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May 12, 2012 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I am happily married, but I'm having trouble dealing with an ex who dumped me and now regrets it. Please help me not put my marriage at risk.

A couple of years ago, when I was in my early 20s I dated a man who was 14 years older than me. I was head over heels with him, but I think he never really took me seriously. It was a wonderful relationship, though, and in the end he got seriously ill and broke up with me because I was too young to see him through chemotherapy. He got a girlfriend pretty much the next day he dumped me, and I was hurt for a while but got over it.

Fast-forward to my mid twenties, when I'm getting ready to get married. He finds out and tells me that he regrets not pursuing the relationship and will never find someone like me. I still have unresolved feelings for him. I manage to cut him off and get married.

Fast forward again, now I'm in my late twenties. He contacts me and tells me he adores me. I really can't deal. Now I dream about him and think about him. I LOVE my husband. To complicate things, I think my husband feels how important this man was in my life and he would not be happy to know that he has been writing to me. I am dying to reply to him.

This man has a way with words -he is a well known poet. I really want to be finally free of him, but I can't free myself from the feelings I had for him. I don't love him anymore. But I feel like part of me never stopped having a crush on him. I feel mad that he thinks he can write these things to me while I am married, but at the same time I feel like I'm finally getting what I wanted when I was young.

I want him out of my life but I also don't. What do I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Block his email, telephone number, Facebook, whatever. Send one last note saying, "please stop contacting me".

Move on. Cut the drama. This is a question of willpower.
posted by ellF at 8:57 AM on May 12, 2012 [48 favorites]


He got a girlfriend pretty much the next day he dumped me

I find it hard to believe that he miraculously found a new partner within a day (or even, if you're exaggerating, a few weeks) without having strayed while he was with you. Dredge up just enough of that painful memory, plus that justified anger you feel at him writing you poetic love notes when he knows you're married, to push through with cutting him out of your life as ellF recommends.
posted by ootandaboot at 9:03 AM on May 12, 2012 [30 favorites]


Some relationships are sort of poisoned at the root, but not strongly enough that it actually kills the relationship -- so instead, it grows like a dark twisted briar in your life, making some areas uninhabitable, or squeezing out other thriving plants. We end up indulging them and letting them persist because we are fascinated by them, and they often seem more "real" or authentic because they hearken back to an earlier time in our life that we aren't fully ready to shut the door on.

You can still have all those parts of yourself without having him along with them.

I have people like this in my life -- if they wrote to me now and wanted me, I would be in horrible knots of longing and dread. But I try to tell myself that these people are more invested in keeping their dream alive than they are in making me happy in the present tense -- and that latter is something that they wouldn't even know how to begin to do.

I made a deal with all my former selves that they are allowed to ride along in my head with me, if they want. No one left behind. One condition -- they don't get to steer. They're not qualified, they're all still nursing these archaic hurts and their range of vision is so limited. Me, present tense: I'm the only one who gets to steer.

Congratulations on finding a wonderful husband! No matter what you ever felt before, you deserve this marriage and are up to the challenge. It may not reflect who you were many years ago, but it's you now and that is more than enough.
posted by hermitosis at 9:06 AM on May 12, 2012 [191 favorites]


He is not in love with who you are today. He is in love with an idealized memory of who you were in your early 20's. These things start out with a flurry of excitement and limerence, and often turn sour when the reality of the person is very different than the person who they remember. I know from personal experience... and just helped a friend go through a rough break-up from this kind or rekindled relationship.
posted by kimdog at 9:09 AM on May 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


He got a girlfriend pretty much the next day he dumped me

So, you weren't very important to him then, were you? I'm not saying this to hurt you, or make you feel bad about yourself. This man treats women like toys that can easily be replaced. This "man" just doesn't like to see anyone else playing with what he thinks of as his toys. You have a husband that loves you. Ignore the other guy. He'll likely pursue you more after you start ignoring him, as he wants what doesn't fall in to his lap, and like a toddler... tantrum time. Continue to ignore.
posted by kellyblah at 9:09 AM on May 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Block his email, telephone number, Facebook, whatever. Send one last note saying, "please stop contacting me".

Move on. Cut the drama. This is a question of willpower.


Yep. Specifically:

* Facebook, you can Block someone.
* Email, you can set up rules to automatically send emails from a specific person to the trash, unread.
* Phone may require a small expense - I discovered recently that you can't block a phone number, at least on AT&T, without paying for "parental controls." But I was getting contacted repeatedly by a specific person I wanted nothing to do with, and at odd hours of the night besides, so the $5/month for blocking has been a fantastic investment in my sanity.

It's good that you recognize that he has skill with words. The way to respond to that is to cut yourself off from his voice, walk away, and don't look back.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:13 AM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel mad that he thinks he can write these things to me while I am married, but at the same time I feel like I'm finally getting what I wanted when I was young.

He's not writing to the you you are now. He's writing to the you you used to be. He still cares about that person, but he doesn't know - or apparently care - about the woman you've become. If he did, he wouldn't be writing to someone who's married and happy and has not, from what you've said, contacted him to say how much she misses him.

You still have a crush on the person he used to be. I think it's not a great idea to have a crush on the person he is now - a person who doesn't seem to have any respect for you or your relationship.

You're going to have to be the grownup here, because he's demonstrated that he's not capable of it. Tell him to stop contacting you, and block him on whatever you need to block him on. Filter his emails so you never see them in your inbox. This is assuming you respect your husband, your relationship, and most importantly yourself.
posted by rtha at 9:13 AM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


People who care about their partners don't wait until they're married to say things like this. He doesn't actually care about you or your happiness, and you know exactly who he does care about.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:14 AM on May 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


Remind Mr Walcott that this sort of behaviour has already got him in trouble professionally.

... Poetry nerd jokes aside, I think the best way to handle this is to show his messages to your husband. Leave out the part about your own ambivalent feelings; present it as, "Can you believe this creep?" (Which he is, believe me, he is.)

Let your husband handle any reply that may be necessary. The two of you are in it together, after all.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


You're not getting what you wanted. What you wanted was him 100% available to you, taking you seriously, seeing you as an equal partner, loving you deeply.

What you're getting is a bunch of emails that STILL continue to disrespect you as a person and treat you as incapable of having a serious relationship (this time with your husband).

This is not flattering--it's insulting.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:23 AM on May 12, 2012 [61 favorites]


"at the same time I feel like I'm finally getting what I wanted when I was young."
What do you mean by this?

I think the answer to getting rid of this guy lies in working out which need he used to (and maybe still does) meet, and then finding a way to get that need met elsewhere. Could it be a need for drama, or to feel adored perhaps, is there something special about older men? Because whatever it is, if you find another way to meet this need, his appeal will evaporate.
posted by EatMyHat at 9:23 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think if what you want is to be true to your marriage, you should tell your husband about the contact and block all contact will him. We have a limited amount of willpower, and you'll do better to avoid having to exercise it time and again than let yourself be tempted.
posted by rosa at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


He got a girlfriend pretty much the next day he dumped me, and I was hurt for a while but got over it.

You do realize that he cheated on you, right? Men don't just get girlfriends "the very next day" without laying substantial groundwork first. It sounds like you're in denial about how poisonous your ex is because you're judging him by his words, not his actions. That's a very unhealthy habit in general. You need to train yourself to be a little more cynical of what other people say and stop believing that just because somebody says they care, that they really do. The first step you need to take is to fully acknowledge to yourself that your ex cheated on you while you were together. That will help you develop a good BS filter for all the lies he's telling you now.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:37 AM on May 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


He's disrespecting your husband by hitting on his wife. He's disrespecting you by thinking and acting as if he believes you'll leave or cheat on your husband. He's being dishonest towards your husband by contacting you behind his back to make inappropriate declarations of love. He's being incredibly selfish for screwing with your life and happiness... even if he doesn't know you are happily married, the default should be for him to assume so. He has no sense of propriety, fair play, or what loving someone actually means (hint: it's not trying to lure the person away from their spouse.)

Disrespectful + dishonest + selfish + presumptuous + underhanded and sleazy = not someone to waste 2 seconds of your time on. I agree with the young rope-rider... this is incredibly insulting.

How to get past it:

Get angry at him for insulting and disrespecting you.

Realize he is not the person you thought he was when you were in love with him. That guy in the past doesn't exist any more.

One short, to-the-point message to tell him you are not interested. Do not talk about his or your feelings at all. That would just encourage him to continue trying to talk it over with you, and you don't want to give him that opening.

Remember you were happy before he contacted you, and you will be again once this emotional upheaval calms down, which it will if you don't engage with him any further.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:40 AM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am dying to reply to him.

You should reply to him and tell him not to contact you again, that he is a fond memory to you but you have both moved on. Then block all avenues of contact to him.

If you don't do exactly this, you are being disrespectful to your husband and disrespectful to yourself, and generally a fool who is risking a good and solid relationship for another round of being played by a player.

Also, Howard Halpern's How to Break Your Addiction to a Person might be useful.

Don't fall for this bullshit. Rollercoasters may seem more fun than journeys, but you go up and down and up and down and then end up at the exact same place you started, only slightly nauseated.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:46 AM on May 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


One short, to-the-point message to tell him you are not interested.

Don't do this. Whatever you do, do not engage.
posted by maurreen at 9:46 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't let some guy's midlife crisis ruin your marriage.
posted by 6550 at 9:48 AM on May 12, 2012 [26 favorites]


He didn't take you seriously then.
And now that you are married, he is stirring up some shit.
Thus, he doesn't take you seriously, now.

This dude is manipulative and selfish. I think, deep in your heart, you know this.
The only way to deal with manipulative people is to ignore, ignore, ignore. Tell him, if you haven't already, to stop contacting you. Then send every overwrought, melodramatic missive from him (which may very likely follow) into the trash.

You should ignore him, because you deserve more than having your time and emotions toyed with by a manipulative jerk.

Ignore, ignore, ignore.
posted by vivid postcard at 10:02 AM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your younger self is getting what it wanted: The idiotic, destructive relationship that so many of us ensure when we're young and dumb. Don't let your younger self win.

Ignore this poet, and set up an auto-forward that directs his messages to your husband.
posted by anildash at 10:03 AM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


When you're in a situation when you know the right thing to do but you're experiencing periods of weakness, the thing to do is to use a period of strength to restrict your behavior during periods of weakness. So, reading all of these responses has probably temporarily strengthened your resolve, right? Ok, so go right this second and block him on every form of communication. Block him on facebook. Block his email (if you use gmail you can do this easily with a filter - be sure you set it to delete his messages permanently instead of archiving them) if you have his phone number, block it in your phone. Take ten minutes right now to think of all the ways he might contact you and close off all of those avenues.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:03 AM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Create a picture in your head of the crushed look on your husband's face if you were to pursue a relationship with this man. Play it over and over again in your head every time it occurs to you. Situations like this create human wreckage.
posted by brownrd at 10:27 AM on May 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Do try to remind yourself that, as people above have noted, Mr. Poet is a complete asshole.
posted by ambient2 at 10:31 AM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Drama, drama, drama! This right here, the notes? is the part of the entire thing that is going to make you feel the best no matter how far your pursue this. If you leave your husband for this man he's never going to make you feel as good about yourself as he just did by telling you that you're so amazing he cant' forget you. So end it on a high note, walk away right now, block all forms of communication and you'll have a good laugh about it in a few years.
posted by fshgrl at 10:37 AM on May 12, 2012 [25 favorites]


This right here, the notes? is the part of the entire thing that is going to make you feel the best no matter how far your pursue this.

i would favorite this a thousand times if I could. You have already experienced the best part of this, and any further engagement is just going to lead to bitterness and tears. Do not send a message, not even a "stop contacting me" message. Just block, block, block, delete, and ignore.
posted by KathrynT at 10:48 AM on May 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you want to draw a line under the whole thing, and really truly just put it to a stop permanently, I suggest you do write back to him, once: "I received your e-mails. I'm flattered that you still have feelings for me, but I cannot reciprocate. For the good of my marriage, I have decided to cut off contact with you. Please do not write me again."

Make it clear to him, as in verbalize, that you do not welcome these poetical flourishes.

As an inveterate letter-writer myself, I will say that some people do welcome this kind of communique. If I personally received no response to a letter I might not immediately come to the conclusion that the recipient was cutting off contact.

Give this guy one last chance to respect your wishes -- then block him everywhere.
posted by brina at 11:41 AM on May 12, 2012


Kimdog nailed it: "He is not in love with who you are today. He is in love with an idealized memory of who you were in your early 20's."

THIS. A million times over, yes.

You're not the same person you were then, which means that even if aliens came down and snatched your husband, leaving you completely free to start again with your ex, the relationship wouldn't be the same. People change quite a bit between their early 20s and late 20s. You've surely grown.

You need to cut this man off 100%. If you must send a note to tell him you are not interested (which might not be a bad idea) that note should be TEN WORDS OR LESS.

Perhaps: "Thank you, but no. I've moved on. I'm married. Goodbye."
posted by 2oh1 at 11:47 AM on May 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm flattered that you still have feelings for me

I would suggest against this approach. It may only encourage that guy -- he'll see that flattering bit as an angle to play.

Plus, there's nothing flattering about the mind-games this creeper is pulling. He's being a dick. There's no need to be at all polite to him. Freeze him out behind the Icy Wall of Silence.
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:27 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like how he has declined to participate meaningfully in your life on a committee basis, yet magically appears to try to get your attention periodically. This tells me he's more interested in occasional attention fixes from someone he remembers as a pretty young thing than being a for better or worse kind of partner to you as a real person. Don't give up your real, solid marriage for a man who is essentially an illusion for all intents and purposes.
posted by anonnymoose at 12:42 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Sorry, damn autocorrect, I meant on a committed basis.)
posted by anonnymoose at 12:43 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


but I can't free myself from the feelings I had for him. I don't love him anymore.

It depends on your definition of "free." If to be free of the feelings, you mean never have them again, well none of us ever really "get over" any of our exes. But there is the freedom you do have, which is the freedom to not react to the emotions. You can acknowledge them without accepting them as meaning you must respond to him or "work them out."

A final note--is there anything else in your life that is bothering you? Work deadlines, school deadlines, other issues? Often we run from those by engaging in this sort of between-the-ears drama. If there are such issues, work on them.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:49 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for what to do practically, it is obvious. Cut him off. Do not respond at all. Let your husband know.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since he's your "one that got away" and the dreamy "ex" I know from experience that you're probably going to want to tie up those loose ends before sitting down and being thankful for the awesome marriage that you have. If I were in your shoes, this is what I'd do:
1. Print off the emails your ex has been sending you and show them to your husband. Please communicate your ambivalence to your husband.
2. Invite your ex for a quiet dinner at your house and don't tell him that your husband will be there as well. When he arrives, introduce him to your husband and show him some photographs of your life together.
3. Eat the meal and casually laugh at his lame attempts to seduce you over email in front of your husband.

That should fix your ex up pretty nicely and give you the closure you need.
posted by lotusmish at 2:08 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes. I agree with Ironmouth--tell your husband. Not only should he know, but then it's less of a "delicious secret" between you and this jerk at the exclusion of your husband, and more an issue that you and your husband are working through together as a united front. Telling your husband is deciding to make a circle around the two of you. Not telling him is deciding to make a circle around you and the jerk.
posted by anonnymoose at 2:12 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wait, didn't someone publish a story of almost exactly this in Vogue a couple month ago? Spoiler- it didn't end well.
posted by bquarters at 2:13 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


From Vogue: An Old Flame Flames Out

I won’t go into the circumstances that made me, on a hunch, phone his favorite hotel in Los Angeles. A receptionist told me that he had checked in on the day he left New York. The woman he called his ex-wife had also checked into the hotel, in a separate room.

I was having trouble breathing, let alone understanding this turn of events. But my reflexes as a researcher were suddenly reawakened. I checked his publisher’s Web page. The book he had told me he was writing alone was announced there for later that year, coauthored by my fiancé and his wife.


Basically, a nice lady with a nice life makes the mistake of reconnecting with an old boyfriend who turns out to be a lying philanderer with no compunction about breaking up her marriage and breaking her young son's heart while still being married to his wife. It should be like a nice glass of cold water right to the face.

I'm with everyone else: I am mad at this man on your behalf for disrespecting you and your marriage and ruining your memories of your relationship with him, and only offering you the relationship you would have liked to have with him when the costs outweigh the benefits. It's very selfish of him to do that. Contacting someone when they are about to get married is one of the lowest things you can do to an ex, I think, because you can only do it if you care more about yourself and your desire to have an ex on the back burner than you do about the person.

It's okay to remember this man fondly and think back to your time with him wistfully and occasionally wonder what might have been, and sometimes think, "Oh, well, what if I had run off with Dieter and moved to Paris?" It's okay to do that as long as you block him on every form of social media there is, because 2002 Dieter is not 2012 Dieter and you miss the former but not the latter.

But I feel like part of me never stopped having a crush on him. I feel mad that he thinks he can write these things to me while I am married, but at the same time I feel like I'm finally getting what I wanted when I was young.

Let me steal a line from that great philosopher Garth Brooks: Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:06 PM on May 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


He sounds like the type of free spirit who just does these things, not necessarily because it's about you, but because it's about him.

You go off with him, he will dump you again. That's how this goes.

I am dying to reply to him.

Yeah, well, don't. Like not eating an entire chocolate cake in one sitting, you can stop yourself from replying to him.

He was the adoring poet of your 20s - interesting stories and feelings there but now you're onto something else with your husband.
posted by mleigh at 5:55 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing inspires certain poets like lost love.

And nothing quenches such inspiration faster than, by some strange mischance, regaining that love.

Help him by remaining unattainable, aloof, and unmoved.

Oh, and incidentally, stop him from ruining your life.
posted by jamjam at 6:26 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


because I was too young to see him through chemotherapy

It does sound to me like he was too full of shame to want to be seen by you like that (going thru chemo). Unfortunately, he made some poor life choices, whether what he was going through was fair or not. That's life, and not many people are saved from its brutally honest reality. Losing his shot with you may be the price he has to pay for his unresolved shame at the time.

If you do decide to reply as a last boundary-enforcing measure, do emphasize that you are currently married, and that it is selfishly disrespectful of him to not be mindful of this. He has made his feelings for you perfectly clear, and you're not able to respond in kind. Consider letting him know that your husband will be aware if he chooses to persist with any further communications (drive home the reality that you do currently have an active life partner). If this guy can't back off and handle just being friends, then it's simply and honestly best not to have any further contact --especially as it risks innocent people (such as your husband) being hurt.

Now this is my take on these things that you might consider: If it's meant to be, then it'll meant to be. But it's not going to happen right now (in large part due to the way he chose to handle his shame/issues/etc in the past, and how you've quite reasonably moved on with your life since then) and he needs to respect that. If he really cares about your happiness, then he needs to respect your life as it is -- not as what he wants.

As for the part of you that feels it's finally getting what it wanted and needed, what hermitosis said. Take care, OP!
posted by human ecologist at 1:07 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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