Why 'Marleying' is the Christmas dating trend we all need to avoid

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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There’s a new dating trend in town. Here,’s digital features editor Sarah Biddlecombe speaks to women who have been ‘Marleyed’ - and asks an expert for advice on what to do if it happens to you.

There’s no denying that Christmas is a nostalgic time of year. After all, between the films, the music and the unruly amounts of prosecco, it’s easy to tilt into sentimentality in December – and that’s before you’ve gone ‘home home’ and been reunited with every single member of your family.

In the midst of all this, it’s natural to start reminiscing about the past year, and all the ups and downs – especially in terms of relationships. Add on a few glasses of mulled wine and a healthy dose of cabin fever, and the thought of reaching out to an ex can suddenly seem like a brilliant idea – and one that must be shut down, immediately.

So we were less than surprised to hear about a new dating trend that sees single people reaching out to their exes during the festive period. Coined by dating website eHarmony as “Marleying”, the trend refers to people who contact their ex over Christmas in the hopes of rekindling their romance for a fling – or more.

Christmas is a popular time to ‘Marley’ an ex…

Named after Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner in the classic Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol, the trend refers to ghosts from our past. 

Research from eHarmony finding that 11% of single people have been ‘Marleyed’, while a further 8% have reached out to ‘Marley’ a previous partner.

Bizarrely, London and Wales are the two most common locations for Christmas Marleys, with 12% of single Londoners being Marleyed, followed by 11% of those in Wales. 

And if you’re anticipating hearing from a certain someone, keep your phone close by on Christmas Eve, as this has been pinpointed as the most likely day for an ex to get in touch.

Speaking about the new trend, dating expert Laura Yates pinpoints Christmas as being “synonymous with memories, romance, couples and goodwill”, which can “trigger potent feelings of sadness, especially if you’ve recently gone through a breakup”.

Explaining why so many people reach out to an ex over the festive period, she adds, “You might compare this year to happier, coupled-up times with your ex, overlooking what happened in the first place to cause the breakup. In turn, this makes you feel vulnerable and there’s a strong desire to want to relive some of those times - even if it means settling for a few text exchanges.”

It’s worth thinking carefully before engaging in any Marley action with an ex this year. One writer was adamant that she wouldn’t respond when she heard from an ex - and with good reason. “I had an ex try to pull this on me a few years back: he said he’d been thinking of me a lot over Christmas and wanted to see me, as he felt we had unfinished business,” she says. “I deleted the text: not only had it been YEARS since we’d dated, but we didn’t part on good terms. It’s called a break up for a reason - it’s broken. And, pretty much 100% of the time, it can’t be fixed.”

She concludes: “Don’t let sappy Christmas adverts and all those festive rom-coms ever make you think you need to be coupled-up for December: you’ll have way more fun being happily single than unhappily trying to salvage the splinters of a relationship that shattered years ago.”

“You’ll have way more fun being happily single than unhappily trying to salvage the splinters of a relationship that shattered years ago.”

Further warnings about a Marleying ex come courtesy of freelancer Emily Reynolds, who did choose to reply to her former partner when he got in touch - with disastrous consequences.

“An ex who’d unceremoniously dumped me several months before got in touch on Christmas Day, ostensibly just to wish me a happy Christmas,” she says. “But obviously we started talking again. We were probably drunk on sherry/Bailey’s/9am breakfast prosecco, and we were both staying with our parents, where there was nothing better to do other than text each other. Plus, several exhausting weeks worth of Christmas parties had worn down every single critical faculty I had.

“We made plans to meet up in January - thus kicking off the most horrendous on/off, chaotic, relationship mess I’ve ever been involved in. It reminded me that there was a reason we’d broken up in the first place…

“If I was being optimistic, I’d say Christmas can make people feel sentimental, and make them realise what they really want out of life. Sadly, because I’m a cynical crone, I’m resigned to the fact that in our case, it happened because we were both bored. And that’s never a good reason to get back together with someone.”

“It happened because we were both bored - and that’s never a good reason to get back together with someone.”

Have you heard from an ex, or are you thinking about reaching out to one? We spoke to relationship expert Laura Yates to ask about the best ways to respond to being Marleyed…

Is it a good idea to Marley an ex over Christmas…?

It really depends on the nature of the breakup. If a decent amount of time has passed and there are no romantically led emotions there from both sides, it can be harmless to reach out. In most times though, this isn’t really how things go. What’s important to remember is to try and look at contacting your ex from the same perspective as you would if it wasn’t Christmas.

After the buzz of Christmas is over, you’ll probably be left with a bit of an emotional hangover. Depending on the response (or lack of), it can completely ruin the time, which would be better spent soaking up the love of family, friends and the festivities.

If someone hurt you, if you had any doubts about the relationship when you were in it or if the breakup happened for reasons that there’s just no coming back from, Christmas won’t change that. It will only perpetuate all those feelings and emotions you’ve probably worked really hard to heal from. Being the season of goodwill isn’t enough to let those boundaries slip.

What should you do if your ex tries to Marley you and you’re not interested?

You don’t have to reply. It sends a much clearer message than responding out of guilt or because it’s Christmas, and it’s also kinder to your ex (especially if you were the one that did the breaking up) because it doesn’t give them false hope. If you do want to respond, you can be graceful yet detached. Keep the conversation very limited to just one message back and avoid getting into anything deep and meaningful.

If you were on the brunt end of the breakup or if responding back is going to cause you any feelings of uneasiness, hurt, confusion or anxiety, not responding says enough in itself and your ex will get the message.

Either way, just because it’s Christmas, it doesn’t mean your ex has the ability to undo any boundaries you have worked hard to put in place for yourself. You have the freedom to engage in conversation or not. Do what’s best for you!

Images: Rex Features / iStock