I'm moving to the same town as my boyfriend's abusive ex.
I’m so scared she’s going to show up where we live and work. I’m scared she still has his password to something. I’m so sick of being afraid of her!
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly yell at people to either stop dating someone or ask their crush out or to go through their grief. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
A PERFECT SWEETIE:
I can’t get over my boyfriends ex. And I know you’ve done a response to something like this already, but it’s in a completely different way. We started dating in March and initially kind of bonded over our toxic abusive exes. Both of us were paying rent for someone back home, far away from the overseas job we worked on together, and both of us took the job to escape the relationships we had been in. My boyfriend had broken up with his ex in September, but they were on and off for a few years because of her habit of cheating on him every couple of months. I wouldn’t have thought about her at all but she just kept intruding in our relationship.
I got a message from her back in March accusing him of doing some pretty heinous stuff like posting nude photos of her and threatening her family. Normally I would say absolutely believe women who come forward, but I know that this is a form letter she’s been sending out since she was 17 to literally any girl he comes into contact with. Most of the things she says that he did were actually done to him by her. I knew it was coming, since about five other girls who worked with us received some version of it, deleted the message request and moved on. In April when her lease was coming to an end and he refused to keep paying the rent she took it a step further, first attempting to hack into my email, which google blocked, presumably so she could send him messages as me. I’m pretty sure she got my password from our messages thread where I gave him my Spotify login, which is so ultra creepy because that means she has been reading our messages back and forth for over a month. All the personal details of my breakup, what I ate for breakfast, all the parts of your soul that you bare in the beginning of falling in love, she had been a silent witness to. When that failed she used an old iPod he had been logged into to text me from his Apple ID telling me we shouldn’t speak anymore. While I was on the phone with him.... At that point I told him he needed to apply for a restraining order which he did. It wasn’t approved because there was “no imminent threat of harm” but things mostly settled down after that.
But I just can’t get over it. For a few reasons. For one, if she was logged into his Apple ID and his Facebook account, she probably has some.... erm.... delicate photos of me that I don’t want to get passed around. They applied for an apartment together a year ago, and a weird inquiry came up on his credit report which makes me think she may have used his social or something to apply for a card? Occasionally he’ll get “failed sign in attempt” emails that he ignores, because he’s dealt with her for so long that he’s just used to it.
In a few months we’re moving back to his hometown for a job that gives us housing. I’m so scared she’s going to show up where we live and work. I’m scared she still has his password to something. I’m so sick of being afraid of her! Today I had a message request on Twitter and my heart stopped. I couldn’t check it for hours because I was afraid it was her. I feel like she’s always watching, even months after everything happened. The worst part is? I check in on her! She has private accounts on everything, so there’s nothing to see, but I feel like by checking her Twitter or Insta profile every so often I have some sort of control over the situation? Like at least I’m staying vigilant? When I know it doesn’t help at all.
The last thing is that I just want to tell her off. After everything she’s done to me, making me feel unsafe for so long and interfering in my relationship, I’ve never said anything back. I delete the message requests, change my passwords, stay silent and move on. I have a long message to her drafted in my notes app that I want to send so badly, to just tell her off and feel like I have some power in this twisted game she’s playing. But I’m tired of playing and I just want to know for sure that she’s out of our lives and I don’t have to worry about her popping back up again. I have a second one, a kinder one, appealing to her as a fellow woman saying I’m sure she has photos and information that could damage my reputation, and begging her not to do anything with them. But I don’t think she’s someone who can be reasoned with that way. Most importantly if I open that door of communication I’m afraid it will come back to bite my boyfriend, who truly has not said her name or mentioned anything about her since the restraining order. If he’s moved on, why can’t I? It’s a weird fixation that I just can’t seem to shake. I miss the days when we were sailing around the Caribbean isolated from the outside world and I didn’t even know her name. Now, she knows everything about me. And I don’t know what to do.
Oh boy oh boy there is a lot here.
Let me start with the fact that while I can give you advice on how to address or possibly manage your actions around this situation, I do not have any legal expertise on actions you can take on that front. You may find it helpful to talk to a lawyer at some point, although I’m not at all suggesting that you need to right now.
Perhaps the most important recommendation that I have (as always!!! I know it’s cliched!!!) is to consider talking to a therapist if that’s possible for you. This is not an anxiety that is going to abate with a simple letter from me. This is bigger than that, and having someone there with you longterm to help you verbalize and address and get through your fears will be invaluable. Please please consider it.
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s dig in. I will fully admit that when you started with, “I can’t get over my boyfriend’s ex” I was like… I have written this letter before. Two or three times, I think! But you’re right!!! I haven’t read anything like this. This is… wild.
You are completely justified in your anxiety around this situation. (Not that anxiety need always be justified! Sometimes anxiety just is). I want to affirm that what she has done and possibly still is doing is harmful, invasive, and abusive. She’s also doing it with enough irregularity to keep you and your boyfriend on your guard at all times. (That is likely by design, by the way).
I will admit that I started out with some questions about the timeline of this scenario because you say that this ex sent letters to five other girls on the base, ostensibly women that your boyfriend dated. Which sounds like from September to March your boyfriend dated five women in the same work place (a little sketchy, but not the crux of this letter so ok) and his ex found out about all of them (how??) and he…. ??? What?? Kept paying her rent? Didn’t confront her?? I’m 100% SURE that I’m missing something or that my timeline is off or that your letter didn’t have the space to fully express what happened. All of which is fair!!!! I’m probably wrong! But I will say this part of the letter made me very wary of your boyfriend’s actions. I am glad he seems to have changed tacks when it came to you. I’m glad he stopped paying her rent. I’m glad he looked into getting the restraining order. I’m glad he trusted you and seems to be ignoring her.
I am, however, a little curious about / worried about the fact that it seems like he thinks this is over and you don’t. To me, that says that there is still more for the two of you to talk about. You seem to think this problem is in the present tense and he seems to think it’s entirely in the past. You both need to talk out why you think what you think. You specifically need to open up to your boyfriend about your worries about moving back to the town where she lives—worries that I think are incredibly valid and reasonable, even IF nothing ever comes to fruition from her. You two need to have a plan in place for what happens if she contacts either of you.
I’m super super unsure of why this hasn’t happened yet, but you BOTH MUST block her on every single social media site there is, change your passwords for everything and use two-factor authentication. I would recommend your boyfriend look into a service to monitor his credit and his identity if she has his social security number. These are pretty basic steps that you guys NEED to take if you haven’t. DO NOT give out your new address to people freely, make sure to let people know not to share it widely. Don’t post pictures of your new place/where you live. I think it’s unlikely that she’ll do anything, but your safety matters and the fewer vulnerabilities, the less you have to worry about. Be smart and require your boyfriend to do the same. Not because you’re jealous or obsessed or anything, but because you don’t want to have to worry about this anymore. It’s like bringing life jackets on a boat, you don’t do it because you hope to sink or because you want to think about drowning, you do it so you DON’T have to think about those things.
Once you’ve talked with your boyfriend SERIOUSLY (perhaps multiple times) about your concerns and what actions you two need to take to be as safe as is reasonable, then I think you need to work on your fixation on her. Please believe me when I tell you that I think it’s normal to fixate on fear, and especially the fear of an abuser who has possible leverage over you. I have had someone who was … a bad person… who had similar delicate photos of me and it’s consuming and frightening. But I do not recommend that you make a house out of that fear and live in it. It will not serve you very well, and frankly, despite what your brain believes, it will not prepare you very well at all should any intimate details of your life become public. All you will be left with is the feeling of, “I was right to be afraid, but I somehow wasn’t afraid enough.” Which is NOT the lesson at all and will only teach your brain and body to become more fearful, more insecure. You do not want to live your whole life waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I am so so so deeply sorry that (or if) she saw photos of you or messages from you that were private. That is a violation. You were possibly violated by her, and since you can’t be sure, it’s fair to assume that you were. Or at least it’s fair to feel that you were. (I do not know and you do not know what she has or hasn’t seen, and I know that can be its own form of fixation: “If I only knew how bad the problem was, I could do damage control. I could be insecure about specific things instead of abstractions.”) None of this should have happened to you. I’m sorry. It’s fucked.
Ultimately, however, you’re going to have to find a way through with yourself intact. Not yourself as seen through the lens of her and what she knows about you and your relationship. But yourself. Ok, there are delicate photos of you… that means you have a body. We all do. That means you have sexuality. Most of us do. You shared something private and it got into the wrong hands. You are not alone. It’s painful, it feels embarrassing and shameful—it isn’t! I promise!!!—but you are not alone. A lot of people have had this happen. It wasn’t your fault. You weren’t being harmful to anyone. You didn’t do anything wrong or bad or mean. A cruel person came into your life and you got caught in her path. Thinking about her and the so-called “power” she has over you will not and cannot change that. But who are you without all of this? What is your relationship without this? What do you want it to be? Who do you want to be?
The best suggestion I have for you is to build your life and esteem up so well that should she do something to you in the future, it causes less damage. Right now, you’re standing in front of a straw house pacing back and forth worried about a thunderstorm when you could use that time to build a brick house. Could there still be damage? Yes. Is there still anxiety? Yes. But building your life around her actions is not going to shield you from her at all. All you’re doing is putting her at the center of your relationship and your life, which is not healthy or helpful.
I’ve talked a lot on Here’s The Thing about how to label thoughts and how to use phrases like, “That’s not my business” when you’re worried about something and your brain keeps telling you that you need to fixate. right. this. minute. Find anxiety/obtrusive thought tactics that work for you. Walks. Cooking. Calling someone. Painting your nails. Gardening. Playing sports. I don’t know. Nothing is going to work 100% of the time. Nothing is going to erase your fear or worry about her completely. But you do not have to stay vigilant 24/7 to make sure she never harms you again. And should she ever harm you again—god forbid—it’s NOT about how vigilant you were or weren’t. It’s all about her lack of control.
NOW. I need you to really, really, really hear what’s coming next. All the above shit is good and necessary but this is perhaps the most important part:
🚨DO NOT FUCKING EVER MESSAGE HER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER DO NOT I CANNOT BE MORE SERIOUS DO NOT MESSAGE HER. THIS IS A BAD IDEA ON EVERY LEVEL. DO NOT DO IT. 🚨
There is no message anywhere on earth that will make an abuser not be abusive. There’s nothing that will give you “power” over her. I know that’s a fantasy of yours, but it’s just that: fantasy. Your words aren’t going to make her step back and reevaluate her life. The only possible outcome is that this sets her off more. Do. Not. Do. This. There is nothing you’re ever going to get from her. You’re not going to get an apology. You’re not going to get an admission of guilt. You’re not going to get anything from her. (Other than possible more abuse/negative attention).
You have a good life with a good boyfriend, right now it sounds like she does not have that. Please for the love of FUCK do not reach out to someone who is both abusive and very possibly in a bad place and beg them to be nice to you. It will not bring either the catharsis nor the safety you’re seeking.
Especially because—and this is not in any way meant to shame you or belittle your fears AT ALL!!! Again, I trust you and hear how hard this has been—there is a chance that she has seen nothing. Like zero. There’s a chance she doesn’t know your info and hasn’t been creeping on you at all. Perhaps google blocked the attempt because she got the password *wrong* and she hasn’t seen a single text between the two of you. I am not negating that she’s tried to hack into you and your boyfriend’s shit, which is scary and wrong and awful. But you reaching out to her with, “please don’t send out my nudes” when she hasn’t done anything to you in months when she might not even know about nudes is all kinds of kicking the hornets nest. DO. NOT.
Ultimately: you need to get to the root of why you’ve fixated on her even after this has mostly fizzled out. Are you insecure about your relationship with your boyfriend for some reason? Do you wish he were more fixated on her? Are you comparing yourself to her? Have you not processed the trauma and grief of having your privacy potentially invaded? Are you worried about the upcoming move for other reasons? These are all questions I came up with in 2 minutes, but there are plenty more you can ask yourself. I suggest you do so with a therapist, but even just trying to journal about them can help.
This is ultimately about your boyfriend, and it seems like things are pretty under control with her right now. I agree they could escalate if she finds out you’re back in town with her. That’s something you two need to talk about. But you can handle this. Together.
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org