Should I contact my ex-husband to say the things I never said?
August 10, 2017 4:21 PM   Subscribe

This was me. Oof. Divorce is final and I'm happy to say I'm doing quite well. I wish I could travel back in time and tell the old me how ok she'd be. I didn't think I'd be ok. (Unsurprisingly, you guys were right!) I've had zero contact with my ex, which has been helpful in many ways, although it's also been painful to feel so discarded, so abandoned. There is a part of me that desperately wants to tell him that, but I don't know that it would serve me. Snowflakey inside...

I conducted myself with major restraint throughout the process of our divorce - despite feeling overwhelmingly hurt and angry - and I wonder if it has been to my detriment. I feel like I never got the chance to tell him how badly he hurt me. We spoke twice after he moved out (the last time was nearly 6 months ago) and both times I was tender and warm towards him because I didn't want to make the situation harder for either of us. Both times he was cold, polite, restrained. I wonder how well it served me to be so kind to someone who walked out on our marriage without looking back. I left the door wide open for future contact, but with the exception of one time he texted cheerfully to say "hey let's catch up this week!" (after 2+ months of silence) he never once called or even texted to say "thinking about you, hope you're doing ok." For a long time I felt like I had been left bleeding in the road. That remains the most painful part of all this. Not that he left, but how he left. I was afforded so little compassion, and that's what makes me angriest. Our relationship clearly wasn't working and he wasn't the right partner for me, but there was a lot of good there, and I never did anything to him to deserve that level of (what feels like) cruelty. I deserved so much more. I feel a desire to tell him that.

I've also learned a great many things about him since he left, from our shared friends. Among them is the fact that he was dishonest with me about a female friend of his whom I suspected he had been romantically involved with in the past (found out after our split that they definitely were) and he denied it (and made me feel like I was being jealous/crazy) and now it's come to light that they're spending time together again (old suspicions confirmed.) This is certainly shaping my feelings around everything, and while I don't care who he sees now, I feel fuuuurious that I was made to feel like a jealous harpy when my intuitions were correct. I don't feel a desire to call him out on specific lies, but there's a part of me that does want to share that I now know he was dishonest with me about several things. Mainly because he went to great pains to always act thoroughly insulted whenever I suggested he was lying. (This is, after all, a person who once said to me "Omissions aren't lies." Bullet dodged.)

I've thought about writing or emailing him to express these things and asking him not to respond. (I know any response from him would be disappointing.) I'm not interested in hurting him or raging on him, because the time for that has passed. I'm not interested in seeing him, and prefer not to see him again.

I've made a pros and cons list. I've talked to my therapist about what I'm hoping to get out of this. I think I just want him to understand the magnitude of what he did and how much it hurt me. But that's also me assuming he cares to understand, and it's clear he doesn't. My therapist has been driving the point that he likely DOES care about me, but doesn't know how to show real caring, especially in a situation like this. This doesn't help me, unfortunately. What would I tell a friend? Don't write him, don't see him again, the train has left the station, keep on keepin' on.

I don't know if I should bother with this, and I don't know what to do with this urge, this feeling. I exercise, I punch things, I write and write and write. It doesn't subside. My sadness about the divorce itself has subsided, and I mostly feel relieved that it's over. Why won't THIS go away?

Advice/wisdoms/personal anecdotes much appreciated!
posted by blackcatcuriouser to Human Relations (43 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
This may or may not be helpful, but as someone who's been through a couple of very painful breakups in as many years, with the first bearing many similarities to how you describe your relationship - could these feelings be related to an anger you feel towards yourself for not trusting your own instincts?

I struggled for many months with anger and resentment towards the long-term ex with the wandering eye, until I acknowledged that HE wasn't the true object of my anger. Whilst I focused on him I was failing to acknowledge and process the bruises I'd suffered to my ego and the fact that I was deeply deeply upset that I hadn't had my own back in the relationship. Possible?
posted by doornoise at 4:30 PM on August 10 [15 favorites]


I've thought about writing or emailing him to express these things and asking him not to respond. (I know any response from him would be disappointing.)

You've imagined writing him, and you've imagined various possible responses from him, all of which are disappointing.

If you actually write him, and he doesn't respond per your request, you're still left imagining the exact same possible responses from him, all of which are disappointing.

I don't see how writing him gains you anything in this situation.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:32 PM on August 10 [35 favorites]


Why won't THIS go away?
Oh, heavens, I was angry for ages after I got done being sad, last time this came up for me.

If he's a bad person or a jerk or manipulator or narcissist then finding out you're still thinking about this will make him smile, and we don't want this guy smiling. Write it out and burn it as per normal Ask advice.
posted by ftm at 4:36 PM on August 10 [29 favorites]


I think I just want him to understand the magnitude of what he did and how much it hurt me. But that's also me assuming he cares to understand, and it's clear he doesn't.

No matter how much we want a particular individual to understand us, it's impossible to guarantee that outcome. I once confronted someone who had treated me badly. It did not end well. But a friend of mine suggested that I write the exact email that I wanted to have received. So I pretended to be the person who had hurt me and wrote the words I wanted to have received. For whatever reason, that was really helpful to me.

We are hardwired to want justice and to rail against unfairness. Your ex's behaviour was grossly unfair to you, so it's not surprising that you are upset. But your advice to a friend is exactly right: don't contact the guy, block his number in fact, and just take it an hour and a day at a time. Slam the door on the possibility of future contact; nothing about that will help you. Stop talking about him to other people (apart from your therapist), because discussing him and his behaviour puts the focus on him and not you and your own life. Finally, don't be mad at yourself for feeling stuck, which is normal. It's only been 6 months since you last spoke to the guy. Be kind and gentle to yourself. This phase will pass. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow but sooner than expected if you don't fan the flames by contacting him or discussing him with others. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:36 PM on August 10 [19 favorites]


Leave it alone. You say you want him to realize how hurt and discarded he made you feel.
He doesn't care.
Contacting him will only keep this poison fresh in your system. "The best revenge is living well," they say, and it's true, I'm telling you. Plus, by sailing along on your own and doing your best, you make good zen points.
Screw him; you're done wid 'im.
posted by BostonTerrier at 4:39 PM on August 10 [38 favorites]


I think I just want him to understand the magnitude of what he did and how much it hurt me.

If he ever comes to this realization (and there's no guarantee that he will), it definitely won't happen any time soon, and it won't be because you've figured out the right way to "make" him realize it. (I've had two exes in my lifetime who had the OMIGOD I GET IT NOW, I'M SO SORRY epiphany, but in both cases it was more than a decade after we split; one of the exes came to the realization entirely on their own and called me, out of the clear blue sky, to apologize; the other one had the penny drop during a conversation we were already having, based on something I said as an aside but which was totally revelatory to them.)
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 4:39 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


I feel every single thing you've expressed, with every fiber of my being, about my own past situation. And as others have said... it's not worth it. It will not solve anything. Your intense desire for vindication, for retribution, for SOMETHING, will never be assuaged by this man.

He doesn't care.

Nothing you say or do will change that. Move on, reframe your life, and let it go. I lost 4 years to this wanting, this confirmed belief that I was owed better, that I deserved to be heard. I know now; he just doesn't care. Say everything you want to say, but keep it to yourself. Express it all, but not to him. Because he doesn't care.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:50 PM on August 10 [17 favorites]


Bullet dodged. So why volunteer to put the target back on?
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:04 PM on August 10 [14 favorites]


Oh, you can write it. Go to town, write it all, do it over and over again if you need to. And write down the various responses you imagine, especially the ones that would make it okay.

You can keep the file/notebook if you want. Or burn it. Or drive it to a very dramatic scenic lake and throw it in. Get together with your closest friends and make a ritual of it.

But don't send it.

You won't get any of the good responses you're hoping for, even if you swear you're not hoping for them, because you are. It's what we do, as women and as humans. But you should have your say, for yourself, to yourself, so that you can let it go.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:06 PM on August 10 [16 favorites]


I'd agree with the others who have recommended writing it all out and then symbolically destroying it.

I wrote seven or eight pages after my divorce and used it to start the grill later that night. Felt really good.
posted by Twicketface at 5:09 PM on August 10 [13 favorites]


Don't do it. It won't help anything and it might cause you grief. It certainly won't help you get past your feelings. It's OK to be angry. I'll echo what ftm said above: after getting out of a shitty relationship, I've always felt angry for a long time after I was done feeling sad. Acknowledge your anger while working toward a more peaceful, forward-facing outlook.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:13 PM on August 10


He doesn't care or he would be flattered to know he hurt you. He would pat himself on the back and say to himself, "oooh, you've still got it, old buddy, that power over women."

You will never make him understand. If that were possible, you two would still be together because he would be a different person. He would be a person who cares.

It may always be painful. Loving someone imprints them on our soul. When that relationship ends it leaves a wound and, over time, the wound heals. It will leave a scar. The scar is likely to ultimately be painless but there may always be an ache or pain when it is irritated. That doesn't mean you can or should engage with him. It means that you gave him your heart and he returned it bruised and battered. Good for you. I would be worried about you if you weren't badly hurt by him. Your hurt reflects your humanity and your generosity of spirit.
posted by janey47 at 5:15 PM on August 10 [9 favorites]


Woof, do I feel you. I think the thing to focus on here, if you can, is that sharing your anger and your disappointment with him won't "fix" those feelings. He hurt you, full stop; the time in which he could have done something to salve that is long past, if in fact it existed at all.

The feelings are just there, and they're gonna be there until they're...there less. People talk about closure, about wrapping up a situation neatly and leaving it as a marker of where you've been while you continue along the road of your life's journey with a song in your heart, but I think 90% of the time, closure doesn't exist, and the other 10% of the time it's something that time delivers to you without much fanfare.

When that relationship ends it leaves a wound and, over time, the wound heals. It will leave a scar. The scar is likely to ultimately be painless but there may always be an ache or pain when it is irritated.

This is a wonderful way to put it and I couldn't agree more. You're still healing.

I don't even really think anger, in a vacuum, is of a problem. This is a sort of minority opinion, but I think anger and grudges are fine in moderation. Women are often encouraged to be forgiving, but because people are different I think that comes naturally to some of us and not to others. I'm not advocating, like, hating the person at the grocery store who cut in front of you in the line for the rest of your life, but not forgiving or forgetting certain big grievances can be a little demonstration to yourself that you respect your experiences and trust your own feelings. If the anger and hurt consume you or distracts you from other things in your life, then absolutely bring that up in therapy, but the mere fact that it persists doesn't mean you're not moving on or that you should have conducted yourself differently.

Accept that the feelings are there and that talking to him won't make them go away, don't beat yourself up for having them, and if you need to dwell on them consider how they're making you stronger and more determined and more trusting than ever of your own instincts and intuitions.

I love this Mary Oliver poem:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

posted by superfluousm at 5:37 PM on August 10 [26 favorites]


How about writing everything out and reading it out loud to a friend or your therapist? Everything you described sounds so frustrating, the gaslighting in particular. It might feel good to just have the extent of your frustration and anger completely heard by another human being, even if it's not him. Someone will have borne witness to it and you can feel that your feelings have been released.

Try making yourself fully and cathartically heard by someone. Just not him.
posted by delight at 5:43 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Very recent breakup here, and I get you. I GET YOU. I have started several emails...I sent a couple very early on, and have been smarter recently and deleted them after writing.

He knows he hurt you. I won't say that he doesn't care (hey, I may be projecting) but he's never going to face up to it, he's not going to own it, no matter what you say. He's going to keep being him and the person he is right now is nobody to you. Don't give him any more power to hurt you.

Hell, write it out and send it to me if it makes you feel better to get it all out.
posted by kattyann at 5:43 PM on August 10 [7 favorites]


Also, address the writing to him, so when you're reading it out loud to your therapist or friend, you can hear your voice speaking "to him". This might feel more satisfying and complete.
posted by delight at 5:44 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Honestly I think hiding a dead fish way up his car's tailpipe has a better chance of making you feel better.

I'm not recommending petty revenge, simply pointing out how little chance I see of you being helped by contacting him. Hang in there, it will get better. In addition to probably not caring, he may even derive pleasure from learning more detail of your suffering; he certainly doesn't deserve that.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:07 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


I wish you'd write something, somewhere, that might be read by others _before_ they do something like this.

If you think there's a chance he might advise, uh, the young, then it might be worth something to tell him.

Otherwise, the state of relationship art won't move forward. I think it's important that it does.
posted by amtho at 6:09 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Writing it may feel good, probably won't help you move forward. Sending it is a very bad idea. He won't understand. If change was possible, it would be a very different story. Your job is to detach, to let go of hurt, to move forward in life. Not because of him, in spite of him or anything else. He is your history. There may be some good times to remember, certainly things you've learned. Focus on you and how to be the best you having the best life.
posted by theora55 at 6:39 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Write it, set up some kind of effigy of him in a chair, and read it to the symbolic "him." Then burn it. Journal like crazy if you need to.

After that, sit down and make a list of everything you love doing or want to do that he made difficult or impossible or would not have enjoyed. Next time you have the impulse to communicate with him, do something on your list.

As the others have said, this guy is incapable of understanding what you so want to tell him. It's a shame, and his loss, but don't give him another chance to disappoint you. Think of this as having your future self's back.
posted by rpfields at 7:06 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Wow, you've come a long way and survived a lot of hard stuff. I can really understand feeling angry about what you describe. But I don't recommend contacting him. A big part of the reason people go "no contact" during breakups is that there's often a substantial anger phase. Ultimately, the person you need understanding, empathy, agreement, and everything else from is yourself. I'm sorry about the way he treated you.
posted by salvia at 7:25 PM on August 10


It sounds like maybe the reason he's being so blithe and perky when he gets in touch with you is that he wants you to magically be okay. If you try to tell him that you're in pain, I guarantee that he will feel icky but then try to make it somehow be your fault, and imply that you should be over him by now or something.

Consider: if that's the case, wouldn't it say more, somehow, if you said nothing to him at all, and let him actually get over that stupid phase and realize all on his own what a schmuck he was to you? He won't understand from you telling him. That's something he has to figure out on his own.

Let him figure it out on his own.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:21 PM on August 10 [7 favorites]


You'll be angry, rightfully, for as long as it takes to fade. And, it will fade. You're doing the right things.

The thing I'd do is freeze him out. You can be civil, but he doesn't get to have your friendship and concern anymore. He treated you poorly and undermined you trusting your own instincts by playing that cowardly card of gaslighting you rather than respecting you enough to be honest about having moved on with this other person. No. That's not someone who gets to be your friend anymore. If he eventually notices that you've carved him out of your life and is dense enough to ask you about it instead of understand why, you can tell him if you want. But, don't reopen this just to tell him how awful he was to you. He knows what he did. He just doesn't care.
posted by quince at 8:43 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I feel like this is an attempt to try to inform yourself that everything you felt about the relationship and his role in it was correct. He was a liar, he did treat you poorly, you did deserve better and you didn't deserve to be treated that way.

Even if you could tell him all of this and have him understand, it won't change a thing. All those things still occurred. It sucks. And chances are, even if you poured your heart into a letter and sent it to him, it would just wind up being another episode where you tried to make someone hear and respect you, and they just blew you off. It wouldn't make him magically have a change of heart and a crisis of conscience, because if he were that person, he wouldn't have done all that shit in the first place.

All you can do is try to truly understand that he wasn't the person you thought. He still isn't, he will not be in the future. If you can think of a way to set down your image of the person who didn't exist, be it a symbolic action on your part or whatever you want to do, then by all means, do it. But try to encourage yourself to move on from re-litigating the past and to accept that he was wrong to do that stuff, and him admitting it or not is not going to change the truth. It will only keep you in that space.

If I were to make any recommendation, it would be to purge him completely. Delete photos, get rid of mementos, block his contact information everywhere, maybe even move or redecorate so your house doesn't look at all the same. Make a future timeline where he doesn't exist in any form. Out of sight is truly out of mind.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:49 PM on August 10 [7 favorites]


Why won't THIS go away?

It will. That last post was a year ago. I know that feels like a long time, but you were together an even longer time than that. You are not somehow behind in this grieving process. You've had a lot of other things to grieve, too, besides this specifically, so this wound may not close particularly quickly, but it will close in time. There are a lot of things you can do right now, but I think the only thing that is going to be really reliable is that it will hurt much less a year from now than it does today, and much less again a year after that.

Given all that, I would not do this, because any contact opens the possibility that he will do something new to hurt you, and that will only make things take longer.
posted by Sequence at 9:25 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


No way, you're a good woman, and you've won the breakup. It's not whether he is sorry or not. Some people don't deserve to be forgiven by you right now. The pain I think is likely from not having totally moved on, which is fine. Save it for later, when your life is even more on the upswing and you can afford to be generous to someone who messed up so badly. Everything else about your post is a breath of fresh air and very hopeful, so just keep on keeping on.

Don't keep it bottled up though, if you need to spill it to your therapist, spill it to your therapist, inso far as that's your kind of thing. I do believe in the possibility of emotional exorcism when you just get good and mad at someone and your words are understood and you come away feeling better, but that person should not be your ex. Think about it, if you have to talk to your ex you'd probably be more polite and restrained, whereas I'd think some choice words would apply to this situation.
posted by benadryl at 9:33 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I don't know, I think we've created a society where men literally NEVER have to deal with the consequences of their actions, it's like we're allowing them to cut and cut and cut and they don't even ever have to see the blood. Why on earth shouldn't he have to see the horror and the pain he's caused? Why on earth should you be ashamed of being hurt--he's the one who should be ashamed, not you. If you do it, though, REALLY do it, don't restrain yourself. Scream, cry, yell at him. I hope he feels really, really horrible about himself. He should.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:22 PM on August 10 [8 favorites]


Do I think he will understand your feelings? Not really. But I do think there's a chance you can make him feel bad about his actions and feel guilty, and that's appropriate.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:24 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Violet Hour and I seem to be in the overwhelming minority, but yeah, I'd send him a zinger of a letter (or email or whatever). Not because it will necessarily make him feel bad - it might not, you can't control how he feels, and you'll likely never know anyway - but because it might feel good for you to stand up for yourself retroactively and get these feelings off your chest. I guess that's what my answer comes down to - will sending this note to him make YOU feel better? Forget about him and how he feels. If it will make YOU feel better, regardless of what response you get back, or no response at all, then do it. If you will be secretly hoping for a certain type of response and sad not to receive it, then this is a bad idea.

For reference:
For ages, I carefully watched my words around my ex in the interest of maintaining a civil relationship with him. Then he did something that hurt me and I finally thought, why am I not telling him how I really feel? And I sent him a brutally honest email telling him exactly what I thought of him. I didn't expect a response and didn't receive one but I felt great getting it off my chest.

YMMV widely, of course.
posted by whitelily at 1:35 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


"now it's come to light that they're spending time together again (old suspicions confirmed.)"

"Why won't THIS go away?"

So I've been there with someone who withheld affection from me, and then he appeared to be giving all his affection to the next woman he dated.

What helped was thinking through, what do I actually know about his life now, and what am I imagining? As in, did I really think his grinchy heart spontaneously grew three sizes after we broke up? Probably it didn't. The next woman was probably dealing with the same coldness and cruelty, and feeling crazy because outwardly her romantic life with him appears good.

Or, I guess it's possible that he was treating her with more affection than me. If so, wouldn't that be an indication that he had learned something from how he had treated me and was applying that lesson learned as best he could, so no need for me to pop out of the past as the finger-wagging ex trying to teach him that lesson.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 4:50 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


This is still really new for you, less than a year from contemplating divorce to being divorced. It takes a lot more time than a year. If it's anything like my experience, there will be new information and new stuff coming to light for a while now. It sounds like right now, you are realizing some things that further validate your decision to leave. That's good!

I agree with all the suggestions to write it out but not contact him. There are so many possible negative outcomes and no positive ones, really. "Positive" would be not having it set your progress back too far.
posted by BibiRose at 5:50 AM on August 11


You need to fully accept the fact that your marriage is over. That means your relationship with this man is also over -- which means no contact whatsoever. Anything that needs to be said and expressed must happen within yourself and your own community of support (which I hope include a therapist). You must focus on your relationship with yourself and processing what you need to process on your own two feet rather than give into the temptation to run back to him.

You need to understand what everyone upthread is telling you: Not only does your ex not care about your feelings, but also.. he also no longer the appropriate person to express your feelings to.

And (here is the hard truth): even if your ex did care about your feelings, that also doesn't matter, because the healing you need can't come from anything he will do or say -- it has to come from you.

It's a really bad idea to send him a "zinger letter". The best way to stand up for yourself in this situation is to stop subjecting yourself to your ex and to stop confiding in him. You finally escaped a bad marriage. Now commit yourself to fully moving forward with your life in a way that has nothing to do with saying anything to him or trying to elicit anything from him. Express what you need to (write the letter - but burn it - write in your diary, tell a friend, tell a therapist, hell, you can even 'tell him' in your imagination) -- but don't actually involve him in that expression.
posted by Gray Skies at 6:34 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


One thing I would definitely do is: get very clear in your mind exactly what you realistically hope to accomplish by sending such a letter.

You say that you don't want to see him. You say that you don't want to hurt him. I think you say that you may not even want him to respond. Speaking objectively, you must know that he will invest a tiny fraction of emotional labor when reading the letter as compared to the emotional labor you are performing by composing and sending it.

I think there is a huge question as to whether there is any realistic prospect of helping yourself in any real way by sending this letter. Please give some thought to the likelihood of a positive outcome from this behavior, which appears to be minute.
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:07 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I think I just want him to understand the magnitude of what he did and how much it hurt me.

He never will because he doesn't give a flying f***.

Write a letter telling him exactly what you think of him. Let it all out. Then give your subconcious what it needs to move past this: a sign you're done with him, either by burning this letter, or burying it, or ripping it up and throwing it into the trash, or flushing it. Whatever feels right. It's surprisingly effective, especially when you realize that, having done this, the person and his effect on you now are firmly and permanently relegated to the past.
posted by Crystal Fox at 8:23 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Your situation is familiar to me in a lot of ways. When I found out there was more to my last LTR break-up story than I'd originally realized (involving an ex who is now no longer ex and an uncomfortable timeline overlap), I was really angry for a while, not as much with him (although there was SOME anger), as with MYSELF for not reading the signs sooner and initiating the break up earlier, when I would have had more of an upper-hand. I felt robbed of my time, like I was a sucker for wasting so much of my energy on someone who was, in retrospect, not only not right for me and hadn't been for a long time, but also kind of a garbage boyfriend in general.

I resisted the urge to send him any ripping missives...for the most part. But one time I had to contact him regarding some paperwork, and I unwisely chose to do this at happy hour. At the time, it felt good to give him a little zinger (it was maybe a sentence or two of light snark + business and a cordial send off, not like a lengthy screed), but in retrospect, I do not feel good about it.

Because ultimately, what I really resented most about our relationship and how it ended was how much of my time and energy had been squandered on its care and maintenance with someone who was CLEARLY not invested in making it work. By venting spleen on him, I had tipped my hand and shown him that I was still allowing him to take up real estate in my head that he was not paying rent for. It really just made me feel worse, like, I didn't even LIKE this relationship at the end, why am I still thinking about it this much? And why the heck did I imply to THAT jackass that I was still thinking about it this much?? UGH.

So I'm on team "no contact" also. You won't get the closure you want that way, and it may even make you feel worse in the long run. Live your life as awesomely as you can, try to be kind to yourself, and do what you can to boot this butthead out of your head space. It may take some time, but it'll happen eventually.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:45 AM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Your silence will actually speak volumes. Stick to no contact, in particular should he get in touch with you.
I think that especially will deliver the message you want.
posted by blokefromipanema at 9:40 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


I'm with Violet Hour and whitelily. I think it's potentially fine to tell him how you felt and feel, as long as you do not expect any useful reaction from him at all. Because whatever it is that you want from him, it's unlikely that you'll get it.

So if you can really write him that letter for yourself, not for him, and if you really don't care if and how he'll respond, and if it'll make you feel better to know that you said all that you wanted to say... you might as well go for it.

It's not about delivering a message to him. Who cares what he thinks? He will not understand the magnitude of what he did and how much it hurt you, anyway. He won't learn from it. But if you feel that it helps you to vent, and that venting is a way for you to leave all of this behind, I see no reason not to do it. You don't need to play cool for his sake; you don't need to be the cool girl or behave like a lady. It's okay to be utterly, blisteringly mad and let it show.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:22 AM on August 11


I'm on the side of sending the letter. Holding people to account for their misconduct is good: good for you, good for society, maybe even good for them. Principles you don't stand up for are, in an important sense, not principles at all. Whether it moves him to feel, or express, remorse, or be better next time, is pretty much besides the point. Unless he's literally a melodrama villain, nothing in such a letter is going to make him feel good or powerful, unless you appear to be fishing for an apology or reconciliation (so don't do that!).
posted by MattD at 10:49 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I've been here, many times, and sending a message is a really bad idea. In my experience, closure is a myth, and looking for closure, where it means you want someone to react a certain way, is an exercise in futility. Doing this will only give you a momentary relief, when the message is sent. Then one of a few things will happen:

He either won't reply at all, in which case you may be left wondering if he even gave a crap, and all that anger and bad emotions will be stirred up anew, and you may feel even worse.

He will reply, and his reply will be lackluster or defensive, which means he doesn't really 'get' it and doesn't think he's to blame or is being intentionally obtuse. He may even shift the blame on you, or tell you the 'truth' as to why he didn't fight for the relationship, or start pointing out your flaws. This may trigger you to want to reply again, or will be infuriating and won't give you any closure. It may make you just feel worse.

And unlikely, but... he will reply, and feel guilty, and his reply will be apologetic, in which case, how do you know it's genuine, and even if it is, what's your goal with this? What's the point of making him understand? How will that help you move on? So he says, 'yes, I was a pillock,' -- are you suddenly going to be okay now? Will all the pain go away? Is he suddenly going to be a better person? Doubtful. The chances of him even learning from this, are pretty slim. People like him know they are douchey-- and probably even feel guilty about it-- but they act that way anyway. If he was a decent person, he wouldn't have gas-lighted you about his friend while married to you. Now he isn't married to you, he's not suddenly going to grow a freaking conscience. If he can't even do the right thing when purporting to love someone, he's not going to start now. Whatever toxic dynamic you had when you guys would fight in the past, it's still in play.

And sending something dramatic and expecting a reply is another way your mind can get stuck. Take it from me, ruminating over a bad relationship does way more harm to you than good. It'll only entagle you further in this. Yeah, it's natural he is still occupying some headspace. It was traumatic, and you were treated badly. But isn't your goal to get him out of that headspace? Sending a message to him about his actions is not doing that. It's the total opposite. All it does is open the doorway to let him back in.

If you didn't care what he thought, you wouldn't feel a burning angry desire to send him a message. And he will probably never understand the magnitude of what he did, because its human nature to make excuses, and justify reasoning and choices. That's what people do.

Moreover, you have both ended it, and he doesn't owe you anything any more. Yeah, he sucks-- and he wasn't the best to you. He gaslighted you about your jealousy, and how he left is painful and abrupt, but, he doesn't need a 'good' reason to leave, and he doesn't need to make leaving more drawn out by texting things like 'I'm thinking of you.' I actually think if he had done that, it would have been more cruel than compassionate. Yes, he up and left without a fight. Yeah, that is hurtful. But it is what it is now. You're not together any more; it's been a year. Sending him a message now with a piece of your mind is too little too late. If I received a letter like this from my ex? I'd say; "We're not together any more. Please stop harassing me, never contact me again." And then block. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh. But it may well happen.

Sure, it would be nice if he were a better person. But he's not. He sucks. He didn't want to fight. Fuck him. And people seldom learn from being named and shamed.

Again, having been in this position, having sent that letter many times: I have regretted it every single time. Giving them a piece of my mind, has always been to the detriment of my mental state. The only time I forced myself to go completely no contact? I know (through a friend) the silence made him kinda crazy. He was someone I wanted to fight for-- he didn't really want to fight for 'us' -- and that hurt a lot. When he decided I wasn't worth it, doing a 180, and saying 'k, bye then' was actually an ego blow to him. Much later, it got back to me that ex was broken up about me, has fond memories, and regretted so much hurting me like he did and treating me badly. I thought about his reaction- and I realized it was actually because the last memory he has of me is me treating him kindly, and with warmth. I realized me doing that was incredibly powerful-- it meant I was the bigger person, the more worthwhile person, the kinder more compassionate person, and that now when he thinks of me, he thinks of our last moments and kinda feels like crap. It sounds pretty smug, but I was kinda happy about that. I mean, this may not happen, that wasn't my goal in being kind anyway-- but it was a nice bonus. No matter what, I will always have that. Being kind in the face of his indifference, idk, it kinda feels like I 'won' on some level, not that I was weak. And I don't think you were weak for being kind either.

As for your second question: Why won't it go away? Because its raw and it hurts and you feel rejected, and ill-treated and that makes you sad and angry. And it will continue to feel bleh for a while. As for how to get past it? It's counter-intuitive, but its not writing any more, not looking, not asking friends what the heck he's doing. So he's maybe sniffing around the same woman? Who cares. You don't want to know what he does. The more you feed the beast, the angrier the beast gets. You are feeding the beast, maybe because you're not 100% ready to let go. But you need to stop feeding it. Distract, distract, distract. Re-write those neural pathways with new habits, hobbies and memories, and they will eventually fade. I promise.

Hopefully that helps somewhat. Best of luck.
posted by Dimes at 11:56 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I think you should write it. I agree with the people who replied about the idea of men getting away with this type of thing in our culture, sans repercussions. That being said, I don't think you should send it to him. I think you are a talented writer, and this is an insane suggestion, but what if you wrote an essay about this and published it somewhere? Not a "Dear asshole ex-husband," letter, but an essay about the experience of learning you were gaslighted and having a marriage end this way. Send it to the world: the world deserves to hear your story. He sucks. He doesn't.
posted by millipede at 2:00 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I wrestled with this urge for months after a breakup, finger hovering over the 'send' button. But each time I stopped myself by thinking 'let him wonder'. Let him wonder if he's done me any harm, let him wonder if I still think of him, let him wonder if I'm fine and over it. All possible outcomes of telling him are dissatisfying. Your silence is power.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 7:04 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I can't thank you all enough. Wise and wonderful, all of you. I wrote out all the things I would want to say to him, and all the things I would want him to say in response. I will read it all to my therapist and then throw it into the sea, Gob style.

Much of the anger I feel is towards myself, for not paying better attention to my feelings, for ignoring my intuition. There is also the sense of injustice and unfairness around it all, a sense of disorder around the fact that I did all the CORRECT things and still got horribly shafted.

I do agree with the people who wrote about how men get away with this stuff without enough repercussions. He did get off extremely easy. But I also suspect he is suffering more than I am, as I'm a pretty emotionally resilient person who can explore and process and cope with difficult emotions. He is not. One of the last things he said to me was, "You'll be ok, you're way stronger than I am." Didn't love hearing that at the time given the circumstances, but it was a rare moment of insight on his part. If I thought writing to him would actually make him feel a sense of accountability and responsibility for his actions, I might be more inclined to send that zinger. But marriage vows are allll about accountability and responsibility, and we said that sh*t in front of our families, including some veryVERY old grandparents he adored who traveled across the country just to see their boy get married. If THAT didn't make him feel accountable and responsible, no email I send ever will.

I like the idea that his last memory of me is of my kindness and warmth. Cracking jokes while we did our taxes, saying "that's so cool, proud of you" when he told me about a work thing he nailed, laughing at his bad jokes, asking about his family, leaving tears on his shoulder after a too-long embrace and saying "take good care of yourself." (god I'm a schmuck.) I hope he remembers that for a long time.

Thank you, everyone.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 8:40 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


Mentally marking Dimes's comment for the best-of-AskMe platinum edition. Could not say it better.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:16 AM on August 14


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