#422: Setting expectations about frequency of communication.

Hey Cap’n,

My ex and I were in a long distance relationship for a year and a half. We broke up about a year and a half ago, quite amicably. She was my first love, and we were best friends for quite some time before we began the relationship.

After breaking up we tried to stay friends but we were using each other as emotional crutches. So I told her I didn’t want to hear from her any more, that I needed space. This was extremely difficult as she was/is very clingy, and I’d often get texts and emails from her asking me to explain ONE MORE TIME why I needed space, but I forced myself not to respond and after a while it stopped

After 4 months of no contact, I got an e-mail asking if I wanted to catch up. She said she had moved on, dated other people, understood why I needed space, etc. It sounded good so we talked for a couple hours and caught up on what had happened in our lives, and we both enjoyed it. I felt like I was ready to be friends again. By friends I mean: people who catch up once or twice a month and are on good terms with each other.

My problem is that whenever I give her an inch, she takes a mile. Once I reach out and say “hey, let’s keep in touch,” she thinks it means, “hey, let’s jump right back into being BFF who text each other every day about our deepest thoughts.” I’ll get 10 unsolicited texts a day from her, about random stuff from her day. She asks to talk almost every other night, and she will get hurt if I don’t respond. I mean, it feels really uncomfortable when our text history reads “wanna talk tonight?” “no.” “wanna talk tonight?” “no.” ad infinitum.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed and give her the silent treatment, and the cycle starts over. Needy texts, a couple months with no contact, trying to be friends, her getting clingy, me freaking out and then back to the silent treatment. Continue for 1.5 yrs.

In summary, she wants to be way closer to me than I want to be with her. I feel like I have only 2 options: 1) be her BFF or 2) cut her off completely. I don’t want to do either of those things. (And this is not because I’m trying to spare her feelings. I really do enjoy having her in my life. Just…. not so often). Is there any way to find a happy medium, or should I really go with option 2?

This story makes me want to take your ex aside and say “Oh buddy. No.”

It sucks, because you don’t want to feel like you are unfair and controlling for trying to set the pace of communication in the friendship, but she’s really putting you in that position by stepping all over your boundaries.

The happy medium here is quite elusive, but try this:

Ex, I would like to find a way for us to keep in touch occasionally that doesn’t set us both up for so much badness. Could we set up a monthly phone call or Skype session*? I would really like that.

Two worst case scenarios here are:

1) She’s super-hurt by the whole suggestion and reminder that you would ever need to limit contact, and that she’s rather have no friendship at all than abide by your terms. That’s her right! If she says “I’d rather just not talk at all than do that” your answer is “Sorry to hear that but I totally understand.”

2) You guys start out well enough but pretty soon she oversteps her bounds again and you decide to cut off contact again.

These are both contained already in the status quo, right? So you can’t make it worse by asking. Maybe you’ll get lucky and be able to have a chatty call every now and again. End the calls with “Same time, next month!” and do not really respond to communications betweentimes except with an occasional “Cool, tell me the details when we talk next month.”

Other suggestions, Awkwardeers?

*I almost said “Skype date” but boy, howdy, do not use that word.

42 thoughts on “#422: Setting expectations about frequency of communication.

  1. You can’t give her what she wants. IMO if you go against your will to please her, you’re abusing yourself. Your ex is Gollum and you are the Preciousss. Congrats.

    I hope CA’s advice works for you!

  2. In summary, she wants to be way closer to me than I want to be with her.

    I know you like your ex and that you want to be friends. I would suggest not being friends.

    This doesn’t mean that you have to announce to her WE ARE NO LONGER FRIENDS. It doesn’t mean that you are enemies. It doesn’t mean that you hate her or want terrible things to happen to her. It means that her friendship overtakes your life. It means that you don’t want to have to constantly reminder her of the boundary/reinforce boundaries.

    I know! You want her in your life! She’s nice and fun! You enjoy talking to her every once in a while! But you said so yourself–she doesn’t just touch base once in a while. She wants to be way closer than you do. And you don’t want her in your life to the extent and the frequency that she wants to be in it. It would be kindest to her and to you if you were to let this friendship go.

    1. It means you don’t want to have to constantly reminder her of the boundary/reinforce boundaries.

      This is SO exhausting, too. LW, it is ok to be drained after spending time with her (incl. texting), even if she is a really great person otherwise, because constantly policing is no fun at all. I wemt through a whole…… thing, where I was caught between “spending time with you is exhausting me and making me feel Bad because you want so much all the time,” and “but we have so much fun together and you really Get me!” Those two things can happen together! I wish my ex-friend had been able to tone it back, but it never happened (and now, years and years later, I’ll still occasionally get messages from this person, and I know I made the right choice).

      I hope you are able to reach a happy medium!

      (Does anyone else picture the Happy Medium from A Wrinkle in Time every time you use that phrase? It can’t be just me, right?)

      1. I gotta say, too, in that situation I referenced above, I wish I’d had more advanced communication and boundary skills, because we both wound up hurt. Even though the end result might’ve been the same, I wish there had been more honesty. LW, learn from my bad behavior 🙂

  3. LW, have you actually told your ex any of this? Your letter makes it sound like every time you start talking again she jumps right back into how you used to interact, which understandably makes you uncomfortable, and that you respond by not answering a bunch of her messages and then eventually giving her the silent treatment. But you don’t mention having a discussion with her about why you don’t respond or what you would like her to do differently.

    She does sound pretty clingy and overwhelming, and I can completely understand why you’d like to have a more casual friendship with her. But I can also understand — particularly since you were best friends for a long time before you started dating — her impulse to treat things like you’re back to “normal”, not understanding that you need/want the old normal to change. Yes, she should pick up on the signals you’re sending when you don’t answer her or tell her you don’t want to talk several nights in a row. But when she doesn’t, you need to use your words instead of giving her the silent treatment.

    I like the Captain’s suggestion of a monthly catch-up session, but if you’ve never actually discussed the problem with her then I would make it a little more explicit: Ex, I really like talking to you and I’m glad you’re a part of my life again, but we have different roles in each other’s lives now and I’m not comfortable talking every day and texting a lot. I think we’ve gotten into a bad pattern where you expect us to interact as much as we used to and I get overwhelmed by that and then cut things off entirely. I would like to find a way for us to keep in touch occasionally that doesn’t set us both up for so much badness. Could we set up a monthly phone call or Skype session? I would really like that.

    1. This.
      Some people are really dense, so make sure you spell out what you want and need from this relationship and make sure she understands what you are telling her. Even if you did spell it out to her, she may not have gotten the picture. Get her to verbally confirm the boundaries so you KNOW she actually gets it, and then you can refer to this conversation when she crosses the line.

      Best of luck!

      1. I would also add that people can be really blind to the reality of the situation without some explicit feedback. It looks like you’ve tried being explicit by saying “no,” to talking all the time, though. I had a problem with someone briefly that was like this, except they wouldn’t say no to things, they would just ignore me and then act like nothing was wrong, so I didn’t know what to do.

        The fact that you can say “no,” to these things means you know what you want. Unfortunately they are not getting the hint at all.

        Captain Awkward laid out the worst possible scenarios, but I do think it’s a question of taking a break for a longer amount of time. This person is taking it for granted that you will be always available to her. She is resorting to taking from you because you’re not giving it to her. The fact that you’ve said no to talking but she keeps asking EVERY DAY means she has incredibly unrealistic expectations of what she wants the relationship to be.

        Good luck with whatever you do!

        1. I agree that it might be a case of a longer break, I think it’s on the list of possibilities that your ex is not over you.

          When you wrote ‘After no contact for four months…’ I wondered – was that four months your ex not trying to contact you at all? Or was it four months of you not contacting her, three month of which consisted of her sending you endless BUT WHYYYYYY messages followed by only actually one month of genuine non-contact? If only the latter, then that is definitely not enough…. And TBH, sounds to me like maybe you responded to the email because you recognised it as her last-ditch attempt before getting over you, and were afraid of losing her friendship forever if you didn’t respond, thereby setting her heart a-flutter again and keeping her interested?

          This is high conjecture of course, so please disregard if you feel it doesn’t apply. That’s just where my mind went as I was writing but it could be projection because I was once in a slightly similar situation to your ex’s current position.

      2. Definitely true! If you haven’t already, I do recommend having this talk with her and laying everything out explicitly. But if you’ve already had this conversation, then finding different words to say it isn’t going to make it any clearer for her. If someone is choosing not to understand your boundaries (for whatever reasons) it doesn’t matter how you say it, because they will hear what they want to hear.

    2. Yeah, this. And I wouldn’t say this is necessarily “dense.” If you’ve said any of this–call once a week, please don’t call so often, I need my space–then she’s being a complete dick. But if all you’ve done is steam about it until you feel the need to cut off contact for a little while then you are not setting boundaries. Especially if you don’t say, “I am cutting off contact for a little while because you are bothering me.”

      Look, I was on the other side of this. I am this person. And while I agree with Captain Awkward that (a) some people just will be annoying and (b) it’s okay to cut people off if you must, I do not agree with the idea that cutting people off sans explanation is a good way to be clear. A lot of the time, it’s not clear. It’s really confusing. In fact, it’s torturous.

      There are a lot of reasons to not answer calls or emails, and the real reason in this case–you are seriously annoyed and considering cutting her off forever completely–is actually down at the bottom, way past Busy At Work, past Personal Problems? and maybe even Serious Personal Problems? In fact, it’s down in Paranoia, most of the time.

      Your ex/friend has good reason to understand that you want space, but she also has good reasons to believe that you want contact with her, that your friendship can be as close as is comfortable for her, and that you don’t mind if she calls you a bunch.

      And when you run hot and cold and quietly resentful, believe it or not, you are also giving her a good reason to be really anxious for some kind of response from you. In fact, she might be overcalling because she senses that something is terribly wrong. This is counterproductive, but it’s natural.

      There is another thing that in reality is on your side but in emotional reality is a perverse incentive for her: you cut her off for a few months, but then–after repeated calls from her–opened up the friendship again. So her bad habit knows that repeated calls mean comfort for her and no lasting bad consequences. It also knows, unfortunately, that when you go quiet you really might never want to talk to her again. I mean, I might be projecting here, but I would bet that these silly little texts are not so much, “La la la, everything’s fine here, la la la….” but actually somewhat, “OMIGOD ARE YOU NEVER TALKING TO ME AGAIN AGAIN?!”

      You should talk to her, and lay out exactly what you need, in terms that are federal-legislation specific: dates, times, frequency, medium. Tell her that you like her but you cannot spend this much time on the phone, period. Otherwise…she’s going to give in to temptation. And, I bet money, she’ll constantly be worried that she’s hassling you and making you hate her with her overcalling ways, which will make her want to call a lot more.

      1. This times one billion!

        I’m socially anxious and I’m always uncertain of how much contact is okay. When people repeatedly don’t answer I start to freak out a little. Although my response is the opposite of this, I stop contacting them. But I’m always worried that it was just the texts not getting through or they they accidentally forgot to answer.

        Please for her sake, be clear about your boundaries or if you cut her off, tell her clearly why (once and only once, but do explain the boundaries issue, it’s one she needs to know). I think she’ll find a lot less anxiety in her life if she’s not wondering what you’re doing/thinking or what she might be doing wrong.

        I really wish people used their words more. The guesswork gives me heartburn.

        1. This times two billion, lol!!

          I too am socially anxious and am unsure about how much contact is ok. If someone doesn’t repsond to a text or email, I back off and let them initiate contact with me. I do however feel some anxiety as to why they haven’t responded.

          I like the Captain’s advice about setting up a phone date once a month to catch up. I think someone else mentioned this, but I think it bears repeating. If she texts you and asks if you want to talk, remind her of the phone date and that you’ll catch up then. The knowledge that you will be talking again at some point in the future should help to relive the insecurity she seems to be experiencing.

        2. Yeah, it kind of gives me heartburn too. I mean, I think it’s just cats vs. dogs: I can understand on an intellectual level that someone who doesn’t get back to me in a few days (or hours) doesn’t hate me and never want to talk to me again, but my instinctive response is to freak out. I’m like, “WHERE DID YOU GO?!” My dog does the same thing when we go to the store.

          And then, of course, I tend to write off anxiety as paranoia even when it’s justified, which also blows.

          This is not anyone’s problem but mine! It just means that people read things in their own language: you think “space,” and I think “abandonment.” You aren’t obligated to accommodate someone’s communication foibles, but it’s good to be aware of them.

          For me, it’s very helpful to know what someone wants.

          Also…I know that when you get to the point of seriously considering cutting someone off, you’re very upset and resentful and very clear about your own feelings and needs. But this stuff might be totally opaque from the other side.

          1. Also…I know that when you get to the point of seriously considering cutting someone off, you’re very upset and resentful and very clear about your own feelings and needs. But this stuff might be totally opaque from the other side.

            This is exactly why I wish I had handled the friend cut-off I referenced above with more communication and honesty, even if I would have made the same decision. I know I hurt this person. But I feel like it’s much too late now, though, because I also know that if I give this person an inch the constant calls, texts, and emails will start up again, both for me and likely for any of our mutual acquaintances zie is still in touch with. I definitely learned a valuable lesson with that, though, and have learned a lot (from CA and others) about communication and healthy relationships and boundaries.

    3. I strongly recommend against this. I think that opening the door to that kind of discussion could turn into a a far more involved and emotional conversation that the LW doesn’t need to get involved with and the exgirlfriend doesn’t have the right to expect. I have had super intense clingy friends, and opening the door of “explanation” is a fast way into a conversation/chat/text session that can drag for hours. To the point where it can just be easier to cave to the socially anxious person than continue explaining/discussing/etc.

      If after 4-5 months this method is working well and boundaries are being upheld, and the ex asks why it’s so important to schedule monthly conversations as opposed to letting it happen naturally, then perhaps at that time. But not initially.

      As the Captain says, rejection of any kind doesn’t feel good. But that’s not the LW’s responsibility.

  4. I think the monthly arrangement sounds like a good idea – or if you don’t want to be so formalised, at least set *a date* some time in the future if she starts bugging you for a chat. As someone who has had a tendency to be That Person, having some concrete time set aside when you promise to talk, will do a LOT to mitigate the insecurity that is making her contact you so often and upsetting her when you don’t respond. So instead of just “no” when she asks “wanna talk?”, something like “not right now, I’m not feeling sociable, but I know I have some time free the weekend after next so let’s hang out then?” (and then “DUDE. Need my space. Save it for the weekend!” if she keeps trying.)

  5. You can’t be friends with her. You can’t ever have contact with her, really. Some folks just plain can’t be “friends” or detach that well. I am one of these people and had to learn the hard way by having my ex (who insisted on being friends with everybody, so that tells you how horrible I was) drop me cold and refuse to answer the phone if I called. At one point he told me he’d be happy just to say hi to me on the street and that ‘s IT, but I didn’t take the hint.

    Tell her that your ideal of being friends is NOT communicating more than once in a great while, and you don’t really want to be her idea of a friend any more. Well, you can try it, anyway, but I think you and she would be better off if you cut off contact forever instead. You have whopping history for years of being super close, and it’s kind of like being a drug addict. She wants to get her high again. It’s also entirely possible she’s not over you romantically as well as not being over you as a friend, but only 4 months doesn’t kill the love either. At bare minimum, you need to go cold turkey on an ex for like a year, and you guys didn’t do that.

    Sorry it’s not what you want to hear. But as an ex-clinger, she’s going to need a boot to the face in order to get the clue. This can’t be done nicely or she’ll ignore it, I am sorry to say.

  6. I wonder if she is better on other methods of communication, such that you could draw a boundary around “No texts except for emergencies — email only!”?

    I think that first you have to be able to communicate the unhappy truth that you feel overwhelmed by her and you need a lower-key friendship. Then you can express how you want to do that.

    You can start the conversation by observing that the two of you have gone through this cycle and asking where she wants your friendship to be. It might be that she doesn’t want as intense a friendship as it seems but gets so anxious about it that she is over-clingy, and the more you avoid the more she clings. Nasty cycle! It feels like she’s being pretty awful and annoying, but it could be that actually neither of you are doing anything really wrong, or anything really right, here.

    So you could just bring that cycle you’re in out in the open and ask her what she actually wants.

    Then listen.

    Then say what you actually want.

    Then the two of you compare wants and see if there’s a workable middle ground and make a proposal that, if you both stick to it, you both think will satisfy your needs — will keep her from feeling so anxious and afraid that you’ll pull away, and keep you from feeling smothered and strangled so that you do.

    The main difference in my suggestion from the Captain’s — and you can go with whichever you like — is that I suggest a collaborative solution rather than a straight-up boundary drawing. I do so because I suspect that there’s an anxiety-withdrawal-anxiety-withdrawal-ANXIETY-WITHDRAWAL-AAAAAAANXIEEEEETTYYYYYY-RUUUUNNNNNAWWAAAAAAAAAAAY kind of cycle here. When you want to maintain a relationship (and friendship is a relationship!) in the face of that you have to break the cycle! As an historically Anxious One, it has always helped me very much to have the historically Withdrawy One communicate the whys rather than just the boundaries and involve me in establishing the new world order.

    It’s one of those paradoxical things: if you offer more attention, on your terms, with clearer communication, she may feel more secure and demand less attention.

    1. I don’t know, I’m afraid that having that kind of conversation would be sending the wrong message. “Let’s talk about how we can both get our needs met” makes it sound like the letter-writer is offering to try to satisfy the ex’s emotional needs. And I don’t think the LW wants to, or should have to. It sounds to me like LW wants a casual friendship that does not include hearing that the ex has intense feelings about their relationship, or being expected to do anything about those feelings.

      I think it’s very possible that the ex is incapable of not having intense feelings about their relationship, and maybe they shouldn’t try to be friends. Some exes can’t be casual friends. But I think any chance of being casual friends depends on the LW’s ex ceasing to dump her feelings on the LW in any way, either through her current constant anxious attempts at contact or through FEELINGSTALK about her anxiety and her needs.

      1. Yeah, this. From LW’s side, it’s actually more like, “Let’s talk about how I can meet fewer of your needs, because you are annoying me right out of your life.” LW doesn’t have to accommodate the ex’s preferences, just underline their own.

        And you know, it is perfectly okay to make someone an acquaintance instead of a bestie. Aside from everything else, at some point you’re going to want a new absolute girlfriend, and it’s probably a good idea to resolve lingering attachment issues beforehand.

  7. From personal experience, I think that the fact that she wants so much DAILY contact means that she is probably not over you, no matter what she says that might indicate otherwise. In which case, my advice would be to allow more time (more than 4 months….a significant amount of time; maybe a year even?) for her to *completely* sort out those feelings and move on – which means no contact. And by no contact, I mean 0 contact….AT ALL. Not even responding to contact intiated by her.

    I was impatient, and having been the “dumper”, I was ready to be friends right away, since I knew I had no more romantic feelings to get in the way. Not wanting to lose my best freind, I didn’t wait long enough (though I thought I had – 6 months!) for Ex to move on and I didn’t make sure he was over it all before I gave him the green light for contacting me again. He acted almost the exact same way, texting EVERY day, wanting to talk and hang out more often than I wanted, and even tried to continue flirting and rekindle things I didn’t want to be rekindled. I was unwilling to cut him off (after all, he had been my best friend), and so I didn’t ignore him, but when I returned with nothing more than a platonic freindship, he became angry and things got messy and even verbally and emotionally abusive (dodged that bullet!). I had to cut him completely off, which is what I wanted to avoid all along. I eventually realized that by answering his texts and giving him even just the little contact that he wanted, I was essentially saying, “no, I don’t really mean it when I say we need some time apart, go ahead and contact me way more than I am comfortable with!”. I was also giving him hope that I still had feelings for him, which I didn’t.

    The one piece of advice that I came away with and can give you is that time would have made the world of difference in my situation and could potentially help yours. I understand not wanting to cut off contact with someone who used to be your best freind, but if the freindship really means something to you, than time apart won’t change anything other than giving each other a chance to move on.

    1. I don’t know if that’s true; just because an ex wants daily contact doesn’t mean they’re not over you. My most recent ex started messaging me every time he saw I was on FB, or sending me silly pictures… not because he wasn’t over me (he was never into me to begin with), but because that’s just how he acted with people. He created a long-standing pattern of becoming “good buddies” with the girls he’d slept with. His best friend is someone he had a 9-month-long FWB situation with.

      It felt weird to me, but that’s just how he is. Different strokes for different folks.

      1. That makes sense; I guess you would have to make that judgement based on who Ex is and how well you know them. Like I said, from my own experience, this is what I learned. Intuition also played a huge part in this, which I denied for the sake of “saving” the friendship. But my intuition told me he wasn’t over it and looking back, I should have listened (obviously). Follow your intuition!

    2. I suppose daily texting etc. could be a sign of lingering pants-feelings, but given that they were best friends before it could just be friends-feelings. I call my best friend literally every day and talk for ages, plus texts and emails. That doesn’t mean I’m interested in her. If they had a communication heavy friendship before getting all romantic, Ex might just be going back to the old friends pattern.

  8. Let me echo @CarbonatedWit: It sounds as if she’s anxious and doesn’t understand what is going on; why you’re sometimes chatty and then ignoring her again. And while she’s not handling things well, I can feel for her – and if she’s anxious and worried and maybe has other things in her life going on, she might miss your more subtle signs of ‘whoa, too much contact’, so it will help if you speak out. And yes, that might hurt her, but being hurt (and being able to complain about you to her close friends) will be better than eternally wondering what she has done wrong to make you give her the silent treatment.
    Being told hurts, but at least she’ll then be able to decide whether she wants to stay friends with you on your terms, or not see you at all, and if you do stay friends, *she* has a chance to go into it with more emotional armour and dial her expectations of you way down.

    If she can’t cope with that, then you’ll lose a friend – but at least you’ll both know where you are, because what you have right now isn’t much of a friendship, either, and is likely to end in a row of sorts anyway.

  9. I dunno… I think the Captains advice is solid but I think even trying to make a monthly phone call catch-up to be more trouble than it’s worth.
    Because, however you try and arrange it, she’s going to get the message Loud And Clear that you simply aren’t that into the friendship. Nothing says “I’m not that bothered about you” more than “let’s make a monthly date”.
    And seeing it from her point of view… she clearly wants to be BFFs, but the only response you can give her is “…meh”. Well… even the most socially clueless person in the world is going to see that for the great big slap in the face that it is.

    You’ve blown hot and cold with her, communicated one day, dead silent the next. She’s right to be confused and being OTT and clingy is a justified by-product of being confused and anxious.

    Personally I’d go with something like “X, I like you a lot, but find the 10-a-day texts quite disruptive and pressurizing. I’d like to be friends with you, but at the moment, the level of contact is just too much. How would you feel about just doing a nice long phone chat once a month for a while? And see how we get on? I feel like I need to go slowly with this friend thing. I hope you can understand that. Thanks.”

    She’ll either accept the deal, or reject it with whines and feelingstalk. If it’s the latter, can you really be bothered to be friends with her? Is a fun once-a-month chat with ongoing aggravation?

    1. I don’t think that a monthly Skype hangout is a bad idea. That’s how I do it with my long distance close friends. And it would establish a set time to talk. Only the LW knows what’s best in terms of their ex — maybe they know she gets anxious and clingy without boundaries, or is just needy all the time.

      I do think there’s a lot of good suggestions to choose from in this thread!

      1. I know that sometimes even when I’m *in* a relationship, certainty about when I will see someone again helps me to not be clingy. For example, when my boyfriend does his yearly “I am going to go away from you and be an extremely busy camp mentor for six weeks, bye!” I find it really helps if he can say “I’ll chat with you for about half an hour or so every week, probably Sunday.” (Sometimes he is too busy even for that, even though he’ll be sure it was a reasonable request to begin with, which is … bad … but we’ve got better at dealing with that, and the principle is what matters for the purposes of this conversation. If he were to say “Sorry, I can’t contact you at all,” that would be hard, but not as hard as “talk to you tomorrow, ok?” repeated ad infinitum).

        Knowing this, it’s not impossible that the ex-girlfriend in this case might find an official “once a month” easier than “Ok, so we can talk now, right? So shall I talk to him? I want to talk to him, I should just talk to him, shall I talk to him?” which, if she’s anything like me, she may be feeling on a semi-permanent basis, hence the constant texting.

  10. OK, in all fairness to the LW, he specifically asked her for space and she ignored it, peppering him with texts wanting to know why. Then, after a few months, she asked him if he wanted to catch up. This isn’t the LW being confusing or mean, it’s his ex taking a mile. The LW did what many of us do: after a few months, when their ex resumed communication and it seemed like she had moved on, the LW accepted an invitation to catch up, thinking they could be friends. The LW is not blowing hot and cold or being mean or confusing. The LW is trying to draw some boundaries and took the ex’s email in good faith that she had moved on and understood why he needed space.

    I do feel for his ex, I’ve been in her shoes, and it sucks. But when someone tells you “Please don’t contact me as I need space” you don’t nag them with constant texts demanding explanations (LW gave her one: they needed SPACE). And while I’m sure she wasn’t trying to change strategies with her “I’ve moved on and it’s all okay!” email, it’s apparent that isn’t necessarily the case.

    The LW didn’t reach out to the ex to try and be buddies. The LW asked for space. The contact was initiated by the ex, after some (I suspect) grudging compliance with the LW’s request for space (and after initial FEELINGSTEXTS demanding another recap of WHYYYYY). That the ex may still be hurting from the breakup or confused doesn’t mean that the LW did a thing wrong here.

    But LW? Seriously? I don’t think it’s going to be doable to be friends.

      1. It’s interesting how we apply genders… I’d just assumed it was a woman talking about a woman! I think it was just something in the writing style.

  11. I think I disagree with the “once per month” communication decree, mostly because it is just that–a decree from you. I picture that one monthly conversation as awkward and forced.

    My suggestion is to let her know when you will be in touch again, generally. For example, perhaps you could end your conversations with something like, “Hey, I’m going to be pretty busy. I’ll catch up with you in a couple of weeks!” And then do that–be the one to initiate the contact when you say you will. If she texts you in between, reply once with “Thanks for saying hi! I’ll call you next week.” This way you are not rejecting her, but she is reassured that you want to talk to her and that you want to be friends with her. Maybe after a few months of this, she will get used to the new pace of the friendship and it can be more of a back-and-forth.

    1. Agreed.

      Although I’d also say don’t answer more than one text or email per day. No sense draining yourself replying to endless messages.

    2. Yeah, exactly this.
      This is what I was trying to say (rather inarticulately) above. A “I will call you once a month” comes across very forced and rather fake to me. After all, these aren’t 2 forever-BFFs doing a long distance friendship. These are ex-lovers seeing if the friend thing will work. It’s actually a very different situation and I don’t think people should be comparing BFFs who live far apart, and ex lovers as the same thing. They both come with Completely Different baggage and expectations.

      Perhaps it is just me, but if an ex lover said to me “I still wanna be friends, I’ll call you once a month if I’m not too busy”… To me anyway, it just screams, “I don’t actually care that much.” But again, perhaps that’s just me.

    3. Definitely shouldn’t phrase it as a “I will talk to you once a month, so don’t contact me until then,” heh. But maybe a “Are you free on [date]? We can set aside [x amount of time] and have a proper chat” would be a firm yet gentle way of drawing that boundary.

      I’ve had it play out different ways, though for me it was just with friends rather than former-partners-turned-friends, which makes a world of difference. With one, our “talk once a month” agreement was great, because it mitigated uncertainty and stress about MAKING SURE WE’RE STILL FRIENDS (capslock necessary to encapsulate the feelings there). We have fantastic talks that go on for a few hours, and then schedule a date for the next one before we hang up. With another, the “talk once a month” thing was disastrous, because zie spent the entire talk each month alluding to (or saying explicitly) how much better it was when we spoke/texted almost daily, even though that was no longer possible for either of us. It was a monthly ride on the guilt train.

      LW, it seems likely from what you’ve said that your ex will be more of the latter. But you never know! For someone who uses frequent communication as a barometer for the health of the relationship, I can see how it would be harder to have “do you want to talk today?” answered with a “no” than a “not today, but how about [date]?” because the former doesn’t set any parameters regarding your level of interest or workload/stress.

  12. Hey it’s LW here! Thank you everyone for your suggestions. To clear one thing up, I feel like I have been pretty explicit about my boundaries in the past, saying things like “Please stop doing x, it makes me uncomfortable because I have moved on from our romantic relationship,” or “If you would like us to stay friends, I would like you to keep these specific friend-like boundaries.”She usually keeps them for a while but then ends up getting as close to the boundary as possible without crossing it, if that makes sense. On the other hand, there are times when I’ve gone silent without explanation, because I felt trying to explain would just exacerbate the situation.

    I just sent her an email now using almost verbatim some of your suggestions. It was harder for me than I expected- In this whole thing I’ve realized that I tend to let other people walk all over me when it comes to deciding boundaries and that I have often felt guilty for looking out for my own needs in relationships. So thanks for this learning experience.

    And for those who were speculating, I’m a lady 🙂

    1. Go, LW with your bad self! I expect there will probably be more hard before the easier happens (and the good Captain laid out why), but good for you for taking care of yourself and firming up your boundaries!

  13. I can definitely relate to this. I spent a year trying to be freinds with an ex until it became clear that we couldn’t, and I told him I needed time away from him. A couple of months later he contacted me, claiming that he just wanted to reconnect and be freinds. I agreed mostly just to be nice, and in the off-chance that we could actually be freinds now that significant time had passed. But he began again to hint at rekindling the relationship and became semi-emotionally abusive when I said no.
    I finally gave him an ultimatum and said zero-contact – explicitly outlined no email, text, phone, social media, and expecially no face-to-face meet ups. I blocked him from everything and deleted him frmo my life.
    The problem is he knows where to find me, and plans these awkward “run-ins” and will not leave me alone. He waits a couple of months and then tries again. I think hes harmless, because I know he wants to just talk to me, but he wants to talk me into something I do not want, which is getting back together. I try my best not to engage him in conversation – the last time we “ran into” eachother, I saw him first and ran the other way. But sometimes he tries calling from an unblocked number, etc. If he gets me to talk, I usually tell him to leave me alone – I have used MANY of the scripts from this blog – but he is relentless so I usually end up hanging up and ignoring him again until the next run-in. I hate that he even engages me in conversation but he is very, very good at manipulating my feelings into feeling just sorry enough to talk to him “at least”.
    At this point, enough time has passed that I have completely gotten over the relationship and the desire to ever be freinds, and I am very happy with my Ex-less life. More than I was with him in it, actually. But when he barges into my life again, repeatedly, it’s like a slap in the face, making me revisit what I have already let go. I really just want him to leave me alone and I don’t know how to do that. I hate that he thinks he has the right to barge in to my life whenever he wants, but I feel helpless in stopping him.
    I just realized that this wasn’t a particularly helpful comment…….but I’m here to say, I totally feel ya.

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