Here be a bunch of letters about dudes who can’t let go and the very young women who pity/get stalked by them. Have a website full of cute animal pictures open in another tab while you read this. You’re going to need it.
Dear Captain Awkward:
Came across your ‘the art of “no”.’ post, wish I did earlier.. 2 years earlier..
See, what happened was I went through a pretty dramatic break-up with my first love (as dramatic as break ups can be at 16) after his sister’s best friend died in a car accident and his view on life changed. He started experimenting and becoming addicted to drugs, and wouldn’t let me intervene. I figured, that in my messed up brain I somehow thought that going out with another guy at my school in a similar situation (huge druggy) and managing to pull him out of his addiction would prove to myself and even my first love that I could fix him, while fixing this guy at the same time. So I flirted with druggy guy, and he asked me out, and we went out for 6 weeks, in which I had successfully managed to make him give up all the drugs.
Unfortunately, I was his first girlfriend, and he thought he was in love with me – when actually I think he was just in love with the idea that someone gave him, this disgusting waste of space, a chance. Also, he has deformities going down downstairs so I guess that made the whole me-giving-him-a-chance thing even more significant. Even after the first 2 weeks dating him I knew he was bad news and wanted out, but he dumped all this guilt on me like how he would resort to more drugs, how he would drop out of school to become a dealer, how he would kill himself etc. And I truly believed him. I mean this kid was a psycho now because of all the shit he’s done, and I’ve seen him smash his face against a door because I was about to dump him – which ended in me not doing it anyway because I felt so bad. Also, he really digs chemistry (guess why), and I believed that he had a chance at going to uni and making something out of it – but only if he stuck in school. So in exchange for me dating him, he would stop the drugs and stay in school – it made me feel good to be helping this kid out so much, but it made me feel terrible because I was very unhappy with my love life, and because he liked to touch me and stuff and I didn’t want that at all, and yet I still let him because of fear of looking like a bitch. Anyway, when I finally dumped him, he left school.
Now 2 years later, even after no contact with him (I blocked him everywhere I could), he is interrogating my friends and making fake accounts on social networking sites to stalk me and try and tell me how much he loved me and how sorry he is for making me love him. It is really fucking creepy and I want this jackass to know we had a loveless relationship based on fear, insecurities, selfishness and guilt and even though I’ve gotten friends to pass on the message he won’t let go. I had faith time would solve all problems like it does with my heart ache but this is starting to get to the point where I am feeling unsafe, because I have a full on stalker stalking me, and I am barely 18 (next month). I do not want my parents involved. If there is something I could say to this guy, what would it be? I almost want to make up lies for him so he will hate me and leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to him at all. Please help, I’ve kept a cool head on this for far too long.
Dear LW #276:
1. Please read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker (don’t pay too much attention to the domestic violence chapter – dude has issues). It will give you some insight into how guys like this work and how you can break the pattern of a stalker.
2. Please consider seeking out therapy or counseling of some kind to help deal with the stress this guy is placing on your life and the bad relationship messages that you learned while you were with him. You were so smart to realize that romantic love can’t “save” people from addictions or being a toxic stalker jerk. This is a way you can get your parents’ help – ask them, or your school for assistance in seeing a counselor. You don’t have to necessarily say why. “Feeling stressed out and off” could be the reason you give. You can tell the real reason only to the counselor and they have to maintain confidentiality. But I think you need a responsible trained adult on your side while you deal with this, and that person can help you decide when and if to involve your parents and/or law enforcement.
3. There’s nothing you can say to make this guy leave you alone. You already said what you had to say when you broke up with him. There is nothing to be gained from interacting with him again. If he didn’t believe you before he won’t believe you now. If you react now, all you do is teach him that stalking you and bothering your friends works to get your attention.
You can get your friends to help you. Send them this message:
“Hey friend – you probably know by now that my ex (Name) is stalking me and harassing people in my life to get to me. I appreciate your support during this really difficult, awful situation. Here is how you can help:
1. If he contacts you, do not reply. Totally ignore him. Don’t yell at him to leave me alone, don’t tell him I’m not interested. Just don’t respond at all. Each time one of us responds to his messages, we teach him that his stalking behavior works.
2. Block him on all social media. Report his emails as spam, or set up an email filter that directs messages from him to a special folder that you never read. Don’t tell him you’re doing this. Let him think that you’re getting them.
3. If you run into him in person, walk away. Leave wherever it is and go to a safe place. Call the police if necessary. If possible, do not talk with him, yell at him, tell him to leave me or you alone. Just don’t engage at all if you can help it.
4. It would help me a lot if you wouldn’t pass on his messages to me or tell me if you interact with him. I know you want to warn me, but it just makes me anxious and fixate on him, and passing those messages on is what he wants.
Thank you for your help with this. Hopefully if we ignore him long enough he’ll choose someone else to fixate on and leave us alone.”
Think about creating a new social media profile/email address/cell phone number that you give to all of your good friends and keep behind a lot of privacy settings in terms of who can see it. Leave your old, public one in place. Get a friend to help you make a new password for the old one that only they know (in case of emergencies) and that the friend does not tell you. Let him contact you there all he wants. He’ll think his messages are getting through and that he can get no response.
Document what he’s done so far in case you do need to involve law enforcement.
I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. Take courage and do not engage with him.
Hi Captain Awkward,
I have a problem. I am 18 and have been dating my boyfriend for 5 years. About 3 years ago, I moved across the continent and we both decided to be a long distance relationship. The problem is that after a year of the long distance, I have no feelings for him and no longer interested in the relationship. I told him about this but he refused to break up with me. He would have meltdowns on the phone and that really hurts my feelings. For about 2 years now, I have been trying to break up with him but he keeps telling me that he loves me and he keeps crying. I can’t cut ties with him because I really care about him and I am scared that he would never forgive me for leaving him. He is my first boyfriend and he means a lot to me. I feel like I owe him something, i don’t want him to feel like I abandon him and move on to leave in a better continent and have a better life.
I just met this new guy that I really like and we have been seeing each other for a little while now. I feel like a cheater because I am technically cheating on both of them. How can I break up with my boyfriend, so I can move on. What am I doing? Please help?
Dear LW #277:
Five years is long enough (too long) to be with someone you don’t love out of guilt and pity. I’m glad you guys are long-distance, you don’t have to worry about running into him at parties. You can handle “meltdowns on the phone” pretty simply, if you want to – you just hang up on the person and block their number.
I know, I know, that feels mean and you don’t want to be mean. You want to stay on good terms with someone who was your first love, and you want him to have good feelings about you and the relationship even as it’s ending. Sometimes that just doesn’t happen. By crying and threatening and making you pity him when you try to break up with him, your boyfriend is sending you a clear (and horrible) message:
“Girlfriend, your actual feelings for me and desires don’t count at all. I’m more willing to have a totally fake relationship with you where you stay with me only out of fear that I’ll throw a giant tantrum than to believe the words coming out of your mouth.”
No matter how much he says he loves you, he can’t love you if he won’t listen to you and believe you and if he’s willing to force you into this fake relationship. Of course he’s going to react badly to you pointing that out and breaking up with him – because it might force him to accept that he is a pathetic, controlling weenis and completely destroys his image of himself.
If you want to be free of this guy, you have to let go of the idea that this will end well and that you’ll be friends and everyone will be happy and okay with it. You can survive his displeasure and the story of “I was in love with someone but it ended badly.” You can’t deal with another 5 years of fake-dating this guy.
Since you’re currently dating (according to him), I do recommend one breakup email. His scary tantrums means he doesn’t get the right to a phone conversation or a Skype session. Compose the email but don’t send it right away.
I know this won’t come as good news, but it’s time for us to break up once and for all.
I’m sorry to do this via email, but when I’ve tried to have this conversation by phone in the past you’ve gotten very upset and tried to talk me into going out with you again, so I think this is best for me.
I need you to accept that this decision is final, and I am asking you not to contact me and to completely disengage from Facebook and other social media. Please let’s just remember the good times and move on with our lives.”
NO nonsense about being friends. He can’t handle friendship with you, so don’t even suggest it.
So once you have this email composed, open up all social media and unfriend/block him on it. Create an email filter that automatically deletes his email or sends it to a special folder that you never read. Block him on Skype. Download a call-blocker app for your phone and block his number. Tell all mutual friends “(Dude) and I have broken up. He will probably be very sad, so you should reach out to him, but I am taking a long break from having any contact with him while I get over our relationship. Thanks for understanding.” If he tries to get friends to pass on messages, just say “I’m really trying to get over things, and it’s very painful for both of us. I’d appreciate you not mentioning him to me or vice versa.”
Then send the email and be done with it. It’s hard, and not how you wanted it to end, but you will be really and truly taking care of yourself if you can find the strength to end it completely.
P.S. Talking to a counselor would not be a bad move for you. You definitely need to process some of this stuff with someone who has outside perspective and who will be nice to you.
Dear Cap’n Awkward,
I find myself in the middle of a tangled web of lies due to my inability to say no to someone. Although I have read your Art of Saying “No” articles and everything that was even remotely tied to the topic, I’m afraid it still did not help my situation. I’m a 22 year old student who suffers from social anxiety to the point where I prefer to stay inside and spend time with my books. I’ve spent the most of the past decade on the Internet making friends since it was easier and it saved me from facing issues I found too overwhelming in real. When I was 15, I met someone while playing World of Warcraft, and at first the friendship went on without a hitch. However, a few months after I made his acquaintance, he told me he had some serious feelings for me and he wanted more than mere friendship. He’s 8 years older than me, which at that point didn’t really seem to be a problem, since I was the type of teenager who found the attention of older men very flattering.
Yet as time progressed, he got more and more aggressive about it. First came the text messages describing his sexual fantasies, most of them revolving around his desire to be my first sexual partner. When I didn’t respond to those, he would quickly apologize, saying he never meant to make me feel uncomfortable. I fell for it, several times. As someone who spent her time crushing over people who never returned those feelings, at the beginning I could actually sympathize with his predicament. Despite all this, he kept bombarding me with erotic text messages and after a while, the apologies stopped. His calls became frequent even when he knew I never liked speaking over the phone with anyone. When I didn’t answer, he messaged me. Over and over again until he got a reaction from me. I soon regretted even giving him my number and decided to block him. For a few weeks after that I didn’t hear from him. I felt sorry about my reaction, but didn’t want to backtrack since his interactions with me made me highly uncomfortable.
Two weeks later arrived the first present in the mail. To this day I have no idea how he found out my address, but he sure decided to make good use of it. He sent me an iPod with a note attached in which he began his emotional guilt tripping crusade. Claiming he was going to commit suicide due to my disappearance from his life, he wanted the gift to be my last reminder of him. As someone who had a close friend take their life a few years earlier, this was the biggest hook he could use on me. I raced back into his virtual arms and have been stuck there ever since.
Dozens of presents and 8 years later, I find myself having to continuously lie to him to keep him stable, since the moment he feels like I don’t “love him enough” he unleashes an emotional abuse I find myself unable to deal with. Fortunately, distance has kept him from me and the only reason why he never visited – although he expressed desire to do so – is my overprotective father. Yet this is all about to change as I wish to move to Edinburgh next year to continue my studies and he will be only a couple of hours away. He’s already making plans of us moving together and I have absolutely no idea how to get myself out of this situation. When I break all contact with him, he tracks me down either through other people – even if I explicitly tell others not to help him out -, by buying himself different phones with new numbers, or creating new email addresses. These messages are usually angry and threatening, and truth be told I’m so scared of him I just go back every time. The fact that I’m unable to say no to him is one of the biggest disappointments to me, since I don’t have this problem with anybody else. I just simply don’t know how to handle this situation.
Dear Red (#278):
HOLY FUCKING SHIT.
Please read The Gift of Fear. And seek counseling immediately (with the help of your overprotective dad). You definitely need someone to help you process the last 8 years and to help you rid yourself of the idea that you’re responsible for this guy’s well-being in any way.
Getting free of this guy is going to be a bit of a process. Here are some of the steps:
1. Refuse all presents. Mark them “Return to Sender.” If you can’t do that, and you don’t want to return them to him because it will mean interacting, take them (unopened) to the nearest trash bin and leave them there. Donate old gifts to charity or throw them away. Out of your house, out of your life.
2. Send him a message:
I know this won’t come as good news after 8 years, but it’s time for me to break off our relationship once and for all. We won’t be emailing or talking on the phone anymore. Please don’t send any gifts or mail to my house.
You really scared me in the past when you threatened suicide, and I definitely don’t want you to harm yourself. If you have any suicidal thoughts, I beg you to seek immediate medical care.
I’m sorry it had to end like this, but it’s really time for me to move on. Thank you for respecting my decision.”
The reason to send the message is to make it clear (and have documentation that you made it clear) that you don’t want him to contact you anymore.
Then, as in above examples, do not respond to anything he says, set up filters, blocks, etc. With one exception: Should he reply to you with a suicide threat, call the emergency services in his local area and say “I recently broke off a relationship with this person who lives at (address), (telephone). He just contacted me threatening suicide and I recommend that someone check on him because he may be a danger to himself or others.”
In other words, take his threat of suicide EXTREMELY seriously and refer it immediately to someone who can help him. If he’s not serious about it, as in, it was just a cheap manipulation tactic to make a 15 year old girl (!) feel responsible for him and stay in a relationship she didn’t want and listen to his fucked up sexual fantasies, they’ll soon get to the bottom of it. If he is serious, they’ll get him the help he needs. He will resent the hell out of you for calling (and the services for showing up and checking on him), but it’s the right thing to do for him and for yourself.
If he kills himself? If he had killed himself back then when he first threatened? NOT YOUR FAULT.
If he shows up at your house, call the police. This is someone who sent explicit sexual fantasies to a 15-year-old girl and who is ignoring your direct request for no more contact. He doesn’t understand boundaries or the social contract and cannot be trusted. He does not love you or care about you. If he did he would have gotten gone when you first asked him to instead of asking you to live some weird lie for him.
All of these cases worry and scare me because of the extent to which the Letter Writers took on responsibility for the other person’s negative emotions. Breakups suck. It is sad and hard to want someone who doesn’t want you back. But breakups are survivable! Other people can get sad or mad – it’s not your job to fix other people’s addictions, mental illnesses, or deep existential sadness and fear of being alone at the cost of your own happiness and safety. Really and truly.
And for the stalkers or tempted-to-stalk among us, let’s review what to do when someone breaks up with you:
1) Say, “I’m really sorry to hear that, but I respect your decision.”
2) Go lick your wounds elsewhere. Gather whatever support system you can around yourself and grieve and be nice to yourself.
3) Sort out the giving back of the stuff as quickly and politely as possible.
4) Even if you want to be friends and think it’s possible, give it a good 3-6 months of no contact to let yourself fully get over things.
5) NO STALKING, GODDAMNIT.
6) No manipulation or guilt tactics. Would you really rather have someone fake being in love with you because they’re scared of you than suck it up for a while, heal, and move on to someone who will like you?
Readers, have you successfully excised a stalker? What worked for you?