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#316: Reaching out to an ex

Dear Captain Awkward, 

At the beginning of this year, after much agonising and a deep depression lasting several months, I broke up with J., my boyfriend of three years. We lived together, we had friends in common – it was messy, but I tried very hard to be honest with him. This included telling him that I had developed feelings for an old friend of mine, P., who had recently become friends with J. too and spent time with us as a couple. Years ago I had feelings for P., but I moved to another city for a while, I met J/, and I thought that was in the past. J. was aware of this history.

After the breakup, P. and I tried for a short while to avoid seeing each other. But having admitted my feelings to J., it seemed futile to resist seeing P. I justified this to myself with the fact that I was hurting badly, not just from the breakup but from the depression I was still suffering, and P. helped me hugely. I felt better only when I talked to him. It would be hurtful to J. to hear that me and P. had got together whenever it happened, I reasoned, because of the role P. played in my life. So, two weeks after the breakup, I began a relationship with P.

Four months later, I am very happy with P. It feels like coming home. But I still miss J. desperately. We have had no contact since moving out of our flat. I told him I would leave it up to him to make contact, wanting to give him some power, but that I would be really happy to hear from him. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t. Through mutual friends, I recently found out he has a new girlfriend. He is on my mind now all the time. I would love to have him back in my life, or even just to know what he is doing and to talk to him. Also, selfishly, I am looking for forgiveness – I hope that he does not hate me for so quickly moving on to another partner, and that he has some good memories of our relationship.

I want to know whether it would be terrible for me to make contact with J. by email, just to check in and ask how he is. I know that the way I ended things was devastating for him and that he was incredibly angry with me at the time; I also have reason to believe he may think that I lied to him about P. while we were still together, which is not true but which I can understand. But I don’t know how he feels now, whether he is still angry, whether he has moved on. I am thinking about this constantly, and I can’t get it clear in my head. Can I contact him, even though I left this decision in his hands? Would it be an entirely selfish act, just seeking alleviation of my intense guilt?

Dear LW:

Please leave J. alone.

You left the decision in his hands. I think that was a really good decision. He has decided (so far) not to get in touch with you. I think that is also a really good decision.

You acknowledge that this desire to talk to him is selfish and mostly motivated by a desire to alleviate guilt.

So…believe yourself when you talk. This is an entirely selfish impulse. What you really want is to alleviate guilt. You want to be reassured that he doesn’t hate you. To say you just want to know how he is is a lie. He’s dating someone new. He’s (so far) not interested in talking to you. That’s how he is.

It sounds like you did the right thing by breaking up with him. You both moved onto partners who could make you happier. Breakups are almost always painful, but when the alternative is staying in an unhappy relationship, they’re the right thing to do. You had feelings for someone else. You stopped having those feelings for J. You told him. It ended.

Let go of the guilt. Let go of the need to be liked by this guy. Having negative feelings about you might be really helpful for him in moving on from a painful breakup that wasn’t his idea. He gets to have those feelings if he wants to. He gets to tell himself a story where you were the Bad Guy if he wants to. He can have any kind of memories he likes about your relationship, and for you to reach out now and to try to control that narrative IS actually cruel. That doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty, or work to resolve things. Things ARE resolved because the relationship is over. Forgive yourself for going after your own desires and move on with your life.

Do what you would do with any crush or persistent thought – distract yourself. Focus on your friendships, on work, on study, on your relationship with P. Stop talking about how you miss J. “desperately.” (Uh, definitely don’t tell P. about that. Certain pieces of honesty are overrated).

And put yourself in his shoes. There he is, going along, living his life, trying to move on and be happy, when BAM! UNWANTED PAINFUL MEMORIES in the form of a too-casual “Hey, how are you?” email slam into his day. Not cool.

You’ve got to make your own closure with this. It’s over. If you do ever talk again, it will be after a long, long break and it will be because life (a mutual friend’s event, a shared hobby, etc.) throws you back into each other’s paths and because he decides that your friendship is worth having enough to reach out to you.

Until then leave the decision where you (intelligently) placed it: Entirely with him.

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52 comments
  1. Chay said:

    As always, the Captain is bang on. You’ve answered all your own questions. I think as much as it’s natural to want to reach out and make sure there are no hard feelings, the thing is – you don’t get to decide that. And if there ARE hard feelings, you poking on them is certainly not going to help that any.

    I’d also like to add that 4 months is really not that long, after a three year relationship and a self-described “messy” breakup. Having a new girlfriend is not code for “I’m now totally ready to reestablish a connection with all that messy shit from just 16 weeks ago!”

    The decision is in his hands, you should leave it there.

  2. I feel like this is really nice to have as a counterpoint to all the letters from people who have been dumped and had their hearts broken and suddenly get a contact from the ex and have no idea what to do.

    Which is to say: I am glad the LW recognizes that hir motives are selfish, and that the Captain has given firm and unequivocal advice.

    • JenniferP said:

      Weirdest day an ex reached out to me? September Fucking Eleventh. “I was just thinking about you…”

      I’m sure you were, dude. I’m sure you were.

      • St Roonicorn said:

        That’s extra creepy :-/

      • Key said:

        That is a lolsob for me, because every 9-11 I miss the ex I spent *the* 9-11 with SO HARD. It’s been 8 years (!) since a very nice going-different-directions breakup and I’m married now etc. If he did any kind of social media I’m certain liquid courage would have made me reach out one of those times.

        • JenniferP said:

          It’s normal to think of loved ones around anniversaries or traumatic events or anniversaries of traumatic events.

          And yeah, I should clarify: On THE 9/11 an ex sent me a “Hey, I was just thinking about you…” email. I had…not been thinking about him.

          Either he was flailing emotionally and wanting to reach out and show he cared, or he was trying to get 9/11 booty. I’m going with the first explanation so I can maintain faith in the human race.

          • If you wrote a book about your life experiences, I would use it as a sort of life manual. Or like a birdwatching guide…

            Lesser Spotted Traumacreeper (Creepicus crawlicus)
            Range: worldwide
            Identifying Characteristics: Often spotted around a traumatic even, usually preceded by the shattering sound of boundaries; often mistakenly identified as the Common Kindshark but more insidious in habitat. Easily differentiated from the rarer Spoonbilled Friendly-Ex by its questionable motives and distinctive barring at the base of its tail.
            Call: A sudden, unanticipated “Hey, I was just thinking about you!”
            When Encountered: Don’t respond or make eye contact; these creatures are very aggressive. Walk straight ahead, firmly banging a pot or pan with a stick to indicate dominance, and focus on maintaining your own emotional core during a time of tragedy.
            DO NOT FEED!!

          • Beenie said:

            Your post is amazing.

            It also reminds me of a Dean Koontz book where there are people who are secretly demons that feed off of other people’s misery. So they show up as Concerned Citizen or Super Nice Friend or Too Helpful Neighbor and are just a little toooo interested in your problems. That book creeped me out like whoa.

          • xenu01 said:

            Plus 1 billion!

          • JenniferP said:

            Hilarious. This makes my day.

      • Kaesa said:

        That happened to my boss, actually. He’d dated this woman ages ago, moved on, become sort of distant acquaintances with her, and she’d sent him a wedding invitation, which arrived on September 11th. She called him and demanded to know why he hadn’t RSVP’d yet since it should be there omg!, and when my boss pointed out he had been somewhat preoccupied with the news (my boss is a news junkie anyway, so… yeah) it transpired that she was TOTALLY UNAWARE of the attacks. I guess it must’ve been some really intense wedding planning?

      • Lilly said:

        OMG! Ugh! My creepy ex did that on the anniversary of the London tube bombings. We were broken up when the bombings happened. When he got in touch with me he was also “just thinking of me” and also “of how he showed he still loved me on the day of the bombings by calling my office to find out if I was OK”.

        Way to remind me how you creeped me out by calling my boss during your stalking episode, especially on such a traumatic day.

      • Annan said:

        That happened to me, too! Granted I was actually IN Manhattan at the time…but…he couldn’t have just ask my friends how I was?

  3. I agree 100% with the captain’s advice. If it helps at all, if I were J’s girlfriend, and you reached out to him after breaking his heart 4 months ago, I would hate you a lot for what I would see as an attempt to get back into his life so you could torture him some more. My brother-not-technically-in-law has an ex wife like this. Until he remarried she would reach out every once in a while “just to say hi” or on some other stupid premise like “I want this thing that isn’t really mine” or “what time are the fireworks tonight.” She may have meant “just to say hi” but everyone else interpreted it as “just to make sure I still have your attention.” And he was a super nice guy so he was always super polite about it, which resulted in huge fights between him and his partner. She became a source of conflict in his relationship but it ultimately only reflected poorly on her.

    That situation is full of bad blood, but it sounds like yours isn’t. It would be good to keep it that way. Maybe the thought of the horrible things people would think about you if you suddenly reached out now that you found out he’s moved on will help you deal with the uncertainty of not knowing all the things you say you want to know. If you don’t say anything, at least you aren’t “that girl who totally can’t let her ex move on and keeps trying to maintain his attention.” You’re just the girl he’s in the process of getting over who he might contact one day when he feels up to it.

    • Lilly said:

      You’re just the girl he’s in the process of getting over who he might contact one day when he feels up to it.

      Or, he may be totally over you now, happy in his brand new love/ pants interest stuff and just doesn’t want or hasn’t even thought of contacting you.

      So yeah, leave him be :)

  4. CL said:

    Perfect advice.

    I’m currently on an indefinite break from the person who broke my heart in May. I’m supposed to contact her again “when I’m ready.” I think she expects that we will go back to hanging out (as friends) soon, but I feel so hurt that I know it’s going to be a very long time before I want to talk to her again — and honestly, it might be never.

    The last thing I want is for her to contact me, especially if she wants me to help her to feel better about what happened. I cannot think about her without feeling hurt and sad. If she contacted me, it would be stressful and painful and humiliating all over again, since I’d have to admit (again) that I’m too heartbroken over her to even talk to her. I just want her to leave me alone.

    Taking space is the best decision I ever made (thank you Captain Awkward) and I know it’s helping me to heal. But I also know that I need a lot more space. Two months is nothing. Four months is still not very much time.

    It sounds like space was exactly what your ex needed, and you’ve handled it well so far. But you need to continue to leave him alone. He might contact you soon, or it might be never, but it’s his choice. If he wanted to talk to you, he would contact you. He has your number.

  5. Yan said:

    Last August I was unceremoniously dumped by my partner of a year and a half. He said he was “done,” but I was the one who had to cut off contact. He was done, fine, great, good, but I wasn’t yet, and I needed to be. 4 months after the fact, I got an e-mail. I was done by then, but maybe he wasn’t? I don’t know. That attempt at contact killed any chance of the two of us being friendly some day, because it emphasized a lack of ability to acknowledge or respect my needs or boundaries.

    You answered your own questions — move on. Let your ex be. It sounds like your breakup was unilateral, which is always valid, but it means he gets to be the one in charge of getting back in touch when or if he is ready.

  6. JetGirl said:

    LW, how much of your need to contact J has to do with the fact that he has a new girlfriend? I remember once finding out that an ex (who I dumped, for many good reasons) found someone else, and even though I was happy with someone, I felt this pang at the news. A small, deeply buried part of me, a part I am not proud of, was unhappy about this, because I kind of figured/hoped he would keep pining for me. It was an ego, keeping his heart on a shelf just in case kind of thing.
    Again, I am not proud of this. But if your motivation to contact J in any way mirrors mine, then PLEASE, PLEASE. PLEASE leave J alone.

    • catyshark said:

      Totally human. i think we’ve all been there. I know I have, and I know many of my friends have.

      It’s ok to have the ego, I think, but so much kinder to all to acknowledge that it is just the ego at work, not wanting to be forgotten, wanting to have *meant* something or *been special* and have some sort of *validation* of that.

      But ego isn’t the kind place. The kind place is to go “hi ego…not doing. push off with yer” and leave the ex(es) alone to live their new you-free lives in peace.

  7. Liennae said:

    As a person who was dumped, I totally nth every recommendation to leave him alone. Be happy that he has moved on, and isn’t continually pleading his case to get back with you. That is way way worse than him hating you for breaking up with him.

    Though, if he does get in contact with you, or you happen to run into him, be polite and considerate and don’t talk about how marvellous things are with your new guy. Don’t even talk to someone else about it if he is in earshot. (Well, you can…but it’ll probably only make him hate you more.) A lot of why I hate my ex is because of how he’s behaved in the years since breaking up with me, not that he actually broke it off.

    And if you’re somehow worried that because he has a new girlfriend now, that he never really loved you…remember the saying that there’s a thin line between love and hate? Sometimes it’s easier to hate someone than to deal with the confusion of possibly still being in love with them too.

  8. staranise said:

    LW, it sounds like you should do some work on your guilt. You’ve got this story in your head that you destroyed his happiness and swanned off, and now that something (him moving on) has made you think about it and wonder. There are both advantages and disadvantages to the story you have and the guilt you’re holding onto, and it may be worth asking what makes you so hesitant to let this story go, even if maintaining it requires a fresh infusion of contact from J, which might hurt him.

    A few guesses as to why you might hold onto “intense guilt”, which could be totally off the mark but demonstrate the type of reason: Maybe if you stop agonizing, you fear you’ll think of yourself as a “selfish” person who doesn’t care about hurting other people. Maybe if you stop thinking about him all the time, you’ll have to rewrite some beliefs you had about how important your relationship with J was to the two of you. Maybe it demands you to make peace with your own ability to do not-nice things. Who knows? There could be all kinds of things.

    Once you’ve figured those out, you know Option A (hold onto the guilt) and Option B (think of yourself as an evil heartless shrew who never mattered to him at all. Then (and here’s the hard part) come up with options C-infinity: find a story that 1) accurately represents the facts, and 2) lets you feel okay about moving on with your life. Maybe you’ll weigh the pain of the breakup vs. the pain of being in a relationship with an unhappy person who doesn’t want to be there, and decide you made the better call. Maybe a lot of things.

    But any story you tell yourself about this breakup will do things for you, or demand things from you, and you may not be able to give this guilt up until you understand what else you’re giving up too.

    • stentord said:

      The Captain’s post and this comment are both spot on for me — I left it in my ex’s hands to reestablish contact about a year ago after I dumped her in a pretty painful way. I would be thrilled to hear from her, but I need to leave that decision to her.

  9. Please don’t.

    I had an ex contact me once, in what sounds like kind of a similar way to what you’re describing – I’d broken up with him, but he had said some pretty unkind things to me (and to lots of people about me) soon after it happened and a lot of things were deteriorating between us for quite a while before I ended it. I was very very happy not to be involved with him any more and aside from one awkward dinner a year later (during which he tried to lecture me on my life choices and give me career advice, ugh) I didn’t hear from him for a while.

    And then about five years later, I got an email from him in which he told me he was trying to make some positive changes in his life, blah blah, and wanted to reach out and apologize to me for some things he did/said during and after our relationship. He wanted to do this in person, actually, but I let him know that anything he wanted to say to me he could do over email just fine. I guess the act of confessing some of what he’d said and apologizing made him feel better, but it was an unpleasant experience for me: a lot of the things that were really messed up in our relationship, plus my anger at not ending things sooner, came back very strongly and I felt really gross and uncomfortable for a while.
    I wish he hadn’t tried to get in touch with me at all, honestly. Even years later it was upsetting; I’m not pining for him now and wasn’t then, but it just brought up a lot of bad memories I don’t like to dwell on. The Captain is spot-on in her assessment of the PAINFUL UNWANTED MEMORIES likelihood being high, here.

    Bonus Round:A year after that email exchange, he emailed me again, this time to tell me that the woman he’d cheated on me with (Actual Reason Given: “well, you and I weren’t having sex yet, and I was really frustrated!”) had died. And, um, I’m sorry your friend died, but dude. All I knew about her is the cheating thing and the disgusting, super-offensive joke about Jewish people she told me the one time I met her. I don’t think about this incident much but when I do I am COMPLETELY BAFFLED as to why he thought it was a good idea.
    I did not respond to that one – what on earth would I have said?
    And yes, unsurprisingly I had the same rush of gross feelings after this email as well. At least he seems to have gotten the hint and has not contacted me since then.

    Moral of the story: if an ex doesn’t contact you (or doesn’t respond to your attempts to initiate contact), let it be. They have their reasons. And something that might make you feel better about how things went between you may have the opposite effect on him.

    • Nicole said:

      WOW. My mind boggles as to why your ex thought sharing that information about the woman he cheated on you with was something you should know or care about. I guess he was expecting sympathy from you? What a selfish person.

      • Even now I have no fucking idea what he was thinking.
        He actually tried to push the blame on someone else! In that email told me “oh yeah, V told me you would probably want to know.” Now, V is the woman he dated before me, who he treated pretty terribly after they broke up (although I didn’t know the whole story until much later). She and I became good friends after I left him and neither of us like this guy, so I was confused as to why she would have told him that, and actually I suspected he was lying.

        I did eventually ask her about it, and she told me that he messaged her out of the blue when she was pretty drunk to talk to her and asked what she thought about him telling me. He gave her the impression that I knew her better than I did, so she said it might make sense to do so. I wasn’t mad at her for it, but it was weird. I’m pretty sure my ex just asked V about it so he could blame someone else for his terrible decision if I got upset at him for it.

    • “Moral of the story: if an ex doesn’t contact you (or doesn’t respond to your attempts to initiate contact), let it be. They have their reasons. And something that might make you feel better about how things went between you may have the opposite effect on him.” <– YES.

  10. Britt said:

    This is pretty perfectly timed, because I just got a text yesterday (for no reason, “just to say hi”) from an ex that I have no real interest in being friends with and let me tell you, it derailed my whole afternoon because I was so frustrated and annoyed by it. Like someone else said above, my lingering issues with this ex are because of stuff like this, not even anything that happened in the (very) brief time we dated. It sounds like you made the right decision to end that relationship, LW, so all I can say is take a deep breath, accept that sometimes even the right decision has consequences, and move on with your happy life and let your ex do the same.

  11. Gadfly said:

    Captain (and others): Is there a defined period after which it’s okay to get back in touch with exes? I still very much like a few of my exes as people, and we’ve all moved on to other relationships years ago.

    • I personally wouldn’t call it a time period as much as an examination of your motives? ALWAYS foolish, hurtful and backwards-reaching reasons to contact your ex include:
      1.) assuaging your own guilt about the breakup
      2.) opening new wounds and ensuring that you’re still occupying their headspace
      3.) hope of triggering guilt and shame in them about the breakup
      4.) using their reduced circumstances or relationship status to feel better about your own, or using your own circumstances to provoke jealousy, possessiveness or depression
      5.) most forms of ranting, screaming or raving
      6.) forced-teaming, manufactured crisis, kind-sharking, or any other manipulative method of forcing a connection
      7.) for any other innocent reason (borrowing a cup of sugar! asking after their dog!) that is really one of these reasons in disguise, but which you’ve rationalized doesn’t actually make you a bad person, because you’re both good people and you really needed some sugar and you really loved that dog and it really isn’t your fault that your ex’s new lover’s car just happened to be in the driveway so really, you’re the good person here

      But so much of it depends on who you are, who they are, how you broke up, and how much you’re in the habit of lying to yourself. A reason that sounds real and genuine inside your head may actually be very manipulative! Your ex may find it uncomfortable, boundary-crossing, or even scary! And it helps if your motives are real and true! For example, a year after our breakup, an ex wrote to me expressing his condolences over the death of my grandfather, which sounds totally nice and helpful, doesn’t it? But I didn’t write back because I’d asked him never to contact me again… and because I knew that he was dangling a fish-hook made of fake sympathy in order to reel me back onto his perpetually foundering failboat of drama. So really, only you know about the appropriateness of contacting these people – but it isn’t based on a time limit, it’s based on your relationship.

      • Emma said:

        I totally agree with this. I think it’s a catch-22: if you have something to say to the ex that feels significant and you sit there trying to word it perfectly so they can see all your email nuances and you reeeally hope they respond, don’t send it. If all you actually want to express is that their new puppy is adorable, that’s fine.

        Also, I think there is a certain statute of limitations on leaving it up to them to contact you, as long as they didn’t actually say to never contact them again. But the time for that is like 5 years, not 4 months.

        Another weird one to avoid: ex contacts you out of the blue reminiscing about old times… the next day they change their facebook status to “engaged.”

    • JenniferP said:

      Well, if things ended painfully and you left it as “Get in touch when you want to” and they don’t get in touch, the answer is NEVER. Never get in touch.

      If it ended painfully and the person asked you not to contact them again, heeeyyyyyyyy, stalker, don’t contact them again. Also, if you think hearing from you might be painful or disruptive to the other person.

      Also, probably don’t get in touch at all if your primary goal is to talk about stuff that happened during the relationship. Don’t seek absolution, forgiveness, rehashing the past, winning old arguments. Work that stuff out with your therapist and yourself.

      Other than that I don’t really have a rule. You’re the expert on your own life.

      If you didn’t like them as people you wouldn’t date them. So, how did you leave it? Were you friends in addition to being lovers? What social group or common interest binds you together? If you haven’t talked in x years, what would make it a good idea now? “I want to invite them to (thing) they’d be interested in and think we and our respective partners would get along really well” might be a good reason.

      I’m friends with a goodly portion of my ex boyfriends. We went through the mourning period – usually about 6 months – and then someone took the other one up on “I’d like to stay friends. Get in touch when you’re ready” and when we did get in touch it wasn’t (that) weird. This was for amicable, mutual breakups, like, sure, one person initiated it but both people knew it was coming. And, to be honest, this worked best with relationships where the sexual spark died long before the relationship died. Sometimes that call out of the blue is a nice one, provided there is something actually to talk about that we actually have in common now.

      • jfs said:

        I was engaged about 15 years ago, and we split up – it wasn’t acrimonious but it wasn’t the best break up.

        I was best man at her wedding.

        In between those two paragraphs was about 8 years, 3 of which where we were polite to each other in our mutual social circle, and very carefully talked about nothing of consequence.

        I’d now count her as my best friend.

        The gap allowed time for both of us to let the pain and the hassle of the relationship recede, and the memories of what we love about each other re-emerge. We kept in touch because we’d been together long enough that most of our friends were mutual friends, and we didn’t want to make our friends choose. But there were parties in the early days that I left early because otherwise there would have been a scene, and I know she did the same.

        LW – maybe you can get through this – it is possible. But if your experience is like mine, it’s hard work. Definitely worth it. But hard work.

      • Bunny said:

        Yep! It is possible to get back in touch with and/or remain friends with an ex, but that depends on:

        How the relationship was when it was good
        How the relationship was when it wasn’t good
        The circumstances under which the relationship ended
        How each of you dealt with the breakup
        Any wishes regarding contact that either of you expressed during the breakup
        And many more.

        FWIW, I’ve remained friends with some exes but not all. Pretty much all the ones I’ve kept in contact with, the break-up was mutual or at the very least amicable, and the post-breakup situation was good. An example: My last partner before my current, LT relationship. We semi-broke-up when I left the county for uni. It was a planned break-up we’d discussed when we first started seeing each other. We agreed to keep things open and enjoy each other’s company during visits so long as we both wanted to, but that if either one of us met someone else or just decided it wasn’t working, we’d break it off with no hard feelings. I’m still friends with him.

      • In my break-up, I sort of have the responsibility of getting-in-touch — I was too raw to give her the closure she needed and asked for, so I asked for some time to process. Reading through these comments, I’m wondering … What’s expected of me next? It would be cruel to never get in touch with her, but there’s been so much discussion of how getting-in-touch-suddenly can be just as cruel or crueler. And I don’t know what I will say, to give her the closure she needs.

        Hm. Possibly I should just write in a letter of my own?

        • JenniferP said:

          You don’t have to ever get in touch with her if you don’t want to.

          So, before you do get in touch with her, ask yourself: What do I want out of this interaction? Is it to start up some kind of friendship? Is it to make some kind of final “I wish you well” statement? Is it to make yourself feel better about what happened? Figure out what you want and proceed accordingly.

          If the answer is “nothing. I want nothing,” don’t get in touch.

          • Wise advice, as always. Thinking through these questions should help me quite a bit.

  12. Stray Cat said:

    You know, it’s kinda nice to see a relatively mild, broadly common problem from a LW on this blog. It’s like a welcome breather after all of the profoundly distorted viewpoints and unhinged stalkers/neighbors/abusers.

  13. Cassie Logan said:

    I’m the letter writer. Thank you so much Captain, and commenters, for your wise and sensitive advice. I think I already knew these answers in a way but couldn’t get them straight in my mind, and this has really helped.

    I think you’re right, staranise and Jetgirl (and others). I have been telling myself a ‘story’ that since J has a new girlfriend, he must be over the breakup, which is demonstrably not true now I think about it – I have a new boyfriend but I’m still working on being over it myself. I miss him, but that’s a natural consequence of the decision I took to end the relationship, and one I need to make peace with. I’m not going to contact him.

    (I came within about 30 seconds of bumping into J yesterday in my neighbourhood – he saw P as he was waiting for me and they exchanged hellos… I feel like he is on the periphery of my life but I can’t reach out to him!… Another thing that’s just in my head and I must deal with, hmmm…)

    • lkajsfslkajd said:

      maybe take that as less of a “can’t” and more of the universe saying you shouldn’t.

    • Well, even if you did bump into him, you would just have an awkward kind of “Oh hi. How are you? You’re fine. Me too. Nice to see you.” conversation and then trying to figure out if you should hug? Or shake hands? Or wave? Or what? And then one or the other or both of you would run away in a tizzy.

      It’ll probably happen eventually, and it’ll be good to get it over with, but it’s not something to seek out.

      When you do bump into him, don’t FEELINGS at him and don’t expect honest or detailed answers. You don’t have a relationship anymore; you don’t have the right to that information. The best thing for it is Standard Common Courtesy and Empty Pleasantries. The rules for those are pretty well-established, and they’re designed for making contact between humans relatively easy and tolerable.

      (fwiw, I go for the wave, instead of handshake or hug.)

      • Alice said:

        I totally agree. If you guys have mutual friends you’ll probably bump into each other eventually. So just let it happen, be very casual and chilled when it does, and take things from there.

        This actually happened with me and my ex, and was the way we ended up being good friends again. I think if you let the world take care of ‘when will we meet again?’ you probably have a far better chance of that meeting ending well.

  14. thegirlfrommarz said:

    My ex and I mutually agreed to split, but it was more mutual on his part than mine, if you know what I mean! We both rationally knew it was over, but I was less ready emotionally to sever the connection. Anyway, we tried to stay friends, but when he got together with someone else I realised that the story I’d been telling myself (“It’s a tragedy! We want different things so we can’t be together, but otherwise we would definitely would have been Together Forever! We are Star-Crossed Lovers!”) was not true. I told him I didn’t want to see him or have him contact me for six months, and he kept to his promise not to get in touch, even though I know he was sad about it (we did bump into each other a couple of times, which was fine). Now we’re in touch every now and then, and it is always lovely to see him and catch up, although it tends to be every six months or so because that’s as much as I want him in my life. And when I do see him we have a great time, and I thank god that we’re not together any more because I had the space to really get to grips with why we weren’t right for each other.

    Long story short: your ex may come back into your life if you wait, but you have to let him do it in his own time. LW – you’re doing the right thing not contacting him, but ending relationships (even when rationally you know you’re right or you’re the one that broke things off) is hard, so give yourself a break if you have feelings of loss or sadness even while you’re happy with P. Even if the head knows you’re right, the heart can take a while longer to process it.

  15. Alphakitty said:

    The other thing I’ve thought of, that may help you feel happier with your resolution not to contact him, is that when you have that urge you probably have some poignant-but-sweet fantasy playing in your mind about how that reunion would go. Now try picturing a couple of the yukky ways it could go… Like what you said about him thinking you’d been with P before you broke up with him. Imagine bitterness, accusation, indignation, coldness…. There are lots of potential scenes you could get other than your fantasy that would be really sucky for both of you, and leave you still hungering for one last conversation to “clear the air” and leave things on that fantasy footing. Spare yourself!

    • Tosca said:

      .This is great!!

      • alphakitty said:

        I think the classic fantasy is along the lines of the ex saying “Oh, it is so good to see you! I miss you so much! I think of you all the time when I see __ or hear a joke about ___. You will always have a special place in my heart. But of course I see now that you weren’t happy, that you had unrealized potential as a human being and I just could not be everything that you needed. So you really *had* to break up with me, and though that’s tragic I don’t blame you for it. I’m seeing someone else now; while he/she will never hold a candle to you, I am happy enough that I can be ok with being friends with you now, or you can go off and have the wonderful life you deserve without feeling guilty about me.” [In the extreme, sick egotist version: "But gosh, if things don't work out with your new love by all means give me a call because I will always carry a torch for you and would divorce a spouse I'd been with for a decade and had four kids with if you were ever available again!!!"]

        Reality: “What do you want from me? You broke up with me, remember? I laid myself bare to you, loved you, trusted you… and you repaid all that by dumping me on my ass, making me feel totally worthless. And now you hear I’ve got someone else so you just had to come mess with my head a little? Well fuck you.”

  16. FlyBy said:

    It’s been pointed out here several times that it’s normal to miss someone and mourn the end of a relationship even when it was a downright abusive situation. I suspect the same is true in reverse – you’ve left an okay relationship for a GREAT one, but you may still feel grief and miss your ex. That’s okay. You did have a good relationship. It’s normal for it to be painful to leave that, even when you’re the one doing the leaving. It’ll take a while to process, and that’s fine.

    Just don’t pull your ex into your own mourning. That’s not fair to him, and it’s really not the best for you either. It’ll get less emotionally charged with time, I promise.

    • alphakitty said:

      I hope my scenarios above didn’t suggest otherwise. I do think it’s perfectly normal and natural to care about the ex you broke up with, to want to know that person you loved for a time is all right, and to want them not to hate you forever for breaking up with them. It’s not necessarily all about ego, except to the extent that you are wanting to reclaim the right to feel good about yourself.

      The thing is, it is a lot easier to have that “you will always have a special place in my heart” feeling as the dump-er, because you don’t have to choose between loving them and loving yourself.

      Whereas for them, unless it was a fairly mutual “you are great, I am great, but this is not a good combo” breakup where it was only a matter of time before one of you said it, loving you is loving the person who said they were not good enough (no, that’s not what you said but that’s what it felt like). Which is like validating their own unworthiness. Which is something the self-respecting dump-ee can not do. As a matter of self-preservation, they *need* to be pissed off. They need to be able to tell themselves you’re horrid and they’re better off without you. Which means the kindest thing you can do is to let them get on with it without your “see how nice I am?” interference.

      • FlyBy said:

        Right, I agree with your comments and think it’s a good analysis of the dynamics between dumper and dumpee. I just wanted to point out that LW may be going through a grief process too, since I hadn’t seen that clearly called out in this thread yet. It might be a useful way for her to frame conflicting feelings about her ex. Or not. :-)

  17. bearcatbanana said:

    I had an ex contact me in a facebook message nearly 8 years after we broke up with no contact since then. He had written me a personal message nearly 1000 words long asking me to vote for Ron Paul. I’m a poli sci major. I hate that Paul’s politics and ex knows it. In the end, it just made me laugh because that’s always how he was…completely inappropriate and entitled, even now, but this time to my vote. I sent him one back that just said, “no thanks. I’m voting for Hilary.” And blocked him.

    • Chay said:

      This is such an excellent story! Two thumbs up, A++ would read again.

      • bearcatbanana said:

        I can just picture him furtively typing away, thinking, “if I could just come up with the right words…if I can convince this crazy bitch to vote for him…oh man, Ron Paul’s gonna WIN!”

  18. MaryKaye said:

    I got a letter like that a couple of days ago, from someone I had not seen in 30 years. I can’t really resent it as that’s well past the expiration date, but…no, still not really interested in being chatty with this person.

    It may be a message from the universe about the flaws in my own behavior, though. A few months ago I got into intractable fights with the mods of a blog and had to leave. The temptation was *so* strong to poke back in and see what was happening–had anyone else taken my side? Did people miss me? Were they angry? But I managed to fight it down and not look. Then last week someone mentioned that the episode was getting rehashed, and I broke my resolution and went and looked….not smart. It cost me most of a night’s sleep and was no bloody good to anyone. I should have known better; hopefully next time I will.

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