions against doing the thing you have definitely done, reveals the dumb reason why you did it, and makes a strong case for keeping your phone under lock and key.


People look for all sorts of reasons not to move on, and birthdays are one of the biggest excuses we use to check in with an ex. We love to convince ourselves that we are being selfless, that this is only about their birthday and the desire to be the bigger person and simply wish them well. Except what you really want is a reason to talk to them without making it obvious that you want to talk to them. It doesn’t matter if you are the one who got your heart broken or if you were the one breaking a heart. Breakups are messy and confusing for both parties. If you’re the one who was broken up with, you are often left feeling that there was a lack of closure. Sometimes we are lucky enough to accept right away that it’s for the best. But most of us want answers that we think will somehow soften the truth that this person we liked or loved simply does not want to be with us any longer. You don’t get closure from having the person who no longer wants to be with you find new ways to explain to you why they don’t see a future with you. That’s not closure, that’s torture. Closure comes from acceptance, which takes time. Meanwhile, stop convincing yourself that you just want to be nice and simply wish your ex a happy birthday.

If you’re the one who was left heartbroken, before you decide to reach out to wish someone a happy birthday, just know that it’s far more likely you will make their day worse, not better. They have most likely already had many difficult conversations with you and probably feel bad too, so getting your text is only going to make them feel bad by forcing them to take time out from their birthday to make sure you’re okay again. That’s the best case. That’s assuming they still care enough about your feelings to stop enjoying what they are doing to take care of you. Just know that they won’t like it.

Don’t Text Your Ex Happy Birthday: And Other Advice on Love, Sex, and Dating

Don't Text Your Ex Happy Birthday: And Other Advice on Love, Sex, and Dating

Don’t Text Your Ex Happy Birthday: And Other Advice on Love, Sex, and Dating

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If they do write back, they are doing it out of guilt, not love. What if they simply are confident in their decision and despite your sadness, they know it’s for the best for both of you? Well then, they just won’t care. They will probably just be annoyed by the inconvenience of you trying to make their day about the relationship they no longer want to be in. So do yourself a favor and just don’t. On the small, off chance this person is questioning their decision to end the relationship with you, well then, there is no easier way to have them take stock of that feeling than to not acknowledge their day because they broke up with you; you have decided to move on because you know you will be okay.

I have also gotten these texts on my own birthday, and I’ll tell you, honestly, the feeling was either awkwardness or indifference. I’ve had people who’ve written to me, “Hey, I want to reach out to my ex—please stop me.” And I’ll say something like, “When your ex reads that text from you, they’ll be annoyed. Or they’ll find it inconvenient. Or have any number of negative reactions.” I’ll tell them that they’re not going to get the reaction they want, and that if their ex wanted to talk to them, they would. So if you want to remind them that you still annoy them, then go ahead, reach out.

You don’t get to use their day to pop into their life.

Now if you’re the one who did the heartbreaking and you’re thinking about reaching out to wish the person you left a happy birthday message, you need to stop it right now. You don’t get to use their day to pop into their life. You’re not being nice. You’re reminding them that you don’t want to be with them. You’re giving them false hope. In that brief moment that they get the notification from you but haven’t read that message, they want to hear so badly that you miss them, that you regret your decision. Then they read “Happy birthday, hope you have a great day!” So all you have done on their day is reinforce and remind them that you’re good. So now instead of just trying their best to “have a great day,” they will spend the rest of the day thinking about your shitty reminder that you don’t want them. ”

If you are questioning your decision to end the relationship, that’s still not justification to reach out. If you really respect this person, you will wait. Truly think about your decision to leave. Why get back together now? Think about why things ended and whether you are truly willing to put in the work to heal the relationship. And if you’re willing to put in the work and you decide to come back, and, in fact, they want you back, they will forgive you for not wishing them a happy birthday. That’s the least of your problems.

In case it’s not obvious, this isn’t exclusive to birthdays. The same goes for holidays. You’re their ex, you’re no longer a part of their life. If you want to put a positive spin on it, the fact that this relationship was meaningful is why you shouldn’t reach out. They were not a casual friend, they were not a coworker, they were someone you cared for deeply. So when you reach out on a significant day, when feelings are still unsettled, you are treating that relationship like it was never more than a casual one. Give that relationship the respect it deserves and simply let it go, because it was too special to be turned into something casual with the click of a “send” button. The relationship being over doesn’t mean it wasn’t special or that it won’t have a place in your heart. It just means it’s over, and you need time to heal.

I was once asked by someone how they can pay their ex back the five hundred dollars they owed them after the ex had blocked their phone number and blocked them on all forms of social media. It’s great to want to pay off your debts, but then you’re trying to give money to someone who didn’t even care enough to ask for it. You can live without the hoodie you left at their place. You don’t need the cooking pan you loaned them. There is freedom in letting all those things go and starting fresh. They are just excuses for reaching out because you have yet to fully accept that it’s time to move on.

You should know that I’ve been right there too—I remember spending a lot of time when I was going through my bad breakups when I was younger thinking about those birthdays. When those birthdays came up and I wanted to talk to them, it was because I just hadn’t let go. It really had nothing to do with their birthday, I realize now—I just wanted to be a part of their day, because I wanted to be a part of their life, you know, and I wanted them to be a part of mine. But once you get some distance and really are over them, you don’t do those things anymore—no one’s reaching out to their ex that they broke up with five years ago to tell them happy birthday.

Excerpt from the new book Don’t Text Your Ex Happy Birthday: And Other Advice on Love, Sex, and Dating by NickViall. Copyright (c) 2022 by Nick Viall. Published by Abrams Image.

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