Say you’re out on the town when you suddenly get a random text from your ex that says “I miss you.” It’s been over a year since you’ve cut off all ties, so what gives?
If this kind of message leaves you with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, you may have just been “hoovered.”
While easy to confuse with sincere attempts of reconciliation, hoovering is a manipulation tactic that someone might use to suck you back into a potentially toxic relationship.
A random text may not necessarily suggest anything malicious on its own, but be wary if there’s a past history of toxicity.
Here’s a look at some of the hallmark signs that may indicate someone is hoovering you. Again, these signs don’t necessarily mean that someone has bad intentions, but it’s important to consider their past behavior.
As mentioned above, sending DMs or texts out of the blue can be ways of trying to reel you back in.
Watch out for messages of nostalgia or seemingly benign questions. The point isn’t to know the answer. It’s to draw your focus back on them.
Here are a few phrases they might try:
- “I’m watching our movie, thinking of us.”
- “Do you still have that red shirt I used to wear?”
- “I dreamt about you.”
They might act overly apologetic about past events and try to convince you they’ve changed. When used as a hoovering tactic, these apologies are performative and have manipulative undertones.
Ask yourself: Do they become upset if you try to shift the conversation? If so, their “sorry” might not be sincere.
Making contact during the holidays or your birthday can be a way to get you to answer their texts or phone calls.
They may also send you messages like “Congratulations on the new job!” to lower your guard and make you believe they take a sincere interest in your accomplishments.
Making sweeping proclamations of love can be a way to warm you up and make you remember the good ol’ times. These sudden declarations can be even more impactful if they struggled to say “I love you” when you were a couple.
They might say things like:
- “You’re the perfect partner for me.”
- “You’re my soul mate and we belong together.”
- “No one else makes me feel the way you do.”
They “love bomb” you by sending lavish or expensive gifts to your house or job. While these unsolicited gifts seem like extraordinary gestures, they’re another manipulative tactic meant to make you feel indebted to them.
They might promise to take you on an exotic vacation, buy your dream house, or even marry you — knowing full well they’d never follow through.
If they didn’t want to have children when you were together before, for example, they’ll say they’ve had a change of heart, even if they still don’t intend to actually have kids.
Beware of the hoover by proxy, which can happen when your ex plays the victim and tries to get other people to reach out to you on their behalf.
Some ways they may do this include:
- regularly chatting with your parents and telling them how much they miss you
- telling mutual friends how great you are and how they regret letting you go
- using your child as an intermediary by getting them to relay messages back to you
They might make up some crisis or emergency, such as a health scare. Or they might try to pull at your heartstrings by saying they’ve had a death in the family.
The point is to engage your attention by dramatically making you worry.
They’ll weaponize drama by spreading false rumors about you to mutual friends and acquaintances. They may try to jeopardize your social life by creating public scenes or sending you texts saying they heard others bad-mouthing you.
They might also make claims that are designed to provoke you into defending yourself. This gives them a sense of control over your reactions.
For example, if you refuse to answer their texts, they’ll accuse you of dating one of their friends as a way of baiting you into a response.
Randomly showing up at your place of work and asking to drive you back home as if nothing has changed between you is another hoovering tactic.
If you try to sever contact, they’ll continue to harass you by paying unsolicited visits to your home or appearing at important events. They may also text you about their day as if you’re still a couple.
Some of the biggest signs of hoovering are threats of self-harm.
A manipulative ex will attempt to force you to respond by saying they’re going to hurt themselves unless you answer their texts or calls. They may even threaten to kill themselves.
If you think they’re in immediate danger, you can call your local emergency services number.
It might look harmless on the surface, but hoovering is a pernicious behavior that can quickly escalate to more dangerous territory.
The key to responding to it? Don’t. Disengage and limit your exposure by blocking their number or email address. Let friends and family know you’re not interested in hearing about them or from them.
More than anything, listen to your gut. If random messages turn into flooding your inbox and showing up at your home uninvited every other day, it’s a sign things have become abusive and progressed to stalking.
Here are some more resources that can help:
- TheHotline.org provides lifesaving tools and support from highly trained advocates 24/7.
- Women’s Aid provides services and support to women affected by domestic violence.
- The Stalking Resource Center provides information and referrals for victims of stalking.
Cindy Lamothe is a freelance journalist based in Guatemala. She writes often about the intersections between health, wellness, and the science of human behavior. She’s written for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, Quartz, The Washington Post, and many more. Find her at cindylamothe.com.