#262: An ex who won’t let go.

Hi Captain,

I’m in a bit of a pickle, so I’m hoping you might be able to give me some advice. I broke up with my boyfriend about two years ago, after being in a relationship for about as long. Now, unfortunately, he sent me an email asking me which job to pick (one is approximately 4000 miles closer to where I am) and whether there was any hope of getting back together and that he would never be able to love anyone else and to please explain why I left.

To recap our relationship, we met while I was on an exchange program and I ended up going to grad school there to keep my visa. He was very, very committed to the relationship and talking about marriage from the very beginning, and I was miserably alone in a foreign country. He was very good at talking, arguing his point of view, rationalizing; it was impossible to ‘win’ against him in discussions. In hindsight I feel sort of like I completely lost sight of who I am, what I value, what I need and want while I was in this relationship. The day-to-day stuff was pretty happy though and we usually got along quite well, but had fairly infrequent but massive fights in which he called me selfish, self-centered, fickle, second-handed, immature, etc. until I cried my eyes out. To be fair, I was at the time an undiagnosed depressed, anxious, generally messed-up Aspie, so it was not easy to live with me, and I probably shouldn’t have got into a relationship at all, let alone one so serious.

Anyway, I eventually broke up with him, he refused to move out of our apartment, then he went to summer school and while he was away I was briefly hospitalized for depression and my parents flew out to pick me up and take me home (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and I haven’t seen him since. I have been pretty content to not be in touch with him. He’s sent the occasional email about missing me, which I have mostly not answered. Still, I feel guilty. I don’t doubt that his love for me and his missing me is genuine, and I feel like I owe him at least an answer for why I left. (Not helped by him saying that my silence is so much more damaging than any “mean words” I might write.) At the same time, I am really not interested in him arguing his side of things and telling me I am wrong. I am also REALLY not interested in being friends or, worse, partners again. I don’t know whether I should write him an explanation for leaving and risk getting an angry reply, or whether I should simply ignore his request and continue feeling guilty. I want him to move on, instead of being so disturbingly persistent, but of course, that’s not really in my hands. Any great advice, Captain?


Haunted by the Past

Dear Haunted,

I’m so sorry that this is happening to you.

I know that if you could find some way to explain things to your ex-boyfriend so that a) he would understand where you’re coming from and b) not be hurt, you would. You are a good person who is trying to do the kind and compassionate thing here. What I want to tell you is that such an explanation – The whole truth? Comforting white lies? – is impossible. His wishful thinking about your relationship is so strong that ANY explanation that you give will become an argument for him to poke holes in. He cannot be satisfied by anything less than your love in return. If you fail to love him back, that’s not you hurting him. That is you minding your business 4,000 miles away, eating some food with a fork and not thinking about him at all, when suddenly he jumps out of nowhere and impales himself on the fork and claims that you stabbed him.

You’ve correctly identified your two options. You could just never reply, but the way he is putting this choice about where to live and work on you give him a huge opening to bug you for an answer because he has to decide right now! Wishful thinking + plausible deniability = He might just pick the option closest to you so he can get the “closure” or whatever he needs in person.

(Side note: “Closure” isn’t actually a real thing that you can provide for other people. You have to give it to yourself. He has to find it for himself. Begging another person to give you closure is actually just begging them to talk to you more and to remain engaged.)

Your other (recommended) option is to answer his email one time, and then never, ever have any contact with him again. Suggested script:

“Dear Ex-Boyfriend:

I was very surprised to receive your email the other day. Our relationship ended so long ago that I do not feel at all comfortable helping you make a decision about where to work and live. But since you did ask, I want to strongly suggest that you not move closer to me with the expectation that we will spend time together and perhaps renew old ties. 

The end of our relationship was a very painful time for me, and I am sorry – I do not think I can give you any explanation that will satisfy you. I can’t tease out how much of it was my own depression vs. us just being ill-suited as a couple. I know that I was unhappy enough with you that I have no desire to revisit those years or to remain in contact even as friends. I am sorry, I know that must be painful for you to hear, but it is the truth.

I wish you the best of luck with your job search and hope you will be able to move on and find the kind of happiness and connection that you deserve. I need to ask you not to contact me again, and to accept this email as my final word on this.



And then never NEVER never NEVER never NEVER ever EVER ever EVER FOR ANY REASON have any contact with him ever again. Edited to Add: Set up an email filter to automatically delete his replies so that you will never be affected or tempted to engage!/Edit Never reply to anything. Even if he begs. Even if he threatens. Even if he threatens to KILL HIMSELF. Even if he argues. Even if you feel guilty and sad and want to make things better. Just let it all go, forgive yourself for the past,  and don’t write back. All of it is about him + a ghost of you from 2 years ago and has nothing to do with you now.

75 thoughts on “#262: An ex who won’t let go.

  1. Sage advice. One time, then never ever ever= closure. Your proposed letter is as gentle as it can be.

  2. Best invention mankind has ever created: email filters. After following this advice (very good advice!), block his ass, and no matter how many FEELINGSMAIL he sends, you won’t be tempted to read them and thereby ruin your day, because you won’t see them!

    Many Jedi hugs to LW, and good luck.

    1. Yes, forgot to mention the email filters! FILTER (autodelete) his emails to you forever. Don’t tell him you’re doing it, just do it.

      1. I’m not in love with this idea, just because if his emails move on to threats of violence, you want to be in a position to take action. Maybe set up an automatic forward to a trusted friend/relative who will read them but never mention them to you unless you need to call the police?

        1. Same. If this escalates, you’re going to need those emails as evidence. I’d say filter them to a folder so you can keep them if this gets worse (hopefully not).

          Also, LW, I get why you want to write him back, but like everyone else has said, I’d strongly advise against it as it’s not going to have the effect you want (clear your conscience*; he leaves you alone forever). This guy’s behavior has so many red flags that he should come with a color guard and a boombox playing “Every Breath You Take.”

          *You are fine and do not need to do anything.

          1. This guy’s behavior has so many red flags that he should come with a color guard and a boombox playing “Every Breath You Take.”

            HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, that’s brilliant.

  3. I have to disagree on the recommended course of action here. The LW already said that he enjoys arguing, manipulating, being the “rational” one – I feel like any future contact will be seen as more ammunition for the “argument” about how much she hurt him and how they should be together. He’s already shown a total lack of respect for her boundaries, both with the continued contact and his refusal to leave their apartment (!). I doubt another email is going to effect his decision about where he moves.

    I don’t have “The Gift of Fear” in front of me, but Gavin DeBecker talks about how continued contact is giving manipulators exactly what they crave – the knowledge that they still have some control over the other person. Saying “my silence is so much more damaging than any “mean words” I might write” is him using your desire not to hurt him to keep you under his control.

    My thought is to make email filters your friend. Anything from his address or name should be auto-archived or trashed so you don’t even see it.

    1. I am in agreement. Instead of responding, which will absolutely not shine the sweet light of reason in this dude’s brain, just autofilter everything to the bin. All that emailing will do is give him an “in” to argue about the decision.

      1. I third this. The Captain’s script is amazing, should Haunted use it. But I think she shouldn’t, because this guy will take it as an opening to try and argue her back in. Block his e-mails or filter them. No contact.

        1. Fourthed. Perfect script indeed! And I can imagine it would satisfy the LW need to at least not be “the mean one.” You COULD take him at his word and give him the “mean things” he so desperately craves, but it would definitely give him the impression that he can cajole you into giving him more. It’s a pickle indeed. Ultimately, self-preservation should win over him-preservation. My favorite remedy for this sort of pickle is to write the letter and then stick it in a box or burn it or let a friend who would understand read it, but never send it to him. I get the satisfaction of organizing and articulating my thoughts without the vulnerability of leaving them as bait.
          Haunted, you can be your own exorcist! : ) Also congrats/kudos on getting and accepting the help you needed back in the day!

        2. He could very well take any form of contact as a sign that the LW might be softening towards him or be willing to give him another chance, since she is taking the step to communicate with him. I know that doesn’t seem logical or rational, but the ex doesn’t seem to be thinking rationally if he expects to get back together with the LW after two years have passed. Ignoring/blocking him might be more effective?

    2. This is totally valid! LW could not answer this, filter his emails, and let the indifference be her answer.

      The only reason I even suggest ONE reply is to document that s/he asked him bluntly and directly for no contact and to remove plausible deniability from the situation.

      Where we agree: He is a creep and an asshole and will use any excuse to worm his way back in.

      1. The only reason I even suggest ONE reply is to document that s/he asked him bluntly and directly for no contact and to remove plausible deniability from the situation.

        I super agree with this. It has actually worked for me in the past. There was someone who I absolutely didn’t want to hear from, but I was not entirely explicit, mostly just ignoring and not responding, and finally he progressed from emailing to calling, so I sent him one email that said, “Just in case I wasn’t clear before: do not email me, do not call me, do not contact me in any other way.”

        And he didn’t. I think he had been rationalizing his bothering me up until that point, and after that point he couldn’t rationalize it anymore, so he was able to stop himself.

        1. Agreeing as well. I had a similarly creepy/manipulative/boundary oblivious ex some time ago and literally the only thing that stopped the middle of the night verbally abusive emails or the pleading “I just miss us” text messages was sending an email saying “I’m not doing a relationship post-mortem, I will not speak to you, by any communication method, ever again” and then FILTER FILTER FILTER and ignore everything. The filtering part was really important to my emotional well-being, because it meant that I didn’t get the punch in the gut of reading things like “you’re a selfish bitch who needs to get a [expletive] clue” when I innocently went to check my email. Either set the filter to autodelete, or just leave the folder for long enough that you have the emotional distance that you can go into it to clear it out without being horrendously upset or ask a friend to go through and delete it for you.

          One other thing that the email explicitly stating “we will not communicate anymore, leave me alone forever” does is that, depending on where you are, it can be extremely helpful if you need to get a restraining order or similar. Unpleasant to think about, I know, but practical.

  4. I’m in favor of the hybrid approach — send an e-mail as suggested, emphasizing that he should not move there and that you never want to talk to him again, and then *immediately* block his e-mails. This way, if he replies with more manipulation, you won’t even see it.

    But if you feel you have already been more than clear, you could really just set the filter now and not even respond once.

    I was in a situation like this, and telling the person, “I really, really, really don’t want to get anymore e-mails from you” never works. They just want any reaction at all, and they will keep sending more e-mails. You need to put him on “extinction” (this is what my therapist calls it) meaning that he never gets another reaction from you, ever.

    In my situation, after my responses failed to stop the harassment, I set up a filter and never looked back. I don’t know if she has been trying to contact me, and I don’t care. It has been great.

  5. One more thing — don’t tell him that you’re about to set the filter. He will just figure out a way around it. It’s better to let him think you’re seeing the e-mails and choosing not to respond. This way he won’t try to find other ways to harass you that aren’t so easy to block.

  6. I agree. Filters are a girl’s best friend. I wouldn’t write him back. Just the little the LW has written about him makes him sound highly manipulative, and I believe that if he hasn’t found someone new in 2 years of the LW’s absence, either women around him won’t date him or he’s got severe attachment issues which are not the LW’s responsibility to fix. All he’s going to do is bring her grief.

    LW, either filter his stuff now or write the suggested letter and then filter his stuff – but either way, filter his stuff. If he creates a new email account and continues to bug you, change your email address.

  7. To be fair
    This guy sounds like an enormous creep and asshole; I see no reason to try to be “fair” to him! Especially not at your own expense.

    … I was at the time an undiagnosed depressed, anxious, generally messed-up Aspie, so it was not easy to live with me, and I probably shouldn’t have got into a relationship at all, let alone one so serious.

    Awww, no. 😦 Just because you had that stuff to deal with doesn’t mean you were (or are!) obligated to isolate yourself and not get close to anyone. You didn’t force him to date you, or somehow trick him into it.

    …and I feel like I owe him at least an answer for why I left

    You don’t owe him shit. Just because someone wants an answer doesn’t mean they’re entitled to it! (Besides… how is that a reasonable thing to ask, anyway? Isn’t it sort of going, “It wasn’t my fault, right?” at best, and “Justify your feelings so I can argue you out of them!” at worst? I’m probably not being very generous here and I guess it’s an understandable thing to ask, but does anybody ever really say that in hopes of getting a list of their faults? It’s also scary that he’s doing this after two years and apparently contemplating moving to be closer to you, aaaaaaaaaa what the fuck.)

    1. …but does anybody ever really say that in hopes of getting a list of their faults?

      I’ve never understood this: do people want to hear about all their bad and annoying traits? Especially when you broke up with them because of these traits?
      You are right, it just sounds like he wants something to argue with.

      1. My theory is that perhaps people want a catalogue of the things that their ex considers fault so that they can go through the list and rationalize why those things aren’t problems, thus rendering them blameless in the eventual end of the relationship.

        Some people probably are actually that enlightened and self-aware that they legitimately want to work on whatever faults their previous partners may have identified, but I’m guessing it’s a very small percentage.

          1. Noooope, exactly. And if you say “nope, I’d rather not talk about this” they’ll respect your boundaries.

        1. Also, the middle ground: People who are *trying* to be self-aware and enlightened, and think that they want to hear those faults so that they can work on them, but in practice don’t have the maturity to hold on to that attitude once the cards are actually on the table.

          Proper handling for that type is about the same as for the first type, in most cases – it’s not your responsibility to read their mind about what they will and won’t be able to handle appropriately, and assuming that they won’t is the safe bet – but they do deserve a bit less venom, perhaps.

    2. In the rare cases where it isn’t some variation of “I’m not feeling it anymore” (or “this situation doesn’t feel safe,” which you probably wouldn’t want to tell the person you were breaking up with), the person doing the breaking up has probably already told the other person why they’re doing it. For example: “I can’t do this long-distance thing, and we’ve already established that neither of us is moving for at least two years.” Or incompatible feelings about whether to have children. Stuff that’s more factual, and probably has been discussed during the relationship. At least, I hope people don’t engage in long-distance relationships without talking about how/whether/how long, or break up with someone over whether to have children without finding out whether their goals match.

  8. I don’t doubt that his love for me and his missing me is genuine, and I feel like I owe him at least an answer for why I left.
    It’s been two years, and the relationship ended so badly you had to move interstate to get away from this guy who treated you horribly and called you awful things until you cried and refused to leave you alone after you ended it and ignored or worsened your mental health problems.
    And now he wants to get back in your life – and not just in a “Hey, I feel like things ended badly, maybe we could meet up and have a talk and try and put things in perspective now some time has passed.” No. After a horrible drawn-out breakup and two years of virtually no contact, he’s trying to make you, across the country, feel guilty and responsible not just for his sad feels about the relationship ending, not just for his inability to move on (hello obsession), but for major life choices like jobs and moving. Even though you broke up TWO YEARS AGO.
    Your whole letter is, like, MADE of red flags for “controlling, obsessive potential stalker.” Shut him down – politely, rudely, in song, whatever. Shut him down, conclude with “Do not ever contact me again,” and then block the motherfucker.

  9. Anyway, I eventually broke up with him, he refused to move out of our apartment, then he went to summer school and while he was away I was briefly hospitalized for depression and my parents flew out to pick me up and take me home (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and I haven’t seen him since. I have been pretty content to not be in touch with him.

    Ok. So if I am wrong, I apologize, but I did flee an abusive relationship a few years ago and when I read this, I thought: you escaped. Good for you. I am so glad that you DID escape, by the way. And also? When you break up with someone and they refuse to move out? That is not the way people behave toward other people whose rights and boundaries as humans they respect. That is selfish, abusive behavior.

    I also imagine that your reflective self-blame (I was undiagnosed, I was terrible to live with) might be lingering after-effects of living with an abusive asshole, and I hope that you are able to get the help you need to realize that you are a wonderful human being. Because you are.

    So hey. YOU ESCAPED. That was step one, and you should be proud. Slap a filter on your email, tighten up your privacy settings on facebook, etc, and never let him know where you live. Does he have your phone number? Change it, or block him, or both. And please. I don’t care if you ARE the most terrible human being on earth- you’re still worthy of respect and affection. But I doubt that you are. Terrible.

    1. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s incumbent on someone who is dumped to move out of their home. If you leave someone, that means it’s generally your job to find a new home, not theirs. (Unless kids are involved, or there’s some other really good reason why you can’t move and they can.)

    2. Escaping is one thing. Staying escaped is another thing. LW, I wish you both things, because they are good things and you deserve good things.

      Also? Filters are VERY helpful with stuff like this.

  10. LW, take your guilt about what was going on in your head and body at the time out of this equation. It’s a red herring. YES, it’s a huge part of you and your life and where you are today. But no, it has nothing at all to do with this ex’s continued harassment. AT ALL. You were in your state. He was in his. You have moved on (and up). He has not. Two years later, he’s not asking for an explanation — he’s asking for another chance? Really? Can someone buy him a clue?

    There are two things that popped to me in your letter. The first is this: which I have mostly not answered. To me, this statement says you have, sometimes, answered. Which gave him some fuel, some hope, some reason to keep up contact. Have you ever told him to not contact you again? Because that would be the only reason I can see to contact him at all at this point– to ask him to go away.

    You don’t owe him an explanation, and it really sounds like that will stoke his fire, not douse it. So write the explanation. Send it to a friend who knows the story. And block him out of your e-mail and your life.

    If you’re still seeing someone for depression, talk this over. It took professional assistance for me to own the more unpleasant emotions I’ve had in my life, but understanding that I wasn’t “owed” closure for getting dumped also made me see that trying to explain why things were over wasn’t all that helpful when I was the one moving on. It’s over because it’s over. You got that, and you do sound like you’re in a good place, or going that direction. Don’t let him pull you back.

    1. I see what you mean, but the “you shouldn’t have answered him” thing has the possibility of being sort of victim-blamey. Which is not what you meant! But important. People who don’t respect your needs and boundaries will do so regardless of whether you initiate contact.

      1. No, I didn’t mean to be blame-y at all, and thanks for seeing that.

        I meant that when someone repeatedly violates your boundaries, you do not owe them the social courtesies or politeness that’s been drilled into you your whole life.

        1. Also, if you’re answering them in hopes that they’ll leave you alone, that says something right there.

  11. I’ll share some of my experience to add some color to the chorus of don’t reply at all and protect your personal information. I was in a toxic abusive relationship for 7 years. It wasn’t physically abusive, though the sex was coerced in the end, and he didn’t dominate me and try to destroy my self-confidence. But he had no respect for boundaries at all. When we had a fight, he would not stop and leave me alone, even when I begged him to, until I was not only crying but screaming hysterically until I was hoarse or until I was self harming by punching walls or beating my head.

    Getting him to move out? Not an option. I searched for a room to rent during the day and waited until he was at work to move my most valued possessions that I didn’t want to risk losing. I did not share my phone number until we had sold the house and he had moved out of state. He proceeded to make harassing phone calls for several weeks, mostly calling at all hours and hanging up. Unbeknown to me, he had gone through my address book and copied information on my closest friends. At first he called them trying to seek support, but then he started making drunken harassing calls to some of them too. One still has the recordings saved, just in case. He found out I was dating not long after we broke up, and he sent me hate mail.

    It’s now been 6 years, and he’s still fixated on me. Luckily for me, he still lives out of state and he’s not particularly tech savvy, so I am not too worried about online stalking. But I expect to protect my phone number and address for the indefinite future. The utility bills are not in my name, and I make sure that I am unlisted in directory services. I have not had direct contact with him since the harassing phone calls stopped. I’ve moved several times since then, so it is harder for him to track me, were he to try. We have some mutual friends that he’s stayed in touch with over the years in declining frequency. They no longer give me updates from him, and I have never asked for or encouraged such information sharing, though one confessed recently that she’d changed her cell phone and conveniently forgotten to give it to him, so he can’t drunk call her anymore.

    Telling him to stop simply won’t work. And trying to explain won’t work either. I broke up with him a few weeks before I moved out. I thought that we could handle things like adults and remain friends, as had always been my pattern with exes up to that point. But he made daily life intolerable, following me around the house demanding to know why, why, why. He just wanted to understand (that whole “closure” canard). I tried to explain the first night or two, but it didn’t matter because he was not capable of understanding. He wasn’t capable of empathy or seeing my pain or truly listening to me. He was too busy telling me what I was supposed to be feeling and how grateful I should be because he loved me so much and treated me like a queen.

    And yet, despite all that, I had second thoughts a few times during the long process of dividing up our possessions (of those beyond the small subset I took with me on that decisive day) and selling the house. Because there were good things about him and because I hated to see his suffering and knowing I was the cause of it. Really, that was why I took so long to leave him. And very time I started to soften up and have second thoughts about the whole thing, he would do something amazingly assholeish that firmed up my resolve again. His timing was excellent in that regard.

    It can be amazingly hard to let it go, to remain unvindicated and misunderstood. I debated trying to establish friendly contact soon after he left, but a friend advised me to cut him off cold, and she was right. With someone like this, there is no middle ground, no neutral reaction, and anything other than silence will be taken as an invitation.

    If you are not overly invested in your current email, I would suggest going one step further than filters, and that’s to change it entirely. The more distance you can put between yourself and him, and the more layers of changed/unavailable contact information, the better. Good luck. Stand firm.

    1. I’m so sorry that happened to you. It sounds like you’ve come through it, though. (I hope?) Best wishes!

      1. Thank you! Yes, I came through it, and I learned a lot. It was my first long-term relationship. It was my first time dumping someone. And it was my first time staring bigotry (in all forms) in the face, day after day. It made me understand so much better the complaints of older women that I dismissed when I heard them in my twenties. And it was this experience that got me interested in social justice and educating myself. And I’m in a great relationship now. It has it’s ups and downs, and mental illness and cancer have certainly made it more interesting, but it is so much more rewarding and supportive compared to privileged, controlling asshole.

        1. Yikes, I’m sorry, I completely missed your reply!

          You sound like an awesome person. 🙂

    2. [jedi hugs] I think I got the incredibly mild version of that during-breakup-madness.

      I don’t think I’ll ever forget that one night after I told him I wanted a divorce but before I could move out … one night as I was heading off to my couch to sleep, he asked if I would fuck him. Because “well, you fuck your friends”. I may have had occasional friends with benefits (open/poly marriage in theory), but astonishingly enough, I don’t sleep with all of them, or even most of them. I had pretty much stopped anyway because he was an utter cockmonkey any time I got laid, but his fucking other people was sacrosanct (the guy took his 18 year old girlfriend to his 20th HS anniversary because I didn’t want to go and then he could show off).

      …. his reply when I said “no, not interested”, by the by, was to say that clearly I had been a whore our entire relationship of 7 years.

      After reading the comments here, I am terrifyingly glad that he has totally moved on (after he told me he couldn’t live without me), gotten a new wife (after he told me “well, three divorces, three strikes, I’m out”), and that I could interact with him civilly if needful, and it’s not a problem that he could find my contact information if he needed to.

      Sorry, thread hijack.

      LW – I wish you the best of luck. If you do respond, I do recommend the sample letter (for much the same reason as others did), and then nothing. Absolutely nothing. Filter that shit to hell and don’t read it.

    3. Wow, seconding everyone else on getting that person out of your life (hopefully for good)!

      I had the very junior league version of your story happen to me with my last partner. I (naively) gave him the benefit of a doubt and answered him when he asked why I was dumping him. I answered as gently as I could, while still laying out everything. His (repeated) response after the full explanation? “but, why?”
      It’s not worth it. No explanation is good enough, if they even hear what you’re saying in the first place.

    4. [i]following me around the house demanding to know why, why, why. He just wanted to understand (that whole “closure” canard). I tried to explain the first night or two, but it didn’t matter because he was not capable of understanding. He wasn’t capable of empathy or seeing my pain or truly listening to me. He was too busy telling me what I was supposed to be feeling and how grateful I should be because he loved me so much and treated me like a queen.[/i]
      Wow! He sounds like a malignant narcissist. Everything in those sentence is what I had to deal with for the first 18 years of my life by parents masquerading as “mom” and “dad”, always telling me I should be “grateful” and how I’m supposed to feel according to their script, and woe is me if I dare to go off script, which was frequent. I’m so glad you got out of it, children don’t have a choice but once we become adults we do have choices, something that such parents seem not to take into account.

      1. Welcome, Kate, thanks for your comment. Please read the FAQs & Site Policies when you get a sec – around here we don’t internet-diagnose people’s possible mental disorders, even if the behaviors seem like they come right out of the textbook. Sorry you had such a bad experience with your parents, you are right on about the dynamic, and I understand how giving a name to the thing might help you learn about and process the thing.

  12. The day-to-day stuff was pretty happy though and we usually got along quite well, but had fairly infrequent but massive fights in which he called me selfish, self-centered, fickle, second-handed, immature, etc. until I cried my eyes out. To be fair, I was at the time an undiagnosed depressed, anxious, generally messed-up Aspie, so it was not easy to live with me, and I probably shouldn’t have got into a relationship at all, let alone one so serious.

    Aw, hell no, LW. None of that was your fault. There is no “fair”. The appropriate response to being in a relationship with somebody you dislike is to break up with them–not to yell at them and heap insults on their head. To be fair to that guy, he was a massive douche, and you didn’t deserve that.

    Especially if I’m hearing “self-centred, fickle, immature, etc” as code for “I cannot manipulate you into giving me as much love/attention/affirmation as I want, so rather than stop expecting a fellow student I’ve only known a few months to cleave to me for life, I will just try to make it all YOUR fault for failing to have the character to love me enough.”

  13. I don’t know whether I should write him an explanation for leaving and risk getting an angry reply, or whether I should simply ignore his request and continue feeling guilty.

    LW, I am so sorry this is happening to you. You’ve already gotten great advice from the Awkward Army, so I will simply add my support for the no-contact choice but also add a couple of things. First of all, that you have no reason to feel guilty about whatever is going this guy’s head. You broke up with him (and he refused to leave?! Ye gods) and he’s refusing to accept that things are over. That’s his problem, not yours, and you don’t have to own it.

    Second of all, I don’t see any mention in your letter of a Team You. Do you have a Team You? Because everyone who needs one deserves The Most Awesomest Team You Ever, especially when douche-y exes are being douches. Do you have people you can talk to and who know what’s going on? In addition, if therapy is a possibility for you, it might help you tune up your awesome, which sounds like it’s a little strained right now.

    Whatever you decide, good luck. Go forth and have a terrifyingly amazing life.

    1. Gah, of course that should be “about whatever is going on in this guy’s head.” Prepositions, we haz them.

    2. “Tune up your awesome” is now my favorite expression for therapy 🙂

  14. Holy shit, LW. Your ex is a red flag with FEET.

    He was serious from the get go, talking about marriage; you weren’t. You know why?? Because you were doing things the usual way and he was trying to force and intimacy and closeness that wasn’t there. That’s not cool, and it’s red flaggy on his part.

    He’d call you names? Really? No. Just, no.

    He’d argue with you to “prove” he was right and your feelings were invalid? No. Just, no. That’s a shitty thing to do.

    Your depression and anxiety issues do not justify his smothering, manipulative, and frankly abusive bullshit. Hell, I’m willing to bet his manipulation and guilt-tripping exacerbated your mental health issues.

    He refused to leave the apartment after you two broke up. WAT. I mean, I get the whole economic considerations, but given all of his other behavior–turning everything into a negotiation/telling you you’re incorrect and arguing every last little detail with you until you’re worn down, rushing the relationship, driving you to tears (AND his emails trying to guilt you, including the most recent one TWO YEARS AFTER YOU BROKE UP), I’d say this is a predictable part of the pattern. He’s not respecting the no. No is a starting point for a negotiation with him. As far as he’s concerned, your reasons for breaking up with him will never be good enough and he will manipulate you and argue and wear you down until you take him back. He will do this because his actions show he feels you have no right to decide if you want him in your life or not. Well, fuck that and fuck him.

    I will differ with I’d give his email all of the consideration it is due, which is absolutely none. Do not email him back. This is a way for him to try and worm his way back in. His other emails have been similar attempts. He’s trying to up the ante with the job thing. He’ll logic his way into taking the job closer to you if you exchange emails with him. He refuses to let go and he is not respecting your no (FOR THE PAST TWO YEARS WHAT THE FUCK I CANNOT EVEN). Any contact from you will result in renewed attempts from him–it doesn’t matter what you say to him, he will not respect it. He’s already shown this.

    Is he friends with your mutual friends? Then let them know what’s going on and that you’re creeped out. If he’s not friends with them, great! Keep it that way. If your FB profile is public, change that ASAP. Hide your friends list so this boundary-ignoring shithead cannot see it and try to get to you through your friends.

    Ugh. I dealt with a flavor of this (though the ex in question called me at a new number and I was all icy and bitchy and “How did you get this number DO NOT EVER CALL ME AGAIN YOU BOUNDARY CHALLENGED POSSESSIVE DIPSHIT IT’S BEEN OVER FOR A YEAR NOW LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE.” And I went off on the friend who gave him my number because holy fuck you shithead you knew what it was like when I tried to extricate myself from his sticky, sticky relationship tentacles and emotional abuse.

    1. Congratulations for getting out of that. For the first year, whenever I gave anyone my new number, I made it clear that they did not have permission to share it with anyone else, that they should call me to ask. And keeping it unlisted served as a reminder that I did not want it distributed. I’ve been lucky that no one has ever given him my contact information, despite repeated contact with him over the years. Someone did spill that I was dating, hence the hate mail. I dunno about that one, maybe they thought the news would help him move on? Wrong.

      Totally agree about the premature marriage thing. My ex did the same thing. He would ask repeatedly, and I finally convinced him to knock that shit off because I refused to consider it until we’d been together for 5 years. That gave me a breather, but at the 5-year mark, again with the marriage pressure. The great irony? I told him that if he quit drinking that I would marry him. I knew it was a safe bet. and after that counterproposal, I finally left him a few months later. My ex also contacted me about the job thing right after I broke up, asking me what he should do. So many similarities! It’s like there’s an abuse manual that they receive in the mail.

      Don’t reply. Do not engage (see what I did?). Protecting your friend list, also good advice.

      1. “I made it clear that they did not have permission to share [my phone number] with anyone else”

        Going on an off-topic rant for a second to agree with this so hard. I will not hand out friends’ emails or phone numbers or even their last names (for facebook purposes) to other people asking without first checking in with the friend in question. I had one friend ask me for the names/emails of other friends of mine he’d met so he could friend them on facebook. I told him if he wanted I would pass on his info to them instead. He made some jokes about me being weird and hyper protective/sensitive/whatever, and I responded right back with the story of the guy who stalked me in college and how he got my contact info from friends who didn’t know better.


    2. This is pretty much everything I wanted to say, so apparently I don’t need to! SECONDING ALL OF THIS. I’ve had too many friends (honestly, even one is “too many”) stalked by dudes who see “no” as the starting point for negotiations, and I take this shit seriously. RED FLAGS. ALL THE RED FLAGS.

  15. Your side note about closure was unusually eye opening. I think that may have always been the root of my own inability to get over someone without a distraction of someone else. I have always looked for someone to give me a reason, when in reality, there was never going to be a reason good enough, just something I need to come to terms with on my own. Thanks!

    1. It was a lesson that it took me a really long time to learn – I had to learn it over and over, the hard way.

  16. Echoing everyone that’s said ABORT ABORT DO NOT REPLY, I think it’s the logical choice.

    You’re in a foreign country, and I don’t see from your letter that you continue to have mutual friends who keep him updated on your doings. If that’s the case, you have the option of being effectively dead to him, so long as you DO NOT REPLY to the first email. He isn’t very likely to think “Hey, I should move to YourCountry because I could maybe get back together with LW even though I don’t actually know whether zie is alive/single/in-country.”

    If you absolutely must reply, I would maybe alter the Captain’s script a little bit to the effect that changes in your life circumstances mean that it is no longer possible for your relationship to ever resume, rather than just saying that you “don’t wish to revisit those years”. He doesn’t have to know that the change in question is that you have decided not to date selfish, controlling assholes any more. .

    If you say you don’t want to get back together, all he will hear is that that you could theoretically have a relationship again if you wanted. Now all he has to do is make you want it again! Cue Lloyd Dobler! It doesn’t matter how many times you say you really really no I mean it really don’t want to. He’s already proven he doesn’t accept your wants and desires as valid.

    If you tell him you CANNOT have a relationship again due to life circumstances, that gives him nothing to argue with. For all he knows, that means you’re married with a new baby, or you’ve joined a monastery, or you’re embarking on a prolonged exploration of the Mongolian steppe. People move on with their lives in two years, after all, in relatively permanent ways which are not about him.

    There’s no point to giving an explanation of your breakup, because that’s not actually what he wants. He wants a roadmap of how you can get back together. If you establish that it’s out of the question because life has happened and you’re permanently off the market to him, he will stop wanting to know whhhhhhyyy. There’s your closure, if you like.

    1. If you absolutely must reply, I would maybe alter the Captain’s script a little bit to the effect that changes in your life circumstances mean that it is no longer possible for your relationship to ever resume, rather than just saying that you “don’t wish to revisit those years”.

      I don’t know if that was the intention in this case, but usually the Captain rather uses “I don’t want…” instead of “reasons make it impossible to…” because you can argue with reasons but not with feelings. In this case, he could make up anything that would suite him. Maybe he could ‘help her to overcome the obstacles for both of them’. *ugh* But if she’s not interested, she’s not interested.

  17. Oh hon. We dated practically the same asshole! I dated him for 6 years though, so kudos to you for escaping sooner.

    Mine didn’t start out bad. We were high school sweethearts. But I had some messed up family shit and emotional issues to deal with and he was painfully insecure and prone to violent (not directed towards me, but at walls/stuff) freak outs when he felt hurt or threatened. He also was very cynical, and tended to assume the worst motives in others at all times.

    I thought I could change him. He’d been through some severe bullying that was handled completely inadequately by his parents and schools. (He eventually moved schools but the kids were never reprimanded and he never had any kind of therapy, which he should have given the severity of the abuse and the extent to which it warped his psyche). I thought that’s if I just showed him enough love and care he would get better.

    And for awhile, he sort of did. When times were good, he seemed to have a more generous view of other human beings, and he seemed to begin to trust me. Good, right?

    Yea, that’s what I thought. Except in ‘making him’ trust me, I had apparently taken on the obligation to Never Hurt Him Ever, because his ability to trust other people was fragile and 100% dependent on me. Seriously, he said these things.

    Things got ickier from there. Red flags I failed to notice/take seriously:

    –Not respecting my ability to choose my own friends. He was convinced that I regularly picked horrible people as friends and that they were abusive and he would FORBID me to speak about them. When I said this was unreasonable, he said ‘fine, stay friends with them, but I don’t want to hear about them EVER.’

    –Not respecting my right to deal with my family issues on my own terms. More than once he went behind my back and contacted my parents to tell them how much they sucked and should stop treating me the way they were. He tried to be tactful in his attempts, but he made things worse for me and he didn’t care.

    –I had the opportunity to cheat, and I almost took it. We had been fighting a lot and I was unhappy and this other boy treated me so well. We spent sometime alone after a party and he tried to kiss me. I didn’t, but i really wanted to and i did cuddle with him (fully clothed) that night. I wrote an email to a friend trying to explain my feelings and get some advice about whether this meant I should break up. Boyfriend READ MY EMAIL and then got mad at me for THINKING about cheating. I tried to break up because I couldn’t take his hurt and anger, and he told me that it wasn’t my RIGHT to leave because I was the one who had been wrong and if he wanted a chance to repair things then I owed him that.

    –Nothing I said or did made up for the cheating issue. He demanded proof of my love regularly (for awhile I was writing him daily love letters) and any time I made the slightest slip up in these efforts… Like going a day without a letter, because I fell asleep before writing it… I was Breaking My Promise, which was just as bad as cheating, and I was back to square one. I almost-cheated 4 years into the relationship. I spent the next TWO YEARS on probation.

    –in fights, he was always the ‘logical one’ while I was the fucked-up one (in treatment for severe depression and anxiety) and therefore my opinions were invalid. Or I was the selfish, unloving cheater and he was the loving, devoted boyfriend who spent so much time and energy trying to take care of me through my brokenness. In between fights he could be quite sweet, but fights came often and they were always knock-down-drag-out affairs that left me sobbing and hating myself. He called me lots of names, “worthless whore” was a favorite. He also was prone to breaking things in anger and then blaming me for ‘making him’ do it. I helped him buy a new laptop after he smashed it during a video chat fight with me, he punched my face on the screen.

    –being apart for awhile (like when we went home to family on breaks, mine had moved while I was in college and were several states away) as well as any problems with sex (me not reaching orgasm, not having sex as often or as enthusiastically as he wanted) made him especially insecure. When I was away from him I spent long hours on the phone daily and even then he complained that I cared about my family more than him. I reassured him constantly about my attraction to him and I made lots of efforts to keep our sex lives interesting, but he was still prone to pouting and guilt tripping any time I wasn’t in the mood or didn’t orgasm. Obviously, I started faking it.

    Despite all this and more, the good times plus the sheer amount of time and effort I had put into the relationship led me to move in with him and then get engaged to him. The increased signs of commitment made him less insecure for awhile, and things were good. Then we graduated and had to live in different cities because he got his dream job and I got into grad school elsewhere. Long distance escalated fights and eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and left.

    That was a year and 4 months ago. He still emails, though I filter the emails and forward them to an account I can’t access that is read by a trusted friend, who monitors it just in case of threats. I had to change my phone number because he would text me constantly all day long, and when I blocked his number he would just get a new one.

    He has tried everything. He has begged for closure, asked me to come back and promised to treat me better, made efforts to ‘prove’ he can change. (he finally saw a doctor about his asthma so he could exercise again, and promptly lost the 40-50 pounds that made him miserable and that he was CONVINCED made me unattracted to him because I was a shallow whore. He also stopped biting his nails, a habit that had bugged me because he had required me to stop biting mine. I got photographic evidence of all of this, which was frankly rather creepy.)

    But every time I have given in and responded, it has gone terribly. He argues with me and tries to convince me that everything was really my fault. He knows all my insecurities and he is ruthless in pushing my buttons. (Both my parents and my ex have been known to manipulate me by alleging that my behavior is selfish. ‘selfish’ cuts me to the bone, every time.) he is writing a novel about the end of our relationship and he sends me drafts occasionally.

    Literally the only thing that has allowed me to move on is making myself difficult to contact, and refusing to engage even if he does. He lost most of our mutual friends by being a total psycho towards the end of the relationship and in the breakup, but I know a few people who are still in casual contact with him who will warn me if he ever follows through on plans to move to my city. I’ve documented his threats against me and his threats to kill himself. Both seem unconvincing, but I want to have the evidence just in case. I have verified that I have the forms and sufficient evidence to file for a restraining order if he ever shows signs of ramping things back up. Thanks to all of this, I have finally been completely without contact with him for 5 months.

    Seriously, learn from my mistakes. It took me two months to change my number and nearly a year to set up a filtering system that prevented me from ever so much as SEEING his emails. For awhile, I had them sent to trash automatically, but when I was in a bad mood I would go looking for them in the trash and read them and feel horrible about myself all over again. Several times I let him pull me back into the conversation, and it never, ever ended up making me feel better.

    You escaped this asshole. Do everything in your power to keep him from coming back into your life, even in the smallest ways.

    1. “he is writing a novel about the end of our relationship and he sends me drafts occasionally.”

      Not sure why, out of everything in your comment, this is somehow the worst for me. I mean it’s not, because you’re free of him, but holy tits. What a nightmare!

      1. It is pretty creepy.

        Wow, Keely, congratulations on getting out of that one. It sounds like an absolute nightmare. Some people just find a way to get under your skin and don’t let go of that.

        1. Yea, the novel thing is extrordinarily creepy. I mostly didn’t read it because it just made me sad/angry.

          Thanks for the congrats on getting out. It wasn’t 100% awful, he could be very sweet when he wanted to, but it was very Not Okay for a very long time. I’m still trying to deal with the idea as myself as the kind of person who stays in an abusive relationship for 6-years. For a long time I blamed myself and bought a lot of his bs about how things were really my fault. Looking back, I find that bizarre. Why didn’t I say more to friends about how bad he made me feel? Why didn’t I leave on any number of occasions when I felt hurt and just DONE with him? I knew I had (and to some extent still have) low self-worth and serious depression issues, but
          I also think of myself as very independent and able to make it on my own, so I am somewhat disgusted by the idea of myself as a victim. He wasnt (that) violent, I could have safely left.

          I try to go easy on myself, and recognize that manipulative, emotionally abusive behavior is powerful, and that both my family’s tendency towards that kind of subtle manipulation and my own mental health issues made me vulnerable and that isn’t my fault. Still, it’s hard to look back and remember that I am (or at least was) the kind of person who lets other people treat them so badly.

          1. I second the congrats on getting out and hope you too can find help to tune up your awesome. (Thanks for that phrase, Cleo, if you’re reading!)

            You are so right that that kind of behavior is powerful. Also that it isn’t your fault. Decent, good-hearted, well intentioned people often get pulled in by manipulative, abusive behaviors because we are good-hearted, &c., because people like us play by the rules of the social contract and often are unsure of how to respond to people who violate those rules. Sometimes we even second-guess ourselves: “I didn’t just see what I thought I saw… did I?” or “No, this feeling can’t be right, no one would do that,” and here’s where I clutch my pearls and my brand-new copy of The Gift of Fear and say, “Well, yes. Yes, they would.”

            This discussion reminds me of something a police officer once said to me. A few days prior to my conversation with him, I had caught two strangers in my boss’ office, going through her desk OMG, but one of them said she was looking for a pen because her aunt worked there and I can’t even remember what-all else, and instead of screaming for Security I nodded (like, I later thought, an IDIOT) and handed her a goddamn pen WTF, and then a couple of days later the forged check cleaned a sizable chunk of my boss’ money out of her bank account and the cops showed up and I gave a description of the two people plus the comment “I can’t believe I fell for that,” and that cop will forever be awesome to me because he said, “You’re not stupid; honest people just don’t think like thieves.”

            (Long-ass sentences FTW.)

            So yeah. Honest people don’t think like thieves, and decent people don’t think like abusers. Rejoice: you are manifestly decent.

      2. I’m not actually suggesting this, because it means engaging with him, but there’s nothing stopping you from performing staged readings of those drafts on YouTube.

        Congrats, Keely, on getting out of that one.

        1. Again, this would probably be super hard for you so, probably don’t do it. But also, I love the thought of it.
          I think you should play him and have a friend play you. Do elaborate costumes. Maybe set it in Victorian England? Or Renaissance Italy?

        2. Hey, that’s some good performance art right there! I can’t remember the name of the artist, but this lady did the same thing with a bunch of awful ‘love’ letters that some douchey ex boyfriend wrote to her. She had a lot of folks read them in all sorts of different languages, and it kind of drained them of their poison and made them just gibberish.

    2. Oh my God, Keely, I’m glad you got out. DAMN.

      I filter the emails and forward them to an account I can’t access that is read by a trusted friend, who monitors it just in case of threats.

      That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard, and an excellent e-mail version of the Gavin de Becker voicemail trick. Well done!

  18. Dear LW,

    Your experience sounds pretty similar to one I recently had with someone – I wrote a letter to Captain Awkward about it too. Though the time was not as long – I have changed all my contact information so he cannot get a hold of me. But my long distance/foreign ex did pretty much the same things when I moved in with him, as your ex did to you calling me names, fighting with me, needing to “win” arguments with circular logic. But he also started to abuse me.

    But regardless of what he did to you and how you left him: I absolutely 100% believe that he doesn’t need any answer from you. My ex constantly messaged me about missing me and when I never responded he got mean. And this would just go on for ages if I let it. So I blocked him from communicating with me on everything.

    I realize you want to be compassionate but at the same time sometimes cutting someone out completely is a lot more humane than giving them the option to speak with you. A simple, “Seriously, stay out of my life and leave me alone,” will suffice.

  19. LW, I definitely recommend going with the Captain’s email script. I had to send an email once telling a guy to please stop asking me on dates because I had no desire to go out with him, and his attempts to get around my reasons of why I couldn’t made me really uncomfortable. I found it really difficult to finally say, “My answer is no because I don’t want to go out with you,” instead of “Oh, geez, I can’t,” but in the end, that’s what got him to stop asking. (It was way easier saying it in an email than it would have been in person, though.) Your ex might not respect that email at all, in which case, yes, auto-forward all emails from him to someone who can take care of them for you and ignore him as much as you possibly can. But I think sending the one email is a good idea to get rid of that plausible deniability, like the Captain said.

    Also, I’ve found that asserting myself and using my words as clearly as possible feels pretty good, so you might want to give it a shot just for that.

  20. just writing in [a bit late] to comment that i think the captain’s advice is sensible, the only thing i would think about is making the wording on the script even slightly tougher: “do not ever contact me again under ANY circumstances, that is all.”

    i also think setting up a filter to send any further emails to a folder [or set up another email account to forward it to & hide the password or give it to a trusted friend] rather than your trash is a good idea, simply because you then have evidence if he does disrespect your wishes & you need to get a restraining order. i don’t know how it is in the US but in my country if you can show that someone has continued to harass you even a couple of times, this is enough to get an interim restraining order. either way, the more evidence of harassment/unwanted contact you have documented, the better, especially if he does decide to move to your city & track you down [i really hope that doesn’t happen.]

    this letter raised a big issues for me, about mistakes i’ve made in my past, which was ignoring a lot of warning signs that an ex was obsessive & dangerous because a big part of me didn’t WANT to believe he could be so unstable & what did that say about me, that i’d let him in my life? i’ve seen this pattern a couple of times with myself & my friends, it’s almost like they have to really cross the line before we start to take our own safety & emotional well being seriously. it’s like, “just” feeling uncomfortable or weird about their behaviour or scared isn’t a good enough reason to get away from them. but i now know this is true, it’s much better to get away before they cross the line than to wait & continue to have that fear in the back of your mind, or god forbid, until they do something even more extreme.

    your words “Still, I feel guilty. I don’t doubt that his love for me and his missing me is genuine” really resonated with me, i had similar feelings & it made it really hard for me to act to get someone out of my life, but the thing is this guy is harassing you, he prolly does really miss you [& miss being in control] but it doesn’t sound like he respects you or cares about your happiness. this guy cares about his own happiness.

    good luck, i hope this guy does take the hint & leaves you alone & you can get on with enjoying your life – you don’t deserve this kinda shitty behaviour, you DO deserve an awesome life surrounded by people who truly do respect you & care about your happiness.

  21. I’m of two minds about this. I’ve seen what other people have written about just ignoring it. I had a situation with an ex, and I think if I wouldn’t have said anything it would have taken me a lot longer to get past the situation.

    Basically he dumped me. Then managed to keep contacting me. I wanted to get back together. He said he’d think about it. Then said he was moving about an hour away and didn’t want to start something back up and have it be long distance. I was devastated. On some level I always hoped we’d get back together, and this was pretty what showed me it would never happen.

    Then three months later, he’s contacting me (again). He misses me. He’s moved and a bit lonely. He changed his excuses for breaking up with me (again). I had to say “Look, you’ve already told me there’s no chance we’re getting back together, I need time and space to get over you, and the only way that will work is if you stop contacting me until after I’m okay with how things ended.”

    Eventually I realized it didn’t matter why he ended things. He wasn’t happy in the relationship, and whether it was because of me or not, it didn’t matter. Things just weren’t right.

    Does he deserve an email? Probably not. Would sending an email saying, “Yes things are over between us. If you move to my area, we will not be spending any time together as friends or lovers. I’m sorry you feel like you can’t move on, but I feel the best thing for that would be to no longer have any contact, so I will not be responding to any more emails you send.” (or what the Captain said above, you know what I mean) be beneficial? Possibly. I see it as a way to prevent him from moving out to your location and start stalking you. Because if he does, you have the email as proof toward getting a restraining order. It’s a tough situation. Way worse than mine, and I don’t envy you at all. Good luck!

    1. Given the red flags, I’m firmly on the side of the “hell no, do not contact under any circumstances, forward e-mail into another account that a trusted friend has access to and you do not, do not pass go, do not engage.” It’s the real-life version of “do not feed the troll”; for some people, ANY contact = encouragement, and every time we fall for the “we’re both rational adults, surely if I explain…” fallacy, that = ANY contact = encouragement and you’re back to square one.

      For a normal person, maybe an explanation is okay. For someone with this many red flags, I’d say DON’T FEED THE TROLL, because LW’s ex is a relationship troll.

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