#226: The need for the last word

Today’s perfect image provided by CA reader Red Sonja! (Definitely read the mouse-over text).

Dear Captain Awkward:

I got a message from a former friend with whom I don’t want any further individual contact, and I wish they hadn’t sent it to me. It should be a hint to somebody if their opening paragraph is “Please don’t worry that this email represents any attempt to re-establish a contact that you clearly do not want, or recreate a relationship that you have ended.  I simply want to clear a few things up, hopefully to park things in a somewhat less painful place for you,” that hitting “send” is doing exactly what they’re saying not to worry about. Telling me they’re doing this for my benefit just creeps me out more.

I’ve taken the step of making a message filter so that I won’t see anything else they send me.  I just still feel very creeped out and besieged. It’s hard enough navigating an on-line social circle where this person is, and trying to do it gracefully and courteously, without this. (The content of the message is about like you’d figure, after an opening like that. And no, it didn’t “park things in a less painful place for me.” It parked more things right on top of me, and I am not willing to be a parking lot any more.)

I know that screaming LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY JUST STOP IT STOP IT is extremely unlikely to help.  Answering back at all is extremely
unlikely to help.  I’m not sure what is, except for finding unrelated constructive things to do, and trying to grow back, and staying away from any individual interactions with this person. Which I’ve been trying to do. And then this.

The ironic thing is that I do get the part about wanting to explain. There’s the part of me that also wants to explain… if explain equals “get them to stop [doing x thing which feels really icky] to me.” Why do some of us believe so passionately that if we could just find the right words, the other person would go, “Wait, what? That thing I do is hurting you? I Shall Stop Doing It Immediately And Forthwith! Sound the trumpets!” In reality, not so much. But I do recognize the urge. But if I give in to the sympathy elicited by recognizing the urge, I’ve got three rounds of evidence that I’ll be signing up for yet another cycle of badness, and I am not up for any more of that.

Oh. Wait. Have the sympathy, but don’t stick my head back into the trap.

Is that the way out, then? Well, that and email filters?

Not Willing To Dance That Dance With Them Any More, But Still Kinda
Shaky On This Whole “NO!” Thing

Think of this as the dying cry of the dragon after the hero has shot an arrow through its eye. It had one last jet of flame to shoot, and it shot it at you, and it still had some power to burn, and it came from a place of pain.

Have you explicitly told the person to stop contacting you? If not, your answer is:

“Please do not contact me again, under any circumstances, for any reason, using any method of communication.”

And then you ignore them for the rest of time, no matter what they do. If mutual friends ask you what’s up,  tell the close ones why this person pisses you off and creeps you out, so you’ve decided to break off contact. Tell the less-close ones  “_____ and I aren’t in touch anymore” and change the subject.

If you have explicitly told the person to stop contacting you, then do not respond to the message in any way. The person is looking for a reaction – don’t give them one. Your filter is a good idea. Tightening up privacy settings and blocking them on social media is another good step.

Either way someone who sends a “I know you don’t want to talk to me ever again, but I thought I’d have the last word and pretend that I’m doing it for your own good!” FEELINGSDUMP isn’t someone you need to worry about offending, right? Trust the instinct that made you not want this person in your life anymore and stay your course. Eventually this person will find a new person to “helpfully advise.”

37 thoughts on “#226: The need for the last word

  1. I don’t know if it will help the LW or not, but allow me to offer my Asshole-to-English translation services:

    “Please don’t worry that this email represents any attempt to re-establish a contact that you clearly do not want”
    This email isn’t about you, it’s about me. Specifically, me and my emotional needs.

    “…or recreate a relationship that you have ended.”
    No, seriously, I don’t care at all about you. Me caring about you has nothing to do with this email! Just the opposite, really. I’m sending you this email because it will make me feel better while reminding you of how bad things were! It’s a win-win for me!

    “I simply want to clear a few things up,”
    I’m feeling remorseful about being a douche-bag. I am only now becoming fully aware of how full of salt water and vinegar I was, and I feel really, really awful. Since I don’t like feeling awful, I’m going to try and unload a bunch of baloney rationalizations and non-apologizing explantions on you in order to feel better.

    …hopefully to park things in a somewhat less painful place for you,”
    I say ‘hopefully’, because I’m not actually offering anything that I know would help, and beyond a half-assed quasi-apology, I’m not going to actually do anything at all. But by saying ‘hopefully’, I can still pretend that this isn’t all about me trying to escape feelings of guilt and/or shame, and imagine that there’s something kind/noble/selfless about this incredibly mean-spirited/petty/selfish thing I’m doing.

    Mind you, I think writing letters like that can be very helpful. I just don’t think sending them ever is.

    1. What institution taught you Asshole-to-English, and when can I more than happily sign up to take a course?

      1. Sadly, asshole was my native tongue language, and I only learned how to use my words recently.*

        Without reading the note in it’s entirety, I’m about 75% confident that it closes along the following lines:
        You don’t need to respond/say anything/reply to this message. I didn’t send it hoping you would forgive me/accept me/get back together with me. I just wanted (to share this)/(for you to know this) so you could understand (where I was coming from)/(what I was thinking).

        Which, for those without a translator, would read as
        “I just sent you this so I could feel better about myself without actually having to do anything meaningful. Seriously, you can drop off the face of the Earth now if you want, because I don’t feel guilty or ashamed of how big a jerk I was anymore.”

        *those with strong stomachs wishing to practice their translation skills might consider reading Nabocov’s Lolita; the narrator is quite fluent in Asshole, almost never speaking any other language.

        1. Whang in the gold, there. She felt I had gotten the wrong idea about where she’s at and where she’d been at for some time, and wanted to clear that up. (It was not quite forty percent of the letter, that part.)

          The whole thing is just WTF all the way down. And apparently predictable, judging by the comments here.

          Um, my sympathies to those of you who have had to deal with similar. Because eek.

    2. Your comment and the main article are perfect. I dealt with this issue the same way the good Captain advises – telling the offending party to piss off forever, and blocking them from every single account and mode of contact possible. All my online accounts are friends-only, I don’t allow anonymous comments/questions, and the individual is blocked from texting me. Life is so much more peaceful now… 🙂

  2. You know what’s really difficult? Creating a “Do Not Engage The Troll” response in yourself. Especially if you are a know-it-all like me and have a problem with people being wrong. It’s worse if the person is being wrong directly AT me, because RAGE YOU ARE WRONG WRONG WRONG and I must FIX IT because I CAN FIX THINGS. I’m working on this part of myself. LIKE, A LOT.

    Humans are engaging creatures. We want to connect and talk about stuff, and who doesn’t want to have the last word and thus be “right”? So this “disengage” business isn’t usually instinctive.

    When I know I need to disengage, I take a deep breath, consult a calming manatee, delete my response, and go on with my day.

    This ex-friend is being wrong. Disengagement is the correct response. If your emailin’ finger is twitching, consult the calming manatee.

      1. We should! Good work, Intern Paul! Those manatees were a lifesaver when I couldn’t get my link-code to work.

      2. Oh my goodness… I think I have a new favourite website.

        Calming Manatees FOR THE WIN.

      3. Calming Manatee is wonderful. My spouse wholeheartedly endorses it as well.

    1. You know what’s really difficult? Creating a “Do Not Engage The Troll” response in yourself. Especially if you are a know-it-all like me and have a problem with people being wrong. It’s worse if the person is being wrong directly AT me, because RAGE YOU ARE WRONG WRONG WRONG and I must FIX IT because I CAN FIX THINGS. I’m working on this part of myself. LIKE, A LOT.

      YES! (And makes me think of this.)

      LW, I had to send an email saying “No more contact, ever” to an ex. It sucked, but it worked, and I imagine we’re both healthier now. (I am, at least!) Sometimes I still, years later, want to have the last word. That’s when I call up a friend I can trust to hash it out in a safe space, so I can move merrily on with my life.

    2. I needed to see this about an hour earlier, before I exchanged in a passive-aggressive message exchange on a parenting board. But I had already decided to stop. That counts for something, right? Right? And I decided not to send her a link to this post, even though it would be totally appropriate, and if I could just make her understand, then she’s totally be on my side, and, and…


      Engage the manatee, stat.

    3. Oh man, this resonated with me hard enough to make me finally emerge from lurking! I love the description of someone “being wrong directly AT me,” and it’s the hardest. Thing. EVER to let that go. It makes the little pyromaniac gnomes in my brain start lighting my self-control and logic centers on fire.

      Also, those manatees just made my week.

    4. I’ve had similar situations where I’ve almost gotten sucked back into awful dynamics because I wanted the last word so badly. I wanted an archangel to descend from heaven and tell that other person that they were wrong and that I was awesome and they should be sorry. Eventually I came up with a thought process that worked for me and that I hope works for you.

      In addition to consulting the calming manatees, which are AWESOME, it might help to remember this:

      You win! You win because you aren’t them.
      You win because you get to walk away and invest your time in people who are good to you.
      You win because as miserable as it is to get a passive-agressive, manipulative e-mail, it is nowhere near as bad as being someone who writes and sends a passive-agressive, manipulative e-mail.

      I hope that helps. It sounds like you’re doing a really good job of handling the situation already.

      1. It does help. Thank you.

        I’m also reminding myself that I have enough data; I don’t need to get back in contact and go through all this crap a fourth time. It’s not a misunderstanding, it’s not a mistake. It’s apparently a thing she does repeatedly. I’ve walked away from it, and I mean to stay walked away, no matter what provocation is offered.

  3. This sort of correspondence makes me long for the old days (when I was in college) and people still exchanged handwritten letters. This would have been the perfect sort of letter to set on fire in your bathroom sink, unopened. OK, or maybe you could’ve just read the first paragraph and then set it on fire. And then gathered the ashes and flushed them down the toilet, and let all of your thoughts and feelings about this person depart in the swirling water.

    That being said, I think email filters are a wise move. Also: I know you know this already, but this letter is intended to be a giant piece of cheese sitting in this person’s mousetrap.

    1. So true about the days of hand-written missives. Punching the delete button does not carry nearly as much pleasure as crumpling up an unwanted letter and tossing it in the trash, or better, ripping it into teeny pieces.

      Same with cell phones. You cannot just slam down the phone to get rid of the caller. Smashing the ‘end call’ button with your finger just doesn’t cut it.

  4. Something else, which might or might not be helpful: Do Not Engage is your no, and it´s a much cleaner and defter no than any communication. These people thrive on conflict. They’re energy creatures. And they need to know that you notice them and react to them. When you refuse to play three-dimensional mindfuck chess, it drives them up the fucking wall. So if it does help, you can savor knowing that they´re annoyed and uncomfortable right now, because you’ve outsmarted them.

  5. Although RodeoBob’s translation was bloody awesome, I do have to point out another facet to this letter:”I simply want to clear a few things up, hopefully to park things in a somewhat less painful place for you” in secret passive-aggressive Troll Friend language, translates also to

    “I simply want to undermine what YOU think happened (it didn’t it didn’t it didn’t), so that you can feel better about it (or at least feel shitty that you’re not able to “move on” and “forgive” and all those other things that people always want you to do when saying “STFU y u harsh mai buzz?”), and hopefully once things are parked in this less painful place because you’ve convinced yourself that I must be right and you must be overthinking it, I don’t have to worry about any consequences from you/our mutual friends/the law/your muchly tattooed biker boyfriend overflowing with justified vengeance, and that would be AWESOME! For ME! ….who’s really the only person here who matters. What, did you think I was being considerate or something?

  6. I’d interpret that opening as ‘I’m going to clear my own conscience by explaining how it’s all really not my fault. Because it’s couched as an apology, you must accept it, because what kind of person doesn’t accept an apology? Then because there’s been an apology, you’ll have to act like nothing’s wrong and I won’t have to suffer any consequences, because holding a grudge after I’ve apologized is just mean and spiteful, and you must not be mean, though I can pretty well do as I please.”

    I’ve received a few ‘apologies’ like that, and though it triggers massive rage brain I try to consider it evidence that the other person is not ready to reestablish a healthy relationship yet. Don’t feed the troll… Though burning them in effigy can be very cathartic. 😀

  7. If someone wants a response from you that much, the way to get one over on them (and I really do understand why and how much you want to) is not to respond at all. They will never get it, and worse, their emotional games will end in one of two ways:

    – they will engage you endlessly in ‘why I wasn’t an idiot’ rationalisations which leave you frustrated and angry

    – they will use the opportunity to cut off contact themselves, thus (in their mind) taking the power back, leaving you frustrated and angry

    Don’t lose your dignity by responding – it’s not going to get you anywhere. And the less you read of that person, the quicker those feelings will fade.

    1. Kriss – I think you have hit the nail here.

      OP – I would assume (judging by the letter) that this person likes to play passive aggresive* emotional games. Think of this as another one where the only way to ‘win’ (the game, your sanity, whatever) is to refuse to engage.

      This is the only way to deal with passive aggression of this type – if you re-engage they have apologised, so you are bad for holding a grudge. If you try to discuss your own feelings, see previous sentence.

      Seriously, these types of letters/emails speak a whole lot about how freaking gutless and selfish the senders are being (at this point in time). This letter was about them, and it really has no repurcussions for them.

  8. I’m on the other side of this situation – long story short, I decided to metaphorically “African Violet” a friend who never initiated contact, responded to my initiation sporadically at best, and when I was last in town and having a tough emotional night blew me off completely.

    In the middle of a Facebook PM conversation about how my expectations for friendship were too high, he finally noticed that I had unfriended him (10 days earlier) and blocked me. And I wanted SO BADLY to PM him in Twitter, or text him, or whatever, and tell him why he was wrong, wrong, WRONG WRONGITY WRONG.

    BUT. I have read enough from the Captain and the Army that I said to myself, “Self, what do you hope to accomplish with this final message? To make him admit I’m right? That’s not going to happen. PLUS he has set a boundary, and if I’m going to walk the walk, I need to respect that.” And we all lived happily ever after, or at least have for this week.

    (Of course I wrote the letter, but it’s safely on paper and I don’t have an address to send it to. More excellent Awkward advice!)

    1. Congrats on not responding! Walking away is so hard to do. But sometimes the healthiest thing is to let someone else think badly of you. (“Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will. And outlive the bastards.”)

  9. LW, your instincts sound spot-on. DO NOT ENGAGE! I have been on the receiving end of a letter pretty much identical to that one, and – even assuming the kindest possible translation (“I miss you, so I want to engage in this horrible way against your express wishes!”) – it is just the worst.

    I think I had the sense at the time that to cut someone off whom I still wished well on some level was MEAN! UNFAIR! BAD! STONEWALLING! Not true. The opposite of true. Ignoring their repeated attempts to re-engage was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

    And, as it turns out, this person (as far as I hear from mutual friends) is still having a fabulous life without me! And I’m having a fabulous life, too, just rid of having to deal with them. So will you be, LW.

  10. Yeah, my general default policy is always to not directly engage with other people’s feelings unless I have a specific reason to do so, such as if the person is my wife or close friend. This doesn’t mean that I don’t empathize or sympathize with other people, or attempt to provide solace or assistance when I choose to, but it does mean that I don’t actually feel their feelings. And really, this is what emotional greedmonsters want: for you to actually feel their feelings for them.

  11. And when I say “not quite forty percent” that’s still more than four (and fewer than six, depending whether you count the ones where she’s talking about how much she still loves me even though we’re better apart) of “explaining where I’m at” paragraphs of a larger whole.

    Pretty sure all the explaining didn’t have the effect she was looking for, though.

    Oh, yeah, I’m the LW. Sorry I didn’t say so before.

    1. Thanks for checking in LW!

      >Pretty sure all the explaining didn’t have the effect she was looking for, though.

      The effect she was looking for was that she didn’t want to feel guilty/ashamed/bad anymore. That was the only reason the letter got written. It helps to keep that in mind; you reading the letter, or reacting to it, has absolutely nothing to do with why it was written or sent to you. I know that might sound odd, but ultimatley it does help to realize that, because you can let it go. (or, if you want to dwell on something, dwell on how selfish and petty the act was, but don’t waste time on the contents of the letter in any event)

      1. This thing you have said there is an incredibly unfamiliar concept to me. Having considered it at length, I think you might be entirely right.

        Huh. Interesting. It makes a whole new sort of sense.

        “don’t waste time on the contents of the letter in any event”

        That’s also an unfamiliar concept, but it seems like a good idea here. I can be distressingly literal and earnest, and tend to accept what people say as true until it’s obvious to everybody but me that this is not the case. (It’s even been funny sometimes, because I have actually missed efforts people made to insult me, by instead engaging with the content of their words rather than the connotations or the context.)

  12. After I was dumped by my long-term boyfriend, I initiated a strict no-contact policy. After about six months, he called, claiming that he missed my friendship and wanted to see if we could hang out as friends. We could not hang (the ass dumped me on my birthday by moving out of our house when I was out of town). My response to him is the one that I recited to myself whenever I thought about calling him or emailing him:

    I will continue not to talk to you for as long as I know it hurts you that I do not talk to you.

    I am all for being friends with exes, and for maturity, and for the high road. But sometimes the thing that keeps you from making the mistake of contact–and that’s what this would be, LW, a mistake–is the hot self-satisfaction of righteous anger.

  13. I have a thing like this, except that it’s someone who cut off contact with me, in a really nasty, passive-aggressive, YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID kind of way (which later became, Well, OK, here is what you did to offend me, and OK, I didn’t actually use my words, but that’s your fault too). Every few months I a get a message from her. One was a link to a review of Bridesmaids saying, “We could see this and not talk to each other.” I couldn’t tell if it was a clumsy attempt to reconcile or just drive-by snark, but I decided it was best not to engage. Another was a late “happy birthday” note and the most recent was…a draft of a message she’d written a year previous, during our last fight, responding to part of a message I’d written to her around that time. The birthday note I wrote back a polite, “Thanks, how’ve you been?” No response. The other message I wrote a longer response which boiled down to, “Maybe you won’t like hearing this I am still confused about your side of the story. I am open to hearing it if you want, though.”

    I haven’t had a response from her yet (it’s been a few months). I have this feeling if she does contact me again it will be similarly confusing, and the only good responses are probably 1) silence (SO HARD with my own last word syndrome) 2) “Why did you contact me? What kind of interaction do you want to have?” or 3) “Don’t contact me anymore.” The hard line is likely to cause some fracas amongst our mutual friends, and anticipating that stresses me out (we travel in some pretty GSF-rich circles where, of course, conflict is not real and never mutual, and also where gossip fucking ABOUNDS, though I have largely avoided discussing my issues with her with people we both know). But fuck. That’s well beyond my control. The last word part of my brain is well into overdrive; I should probably write a paper letter myself, and burn the fuck out of it.

    1. A friend posted a link to this post today, Oh, passive-aggression. 😦 Been there.

      A now-former-friend of mine had opened a new business, and was very busy with that, so I figured I hadn’t heard much from her or seen her because of that, since she’d been publicly requested her friends not to expect a lot from her for a while.

      A few months later, I received an out-of-the-blue cutting-off-contact letter with that friend that was, in retrospect, probably a healthy thing for her to do, but executed in a way that was far more hurtful than it strictly needed to be, with a similar “you should know why but I won’t tell you” sort of message, and a direct quote of “Please do not attempt to fool yourself into thinking that eventually I will be your friend again”. I can see now that she and I are far better off without one another in our lives, but it was definitely more hurtful than was strictly necessary, especially (to me) coming out of the blue as it did. I have guesses as to what the issues were (in retrospect). I wish she had felt she could say something about it before getting to the “and now I will never speak to you again” place, but she didn’t.

      At one point, she also broke her “do not contact” rule because she thought a reply I made on a mutual online community was directed at her (it wasn’t, but there you go).

      Since then, our social circles have evolved to where they don’t overlap a whole lot anymore, which I can’t say I’m unhappy about. It was always awkward being at a part of about 15-20 people and having me being the only person she actively did not look at, speak to, or acknowledge.

      From what I hear, she is happier now, and so am I, each with our own wonderful life that just so happens to not include the other.

  14. This email actually reminds me a lot of the letter Mr. Darcy sends Elizabeth after she rejects him in Pride and Prejudice:

    “`Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.”

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