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Inside the Big Business of Getting Your Girlfriend Back

The details of every relationship are as unique as a tented arch fingerprint, but being dumped is universal: the shock, the denial, the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Then the desperation hits. To dodge the excruciating pain, you can check out of life. Sleep. Get hammered. Join an online community of other sad sacks nursing broken hearts. But what you can never find is the Holy Grail of grief: a time machine that could whisk you back to happier days when the girl of your dreams still loved you.

Or can you?

The temptation of a do-over was motivation enough to make a guy we’ll call Mark contact a dating coach who promised, for a fee, to help him reverse course. Sometimes called attraction coaches, breakup coaches or relationship consultants, these self-styled breakup rescuers offer therapeutic services that range from ebooks, Skype sessions and even text and email support that lay out the precise steps for righting the ship of a relationship gone kablooey. Their credentials go from zilch to Ph.D.’s in psychology, but these self-proclaimed experts all promise the same thing: concrete, proven steps that create a domino effect of regret, longing and groveling in the person who just dumped you. When executed with precision, they say, these moves can return your beloved to you in as little as 30 days or your money back.

Mark’s coach said he’d help him win his ex back; all Mark had to do was follow his instructions to the letter. He would vanish from his ex’s life immediately — what they in the biz call “going no-contact.” (More on that later.) He would hire a new woman to pretend to be his girlfriend. He would strategically post photos of them together on social, ensuring the ex would see how happy he was in his new life with his new girl. The ex would be driven wild with jealousy and rush back into his arms before the month was up.

Then the plan hit a snag: The new woman Mark hired, it turned out, happened to know the ex-girlfriend. In a move of female solidarity, she told the ex what Mark had done. The effect was chilling. The ex never spoke to him again, and in response to his pestering, she eventually took out a restraining order against him.

Mark was out over $1,000 in costs.

‘People Will Do Anything to Avoid That Pain’

“Marketing-wise, it’s a brilliant strategy,” breakup coach and dating strategist Natalia Juarez, who often takes on men like Mark as clients after the fallout, tells MEL by phone about these guides. “It’s that pain point. People will do anything to avoid that pain and it’s a quick fix. They want to be told what they want to hear. Mark had been given terrible advice and he had paid an exorbitant amount of money for it. He paid this guy over a thousand dollars to give him this terrible advice. ‘Oh, this guy’s been on TV,’ he told me. It’s an easy pitch, and of course if it doesn’t work, it’s your fault. You must have just not executed the plan properly.”

This brilliant strategy has become a kind of cottage industry for the lovelorn, what the Guardian called last year a “new niche being carved out by ambitious entrepreneurs offering to help with healing a broken heart.” But it’s important to understand the range of services offered that fall under this umbrella, as well as the credibility of the methods themselves.

Breakup services are largely focused on one thing: getting over her.

They include apps such as Mend that will send you encouraging words of support and scientifically backed explanations for what you’re going through. That’ll cost you anywhere from $9.99 to $59.99 for a series of “heartbreak cleanses.”

There are online support groups such as Exaholics, where the brokenhearted congregate in forums to commiserate and support one another through recovery, at a $9 subscription fee.

There are breakup bootcamps on luxury farms in upstate New York that will set you back $1,500 for a weekend.

Then there are the get-her-back services, which can come from general breakup and dating services or online materials. Natalia Juarez, for instance, offers a range of breakup services that include strategies for reconnecting with an ex. She charges $140 an hour, or $500 for a four-session foundation package. That includes, among the sessions (usually on Skype or Zoom), a reading list and a month of 24-hour text and email support.

And then there’s the glut of online, vaguely credentialed ebooks, YouTube videos and coaching sessions to wade through. The ebooks are self-published, and they seem to number in the hundreds or thousands. A cursory search on Amazon produces dozens of titles such as:

  • Get Your Ex Girlfriend or Wife Back Today!
  • How to Get Your Ex Back in 25 Days
  • Get Your Ex Back: Win Her Back in 30 Days or Less
  • Get Her Back: FOR MEN ONLY
via Amazon

Those books often cost a couple bucks and come with a money-back guarantee. Some, like the $47 Ex Factor Guide, promise guides and coaching services purportedly worth hundreds of dollars but sold for a sixth of that cost. (“Surely, if she’s ‘the one,’ then you’d run to the nearest bank and withdraw your life savings, right?”)

But they all peddle the same chess moves.

How to Win Back Your Ex: The Ultimate Guide

First, you’ll vanish from the ex’s life — what they call going “no contact,” a cornerstone of the get-her-back philosophy that demands stringent enforcement, sometimes for as long as month.

Next: Get to work showing her you’re happy, fulfilled and, most importantly, busy. When she sees how happy you are without her — on social, of course — just living your life with friends, family and fun activities, she’ll be thrown off course. She’ll wonder what she did to blow the best thing that ever happened to her. She’ll reach out, looking for signs of life.

Three: When she crawls back, keep ignoring her.

Four: Agree, finally, to meet up, where you’ll look your best, radiating relaxed, happy confidence without her.

Five: Toss in some stealth intimacy — maybe a brush of her hand when you laugh at a shared joke — but nothing too heavy.

Six: Cue her groveling apology and a request that you give it another chance.

Last (but never least for a male audience): You’ll be king again — happy in the knowledge that you’ve gotten back your girl, followed by some of the best sex of your life.

But it doesn’t always work this way.

Some Advice Is Right. The Motivation Isn’t.

“A lot of this stuff is what I have to undo with my clients,” Juarez tells MEL. “These are the guys who first went down the road of a pickup artist or have read The Game before they come to me. If they’ve actually taken this stuff to heart, that’s so much work for me. They use a lot of reverse psychology, and while it might very well work in the short term, it won’t work in the long term. It’s a way to ‘get’ people, but it’s not a way to build a fulfilling, healthy relationship.”

Juarez’s clients are some 70 percent men. A number of them have to be rewired from this sort of indoctrination, which usually only happens after it blows up in their faces, like Mark and his hired girlfriend.

Another man, David, came to her with a similar problem. “He was kind of a nerdy guy, and the ex was a nerdy girl,” Juarez says. “And she’d broken up with him, and he wanted her back. And because of reading this pickup artist stuff, he decided he was supposed to go out and dress a certain way, so he changed how he looked and started taking pictures with these ‘club girls’ and putting them online.”

The point was, of course, to make her jealous and upset and come running back. It did. But not how he wanted.

“It did make her jealous,” Juarez says. “But it completely pushed her away. It not only provoked all her insecurities, but he became, ultimately, someone she would’ve never wanted to be with. Jealousy is incredibly powerful. But it all depends on where you want it to go.”

The problem, Juarez says, is that the motivation is all wrong — an issue that often ends up being the focus of her work with men who want to win their exes back.

“You could win her back for the wrong reasons, so what happens when you go back to your regular life?” she asks. “Are you always going to be keeping her on her toes, and making her jealous? It’s so short-sighted. I see these tactics working with people who are young and immature. And some people are still very immature even in their 40s.”

That said, Juarez says some of the aspects of the guide are right on. She doesn’t take issue with no contact generally — she says all breakups need a little time to settle. That’s mainly because receptivity in the person who did the breaking up is extremely low right after a split.

“Anything you try to do right after a breakup is going to fall on deaf ears,” she says. You can’t just flood someone with promises to change, or swearing you’ll be a better person. So she recommends no contact, but within reason. You need to let the relationship settle.

“This person is recovering and trying to make sense of the relationship,” she says. “The relationship as they know it.”

How to Really Win Someone Back — And Become a Better Person, Too

So if you want to really win someone back, she says, you have to follow the slow rules. Give it time to settle; work on yourself and the reasons for the breakup. Wait for an organic time to reconnect to demonstrate that. She recommends that after a few weeks, you can write a letter laying out all the work you’re doing, the understanding you’ve gained and the desire to reconnect — if, and this is key, the other person is open to it.

“When people apologize and really own what they did, the other person can begin to open up their heart instead of thinking the worst of you, the way they left you,” she says.

The lack of contact shouldn’t be disrupted during that time, but it’s not a magic number of days, or a strategic manipulation. This way, the recovery the brokenhearted person is doing is win-win, she says. “Either it will help you move on, because they aren’t coming back. Or it makes you that much more attractive when you’re ready to date again.”

That, she says, is also missing from the breakup guides. It’s not that you shouldn’t regroup, take some time alone, let things settle, and work on self-improvement. It’s not that you shouldn’t do your best to contain your sadness to your own recovery or network of friends or professionals. If you’ve always wanted to lose weight and this is motivation, you should do it. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to cook, go for it. It’s the intent. The motivation. The point. It’s the difference between manipulation, and doing the right thing to move on.

Jacqueline Duke, a therapist who consults for the breakup forum Exaholics, agrees. “The first half of many of these guides — the no-contact rule, not responding to them, taking a lot of time to yourself to work on self-improvement, on health, on finances, and spending time with friends and family — that’s exactly what we say to do in Exaholics and as clinicians,” Duke tells MEL by phone.

“In my personal experience with patients, they might come with that end goal in mind of getting back together,” she said. “But if they have done recovery correctly, and gone through this phase of self-improvement with no contact, they usually come to the conclusion on their own that they don’t want the ex back. They feel like a better person, and they can’t believe they even wanted their ex to begin with, because in they are in such a better place. They don’t need that person to fill the void.”

Remember You Broke Up for a Reason

That was the case for Joshua Lombardo-Bottema, the 31-year-old CEO of GoWrench Auto, who turned to Juarez for breakup coaching after what he calls a “crazy-passionate” two-year relationship that became too crazy to endure. They’d broken up for the fifth or sixth time — his idea — because even though the great times were great, the awful times were terrible.

After a long span of fighting, getting back together and the exhaustion of a bad cycle, he ended it — but found himself wanting his ex back badly anyway. He booked a four-session package with Juarez over the course of a few months.

“When I started working with Natalia,” Bottema says by phone, “at first I was like, ‘I really miss her, what am I going to do?’” But he realized, “when you want your ex back, you want certain parts but not the other parts. You miss certain aspects and want that tenderness and the good times back and that familiarity — that’s the biggest one. There’s a void there that you want to plug them back into, because they fill it so perfectly. But when the void is filled, you have the turmoil and torture of what is a bad relationship again.”

It wasn’t that he couldn’t talk to his ex. To the contrary, the couple would get back in touch, have a great night, then break up again when it erupted into terrible fighting. But wrestling with what to do, he realized he needed assistance.

“I didn’t know the right course of action,” he says. “I wanted her back, but I didn’t want all of it back. I wanted her to realize to work on things with me. I was willing to do the work. I’ll read books, I’ll learn, I’ll read courses, I go to counseling, I’ll do it! I wanted her to put in the work too, and if she would help solve my issues with her, I would solve her issues with me.”

Natalia started with her usual course: a relationship assessment in which Bottema realized his once-secure attachment style had become anxious in response to his ex’s constant volatility and leaving.

“She was never like, ‘Okay, I’m going to help you get your ex back,” he said. “She said, ‘Okay, let’s understand the situation. Let’s figure out your attachment style. Why you’re so attached to her.’ … The self-understanding came first, then the understanding of others, though the methodology.”

Then Bottema read, and read some more. Books on attachment styles, love languages, communication. It was a crash course in relationships, the human heart, the science of attraction, the importance of communication, that Bottema said he’d never had — access to an entirely new realm of knowledge, and some deep insight.

His ex “was a ridiculously gorgeous woman,” he says. “But you know what? I learned that I was more infatuated with her than I was in love. There were things I loved about her, things I still love, but things I didn’t like as well.”

Juarez laid out a roadmap for the grief. You will want her back, she told him. And you will have to remind yourself of all the reasons you broke up. She instructed him to devise a laundry list of egregiousness, every terrible thing that had led to him ending it. When he consulted the list, full of examples of storm-outs, fights, jealousies and hurt, he thought, Why the hell would I want to get back with this person?

In other words, no matter how heartbroken and sad and desperate you feel in the wake of a breakup, you still broke up for a reason.

But Some Customers Still Want Only One Thing

The lesson of breakups in the age of ebooks promising time machines seems to be: Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it — and realize it wasn’t what you wanted at all.

In the meantime, Bottema did the work on himself, kept a distance from his ex and slayed the mental dragons as they surfaced. Two years later, he’s moved on.

He thinks of the coaching — which he says many of his friends ribbed him for — as an invaluable educational tool in building emotional intelligence that everyone could benefit from. It is now strange to him that people spend thousands of dollars on medications but not a few hundred for knowledge they can use in every relationship going forward for life. It’s no different to him than a tennis player taking lessons from a top coach and coming out with a wicked backhand.

It’s not that he can’t see how the quick fix of get-her-back advice would be satisfying. There were so many times he would’ve wanted to make his ex jealous. “Would it feel good in the short term? Yeah,” he says. “But it’s not a long-term fix. I could get her back. We’d have another great day. And then we’d just be right back where we were with another blow up.”

That’s not, unfortunately, how Mark saw the service Juarez offered. After the blowup with his ex when she found out he’d hired a woman to make her jealous, he was left with a restraining order against him.

Juarez pitched the services: a relationship assessment. Helping him understand why the breakup happened. What was wrong with his old approach. The work it would take to improve himself to be in a place where he’d have to accept it was over and move on.

“I can help you get over this,” she told him.

He wasn’t having it.

“Don’t you think there’s a chance I can still win her back?” Mark asked.

“Honestly,” she said, “no.”

He didn’t follow up for another session.