A BIG SWEETIE:
So here's my dumb Hot Prob: My ex from about nine years ago lives in the city and has been wanting to "reconnect" quite a bit recently. Which would normally be fine, as I'm friends with a number of my exes and think you can still love someone dearly even if shit didn't work out in that way. But . . .
It was a tempestuous, fervent, short and wrong-ish relationship and I still have sense-memories of it making my world claustrophobic and horrible. I was too old, I was like 44, she was 30, she very much wanted kids, while I'd gotten to that point in my life unwed and unreproductive because I very much didn't. But in those early, wild throes of discovering someone you dig, like ass-over-teakettle lust and even love, everything seemed possible and we had an amazing and savage first three months together. But then everything kind of essayed from having fun together to measuring our fun and the ultimate purpose of our fun, e.g. most of the relationship became talking about "the relationship." And then how she dealt with that became part of how I assessed the prospects. Which is to say, she became verbally abusive, like in a way I'd never experienced. To her, my inability, after three or four months, to declare my commitment to the life and family she wanted meant I was a waste of her time, and if a truly loved her, I'd be "a man" and "step up."
Admittedly, I don't react to pressure well, generally, and only after a bit of time away from her did I realize, Jesus Christ, this felt like emotional bullying, and if I'd heard any of my friends were this unhappy, not even to mention, I'd tell them to get the hell out of the thing and fast. And the extra-off thing I started sensing is that she didn't think ANY of this was odd and the sign of an unhealthy relationship, it was just what you did to MAKE a healthy relationship.
I'm not in any way trying to say my hands are clean in this, because I tried to be upfront about everything every step of the way, as asked, but maybe still hedged, hemmed or hawed because I wanted it to work. But I realized, at middle-age, I was just at a different "lifestage," for lack of a better cliche, and that as real and meaningful as the things she wanted were, I was not the person to give them to her.
The attraction remained, though. Because I had remained friends with exes before, I agreed to hang out a bit, trying to be "friends," but that led us into more monster sex, and the monster sex led her to second-guess why weren't together, and also why, even for trying, I seemed more emotionally distant from her than I seemed previously. (Which I was upfront about, that our "bad times" necessarily changed my daffy ass-over-teakettle-ness).
So we broke up and sort-of-got-back-together twice after the first furious honeymoon period, which is twice more than I'm proud of. Then, after that, via our continued facebook connection, I started realizing a conspicuous pattern. She resparked a relationship with a woman she'd been with prior to me. (Which, to be clear, was absolutely fine by me, I generally don't feel jealousy and was almost overjoyed to find out she'd moved on to someone who might be better for her.) But then that seemed to go south after a time and she wound up with the woman she'd been with before that, then back to the previous. I hate that I know this (god, fuck facebook), but she seemed to be a Get-Back person, e.g. whenever one relationship didn't work, she'd immediately go back to a known entity, a previous relationship, and respark that, or try. In that frame, I started to notice she would periodically try to reinitiate contact with me, generally in those curiously brief "between relationships" times.
Jump-cut to a few years ago, she met a much younger man, felt the spark, decided (she later told me) to just have a "fun relationship," this time accidentally got pregnant, the relationship went south but now she has a beautiful daughter, as she wanted.
But now she's reinitiating contact again. And I want to be happy for her and chill about everything, but we went and got dinner and she told me about some of the stuff going on (she's dating multiple people, which made me breathe a quiet happy sigh), but then . . . she says she's always felt like I was "the one that got away." (Ugh.) She asked if I felt that she fucked up our relationship by pressuring me too much, and I was honest about YES, but I also reiterated the "different lifestages" thing and that there was never going to be a dovetailing of our priorities and me being deliriously in love with her blinded me to that blah blah blah.
It was a nice dinner, I steered as best as I could around "feelings," but I felt the whole time like the last thing I wanted to do is talk about everything she wanted to. But what's batshit is, I now know she looks at the short off-and-on year we had together as something GREAT, whereas I look at it as a dark and awful time. But it seems to me there's no real point in telling her this if I don't have to. Why hurt someone with information they don't really need?
But, holy shit, Sophia, now she wants to hang out more. Like on the reg. And I don't know what to make of it - other than what might be inferred from this story - and I honestly don't look forward to it, as the idea it comes with this cloud of bad memory over my head, but I also don't want to just be a prick, especially if it's just in-earnest wanting to hang out on her part. So I guess probably I could really use an outsider's sagely perspective on this, if you might have one.
I searched Google Images for the word “block” because I was thinking of… you know… blocking people on social media. I completely forgot about blocks as an item; my brain is WARPED. Anyway, this image came up and I can’t stop laughing!!!!!!!
DEAR LORD IN HEAVEN STOP SEEING THIS PERSON AT ALL, FULL STOP.
Unless this person owes you a hefty sum of money (6 figures and up), which she promises to give back after four dinners with her, what the ever-loving fuck are you doing talking to her?!!?!?!? No. No. No. No. No. NO.
There is not a single moment, line or word from your letter that in any way suggests what you get out of meeting up with this ex. The best guess I have is a misguided attempt to be A Good Person. The problem is that you’re operating in a reality that doesn’t exist for her. To you, it is Standard, Kind, and Friendly to go out to dinner with an ex that you no longer have feelings for. That doesn’t exist in her world, or at least it is decidedly NOT what she was doing with you.
She has made it abundantly clear that she does not want to be your friend. She made it clear when she treated you poorly in the relationship the first time (thirty is about twelve years past an excuse for being a dipshit). She made it clear when she tried to get back together with you. And she made it clear at this dinner. What she wants is for you to be her The One, and to recreate some of the patterns that you two had in the past. I’m not saying she necessarily wants to get back together and get married and have babies. I am saying that she is not a good person to try to be friends with. Someone can offer you friendship and you can say no. You do not need a reason (EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE A VERY GOOD ONE WHICH IS A HISTORY OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE FROM HER). You are allowed to not want to hang out with people. You do not owe anyone your time out of sense of duty or kindness.
You need to break off all contact with her immediately. I mean online, I mean in person, I mean giving any lingering mutual friends a heads up that you two do not talk anymore. We’re done. You have one wild and precious life and you are not going to spend your energy and love and patience on people who have been unkind and have had sneaky/creepy/abusive motives!! Absolutely not! Go give that energy and love and patience to a charitable cause that you support or a really hot person who is not mean or unhealthy towards you!
If you feel like you must, you can reach out to her and let her know what your plan is, and say something like this: “Hello Problematic Ex, I know this may seem harsh to you, but I need us to no longer be in contact. While I absolutely remember and cherish the good times we had together, I also have some hard memories and feelings about different points in our relationship. The relationship may have ended years ago, but at this point, I do not want to start up or engage in any of these patterns again. This has nothing to do with the last dinner we had, which was nice. I’m glad I got to see you again. I wish you well and hope that you can respect this even if you may not understand why I’m drawing this boundary.”
If you want to not actually block-block her and just hope she leaves you alone, that’s your prerogative. I would write down her number/info and then block her immediately after sending your message so that she cannot try to drag you into a discussion or negotiation about your reasons for not being in contact.
I know it’s painful to feel like you’re the bad guy, which is not what is happening, but I’m sure it will feel that way. Setting firm boundaries with people who aren’t good to you will always be scary, but I promise that the moment you send that message (also you don’t have to!! You can simply block her!) your body will float to the ceiling with relief.
Make other friends, please, if you’re feeling lonely, but not this person. She is toxic for you. You aren’t bad for not being her friend. You aren’t cruel for blocking her. You aren’t mean for not being friends with one ex. You’re a person with boundaries.
After you block her (or send the message), go do something nice for yourself. Get a new beer you’ve wanted to try, get a horseback riding lesson, buy a leather jacket that’s just a little too expensive to justify, watch all of Friday Night Lights over again. Celebrate in some way. You did it! Woo!
❤️❤️❤️NOTE: because so many sweetie pies have been asking questions, it can take up to a month or two to answer them. I’M SORRY. I try to answer “urgent” / timely letters ASAP and more general questions later. IF I HAVEN’T GOTTEN TO YOURS, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RESEND!!! I DON’T MIND AT ALL!!!❤️❤️❤️
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.