“Oh, Annie,” a voice sighs on the other end of the phone. “You’ve been the girl he can always get, now you need to be the girl he can almost get.”
I am speaking to Chris Seiter, a love expert who charges upwards of £230 for his services (a 90-minute phone call with added homework). It turns out none of the following were positive responses to my boyfriend recently dumping me: telling him the personal trainer I’m dating has arms the size of thighs in an attempt to incite jealousy, renting out a film on his dad’s Curzon Home Cinema subscription, scrolling through old photos I took of him looking adorable while dribbling in his sleep, screenshotting lyrics from Norman Fucking Rockwell, sending him a photo of my arse in gym leggings with the caption “this is the last time you’ll see this peach x” (it wasn’t).
I’d never heard of love experts until my mum found them online after she spent one too many lunch breaks listening to me snot-crying into a pillow, but they are in fact hugely popular. Though love experts tend to be based in the US, both of the love experts I spoke to said 25-35 percent of their customers were based in the UK. Chris started his website Ex Boyfriend Recovery after helping his pregnant friend get back with her ex, who dumped her due to codependency issues. Since then, Chris’ business has grown to the point where he now has three employees taking over sixty calls a week. Meanwhile, rival love expert Lee Wilson of My Ex Back Coach charges $115 (roughly £90) for a 30-minute phone call and, even though he takes around six calls a day, he still has a six week waitlist of lovesick souls looking for treatment.
So how does one get their ex back? (Asking for a friend, obviously.) And is it desirable, or even healthy, to encourage people to try and reunite with their partner? To find out, Chris and Lee spoke to me about the art of ex recovery.
The crux of Lee and Chris’s theory is what they both call the ‘no contact rule’ – the idea that your ex should not hear from you after the breakup. “People are in panic mode after they’ve been dumped. They think ‘I need to interact and re-attract’, but really they should do the opposite,” Lee explains. “You must make the ex believe that you can be happy alone. You also need to make them miss you and notice that they miss you. Make them feel their phone vibrate and be disappointed when it’s not you, make them experience a Friday night in alone. For a time, you need to ensure you exist only in their rose-tinted memories.”
The length of the no contact rule depends on the circumstances. Chris recommends 21 days for a breakup from a short term partner, 30 days for a standard “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup and 45 days if you cheated or if your ex is with someone new – to give them time to exit the honeymoon phase. “Some advocate 60 to 90 days,” Chris says, “But I’ve researched this: it takes 66 days to form or break a habit. Leave it that long and you’ve forced them to break the habit of talking to you.”
While practising the no contact rule, Chris advises the heartbroken not to be dormant. “You need to progress up the value ladder, improve your outlook, shift the paradigm,” he says. This might mean a life drawing class, piano lessons, boring your brain and burning your thighs on the stepper machine, baking focaccia, taking up jujitsu, taekwondo, or even buying a fluffy Pomeranian puppy so your heart is melting from something other than disappointment. Once you’ve bettered yourself, it’s time to attempt contact.
Lee often helps his clients draft re-connection texts, which, according to him, should be pressure-free and ideally feature a shared memory. “One guy I helped would go to this restaurant with his girlfriend called Caprino’s, which burnt down a couple of months after the breakup. At the end of the no contact gauntlet he messaged her: ‘A couple of nights ago some friends took me to this Italian place, it was good but nothing beats Caprino’s. It made me think of you and smile. I hope you’re doing well.’ It might seem simple, but there’s a lot going on here: Friends taking him out shows that he’s social, the fact he looks back and smiles rather than getting angry shows strength, and then there’s the ‘hope you’re doing well’ which isn’t an invite, so there’s no force there.” It worked, too. She asked him out for coffee.
“The way conversations end is more important than how they begin,” Chris adds. To back up this claim he mentions the Zeigarnik effect – a psychological concept which states that people remember interrupted or incomplete tasks better than completed ones. “So if you engage an ex in conversation and then leave just when it’s getting interesting, they’re more likely to dwell on it than a three-hour conversation which dissolves into awkward silence. You want to hold them like the cliffhanger on your favourite TV show.”
Following love experts advice does seem to work. I speak to Anna, a 26-year-old nurse from Gloucestershire whose boyfriend broke up with her due to his unresolved scars from a past relationship. For Anna, relationship experts provide invaluable advice that friends and family just aren’t able to deliver. “Loved ones hate seeing you hurt. They were quicker to tell me to just move on,” she says. I ask Anna if she thinks her partner would have taken her back if she hadn’t consulted a relationship expert. “Absolutely not. If I had done what I’d done in previous relationships: calling, texting too much, begging him to change his mind, we wouldn’t have gotten back together. By changing my approach and following the advice of my coaches I was able to first get myself back, and that’s what re-attracted him.”
Sam, a 35-year-old teacher from Liverpool, also sought help from Chris’ programme. Sam tells me that she and her partner broke up because they were constantly arguing over mundane issues. “I had recently given birth so I was struggling to control myself emotionally,” she says. Like Anna, Sam credits the help of a love expert for the rekindling of her relationship: “I don’t think I’d have got my ex back without Chris. I was a desperate mess when the breakup happened.”
After speaking to Chris and Lee, I find myself regretting a number of actions I’ve taken since my own breakup. Perhaps I shouldn’t have sent that 3,000-word love letter to his place of work. Not only was it a breach of the no contact rule, but I also forgot to put his name on it so the office manager would have wondered what sort of weirdo sends statements like “I’ve got loads of mosquito bites, I wish you were here to tell me to stop scratching them” to a property inventory company. Blocking him on all social media also ruled out any opportunity to see me dressed as a slutty fallen angel on Halloween. Even replying with bland formalities to his question “You off to Sam’s party? I won’t go if you don’t want me to” was a mistake.
Chris moves onto my last encounter with my ex: a text demanding he pick up his clothes because “my room is not a fucking storage facility” and “it’s off to charity shop, mate” before stuffing said clothing in bin bags. Apparently this wasn’t quite the Beyonce “to the left, to the left, everything you own in a box to the left” energy that I thought it was.
“Getting into arguments with exes is bad, very bad,” Chris explains. “Human beings are self-interested, they make commitment decisions based on what feels good, they weigh up costs against benefits. If you argue with him, he’ll think ‘oh this is why I broke up with her’ and you don’t want him to remember that.”
Lee also emphasises the importance of mediating emotions. “People think they need to be mean or cold towards this person. I tell them, look, if you were living a great life would you react like that? Try to move towards joy, project an image of a life that’s worth living. If you look strong they’ll worry you might be moving on.”
My ex hasn’t picked his stuff up yet. Chris sees this as a window of opportunity, so he constructs a game plan: “When he comes over, make sure you look your best – but not super sexual. Also, have conversation prompts lined up and then after a short chat, make it so you suddenly have somewhere to be.” The aim here is to appear as an emotionally mature vision of success and grace, leaving my ex with a super-sweet last encounter that he can stew on when he’s hungover in bed with no one to bring him a sugary tea and a fish finger sandwich.
I tell Chris that I’ve already made plans for Sunday; I’m meeting an old friend for a roast before going to the cinema, then going to the pub – activities which all take place at times when my ex would definitely come and pick up his belongings. Chris sighs again: “Well, don’t be in when he comes then."
Aside from the sheer patheticness of waiting inside in full makeup only to march off to a fake social encounter, Chris’s recommendation leaves a very slight margin for human error. It would take first lady levels of composure to remain calm while watching someone pack away the final objects tethering you both together. What if I want him to know that it really hurts when his navy trousers fall out the wardrobe and I see the smear of green paint from when he leant on a still-wet painting at that squat party? Or when I feel the scratch from the tiny silver hairs woven into his pyjama bottoms from when I used to shave his head for him? What if it’s been two months and that’s long enough to have to stare at the debris of someone that’s left you?
A mood of eternal agreeability might coax someone to fall back into your arms, but once they’re there, how could you possibly carry on as before? Even if I pulled off this sportswoman-like feet of human durability, I give it two weeks before resentment sets in and I begin to seethe under his touch: how could he?
I can understand why people would pay such high prices for unqualified relationship experts. When people are hurt, they will do almost anything to stop the pain. After all, most of the rules prescribed by Chris and Lee aren’t new. It’s the same advice best mates serve up for us to continually ignore: delete his number, don’t go to the party he’s at if you’re just going to cry in the loo, don’t you dare re-add him on Facebook. You never listen because heartbreak makes you lose control and, without even asking them to, your thumbs start pounding out paragraphs of text. People just want to feel like they can rally against the force of someone else’s conviction as long as they take the right steps.
In the end, I went to the pub with my friend and then we went back to hers to eat gnocchi in front of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. When I got home, all his clothes were gone and there was a big gap of wall where his picture of the actress from The Passion of Joan of Arc once sat over the fireplace.
Maybe if I’d stayed in – hair straightened, lips glossed and armed with a few pre-rehearsed quips about an entirely made up art gallery opening I am off to – he would have felt worse about driving off in the Uber XL to his new place. Maybe he would think about my smile as he folded his underwear into their new draw. Or maybe I don’t care anymore. The week after, I came back from a night out and was about to press send on a text that read: “If I rang you how would it feelx I’ve got perood tits,, they look great”, with reference to my swollen period boobs. I sent it to my friend instead. I might have tripped all the way down the value scale, I might have kicked the no contact rule into an early grave, but I might actually be feeling okay again.