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
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:
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.