February 22, 2006 04:00 PM

Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe announced their split in January – but on Sunday the couple met at the low-key Tra di Noi restaurant in Malibu for a late lunch, PEOPLE reports in its upcoming issue.

“They seemed to be getting along very well,” said an observer, noting that after the meal, Lowe, 38, walked Swank, 31, to her car. “He put his arm on her back when they were saying goodbye.”

So, are the pair, who wed eight years ago, reconciling? No official word yet, but a close friend of the double-Oscar winner tells PEOPLE, “It’s not the first time (they’ve eaten together), it’s just the first time the cameras have been around. It’s evidence that they’re working on their marriage.”

These preservation-of-marriage acts can be typical, say professionals. “In any divorce or separation, people are confused. They think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty,'” says Beverly Hills psychiatrist Carole Lieberman.

Some couples have tried to mend broken marriages, but to no avail. Charlie Sheen, 40, and Denise Richards, 35, wore wedding bands and big smiles in the Bahamas in December, nine months after Richards first filed for divorce. But just weeks later the divorce was back on and a bitter custody battle over their two daughters broke out.

Then there is the unparalleled case of Ren e Zellweger, 36, and Kenny Chesney, 37. The two had their five-month marriage annulled in December yet continue to meet regularly for cozy meals. Their reps insist they’re “just friends.”

With friends like that, who needs spouses?

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