Dear Captain & Co.,
I’m in a wonderful relationship, but we’ve got a Darth Vader ex-girlfriend lurking on the sidelines. When we first started dating she behaved horribly: showing up on his lawn screaming suicide threats when she found out I was over, harassing him for months, hacking his email to get my phone number to send me threatening messages, etc. She backed off after he threatened to get a restraining order.
BF left a lot of his things at their apartment. He couldn’t face making a second trip to get everything when he initially left, and then was too afraid to ask her to send it to him. He was also just trying to get his life back together, as you do after escaping an abusive relationship. Then the whole mess above happened.
He’s joked that losing that stuff was a fair price to pay to get away from her. But lately it’s clear he wants it back. (He also has a narcissistic mother who’s gotten rid of a lot of his belongings without his permission, so I think a lot of it is about gaining control over his property and life.) The stuff in Darth’s possession is mostly memorabilia and collector’s items. We’re pretty sure she still has them because she latched on to his interests during their long-term relationship. But we are both at a loss about how to approach her about it.
Their relationship was extremely toxic. Darth has Borderline Personality Disorder. I hope she’s gotten help, but the Darth my BF knew was volatile, argumentative, irrational, manipulative, and occasionally violent. He is extremely wary about contacting her. We don’t want to trigger her or become a renewed target, especially since we’ll be at the same smallish convention in a few months. Because of her BPD, she probably still views herself as the abandoned victim. Six months ago we saw her at a concert and the way she reacted made it clear she wasn’t over him. According to the grapevine, her current boyfriend is an emotional prop she openly resents, so it’s possible she’s not over him even now. Contacting her might end up being fine… or it might make her act out in any number of ways.
What should we do? Any scripts or advice on enforcing boundaries, minimizing contact, and controlling possible fallout when attempting something like this would be really appreciated. BF doesn’t want trouble … he just wants his things back.
Is the value of the stuff such that it would be worth hiring a lawyer to deal with the entire thing from beginning to end, from sending the request to potentially taking her to court if she doesn’t comply to actually picking up the stuff? Like, it’s $50,000 worth of stuff and you think it would take $10,000 of lawyering to get it back, and you have the $10,000 lying around and you also have a free year of your life to spend on this problem?
Because my recommendation is: Buy new stuff.
You already know all the reasonable scripts. They go like this: “Hello, Ex, I hope you are doing well. Can I Paypal you some $ and have you ship me my stuff that’s still at your house? Send it to work, here’s the address. Great, thanks.“
But you have ample, AMPLE proof that reasonable requests do not get reasonable responses. You have successfully gotten this person out of your lives after a long and harrowing nightmare. To quote Gavin De Becker:
“Any time you reward harassing or stalking with attention — even negative attention — you buy yourself six more weeks of stalking.” – The Gift of Fear
The stuff your boyfriend’s mother got rid of is gone (and is not really his ex’s fault or problem – recovering one won’t make up for the loss of the other). My honest recommendation, for the sake of everyone’s safety, treat the stuff that’s still at the ex’s house as if it is gone forever too.
It is completely unfair. Your boyfriend should be able to ask for his stuff back and have the expectation of receiving it. He also should have been able to end the relationship without months of stalking behavior. I don’t think we talk about the financial burdens of ending abusive relationships or evading stalker behavior enough, especially in the “But you could just leave!” rhetoric around abusive situations. “Leave that person! In exchange, become homeless and lose everything you own, forever. Come on, what are you waiting for?” I wish renter’s insurance policies covered the eventuality, or there were some apparatus for recovering funds & property lost to abusers.
And yet, you guys have enough information to know that “fair” and “reality” are incongruent here. You’re the one writing the letter, and you were also a victim of the stalking, so you get a say here, even if that say is “I am so sorry that you lost your stuff, but I am not willing to risk further contact with Darth to get it back.“
Boyfriend, if you’re reading this, I don’t want to trivialize the trauma of losing stuff…twice…to abusive people. I totally get the temptation to get your things back from her and to win. Unfortunately, in her mind, she wins anytime you pay any attention to her. Coming after her now shows her she’s still on your mind, and that she still has power over you. It is 100% unfair and wrong, and I am so, so sorry. I hope you have a safe place you can work out some of these feelings. The Gift of Fear might be a good read for you right now.