#972: The Return of the Draining Boyfriend Of Yore

Hi, Captain!

I’ve got a nice, awkward, many-years-running situation for you!

So when I was in my early 20s, I dated someone I shouldn’t have dated, whom I’ll call Dean. I dated him for five years. At the time, I was so isolated where I lived that it became a kind of “well, it’s better than not dating anyone” thing, until it became a love thing, and then an inertia thing. He wasn’t right for me in so many ways, but he wasn’t exactly bad to me either…and I was 23 and had very little relationship experience. Partway through the relationship I relocated to a major city for grad school, and took the opportunity to break up with him. However, after a few months and some insistance from him that surprised me (because he’d always been so passive), he moved to be with me again. We lived together until I got interested in polyamory, met what would become my community (and next partner), and then broke up in slow motion over an agonizing year, during which I dated my new person openly, Dean planned to move out of state, and we had maintenance sex that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he would make me miserable.

Context: this person was a functioning alcoholic, a burnout artist type, and most of the time treated me very well (still the most thoughtful gift-giver I’ve ever met), but see above re: the manipulative sex, and manipulative behavior in general that usually amounted to refusing to take a strong stance on anything, but guilting me if I did. Even now, close to 20 years later, it’s hard to explain exactly how that relationship (mal)functioned, and even when I’d been through a year of living with him while wanting nothing more than to be officially broken up, I was still sad when he left, and he still wanted to stay friends.

For a while we weren’t in touch, but over the years he started sending me cards and pictures again, letting me know how his life was going, and so on. More recently, he’s also been texting me, and a couple months back we had a long telephone conversation that reminded me of all the ways he used to keep reeling me back in (it was a way longer phone conversation than I wanted to have). His texts often have the flavor of his self-styling as a “comedian,” which means that at times they say offensive things that he “doesn’t mean” as directed to me, but is testing the waters as to whether they’re generally funny. (They’re not.) He and I used to be massive fans of Bill Hicks and other edgy comics; these days I look back at that material and find a lot of it horrifyingly offensive. So the texts go back and forth between expressions of “gee life sucks, but you were a great part of it so I keep in touch with you,” and weird backhanded comments I don’t know how to respond to.

In short, Dean and I are just as poorly matched now as we ever were, but I get the strong sense that he was closer to me than he had been to almost anyone, and that even now, I’m one of the few people he genuinely cares about. On top of that, he apparently has early stage Alzheimer’s, which is just…terrible. I can’t help but feel, however, that the diagnosis is yet another way for him to make me feel bad for him so he can keep me around. Which makes me feel like a jerk.

When I spoke to him last, I told him my dad had died, and he expressed genuine regret; they’d been close, possibly because my dad was a similar kind of fuckup. He expressed the desire to come to his memorial when I had it, and in the same breath said he’d understand if I didn’t want him there, which I appreciated.

But the whole thing is just so sad at this point. I feel like encouraging him by inviting him to the memorial, seeing him again, etc., could make him start contacting me more regularly and sucking my time and energy in a way I’ve found really unpleasant in the past. On the other hand, am I a jerk? I just keep finding myself ignoring his texts after a while, and then finally answering them because I feel bad, then starting the cycle over again. We’re both in our 40s, repartnered, living hundreds of miles apart; though his occasional contact obviously frazzles me, it feels like it’d be cruel to just be like, “Don’t talk to me anymore.” They say that the older you get, the more you need people who knew you when you were young, but I have to admit that that me isn’t someone I love being reminded of, and that person isn’t someone I felt knew or understood me well at all.

Recovering Passive-Aggressive Bullshit Taker

Dear Recovering Bullshit-Taker,

Good news! This is an opportunity for you to recover one step more.

You told me in your letter what the answer is with your own words:

  • “sucking my time and energy”
  • “manipulative behavior
  • guilting me
  • “really unpleasant”
  • “I just keep finding myself ignoring his texts after a while, and then finally answering them because I feel bad”
  • “we had a long telephone conversation that reminded me of all the ways he used to keep reeling me back in”
  • “just as poorly matched now”
  • “it was a way longer phone conversation than I wanted to have”
  • (his texts) say offensive things that he “doesn’t mean”
  • “weird backhanded comments I don’t know how to respond to.”
  • maintenance sex that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he would make me miserable
  • his occasional contact obviously frazzles me
  • I feel bad
  • “I feel like a jerk” “Which makes me feel like a jerk” “Am I a jerk?” 

This isn’t the story of old friends happily reconnecting in middle age, this is the story of the annoying guy who drained the life out of you resurfacing to…still kinda drain the life out of you. The guy who once guilted you into having sex you didn’t want is now guilting you into having texts you don’t want. He’s really, really good at this whole worming his way into your life and tripping all of your guilt sensors thing, so, forgive yourself for being at least a little curious and hoping that things would be better this time around. Forgive yourself for wanting to wring some kind of comfortable resolution out of a relationship that really, really didn’t work. Forgive yourself…and then take action to make your life better.

You are allowed to say goodbye to people. You are allowed to move on from that relationship and that time in your life. You are allowed to choose to be friends with people who make you feel good and who don’t leave you guilty and annoyed all the time. It’s sad that this Dean dude has Alzheimer’s, but assholes we don’t like or talk to or think about for years get sick all the time without it becoming our sworn duty to let them try out their shitty “comedy” on us.

You don’t seem like a “New phone, who dis?” kind of person (music video from”You’re The Worst” w/explicit lyrics at the link), so, try this:

1) Plan your Dad’s memorial without inviting Dean or telling him anything about it. That is an event for you, for your family and/or for people who loved your Dad, for people who are important in your life now. Dean’s offer was most likely heartfelt but it would have never, ever occurred to you to invite him to this thing had he not suggested it. Do not make an opportunity for him to be close to you when you’re grieving and vulnerable, (Unless you want 10 more years of texts you don’t enjoy that you guilt yourself into because “well, but he came all the way to my dad’s memorial service that time.”)

2) Block Dean on every conceivable form of social media where he might be able to monitor or access information about you (except your cell phone)(yet!).

3) Send one last text along the lines of: “Dean, it’s been interesting to catch up with you but I’m realizing that time in my life is not one I want to revisit now. I’m going to wish you well and then end our conversations. Goodbye!

4) Block his number in your phone as soon as you send the text. If he texts you again they will be sent into the void.

5) Hold a little funeral for him in your heart. (Speaking of which, Samantha’s new book of essays dropped this week).

6) If somehow he does get through from another number or through another medium of communication, never, ever, ever answer it. Let him have his own little heart-funeral for whatever it was you once shared.

7) Accept your totally official, in no way janky diploma that I just made on the internet.


Forgot to say:

For those of you struggling with your own “Dean” (or “Mike“)(or “Victor“)(or “I have cancer. NOW will you date me?” guy)(or “good you’re home let me tell you about MY day” guy)(ET FUCKING CETERA), here’s a calculation:


You are a good person and you don’t like hurting other people’s feelings if you can possibly help it. But…is this person doing even a tenth of the emotional labor you are doing in your interactions?

Are they showing even 1% of the consideration for your feelings/your space/your needs that you are tying yourself in knots to show for them?

Answer: No.

Ok, say they were pulling their emotional labor load and trying really hard to be considerate of your feelings.

Do you like them? Do you look forward to your interactions with them? Do you feel energized and happy after you talk with them?

Answer: No.


Pity is not enough for friendship.Wanting to be “nice” is not enough for friendship. Habit is not enough for friendship. Guilt is not enough reason for friendship. “I don’t think this person has many other/any other friends” is not enough reason for friendship if you don’t actually like them. I’ve always loved Kahlil Gibran’s words On Friendship, these in particular:

“And let your best be for your friend…

…For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.”

My loves, don’t pour your beautiful selves into other people’s empty spaces. There is nothing there for you.


175 thoughts on “#972: The Return of the Draining Boyfriend Of Yore

  1. LW, as soon as I read about how you feel it would be cruel to stop talking to Dean, I thought “but isn’t it cruel to you too to have to deal with this?”.

    Healthy relationships (of any kind) increase the net amount of happiness in the world. Your relationship with Dean doesn’t sound like it’s making both of you happier; it sounds like you’re transferring your energy to him and getting nothing out of it.

    I think the Captain has given precisely the right advice – you’ll do the best by him, and by yourself, by making a gentle but firm break. Whatever you choose, best of luck to you!

    1. I’ve heard others talk about things that need to be on needlepoint pillows, and this is one – Healthy relationships (of any kind) increase the net amount of happiness in the world.

        1. And right on the bed is the best place for this reminder – so you don’t get manipulated into guilt-sex. “Maintenance sex”?! What the heck?!

          Yes, this would be a great pillow.

          1. I know this isn’t how the LW meant “maintenance sex,” so I don’t want to veer too off topic, but “maintenance sex” can be a healthy thing in long term relationships that all the people are still happy being in but are having trouble connecting for some reason–sometimes partners can get into a funk of not being in the habit of having sex because Life, and making an effort to have “maintenance sex” can be good for ensuring that the relationship doesn’t accidentally turn into Roommates Who Sleep And Nothing Else In The Same Bed.

            This version goes “you know, I haven’t felt very sexy generally and neither have you but I think we should try to initiate sexy time because at this point I think No Sex inertia is the reason we don’t feel sexy” and other person(s) go “I think that’s a good idea, even though I don’t feel particular motivation for Sexy Times,” feeling completely safe to say “actually I am really not feeling sex at all so check back with me later/I will initiate some sex when Problem is better.” That’s different from the LWs version of maintenance sex, which seemed like “I do not want to have sex at all with YOU and I will do so only because it maintains peace.”. I guess my point is maintenance sex is fine, as long as the thing being maintained by the sex is sexual attraction/habits themselves. I work a job that averages 55-60 hour weeks, and I’ve learned that maintenance sex is something I need to do with my partner to make sure sex remains an important part of our relationship, even if sometimes I am not “feeling sexy” before stuff starts.

          2. To scoutslookingglass (I don’t know why I can’t reply directly) –

            Yes, what you describe is good and useful and fine (so long as, as you say, both partners feel safe and respected with a “not right now” answer), and I’m sure that just about every successful long-term relationship goes through at least one patch of this.

            I still wouldn’t call it “maintenance sex.” I’d call it “I love you and want you, just not right now, but I want to make sure we don’t fall in a rut of never expressing that love sexually, so I will make the effort” sex, Making the Effort Sex, for short.

            A few years back, I saw a show on TV, called Good Christian Bitches (I think – it was something like that, anyway), and there was an episode where the pastor of the congregation encouraged all the married couples to try having sex once a day (or more, if they wanted) for a full month, in order to improve their marriages. He said that sometimes, you just aren’t in the mood, but you’re not actively against it, and you can make the effort for the sake of your relationship. He didn’t encourage anyone to force their partner, if their partner was actively against it, but if neither was actively against it, he did encourage them both to try and make the effort, even if they weren’t in the mood that day.

            All the major characters in married relationships gave it a try, and at least one marriage that was on the brink of collapse was saved by it. It did more than simply “maintain,” though. It re-kindled some things, and actually showed new facets of personality that some partners had not felt safe revealing to their spouses until then. That’s more than maintaining, and definitely worthwhile.

            I’m not making the “do it every day” recommendation, but I do agree that if both partners agree to it, making an effort can be a powerful tool. It’s really all about the needs and attitudes of the partners at play.

            And sad to say, branding has a big psychological impact. Maintenance is just bleh and work to maintain the status quo, especially if the status quo is something you don’t even like, is just plain depressing. But making the effort to continue and improve a good relationship is wonderful and totally worth it!

            There is a reason why many wise couples institute a regularly scheduled Date Night, throughout their marriages. Some couples do it, after they have slipped, and others do it right from the get-go. They schedule and plan and prepare to make sure that they are in the best mood and physical state of non-exhaustion they can be on that night. Sometimes that means no housework on Fridays. Sometimes that means a bit of push-back at work for project planning timelines. Sometimes that means hiring a babysitter starting at four o’clock, even though the date doesn’t start until seven, so that both parents can have some “me” time to decompress from the previous week’s worth of stress. They do it because they want it, even if they’re not feeling sexy in the moment. They do want EACH OTHER, in general.

            I once babysat on retainer for a Date Night couple. The wife told me straight up that their marriage counselor had suggested it, and it was amazing to me, a young woman not even ready to consider marriage yet, to see the huge difference it made in the lives of this couple, their child, and their interactions as a whole family. There was grumbling and “we gotta do this” at first, and then, they all blossomed in a flower-garden of love. The mother became less frazzled on the nights I saw her, the father became more loving with his son, and the son, who was a toddler when I first met him, became more secure and better-behaved and happier, because he KNEW he was loved. And that doesn’t even touch on the couple’s personal relationship with each other, although even without obvious PDA, I could see the way they looked at each other, and the increased happiness there. It was a glorious thing to witness.

            So, I totally and completely agree with you, with the single exception of the branding.

      1. I would say it’s stronger than that: healthy relationships increase the long-term happiness of each individual involved. Not just the net total, which can be an invitation for someone to think “well, this all makes him more happy than it makes me unhappy, so I guess I’m supposed to.”

  2. LW, this advice is golden.

    It too me a long time to get comfortable with the idea of messy, confusing old love being left behind. I’d been convinced that all heart wrangling exes deserved a sort of hall pass back into my life as evidence that all that emotion was genuine, that at one point, I had loved that dude and he may have had potential not to turn into an asshat.

    The truth is, you are not the keeper of Deans self esteem. It’s his job to re evaluate his life post diagnosis and make his own peace with his stuff.

    You are doing him a kindness to refuse to do his own emotional work for him. Also, if he wants deep and meaningful talks, he needs to take that to his current partner, not an ex.

    1. “I’d been convinced that all heart wrangling exes deserved a sort of hall pass back into my life as evidence that all that emotion was genuine, that at one point, I had loved that dude and he may have had potential not to turn into an asshat.”

      ARE YOU ME. I wanted so badly to have confirmation that all that emotion was genuine and there was love and it was real and maybe it could have worked out if we had just…

      I have finally had that funeral in my heart for all the messy, confusing old love and finally been able to leave it all behind. I continued orbiting one of those guys for a decade… maybe more depending on how you count these things… and have finally been able to close the book on that story. The actual, epic end of the story was over 15 years ago. The rest has been epilogue, most of it lending nothing to the plot.

      LW, the Captain’s advice is spot on. Grieve for the potential you saw in your relationship with Dean, and let him go.

      1. Yeah, I had to resolve my desire to write a better epilogue.

        My Dean wasn’t trying to pull number on me when he reappeared. I think he knew there was no hope that I’d go back. By the time he showed up, he was in a bad shape in one of those genuine unexpected life crises. He needed the devotion I’d spent on him years before. It was sad because we both knew I’d met my life partner, there wasn’t any past to recapture. I think my Dean realised that he needed to get his shit together and from what I gather, he has.

        I couldn’t have made a friendship out of that weird dead space where intimacy used to happen naturally. We both knew it was fake. I don’t think it would have helped him either.

        1. This is similar to my Dean. We hadn’t had contact in over a year (after a very turbulent relationship which ended with me telling him to grow up and figure out what the fuck he wants out of life). Out of the blue, he tried calling me (I had deleted his number at that point and vaguely recognized it), hung up and then sent me a text message saying something along the likes of “I love you and always will. I know I’ve made mistakes and I hope you can forgive me one day”, which was like somebody stabbing a knife into my heart – it ripped open a wound I didn’t know I had.
          I don’t think he was pulling a number on me, either, but godDAMN it hurt. I responded something along the lines of “it takes two to tango” and I wished him the best for his future; he wanted to meet up to apologize in person and ALL the alarm bells rang. He had a certain pull on me and I knew it was better to not have any contact at all than to be sucked into his drama when he needed an emotional dumping ground to help him figure out his life yet again. I responded along the lines of “I think it’s best if we don’t meet up; have a nice life” and he never tried contacting me again. I did mourn our relationship what it could have been, but ultimately it was the best for me to totally disconnect.

  3. The guy who always shows back up. Ugh. I had one of those. Take the Captain’s advice and do the direct cut. You don’t have to spend time and energy on a person who tries/who did manipulate you and makes you feel bad for him.

    1. A) They *always* show back up B) It’s never the one you wish would show back up (in your single/horny/lonely moments).

        1. The time they show up becomes the worst possible time BECAUSE they showed up just then. It’s like ‘my keys are always in the last place I look’ syndrome–it feels more meaningful than it is.

          1. Or they figure out you’re going through something bad and strategically choose that time to show up. I have a friend battling a major health crisis right now, and a guy she cut off about a year ago found out about it and suddenly realized he needed to apologize to her and “support her.” Luckily she saw through the motivation immediately.

          2. Foul weather friends do this: they show up when you are low because there is a savior complex operating. The manipulative part is when they want to *keep* you low. If you won’t be kept low, and get back to sunnier skies (mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, any which way), they tend to vanish. May we all be true friends: not fair-weather friends, not foul-weather friends, but friends who are there, through good, bad, and all times.

            (First time commenter, newish reader. Hello from Los Angeles!)

          3. My Darth ex contacting me right after my dad died, even though there was no way he could have known (not even announced yet, no mutual friends at the time) felt pretty meaningful on its own!

        2. Reminded of the movie Swingers. (1996)

          “There is no difference right now. See, Mike, the only difference between giving up and not giving up is if you take her back when she wants to come back. But you can’t do anything to make her want to come back. In fact, you can only do stuff to make her not want to come back.”

          “I mean at first you’re going to pretend to forget about her, you’ll not call her, I don’t know, whatever… but then eventually, you really will forget about her. ……

          Well what if she comes back first?

          Mmmm… see, that’s the thing, is somehow they know not to come back until you really forget.”

          Mike: There’s the rub.

          Rob: There’s the rub.

        3. I blocked my ex the last time he called “so concerned” about our daughter’s grades. It was 4 days before the last day of her senior year. NOW he decided to get concerned??

          AHHHH the bliss when she was 18 and I never had to talk to him ever again.

          1. Are you kidding me? This is the most absurdly transparent reason to get in contact/regain control.
            Congratulations on her birthday 😀 (however long ago it was).

        4. It’s like they have some kind of terrible radar! My emotionally abusive ex just happened to visit the city where I went to college and wanted to stay with me the night before I had final exams. I don’t think he could actually be bothered to look up when my exams were, but it was a hell of a coincidence. Fortunately I was entirely over his shit by then so I said no and stopped answering his texts, but it freaks me out to think of how badly he would have messed up my education if he had gotten the chance. He would definitely have started a fight or something to make sure I went into those exams physically exhausted and emotionally wrung out.

      1. A) They *always* show back up B) It’s never the one you wish would show back up (in your single/horny/lonely moments).

        Slight derail, but it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who has occasional wistful moments. I was beginning to think that I was Weird and Creepy for doing so.

    2. Of course they show back up – they know nobody else would put up with their nonsense.

      1. I think some of them have rotations of exes that they cycle through showing back up and messing up each one’s life just as long as circumstances allow.

  4. hooo boy when i read the phrase “maintenance sex” i made this anguished theremin noise out of sad recognition!!

    this advice + the certificate is absolutely wonderful and liberating. i want to print it all out and show it to my younger self. i’d broken up with someone 2 years ago and he came back, resurrected his LJ account specifically to comment on my entries where i vented about my current partner, tried to add me on skype, and found current partner’s tumblr and sent him a message wanting to talk meet up and talk about “things” (viz. me).

    he said i probably hated him but he ~*WANTED ME TO KNOW HE STILL LOVED ME*~

    (he was your standard-issue british nerdboy who felt i should do all the work of growing a personality for him while he had strong opinions about dr. who and a misplaced pride in the british empire, frequently goading me into racist, sexist “debates” when he abused alcohol–which wasn’t his fault: again, i should have been responsible for keeping him happy and away from drink.)

    and it was partially because i had suggested being friends when we first broke up, so he was taking me up on that offer after 2 years of absence, but i shouldn’t have felt obliged to make it in the first place.

    1. “hooo boy when i read the phrase “maintenance sex” i made this anguished theremin noise out of sad recognition!!”

      Oh, so it wasn’t just me, then. I feel slightly better knowing there’s a few of us out there who made this mistake. I’d never quite thought of it in those terms, but that phrase hit me like a slap to the face. My version of “maintenance sex that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he’d make me miserable” came in the form of if I said I wasn’t in the mood when he wanted sex, I’d have to deal with him having a late night panic attack (usually lasting at *least* an hour), during which I’d have to soothe him down from the panic and assure him that I still loved him/wanted him/etc etc etc. I’d get to sleep earlier if I just went along with being vaguely bored and dissatisfied for 20-30 minutes.

      Anyway. I don’t really have anything useful for the LW, other than to wholeheartedly agree with the Captain’s advice, and agree with Pear that I wish I could show it to my younger self. Relationships are supposed to go both ways. Mutual support and respect and investment. This guy is all take and no give. Cut him off and move on without guilt.

      1. Hi, are you me? Or, more horrifyingly, is your ex my ex? Because I made that exact same “20 minutes (if that) of boring sex vs. an hour of reassuring him I love him” calculation so many times that I still remember it vividly lo these 22 years later.

        The first time I hung out with that ex after breaking up, we were at my house, in my bedroom. He said “I need to go to the bathroom” and then was gone a long time. When I opened my bedroom door to go check on him, I found him standing outside my bedroom jerking off. That is the mental image I attach to the LW’s texts from the ex. Dean knows that weird intrusive texts are as close as he’s going to get to getting in the LW’s pants again, and he’s trying to get every last bit of satisfaction out of it, no matter how pathetic it is.

        Shut that door, LW. You will not be sorry.

    2. “anguished theremin noise”

      OH MY GOD this made me snort tea out my nose. This is the best descriptive phrase ever – thank YOU Pear for making me feel energised and happy just in these here comments.


      “Well, that’s nice for you. It’s good to have love in your heart. Goodbye, now.”

      Also, Pear, if he is WANTING YOU TO KNOW HE STILL LOVES YOU, he’s not “taking you up on the offer of friendship.” He’s trying to get back into your pants. He’s not after friendship. If he were after friendship, he would not WANT YOU TO KNOW HE STILL LOVES YOU! He would just, you know, be friends. “Hey, wanna go bowling on Thursday?” “How was your day? Is that weird co-worker still doing weird things? Did you get that promotion?” Stuff like that is friendly and perfectly acceptable. It’s when they get into “I AM SO MUCH IN NEED WITH YOU, AND YOU COMPLETE ME, AND WITHOUT YOU I AM INCOMPLETE AND CANNOT DEAL WITH LIFE, SO BE MY PARTNER AND TAKE CARE OF ALL MY NEEEEEEEEDS,” that you know it’s just not going to work.

      Some relationships can be rekindled years later, and be better, because both people have grown into more mature, more loving, more capable adults. These people SHOW themselves to be thus improved, at the beginning of the rekindling, with good signs of change, rather than repeats of behavior that made you dump them, in the first place. They don’t re-introduce themselves into your life by announcing how much THEY NEED/WANT/LOVE YOUUUUU! because by now they have learned self-sufficiency, patience, and respect, and they know how to be real friends, if the romance doesn’t work, or to walk away, if you need them to not be part of your life right now. Humbly accepting a cut-off is, paradoxically, one of the best signs that this person is actually a good potential lover, now, because it shows that patience, respect, and self-sufficiency that is necessary.

      1. Honestly, when I read my ex’s messages to me, I was frightened–he clearly thought it was comforting to know I was still loved by him; he wanted to “destroy” my partner “with punchfists” which is… both hilarious and concerning. In just a short message, he’d so clearly conveyed he hadn’t moved on or developed in any way.

        With some advice from my partner (who’s a lawyer–not that one necessarily needs to be a lawyer to have this knowledge ofc), I drafted a message where I stated that in 2 years apart I’d very much changed my mind, detailed (with dates) each attempt at contact and how it distressed me, and warned him that I’d consider any further contact harassment. I sent it on every platform I could think of, then blocked him and any mutual friends, since he’d tried to contact me through them before.

        I just wanted to live! I wanted to be annoyed with my current partner without an ex popping up and being like, “Soooo what’s up? P.S. I wanna punch ur boyfriend.”

        And thinking back on it now, after 4 years without any contact from him, it is utterly fucking blissful to not have him around in my head or in inbox.

        1. “with punchfists” might need to be a meme. Representing, what even is it exactly, the smug self-perceived manliness + irremediable juvenility + real threat.

      2. Yes so very much this. And the giveaway is how he starts it off: I WANT. Not, I still love you. Not, I miss you. Not, how’s it going and wanna get coffee. But I WANT.

        It is not cruel to decline an invitation to a shitshow, LW.

  5. What raised a red flag for me is the Alzheimer’s thing. As I’ve learned to (finally!) identify manipulative, abusive people in my life, one of the sure-fire signals is a claim to a deadly or stressful health issue. That includes colon cancer, brain cancer, pregnancy, etc. There are people who will use every trigger in the world to guilt-trip you or abuse your sympathy, and this sounds like one of them. Captain’s advice is spot-on. I wish she’d been around when I was negotiating those waters!

    1. I’m sure manipulative, abusive people do use their diagnosis to worm their way back into people’s lives. However, when one actually gets a dread disease, there can be a weird impulse to reach out to people. I felt the need to talk to folks from my past, maybe for closure, maybe because I was scared, maybe because wanting a community around during hard times is a human impulse. I’ll admit I did call one ex who afterwards I wondered why I called, since I didn’t really want to rekindle a friendship. People do crazy things when they think/know they are dying. I suppose the red flag should only be raised if the person was a Darth friend or Darth ex, rather than someone who legitimately wants to revive a lapsed friendship, without abusing sympathy

      1. Question is, when someone reappears in your life and says they have a new diagnosis, what do they say they want?

        “I had an impulse to hear your voice again and to tell you I’m still getting a lot of pleasure out of that writer you introduced me to” — OK, I could work with that.

        “I remembered that we said we were going to be friends. Do you want to [go to the free movie at the library] [get coffee and chat a bit] [call each other up to live-watch a TV show together from across the miles] [do other friendlike thing]?” — I might say yes, I might say no, but it’s not an inherently obnoxious thing to ask for.

        “I remembered that we said we were going to be friends. I could really use a friend right now. Everybody who claimed to love me has deserted me in my hour of need. [45-minute feelingsdump with bonus reproaches and guilt-tripping] Oh, you have to go? I’ll call you again tomorrow.” — nope.

        “I know it’s 3 a.m., but do you want to come over and comfort me?” — big nope.

        “Say the word and I’ll travel 800 miles to see you and somehow never leave again” — the nopest.

      2. If I found out I had Alzheimers I would want to get into contact with people since I wouldn’t know how much longer I would be my full “self.”

        1. Not I.

          Well, ok, the few people I never disliked, am no longer close to, and always planned on contacting again – I’d contact them.

          But not the exes whom I disliked by the time we split. Certainly not the exes who dumped me.

      3. That makes sense but also…I have known more than one ex-who-didn’t-want-to-be-an-ex have a “major medical issue” that quickly resolved when it became clear that pity/compassion wasn’t going to be bringing the object of their affections back.

        1. Assholes like that make even harder for people with actual chronic illnesses to get the care and respect they deserve. *throws said assholes down the trash hole*

      4. I think it’s more like – illness and diagnoses thereof are not a red flag, but what one chooses to do in response can be.
        Making THEIR diagnosis YOUR problem is something manipulative exes do.

    2. Familial Alzheimers Disease tends to have an early onset and family histories can be missed, it’s plausible that Dean could have appeared well a year ago but is now trying to make sense of what is him, what is his illness, looking back and feeling the pinch of hindsight. Any mental illness that impairs judgement and insight would cause someone to look at their past. F.A.D is one of those diagnoses that hits people hard in ways you wouldn’t expect. Many sufferers have no clue they are at risk until they are symptomatic.

      Dean absolutely should *not* be putting LW in the role of counsellor. Even if his illness is reducing his ability to behave appropriately, it’s not the case that LW has to manage that.

    3. I had a not nearly as toxic as this ex lie to me about having mesothelioma to get me to keep having sex with him after I broke up with him. I believed him for about a year, but I luckily didn’t think that was a good enough reason to have casual sex with an ex I wasn’t attracted to.

      The upshot is I’m now unfortunately quite distrustful when it comes to illness as an excuse or explination.

    4. Argh! The illness card!

      Me: “I am sorry but I really don´t want to be that special person for you.”

      Him: “Let me explain in detail why your answer is hurting my feelings because I really thought you were The One, True and Only (TM). Also, you don´t know how much this can affect me. Let me tell you about THIS DISEASE I´ve never mention in the three years that we have known each other. It could kill me anytime and any surgery would be such a risk that no surgeon has dared ever to suggest that I go through it… and it´s triggered by stress, and depression aggravates it, and this is killing me because you´re tearing my heart apart, I really love you so much…”

      This goes for twenty minutes. My usual reaction to face-to-face confrontation is shutting up. So, I don´t say anything, but, yes, I am feeling the pity cramps already taking over. And I am assuming that the first chance of him stopping his rant I will say something accommodating that I will regret. But then he, irritated by my lack of response, finishes with THIS:

      Him: “.. but now I am sure that the day you see an update online saying that I died suddenly drowned in my own blood, alone and unloved, you´re going to throw a party because you are a soulless b****!”

      I took a deep breath, feeling insulted, but also relieved.

      Me: “Thank you. THANK YOU. I won´t, but I really could kiss you right now.”

      Him: “Why?”

      Me: “You just said the right thing for me to avoid a very big mistake. And now, FUCK YOU.”

      I never saw him again. He trolled me, even posted somewhere a vivid fantasy about hammering nails in my eyes several years after this exchange. He´s doing his best to ensure that I really throw that party.

      1. Good for you for that reaction, but my heavens that’s a crappy experience. Internet hugs if you want them for experiencing that and then typing it out so we could learn from it.

        1. Thank you for the jedi hugs! I was sad because I lost two good common friends who took his side, who also “confirming” his illness, which is still nuts because we had a stronger relationship and that´s the kind of thing I would expect a bit of gossip about. Also, at the time, I was pretty sure I was safe, as meeting him physically was easy to avoid. I lived in another country, all our interaction had been online, and I had visited for holidays only.

          In contrast, years before this, I had an interaction with a dude who told me about this genetic disease he had upfront, some of the symptoms of were very visible. Instead of pulling the illness card, he asked me if I could help him forget a relationship that he had had with a married woman who has used him as her sex pet. The Pity Card can take so many forms.

  6. OP, it is time for you to let this relationship fade out. And by that I mean, it is time for you to force this relationship to fade out.

    Stop answering texts, most of the time. When you do answer (if you do answer–you aren’t obligated to, you don’t owe Dean your time or your attention), keep it to one or two responses, then let the conversation end. If you talk on the phone, keep it to 5 minutes, then be busy. (You don’t have to actually have plans; ‘busy’ here means ‘I have better things to do with my time than talk to a guy I don’t even like all that much’.) Don’t invite him places. Don’t initiate contact.

    Odds are if you stick with this, he will eventually stop contacting you. He’s insisting on this contact because you’re giving him attention; if you stop giving him that, he’ll eventually find other ways to get that need met, and then he probably won’t bother with contacting you anymore. (There is a chance, though, this will backfire and the more you slip away, the tighter he’ll try to cling to you.)

    If he does insist on being persistent, or if you’re a more confrontation-tolerant person than I am and want to get this done with directly, the Captain’s last-text script is excellent. Steps 4-6 are also excellent and should be followed.

  7. I’m saving/printing that certificate right now. I have a friend who had to do this and she definitely needs a copy.

  8. Reblogged this on Almost Heaven and commented:
    I adore Captain Awkward
    “Don’t pour your beautiful selves into other people’s empty spaces. There is nothing there for you.”

    1. I was just going to say the exact same thing. That sentence is beautiful and haunting. Thanks for saying it for me.

    2. I was just going to say this too! I think I want it on a bag… you know, a cute little bit of irony there? 🙂

      If the Captain does it with her merch, I will get it!

  9. LW, as someone with more than one Dean in her past, I feel you so hard right now.

    People either enhance each other’s Good qualities or bad qualities, and it sounds like Dean was happy to exploit some (completely understandable and well-meaning) care-taking tendencies of yours in order to indulge, rather than address, some of his personal dysfunction. So believe me when I say: Cutting Dean off is a kindness. To you and to him.

    Love yourself enough not to caretake Dean anymore. Yes, it sucks thst he is apparently in poor health (also, agreeing with the commenter upthread who observed that manipulative people are known to have conveniently timed health crises), BUT falling back on you out of loneliness or habit or laziness will not help Dean help himself. It’s him avoiding facing unpleasant things, yet again. As comforting as a familiar, toxic dynamic can be, at the end of the day, it’s still toxic.

    And I’m begging you not to let Dean come to your dad’s memorial. I’m sure he is sad to hear about your dad, but he will make it all about you supporting his emotions and his grief, which… no.

    LW, I’m sending you good thoughts and Jedi hugs and hoping for good things for you.

  10. It feels like it’d be cruel to just be like, “Don’t talk to me anymore.” I’m going to be blunt here, because I find this line of thinking pervasive in so many people, me included at points.

    How is it nicer to stay in contact with someone on the false pretenses that you are actually interested in them? Contact out of pity is super condescending on its face. I fully believe this dude does NOT care whether you want to talk to him or are interested in him or not, and he’s intending to get what HE wants out of this (I mean, do you really think this guy is expending the same amount of emotional energy into being compassionate to you?), and frankly I think “being nice” is an emotional trap manipulators use liberally, but let’s deprogram ourselves from this false dichotomy, where we are better people for resentfully lending our time.

    The next time you wonder whether your boundaries are nice enough, ask yourself what’s nice about not having them.

    1. Yupp. And even if you assume they are a great person and you don’t want to hurt them etc: The longer you wait and endure contact, the more attached they are going to get (and the higher the risk you will become mean and go nuclear when ending it because you have had enough).

      When do you think being dumped hurts less? After 2 dates or after 7 years? This rationale works the same with whatever kind of relationship we are talking.

      1. Exactly. False friendship is like cancer – cut it out while it’s stage 1 or 2, not stage 4! By then, it has become so endemic, absorbed into all facets of your life, that the only way to cut out that false friendship is to move to another country, or possibly fake your own death.

        It’s much better, both for you and your “friend,” to end it early, before either of you invest too much into a false relationship, and only wind up resenting each other. That time and energy can be better used elsewhere, possibly finding a true friendship with a real kindred spirit. So, free him up to find his soul-mate, elsewhere.

    2. The short version: “nice” is not the same thing as “kind” (and honesty is neraly always the kinder path, even, perhaps especially, when it’s not nice).

    3. How is it nicer to stay in contact with someone on the false pretenses that you are actually interested in them?

      This, a thousand times this! I would be absolutely crushed to find out that a long-term friend had only been tolerating me because they thought they were supposed to. I’m not saying there’s any painless time to find out that a friend doesn’t actually like you, but it’s only going to hurt more the longer it goes on. I firmly believe it’s kindest to make a clean break with people whose company you don’t actually enjoy as soon as you reasonably can.

      And that’s only if he’s acting in good faith! I’m with Maria, I’m very suspicious he is using your niceness as a trap. Frankly, there is a 0% chance he is worrying even a fraction as much about your feelings and your wellbeing as you are about his.

      1. And of course when ending a friendship you don’t have to tell the other person you don’t like them. Even if doing a slow fade doesn’t work, you can say thanks but no thanks in a way that’s “not for me” rather than “I think you suck”. (Note that I can’t see a slow fade working in this case bcs of your history but in many cases it works well also, esp if it’s not “I actively dislike this person” but rather “I have other higher priority people”.)

  11. My Dean still pokes me on Facebook once every four months or so. “Hi, it’s me…we had a thing (over a decade ago)…I still think about you…I still miss you…we were such good friends…”

    And I remember the emotional manipulation, and the condescending emails, and his desperate attempts to explain himself when I learned about his wife and children, and hit the “ignore” button.

    It doesn’t sound like Dean was good for you while he was in your life back then, and he’ll be just the same now, since he apparently hasn’t changed one whit. You disentangled yourself once, don’t go walking into those brambles again.

    1. Facebook is one of the easiest places to block someone on. A few clicks, and he won’t be a facebook friend, won’t be able to put anything on your newsfeed, won’t be able to send you private messages, nothing.

  12. Hi LW, I’m of a similar age to you and have a “Dean” too, though the circumstances are a bit different. That did make me read the Captain’s closing remarks with particular attention, and discomfort. When we first got back in touch and chatted I was happy and excited so at first he met the requirement of making me feel good, though he then got weird and started acting like we were together. So now I’m not at all sure about the grounds for friendship … yikes. Yet he responded fairly well in the end when I set a boundary about that stuff and showed signs of considering my feelings. I’ll have to make a plan involving more boundaries I think.
    Anyway, what I wanted to say was, you say that the older you get the more you need people who knew you when you were younger. I’ve never heard that one and I’m not sure it’s true. As I grow, I choose friends more consciously. Like you I won’t put up with bullshit from people I used to put up with it from, so they’re gone. There are many more things that matter more than how long I’ve known people. I guess it can be enriching if you can reminisce about funny things that no one who wasn’t there would understand; I do that with my siblings sometimes. But that’s a bonus, not an essential.

  13. Dean needs an African Violet for former partners who want to maintain a friendship that never really was.

    Delete text in brackets [thus], and add text in between asterisks *thus*:

    “Dear [Friend] *former partner*, please take this African Violet as a symbol of the [close and wonderful friendship] *dysfunctional relationship* we once shared. Please enjoy it in good health, and if you are having a problem or just want to chat, please call someone else from now on.”

  14. I had a Dave, once, though she was a friend, not a significant other.

    Eventually I realized that pity is no basis for a relationship. How could it be?

    Life is much better now.

  15. I dated him for five years. At the time, I was so isolated where I lived that it became a kind of “well, it’s better than not dating anyone” thing, until it became a love thing, and then an inertia thing. He wasn’t right for me in so many ways, but he wasn’t exactly bad to me either…

    Oh no, this is my current relationship. 😦 It’s so hard to make the move to get out, even though I know it’s the right thing to do. I don’t *think* he will turn into a Dean (fingers crossed).

  16. “On top of that, he apparently has early stage Alzheimer’s, which is just…terrible. I can’t help but feel, however, that the diagnosis is yet another way for him to make me feel bad for him so he can keep me around. Which makes me feel like a jerk.”

    Oh goodness, yes. This rings so many bells for me!

    There was this guy I knew in university, who at first I thought was going to be a friend because we liked a lot of the same stuff and we were both socially awkward…and then it became apparent that a) he had a crush on me and b) he was socially awkward of the type that doesn’t ask you anything, just acts by unexpectedly stroking body parts/kissing you and assuming that if you don’t shut him down hard and fast it means you’re into it (and I’m socially awkward of the type that freezes up when someone doesn’t ask me anything, because my little brain spins round in panicky circles going “I can’t say No when he hasn’t asked a question! That might be unreasonable!”).

    After about a week of my hiding every time he came into sight or making sure there was an entire social group of people between us, he cornered me to say that he thought we should break up(!) because it just wasn’t working for him; I took it bravely…and didn’t laugh in his face (though I did laugh a year later when I found out he’d told a mutual friend that we’d dated for a month and he’d broken up with me because I was boring!). We had mutual friends, so he was always around, but I managed to make sure I was never alone with him – and the other girls in my group were far better at speaking up when he tried stroking their feet while we were watching a film as a group.

    Fast forward to graduation, and you’ll never guess which person I definitively did not give my contact details to. Oh wait, yep, it was that guy. And yet somehow half a year later, I’m chilling out at home when the phone rings and it’s him. A mutual friend gave him my mobile phone number because he’d been diagnosed with cancer and he wanted advice from me on how to cope with chronic illness – only you can help me Obi Wan. And I felt massively guilty for panicking when I heard his voice, and did my best to give good advice, and tried to navigate carefully between “uncaring bitch” and “wary that if I give an inch you’ll take a mile” because dammit he had a girlfriend now, and surely that meant I was being paranoid (and/or self-centered) to think he was still interested in me – and spent approximately a day thinking I’d managed the situation successfully before I got a text from him, reading (something along the lines of): “It’s OK. I broke up with my girlfriend.”

    I freaked out. Quietly, because it’s me we’re talking about, but very thoroughly. I think I turned my phone off for a week to make sure he couldn’t call me again. And I made an excuse to my parents for getting a new mobile with a changed number.

    TL;DR – Yes, your ex’s illness very probably is yet another way for him to manipulate and guilt trip you. But don’t worry, because if he’s anything like the guy I knew, he’ll fall on his feet and find someone else to look after him.

      1. Believe me, that was me too, and I was there!

        And yet somehow, despite the widely-acknowledged feet thing, no-one else in my friends group – including the other girls it happened to – seems to think he was anything but a nice, quiet friend with a couple of unfortunate quirks. I love my friends a lot, but because everyone else seemed so certain that nothing untoward was going on, it took me ten years to make the leap that no, that and various other things (which contributed to me making very sure I wasn’t alone with him) really REALLY weren’t OK in the least. And although I’ve got to the point where I can write “sexual assault” about those other things, I still can’t say it out loud without either getting panicky or telling myself I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

        1. Jedi hugs to you and amplifiers to the “wait, that was actually quite fucked up” voice.

        2. Agreed! Jedi Hugs. That was massively not ok. “Foot rub of plausible deniability” iss creepy. True-story, I once was trying to make new friends in a city while monogamously coupled. Met a guy through a meet-up and was soooo explicit about just looking for friends and happy with my boyfriend. He said yess of course friends! And then the first time we talk face to face he’s all, “you are so beautiful, let me rub your feet, why are you wearing boots today I can’t see your feet?….fyi I have a foot fetish”. I said “NO!” to all of it and said that didn’t sound like proper friend behavior. He said don’t you let friends touch you and sometimes rub your feet?…..ugggh I noped out of that situation but not until after a one more try visit (because I’m nice and have no boundaries and like to think the best of folks ugh) in which he as a “friend” (trigger warning for creepy behavior) [tw]reached into my pants and hooked my underwear and pulled it out to check the color and then say “black!” suggestively[/tw]

          I am infinitely glad he never learned my home address but he did continue to send shitty texts years after I told him to never contact me again (I wish I had CA’s great advice to block his number the minute it happened).

    1. “It’s OK. I broke up with my girlfriend.”

      My response: Those two sentences don’t go together. If “it’s OK,” then why did you break up with her? It should be “It’s not OK, and I broke up with my girlfriend, but things will be OK soon, as I move on with my life without her.” And why are you telling me this, anyway?

      Oooooh, wait! That was supposed to be a pickup line for you, wasn’t it? Sorry. I don’t do rebounds.

      1. I wish I could have had that much self-possession, but unfortunately ever since ME hit me like a truck in my early teens, adrenaline rushes have stopped being my friend and my fight or flight response has tended to reroute to “freeze and pretend you’re too small to notice”. And that guy in particular had long pushed me past the point of feeling able to say anything out loud, because if he’s going to ignore the “No”s you give on the little things like being walked home, what point is there on the bigger “No”s – making myself completely unavailable was the only thing I felt in control of by that time.

        But I’m so glad you noticed the creepy pick up too – almost everyone I’ve mentioned it to, told me it was a perfectly innocuous message.

        1. Dear god, I am so sorry the people you mentioned it to read it that way (and also deeply confused, because wow, that was not subtle).

          I confess my reaction was “Well good for her Jimothy, but I hope like hell you aren’t imagining I will see this as an opportunity.” (by which I mean “I can tell you ARE pressure-expecting me to see this as an opportunity, here is *your* opportunity to slink quietly backwards.”)

      2. I read it as a kind of favor sharking. “Oh god, he broke up with his girlfriend for me, now I HAVE to give him a chance” was the desired response. I’m glad it didn’t work here.

        1. Favor sharking? I didn’t know that term, but I like it. And yeah, that makes sense. “But, I did this for yoouuuuuuu.” Ugh.

          The nice thing about being single at 45 is that I KNOW I can survive just fine without a man. Yes, I would prefer to be married, but not at the cost of my self-esteem and sanity. This “beggar” is choosing to be single until Mr. Actually Right For Me comes along. Till then, I can be happy with myself and Team Me, and give all the Mr. Wrongs the side-eye.

          Another nice thing about being a woman at 45 is that a HUGE proportion of Mr. Wrongs ignore you at that age. Street harassment is largely a thing of the past, thank God. Nowadays, my side-eye is more on behalf of other women, and I just hope that my young niece learns the art of side-eye and the spine to back it up.

          Nothing makes me more satisfied in my single hood, and less sad in loneliness, than a good case of side-eye. And a great Team Me.

    2. Just for the avoidance of doubt, friends don’t give out your phone number to a third party. They say “give me your number and I’ll see she gets it; was there anything urgent you need me to pass on?”

      I struggle to think of any scenario that doesn’t cover. All I can come up with is secret agent style conspiracy in which case how am I the only contact between Bond and Moneypenny?

    3. Just for the avoidance of doubt, friends don’t give out your phone number to a third party. They say “give me your number and I’ll see she gets it; was there anything urgent you need me to pass on?”

      I struggle to think of any scenario that doesn’t cover. All I can come up with is secret agent style conspiracy in which case how am I the only contact between Bond and Moneypenny?

      1. I don’t think it’s ever OK. Even if they’ve told you in the past to give it out freely, that can change quickly. Given the speed that an ex can go from harmless to oh-shit-stalker behavior. Ask. It’s the same amount of effort to forward a number + message to someone as it is to forward their number to the person asking for it.

      2. My scenario for that would be if the friend told me beforehand that it was ok. Say, along the lines of, “So-and-So is calling tonight on the land line because I forgot my new cell phone nr and couldn’t give it to her earlier. I’m going to be out, could you pass it on for me?” Or “Here’s my new # and you can share it with mutual friends.” I’ve gotten situations like that sometimes.

    4. unexpectedly stroking body parts/kissing you

      other girls in my group were far better at speaking up when he tried stroking their feet while we were watching a film as a group.


      ho god!!! a few months ago i had a creepy houseguest who, amongst other things, GrABBED MY TOES WITH THEIR TOES for no reason? and said, ‘hmm, i was expecting more of a reaction’ when i froze up in horror. and they, too, assumed that because i didn’t yell at them, it was ok to carry on touching me–and for some reason they did not touch my partner, a dude…..

      they only stayed for two (2!) days; other such unwanted touches occurred in that very brief time, but just that was enough to make me feel wibbly for weeks. cannot imagine how absolutely horrid an entire week of assault would feel. i am so sorry this happened to you.

      also, boo @ the mutual friend giving out your number :\ even if i know my friends are on good terms, i always check individually before sharing details to prevent things like this from happening. even if nothing bad happens it’s preferable to keep these details under control.

  17. From experience that I don’t want to think about: In case that he shows up on the funeral, have a) a good and helpful friend of you (who was not close to your dad and who knows and agrees about the situation) to keep him away from you/showing him the grave/whatever and your partner always at your side to intervene if he tries to talk to you.
    Warn them now and have them ready. Believe me.

    1. Ideally, choose someone who is close to you and doesn’t know the other person at all and who will believe you when you tell them, “I don’t care WHAT ToxicEx tells you, they are not welcome and you are not doing me any favors by letting them attend/speak to me/weep over the casket. This is a private event and they are excluded.”

      So many people will say they understand and then be swayed by tears and protestations of changed feelings or whatever and think they’re helping. You need someone who is willing to be heartless to them because they are so heartful for you.

      1. Tell the funeral directors. Handling whatever awkward crap happens at the funeral is part of their job, and they aren’t going to pull any “but FAAAAMILY” or “but OLD DEAR FRIEEEENDS” BS on you.

      2. Yup, I know a funeral director or two (professionally…) and they’ve always got one or two properly large men either on the team or available to call for bouncer duties when nec. It’s entirely within their duties if asked.

  18. AMEN. Being “nice” is not a basis of a relationship!!!!! Stop organizing your identity around being “nice”! Being nice is a matter of politeness and respect. It is not a foundation for friendship, family, romance.

    The guilt people feel in such situations is not about that person but about old hurts and unquestioned assumptions about what you believe you are “allowed” to do. Why do you think you’re not allowed to say no, for instance? You don’t assuage the guilt by giving yourself up. You deal with the guilt by practicing positive self-assertion-by spending time deliberately with people who are positive for you, and saying no to people who aren’t, and then feeling good about taking care of YOURSELF that way.

    And can I say, “maintenance sex” is really a horrifying phrase?

    1. You can be the nicest person in the world and still not want this guy in your life. You’ve grown past this and don’t want to spend the time on his issues.

      You’re still nice.

    2. And can I say, “maintenance sex” is really a horrifying phrase?

      Is maintenance sex really that bad? And if it is, shouldn’t the solution be a clean break?

      I do all kinds of things I’m not SUPER into but also don’t outright hate to maintain relationships because the relationships are, on the balance, important. To me, the creepy bit here is the coercion*, not the “maintenance” aspect. Maintenance sex is going to your partner’s gallery opening or band performances or camping trip to support zir when you’re not super into (zir) art/music/the outdoors, except not as much of a time commitment. I don’t think one should do things one HATES for a partner, but, especially in the case where partner isn’t allowed to do [thing] with other people (true of sex much more often than camping or jogging or yoga), doing [thing] for a partner’s sole benefit seems completely reasonable.

      *”that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he would make me miserable” = fucking yikes1

      1. It’s horrifying in context.

        Yes, many people in long term relationships set aside time for sex and might think of that time (as opposed to the spontaneous times) as maintenance sex.

        That’s not the same as performing sexual acts you don’t want to perform, and won’t enjoy, because those acts are (marginally) less miserable or at least less time-consuming, than the nagging or anger or other bad behavior your partner will inflict on you.

        1. Yes, it seems pretty clear that the “maintenance sex” that the LW refers to was in service of something that zie didn’t actually want to maintain.

      2. LW here!

        Yeah, it was really awful. I was young, I didn’t know myself very well at all, I didn’t have a large circle of friends and I didn’t have money outside of grad school loans and a part time job in a major city, so, just moving out wasn’t an option. Or rather: it might’ve been an option, but we both had an endgame plan that involved him moving across the country and me getting an apartment, so we stuck it out for that last while.

        My current self, 15 years later, would by no means have had sex I didn’t want with a guy for almost a year as an alternative to having said guy be hostile to me while I waited for my escape. Super-not-proud of that.

        That said, yeah: “maintenance sex” was probably the wrong phrase, here.

  19. Think of it this way: is it actually kind to hold out a hope of friendship that you know you will eventually have to disappoint?

    You can’t make yourself like someone, especially if they’ve been not-so-nice to you in the past. As it is, you don’t really like this guy. You don’t enjoy his company. You don’t feel any more concern for him than you would decently feel towards any fellow-being. Your main wish is that he’d go away.

    Would you want to keep pursuing a friendship with someone who felt that way towards you? I wouldn’t; I’d find it humiliating and frustrating.

    On an even more serious level: if he does have Alzheimer’s, he’s going to need to make some major life plans for getting support when he’s unable to care for himself. He shouldn’t count on you to be part of them. That’s information he needs to know as soon as possible so he can make a plan that’ll actually work for him. He sounds like he may be prone to building on hopes rather than certainties; he needs to know not to bank on you being there.

    It won’t make him happy to break off, but since your choice is between a clean break and a dragged-out one, clean is the kinder option.

    1. Yep. As I alluded to above, a friend’s ex once “had AIDS” which “mysteriously cleared up, the doctors are amazed!!” when it became clear she wasn’t coming back. I also had an ex who showed up with a big bandage on his hand and explained that he had stabbed himself through the hand with a barbecue fork to try to stop himself from thinking about me….but a few days later there was no bandage! And no scar! CLEARLY A MIRACLE!!!

      The mysterious Alzheimer’s smells the same to me. Has he posted about it publicly? Or said anything about it to anyone else? Even if he has, it still doesn’t mean it’s necessarily legit, and even if it is legit he’s still using it manipulatively. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t have done if he were 100% we’ll.

    2. It’s entirely possible/maybe even probably, but ultimately, does it matter?

      I received a mental illness diagnosis several years ago that I wish had come much earlier in my life, because I realized that a lot of my not-so-great behavior in the years preceding it (think late high school through mid-20s) was from having an untreated mental illness that I didn’t even know I had.

      I did end up reaching out to a very small number of friends/former coworkers to let them know and apologize, but it certainly wasn’t a pretext to continue staying in touch, it was mostly just to say “hey, during X time, it turns out I had severe untreated mental illness X, and I wanted to let you know that you were great friend/coworker/supervisor/whatever, I’m doing much better in managing it now.” Everyone reacted really positively.

      If Dean has Alzheimer’s, that’s sad, but that’s 100% not the LW’s responsibility (unless she’s got a secret Alzheimer’s cure stashed away somewhere).

      1. If he did, that would be all the more reason for the LW to stay away, as she already has a partner. Dean would certainly try to manipulate her into caring for him full-time, which would not be good for her or her current relationship.

      2. Aww, you handled that right.

        Good to know, and now you can treat it. Good luck moving forward in your life. And good for you for not being a Dean.

      3. THIS. LW has no obligations to Dean, no matter what medical conditions he may or may not have.

      1. Edit: I just noticed there’s no gender preference given for the writer (unless it’s there and I’m not just seeing it).
        Writer, if you’re reading and I misgendered you, I’m sorry.

    3. Even if he isn’t lying, he has to turn to people with whom he actually has a reciprocal relationship instead of going back to LW whose image he has kept on a shelf in his mind for all these years.

      I’ve seen this in much more obviously toxic people: when something goes badly wrong in their lives, they grab onto the people who they can use in a scenario entitled Everything Is OK Now, Really, I’m Gonna Be OK, instead of actually taking steps toward becoming OK. They’re trying to reconstruct the times in their lives when they felt most capable and confident–and those generally coincide with times when they were able to manipulate and control somebody. Or, why your estranged parent may come screaming to you for emotional support when they discover that they have cancer instead of accepting an offer of counseling from the hospital or joining a support group filled with people who were never in love with them.

      1. This is very insightful. It makes a lot of sense actually.

        I don’t have any exes or estranged parents, which means the few times this happened to me seemed especially strange. That is, a former (for good reasons) friend reaching out to me for help during an emergency or downturn in their life. Both times this happened, I literally said, “Shouldn’t you talk to [your partner / your level-headed sibling / your grandma whom I know loves and respects you] about this?”

        It always struck me as weird, but that makes a bit of sense.

      2. That makes a terrible kind of sense. It’s not a very happy future to think about but I’m grateful for the warning about what my abusive parent may do when their health begins to fail and they feel out of control.

      3. Jenny Islander, this is so insightful! Yes, it’s absolutely true – I’ve been guilty of it myself and I have an ex who has done it to me several times. It just doesn’t work – it’s like trying to jam your feet back into shoes that looked great at one point but don’t fit anymore.

        This same ex also had a habit of popping up when they realized I was getting serious with someone else – they’d kept me at arm’s length for our nearly-a-decade relationship but just couldn’t quite let go, and would get panicky when I was on the brink of moving on. They aren’t a bad person but just didn’t develop those coping skills and our relationship was “safe” so they kept trying to get back to it, even though at that point it wasn’t healthy for either one of us.

      4. Replying because I can’t update: This insight isn’t original to me, but when someone else said it suddenly some things I had seen and experienced popped into focus and I went HEY, WHOA.

      5. LW here. This is a very good point. One of the things he’s even said to me in text is how the time we had together was one of the really good times in his life. Which is…ironic, to say the least. And of course can’t go for long without a reminder of how much that sucks.

        In fact, here’s a lovely text, verbatim: “I think that when you’re with someone so long, someone you care about, you don’t really see them transfer…they may change, they may go away, but they’re still an entity that’s a part of your life. And that’s a bitch!” Followed by, a day later: “Ugh…my last comment to you sounded pathetic.”

        And that’s really the point: he is pathetic. Thanks for all the conversation on this. And thanks, Captain, for the certificate – it’s the best!!

    4. He might or might not be lying … but I’d say the key fact isn’t his medical state. It’s that he’s the sort of person where the idea that he might pretend to have a terrible disease in order to get back an ex is not met with an immediate ‘No way, he’d NEVER do that.’

      If he’s a guy who might fake a medical condition to manipulate someone, he’s a guy who’d use a real medical condition to manipulate someone. Either is a reason to stay away.

  20. You can be nice and still not want this guy in your life anymore. It doesn’t make you less ‘nice’…whatever that means.

  21. The fact that he’s “repartnered” is buried at the end, but to me that’s pretty important because a) does his SO know that he’s in touch with someone he likely still has feelings for? and b) it would make cutting him out of my life much easier to do since he does have at least one person in his life he should be able to lean on (although if they’re just dating she might not stick around as his condition progresses).

  22. i had one of these pop up recently. After some years of living a few time zones away, he was back in town, and wanted to get together with a group of people I hadn’t seen nor kept in touch with for decades. And he was so excited to be getting the band back together! Drop everything, we’ll hang out! We’ll take a road trip for a weekend at one of the old crowd’s new cribs! Now, I think back (mostly) fondly on the time I hung out with those people, but I am not that woman anymore. And if I’d wanted to keep in touch with them, I would have done. (And not for nothing, none of them made any effort to stay in touch with me, either, so…) Happily, being gainfully employed with a longish commute made the reunion vastly inconvenient to me, and I could bow out. Soon enough Boy from the Past went back west, and I absolutely feel that there were bullets dodged, yes indeedy do.

    1. Yes! Happy ending.

      Honestly, I don’t get that either. It’s pretty easy to stay in touch nowadays if you want to. So I don’t really get the whole, “I don’t want the commitment of being actual friends on a day-to-day basis, but let’s have an emotionally intense roadtrip away from the homes people feel comfortable in every ten years.” Is that ever a good plan? Outside of a movie I mean?

      1. Yes? For certain kinds of people and certain brands of relationship. But this is likely not one of those times.

  23. This is a prime example of how hard it is to be as nice to yourself as you would be someone else. If my friend were telling me this story, I’d tell them exactly what Captain is telling you. But I also know if I were you, I’d feel the same way you do. But I also truly believe if you follow’s the captain’s advice while you might feel guilt in the short term, in the long term you will feel only relief. Be kind to yourself and remember that you are a good person.

      1. Partly it’s often easier to get perspective outside of the shifting morass of feels, but I think a lot of it is just that the priorities shift. If you’re advising a friend, you don’t weight ‘might make minor social infraction/be morally wrong/hurt the feels of this random third party’ as highly as ‘will be happier and healthier overall’. If you’re making that decision for yourself, all the former stuff becomes a lot more immediate and important (if nothing else, a lot of our socialisation as social beings is to avoid messing up socially and not to actively harm people we’re invested in. That hurts if you’re trying to break it off with someone, but helps if advising someone else to break it off with some; your priority is making things okay for them (and maybe you), not them *and* the random third party).

  24. “it feels like it’d be cruel to just be like, ‘Don’t talk to me anymore.’ ”

    Cruel is like awkward: when they’re the one making it cruel, let *them* feel the cruel.

  25. Last time I checked — which was three years ago, when my mother-in-law was well into the rapid slide into dementia that ended with her death — there was still NO actual test for “early-stage Alzheimer’s”. Dementia is an incredibly complex set of conditions, and incredibly difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Back when my father died of it (20+ years ago), the only definitive method for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was an autopsy.

    Accordingly, this was my first reaction to the letter:

    “What independent proof do you have that this dude actually has any kind of debilitating condition. other than his own claim of a diagnosis?”

    If you’re being told this sad news by an asshole with a history of pity-party manipulation and a terrible attitude towards what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, I wouldn’t believe a word of it. Is his memory giving him trouble as he ages? Welcome to the human race. If he *does* have an actual condition, then he also has a health care provider who is on the case and can direct him to appropriate professional support resources.

    YOU are not a professional dementia support resource. You are a wonderful person who deserves far better than to be used by this jerk. Take good care of yourself!

    1. There are MRI and nuclear medicine imaging tests that can show the brain atrophying now. That said, they are expensive tests and mainly used in the research environment, (I am in Australia)
      None of which is relevant because the odds seem high the ex is lying through his teeth anyway. I just needed to share my knowledge.

      Captain this was so beautiful – “My loves, don’t pour your beautiful selves into other people’s empty spaces. There is nothing there for you”

    2. I’m guessing the LW means early-onset rather than early stage — if LW is in their 40s, Dean is likely to be under 65, and at that age it’s the familial kind, which is something doctors will diagnose/run gene testing for, because they’re looking for it.

  26. “They say that the older you get, the more you need people who knew you when you were young.”

    That phrase was totally invented by some dude who wanted to reconnect with a former lover who wanted nothing to with him.

    1. Or a dude who was unable to relate on an adult level to anyone and the only people who would talk to him did so because they were friends in 4th grade and hadn’t figured out how to end the “friendship” yet.

    2. It also reminded me of a line in the book “Never Let Me Go.” Essentially when you get older there are fewer people left who have been through what you have been through and get the culture you grew up in.

      It’s still a saying very open to being used badly though.

      1. I was born in New York City in the early 1960s. Half a century on, there are a lot of people who grew up in that culture, and shared high school experience doesn’t go that far (even though my graduating class was about 130 people). Maybe I’ll feel differently about this in another thirty years, if I live that long.

      2. I didn’t know anyone who had been through what I’ve been through when I was attending the same school at the same time, and I’ve lived nearly half my life in a different country from the one I’ve grown up in.

        Even if the first part of this weren’t true, the people who knew me then probably won’t get the culture I’ve spent half my life in, so the only solution is to make new friends 🙂

    3. Or by someone who wanted to make a real-life horror movie. I had TERRIBLE taste in people, especially romantic partners, when I was younger! My character judgment is still not the greatest.

    4. I quite like being in Touch with people I knew at school and seeing how their lives have turned out, and how much their kids look like them back when I knew them and things like that. I don’t think that’s particularly weird. I 100% do not want to be in touch with anyone unless they want to be in touch with me, though. Nobody’s desire to be in touch supersedes the other person’a desire not to be!

  27. “On the other hand, am I a jerk?”

    Setting boundaries with someone who makes you feel unpleasant and nigh-raped you does not constitute you being a jerk.
    I repeat – setting boundaries does not constitute you being a jerk.

    Being a jerk would be, oh, say, punishing someone for saying no to you. *whistles*

  28. I reconnected with a really significant ex a few years back for a range of reasons. Without getting into a long drawn out story, he was hugely significant from the time I was 14 to 24 but also caused a load of drama that I wound up eventually severing ties completely with for over 10 years (despite his attempts to reel me in again a few times), but then I opened the door back up to a long distance friendship about 7 years ago because I felt strong enough to deal with him.

    I discovered that I *am* strong enough to deal with him (which is a good thing) but I also discovered that in the ~12 years of no-contact, I’d changed significantly, while he hadn’t. He was actually worse: a major ego-driven, must get the last word in, know it all, energy sucking asshat. Combined with his significant successes (career and relationship-wise), he was actually even more intolerable than he was before and this time around I didn’t have the emotionally attachment that made me put up with him.

    To top it all off, he *thinks* he can still emotionally manipulate me like it used to be. I could hear it in his words and his behaviour/attitude towards me which was skeevy as hell (and laughable in its patheticness given that he was actually married now).

    I made the decision to put him on mute on FB, minimize my contact with him as much as possible, and am essentially keeping my finger over the “unfriend” button, since he hasn’t quite yet crossed the line on getting kicked to the curb yet. He’s toed the line but backed off when he had a kid and hasn’t actually contacted me in awhile, nor started any crap, so I just keep him in the quiet penalty box for now.

    In short, people like this, even if they were important and significant in the past, can stay in the past if they’re time/energy sucking vampires now. You don’t owe them anything anymore. If it’s causing you distress, remove it from your life or at least minimize it as much as possible. It genuinely feels good to do that.

    1. If the only thing keeping him in your life is that he hasn’t behaved badly yet, but you are literally waiting for him to, maybe just….hit that button now? Why give him that chance to be unpleasant or gross? You don’t actually owe people a chance to be awful, or even just skeevy.

      1. I have my reasons for not hitting it yet, else I would have. I’m not adverse to removing people, I’ve done it multiple times already, this one is just a bit more complex and I’m ok with it at the neutral status where it is right now. I feel good enough knowing that I’m confident and sure enough in myself that I can press the button if I need to as well.

  29. “They say that the older you get, the more you need people who knew you when you were young.”

    I am reminded, perhaps irrelevantly, of an Avram Davidson story, in which someone says a boat is unusable because something was done at the wrong phase of the moon. The narrator thinks a moment and then says “They say rum will cure that,” and the worried person agrees, so they pour some rum on the mast and go ahead and use the boat. Because “they” may say almost anything, and that doesn’t mean there’s any truth to it.

    Also, it’s true that you can’t make new old friends: someone you get to know now won’t have known you when you were twenty, and shared the experiences between then and now. But neither will “Dean,” because of the years that you were living a happier life without him. Old friends can be great because they can do “remember when we…?” and know what kind of pizza to get you when you’re feeling down, and quote certain bits of fiction that are meaningful in part because you have that history of quoting them together.

    With this guy, you’d be signing on for “remember when I took unreasonable advantage of you,” from a guy who knows what line of bullshit is most likely to get you to have sex you don’t want. An old Darth doesn’t magically become an old friend because you’ve been away from each other for a while.

    1. I’ve never felt that need to reconnect with people who knew me when I was young. I was a bit of a mess when I was young and frankly don’t really want to remember those days. Maybe it’s different for people who were more functional than I was at age 18 or 20 or so.

    2. I have that essay in one of my Asimov’s. It’s about a mangrove tree. 🙂

  30. My ex-fiance came back into my life after my mother died, but in the mature adult kind of way. Sometimes we message each other on FaceBook to talk about things and people and stuff that both of us have in common, and neither of us demands more out of the other than they are willing to give. This is how it’s supposed to work.

  31. I had someone like this in my life but I was just too curious about him and what strange thing he’d say to me next to cut the cord. Luckily he did me the favor of dying, but I can’t imagine any other way to get him out of my life. I own my obsessiveness, at least.

    1. tw/cw: allusion to suicide

      “the favor of dying”

      As someone who struggles with the idea that maybe my own hypothetical death could be potentially a type of favor to my loved ones, your wording stands out to me as something to perhaps re-think. It’s not a danger to me / does not put me in a bad place and I’d rather you not worry about it, hangtown, just be aware.

      1. I’m sorry, I’ll be aware in the future. If it makes any difference, he didn’t die by suicide but from illness.

  32. Oh God, LW please please get this man out of your life forever. Everything you describe about his actions come across as incredibly manipulative and selfish at best, and subtle emotional abuse at worst.

    He used constant backhanded insults and put downs he tried to pass off as “jokes”? He tried to “reel you back in” with nice gifts? Denying his own actions and guilting you into feeling like the bad person and doubting your own right to ask to be treated with respect? He made you stay with him a YEAR longer than you wanted to, he regularly coerced you into sex and made your life “miserable” If you tried to assert your right to say no? DANGER, DANGER WILL ROBINSON. Past you was badass and absolutely did the right thing in getting him out of your life the first time, now it’s time to make it permanent.

    You are not a bad person for not wanting that bullshit in your life ever again. In fact, it shows what a good person you are to STILL be considering the feelings of this guy even after he’s consistently shown close to zero consideration for yours.

  33. “…we had maintenance sex that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he would make me miserable…. On the other hand, am I a jerk?”
    Are you a jerk because you don’t want to stay in contact with a man who coerced you into sex and makes insulting “jokes” that aren’t funny? Oh, hell no. You are about as far from being a jerk as you can be… most people would have cut him off years ago.

  34. Cap, can I print out that certificate for myself? I want to print it and frame it. I have in the past few years excised quite a few people from my life, and I feel very little, and only periodic, guilt for it. My life has fewer people in it, but my God, is it happier. (And not to be all fangirl, but excuse me while I fangirl. Most of those Operation Chuck Yous have been inspired by this blog, so you get MANY cookies.)

    1. I got it from a website (the url is on the image) where you can customize your own, too!

  35. LW, I know that this isn’t the problem you asked about, but as a person who grew up with Alzheimer’s and dementia on both sides of my family, some of whom neither my parents nor I cared for, I have some cents specific to that to throw in:

    It may be that as Dean’s disease progresses, he will forget that you set the “go away” boundary. Because he sounds like a manipulative asshole, this could either be genuine forgetting or fake forgetting​. Either way, the same advice applies:

    -that he may forget your boundary makes it doubly important to block him on communication methods. He sounds like an asshole who doesn’t have great boundaries, but he also may be an asshole who doesn’t recall your boundaries (with diseases like this, newer memories go first–so your boundary might go before he forgets you reconnected.). That makes him even more likely to try to contact you once you’ve asked him to stop, so it is probably extra important to be very thorough in your blocking.

    If he squeaks through, and has forgotten the boundary conversation, keep in mind that it is NOT YOUR FAULT if he forgets your boundary. But that won’t make it any less painful to have to keep setting it. Because it will feel like you’re inflicting the same NEW wound every time–since it will be new to him. Even though that’s not his fault–his brain is broken and it really is new to him in the moment–that’s also not your problem. It is his doctor’s/other caregiver’s problem to manage the way he keeps reliving things that happened a long time ago. His medical problem is not your problem. His medical problem does not entitled him to stop getting the boundary set, even if you set it 10 times and he is utterly shocked and confused and hurt and genuinely surprised every time. Perversely, I encourage you to take comfort in the likelihood that he will very quickly forget that you set the boundary–so his pain will frankly be pretty fleeting. The more forgetful he becomes, the less each time you tell him to go away will hurt–because he’ll forget that you told him off, and won’t be able to dwell on it.

    And lastly, I would encourage you to treat any attempt to reconnect post-boundary that gets through your Block wall as a genuine forgetting of the boundary (assuming he doesn’t clearly remember the boundary–i.e. “I know you said go away but I’m so saaaaaaad”). Ignore is the best response, but if you feel compelled to respond I encourage compassion (because he may genuinely not remember the boundary) but in a way that doesn’t bring his disease into the conversation. A good script for that might help that I used a variation of is “You probably don’t remember this because it was just so long ago, but I think we agreed not to be in each other’s lives anymore and I’m not interested in changing that.” Then ignore. No matter what you do, if you feel you need to respond, don’t imply that he has forgotten the boundary because of his Alzheimer’s. This tends to upset patients a lot–it makes them feel like they don’t have autonomy, reminds them of how much they’ve forgotten, and can come off as ableist. It’s adding cruelty to the situation–and while this guy is undoubtably a dick and it’s not your responsibility to manage his Alzheimer’s, it’s also not great to poke a sick asshole about their sickness. Poking them about their assholeness is generally enough. (Not to imply that you are the type of person who would do that, but a lot of people don’t realize that being reminded of the Alzheimer’s/dementia is often really really upsetting for patients, so you might poke the sickness rather than the asshole inadvertently.)

  36. ‘We’re both in our 40s, repartnered, living hundreds of miles apart; though his occasional contact obviously frazzles me, it feels like it’d be cruel to just be like, “Don’t talk to me anymore.”’

    It might (arguably) be cruel to say ‘Don’t talk to me anymore’ so maybe don’t say it. Just stop responding to him, and block his number. You live hundreds of miles apart so that will be that.

  37. If this guy keeps getting through her boundaries even after she blocks him on social media/changes her number, etc., wouldn’t another option be to either call the police or have a lawyer send the guy a cease-and-desist letter? It’s troubling to think she has to spend the next umpteen years having the “go away” conversation with him, let alone remembering to not be ablest, etc. etc. etc. She shouldn’t have to waste any more spoons on this jerk.

  38. LW, it’s not cruel to go “actually, I can’t be the person to support you through this, you need to go find someone else”. Even if you *wanted* to support him through a debilitating illness that will eventually kill him (if he even actually has Alzheimer’s, which as other people have pointed out is dubious), you’d need to make some major life changes to do so – you’d need to move closer, explain to your S.O. that you’re dropping everything to go play nurse to an old flame who still has feelings for you and explain to Dean’s S.O. that Dean has determined that you are The Only One who can help him in this time of need.

    Do you *want* to move closer to Dean? From your letter, I’m betting the answer is ‘no’. Do you *want* to be dealing with questions of “why can’t Dean’s S.O. help out” or fighting with your S.O. – or Dean’s – about tending to Dean’s health and emotions? I’m pretty sure that’s also a ‘no’.

    And having Dean in your life at all, even as minimally as he is now, causes you stress and you’re gaining nothing from it in return. Send him a text or an email going “I’m sorry you’re ill, I wish you the best, but I cannot be the support you seem to be looking for. You should look elsewhere for that. Please do not contact me again.” (Rephrase as necessary, but keep the core: you’re not ill-wishing Dean, you cannot be his rock or his nursemaid, and you need for him to leave you alone forever.) Then block him on every form of social media, block his number, and have any emails from him redirect into a folder you don’t have to look at.

    If Dean really is ill, he needs to know that he can’t get whatever he’s looking for from you. You’re not going to drop everything and come tend to him when his physical health is failing; you’re not going to remind him of who he used to be when his memory starts going; you’re not going to arrange caretakers and doctor’s appointments. And – and this is important – *there is nothing wrong with you for not wanting to*. You broke up with him! TWICE! And haven’t been in contact with him for over a decade! And didn’t leave on a note of “I owe you a lifedebt, if you are ever in need, I will come repay it”; you don’t owe him anything beyond basic politeness, which is covered by “I wish you the best, this is the last you will hear from me”.

    1. This! all of it! Especially for all of us who want to HELP… read again that part where it is a kindness to tell him you cannot give him what he needs so he can find it elsewhere. You aren’t going to drop everything and move I’m guessing so how about tell him now rather than provide 1/3 the contact/support he may want stretched out over months, resenting every minute of it, while he still doesn’t get the support he seeks. That may not be your route but I could totally see myself doing something like that while my desire to HELP a person in need battles my resentment towards this person from my past suddenly taking up way too many of my spoons.

  39. LW,

    The Captain’s advice is spot on. The more I read of your letter, the more taken aback I was–this guy sounds like a nightmare to date, a nightmare to be friends with, and a complete nightmare to be reconnecting with.

    What does he offer for a friendship? What can he possibly give you except more heartbreak? Do you actually love him as a friend or a lover, or do you just pity him? Because all I read is pity, and that is a terrible lack of a foundation to rebuild a friendship.

    (I apologize if that paragraph comes off as judgemental, I don’t mean it to be. I absolutely would not feel any love for this man at all in your situation–what I mean is that he does not sound like a friend or in fact anyone worth knowing any more. As terrible as that may seem, there is no point in my own experience to being friends with people you don’t actually like or love.)

    I understand that you feel it would be cruel to just tell him not to contact you again, but realistically, sooner or later he will need to stop talking to you. Whether it’s because he’s dead or because you finally set down that boundary is something that you can decide, and as cruel as it might feel to decide to have nothing to do with him just as he’s seemed to get better at seeming like a better person and been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, it might be very much crueler to him to eventually end up so angry at him as to decide to do it later once he’s more entangled in your life, and it would be exceptionally cruel to yourself to never do so and only stop talking to him once he’s dead.

    Sometimes with predatory people such as this man, you have to do things that seem horribly cruel to protect yourself from them. And it’s unfair and awful and shitty, but I have always found that I regretted it when I let that reality help me not protect myself.

    You can’t get rid of the pain. You can minimize it, you can shift it to him or you, and you can decide how long it goes on. But there are no painless options here.

    (I also did just want to say–you aren’t actually obligated to stay in contact with him just because he has early Alzheimer’s and you guys knew each other when you were younger. I mean, what could you actually do for him besides let him leech off of you? I doubt he is capable of having an actual friendship, much less with you. It’s not as if you’re his doctor or nurse or could cure his Alzheimer’s. You don’t have to let other people drown you to live.)

  40. Heh. My Dean was named Dan. He was my high school bf and had a knack for showing up in years that followed and trying to reconnect. It took me years to figure out what Cap has said here: complete no contact is the only was to keep him from coming back. It’s easier these days — this was before caller ID and had to just hang up on him. Which was hard. But worked… Eventually.

  41. LW here – I just wanted to thank you for answering, Captain! I didn’t check your site again until today, and then saw it a few posts down! The certificate is absolute gold, thank you.

    And yes – 15 years, a marriage and divorce (abusive in different ways), and much, MUCH growth later…yeah, I really just needed for someone like you (and all the amazing commenters) to look at what I said and go, “Yeah…NO.” So thanks for that.

    I don’t know if I’ll do the full-on blockity-block, but going on ignoring seems like a good plan, and hopefully he just fades off again. If not, then blockity-block it is.

    Thanks for being awesome.

Comments are closed.