When your ex won't take no for an answer
April 12, 2010 3:17 PM   Subscribe

You've broken up. Months ago. Your ex continues to reach out, trying to maintain contact when you've asked them not to. What do you do?

Went out with a guy for four months. It didn't work out - just didn't feel right to me, I explained that, and was explicit in saying that I did not, nor did I ever want, a relationship with him. After receiving many long emails begging me to change my mind and explaining his suffering, I asked him not to contact me any further. Now, two months later, he's contacting me again, explaining that he can't move on unless I explain exactly what it is about him that doesn't work, and begging me to be his friend. I feel suffocated, trapped, and fearful that he will never stop bothering me.

What do you do when someone won't take no for an answer? Ignore them? Be truthful? Be mean? Hope that time makes them forget about you? I understand being hurt when a relationship ends, but I don't understand pestering someone like this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Filter his emails to trash and don't look at them.

You may think this is some glib response, but it's not. I had a nasty breakup with a particularly tenacious and evil person who liked to alternate between sending me horrible, evil screeds and begging me to get back with her. I filtered these emails (and all subsequent emails) to trash so I never had a chance to look at them. It helped immensely.

You've set clear boundaries with him, and he's not respecting him. You don't owe it to him to read those emails, so just delete them. Ignoring him will be the best course of action.
posted by kdar at 3:19 PM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

You asked him flat out not to contact you, and he's not honoring that. Do not respond to him; save all of his messages as evidence (but don't pay attention to them), set appropriate boundaries with people around you (e.g. tell your friends that it is not cool if he asks them for info about you, etc.) and read The Gift of Fear.

You may not have a crazy stalker, but if his behavior makes you uncomfortable that's all that matters.
posted by Madamina at 3:21 PM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]

Ignore, ignore, ignore. If you have made clear that you want no further contact, responding now just tells him that if he begs you X times, you'll respond. Don't discard any evidence of the attempts at contact (emails, call history, etc.---filter like kdar said), but DO NOT RESPOND.
posted by amber_dale at 3:22 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

If this most recent contact was via email, simply not responding is reasonable. Even an i-asked-you-not-to-contact-me response is still feeding into the crazy here. If he calls, don't answer. Anything threatening: police.

Him moving on is his responsibility, not yours.
posted by substars at 3:22 PM on April 12, 2010

Rather than deleting the emails unread, set up a filter to automatically route them to a separate folder (unread) or forward them to a trusted friend who will save them (unread) in case you need them as evidence in the future.

If he's not really a stalker, no harm done — your friend can just ignore that folder. (I do this for a friend whose ex would infrequently get in touch with her. She'd forward his emails to me and I'd save them to a folder without reading them.) However, if he is really a stalker, you have the evidence of his behavior and refusal to accept "no".

Fingers crossed that he's just socially inept.
posted by Lexica at 3:28 PM on April 12, 2010

Nthing ignore. You made your position crystal clear and you are not responsible for them.

And anyway, even if you did respond and give a detailed explanation as to why you don't want a relationship with him, it would just lead to him asking more questions and seeking to carry on the dialogue.

I've had to completely ignore an ex before. I felt kind of guilty while doing so, but I know that if I hadn't, I would still be dealing with her shit even now.
posted by idiomatika at 3:29 PM on April 12, 2010

Sadly, sever is really the best advice. My no-contact policy with my ex has made my life much happier that I would have been without it.
posted by Four Flavors at 3:31 PM on April 12, 2010

Data Point: I had a very similar situation and after a few "Please leave me alone!"s, I took the ignore all contact route. He eventually stopped contacting me.
posted by chatongriffes at 3:38 PM on April 12, 2010

Ignore him. Save every email and voicemail that he sends you, but do not respond. Read The Gift of Fear. It may take him a long time to get the point, and it's up to you how long you're willing to wait. If it continues, contact a domestic violence help center in your area to learn how to file for a temporary restraining order or order of protection. I recommend this because going to the police was useless for me, and I ended up putting up with that kind of harassment for over a year before someone finally explained to me how to get a restraining order through family court. The police didn't tell me how to do it, and it didn't occur to me to call a domestic violence hotline for a really long time because, you know, he wasn't violent, he was just annoying. The restraining order and subsequent court date were the only thing that stopped my ex from contacting me--and the court date was a full two years after we'd broken up.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:42 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

setting up filters to move exes emails straight to the trash was hands down the best thing i've ever done for cutting ties. if you think he sounds dangerous, keep them or route them off to a friend. otherwise, just the trash.
posted by nadawi at 3:44 PM on April 12, 2010

Ignore, ignore, ignore, ignore. I made a throw-away email to tell an ex-boyfriend that if he continued to call my office (he found me through my job's website) I would get a restraining order. I didn't even bother to see if he had responded to the email (I didn't want to see his reply either way) and I never heard from him again.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:00 PM on April 12, 2010

Seconding ignoring and creating a filtering system that will keep their emails unread. Make sure that you aren't deleting them in case you need them for a restraining order, though.
posted by NoraReed at 4:25 PM on April 12, 2010

Nthing the advice to ignore him at all costs. Be prepared, though, for a remote chance that you may need to ignore him in person. I once spent a few months ignoring attempted contact from an ex, only to have him turn up at my door, whining that he thought that something had happened to me because he couldn't fathom the idea that someone could be ignoring his messages.

This will probably not happen to you. But in case it does, it's good to have a plan ahead of time.
posted by corey flood at 4:32 PM on April 12, 2010

If you're worried that he might starting saying wildly inappropriate or threatening things, then it might be important to not miss that message. If you have a patient and tolerant friend, maybe you could just filter the messages to him/her to skim for you? That way you'll be apprised if things get worse and you need to act, but not have to come into contact directly with the content.

Then again, maybe that crosses all sorts of e-mail ethics - but that's mitigated somewhat by your asking him for no contact.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 4:34 PM on April 12, 2010

Have a friend anonymously direct him to Psychotic Letters from Men, simply because it might be a bit of a wake-up call for him. Especially reading the comments... if he has any insight at all, he might be able to figure out how his behavior is received. Most of these types don't, but some of them have a shot.

You broke up, you let him know that you were not interested in continuing the relationship, and you cut off contact. Your responsibility to him is done. If he doesn't give up, the next step should be to call the cops and have them deliver your warning to him.
posted by mornie_alantie at 4:37 PM on April 12, 2010

My wife's stalker has been at it since she was in high school. She's in her forties now. She has changed her name and whatnot, and moved far away, but in the last ten years we've received what appear to be a few "searching" mails with no return address but obviously from him. They stopped coming a few years ago, and hopefully that's that (although given his age when he started this, he may have died of natural causes by now.)

The one thing you must do is resist the urge to say or write one single word back. Just don't.
posted by davejay at 4:42 PM on April 12, 2010

Set a filter so that his e-mails go directly to trash, or create a dummy e-mail address and forward them there, so that you can check every once in awhile to make sure he isn't being stalkerish.

Being extremely mean can work with some people, because they won't want to associate with someone who treats them poorly. Others will continue to ask what's wrong with them, why you don't like them, and continue to try to get you to like them.

I only bring it up because I've seen it work well in several cases, but YMMV.
posted by biochemist at 5:21 PM on April 12, 2010

Echoing everyone else that total ignoring is what worked for me. I also had an ex who wouldn't take no for an answer.

First, after I very explicitly broke up with him, he started leaving me messages about how he wasn't sure if we were broken up, and I needed to call him back to clarify the situation for him.

I called him back to clarify the situation, and he wanted to talk about how we could fix the relationship. I listened to, and declined his relationship fixing ideas, and then he kept calling to tell me he needed to see me as friends because he was so depressed and unhappy.

I saw him as friends a few times, and that led to him making an OD attempt while on the phone with me. When he survived, he agreed to go to a mental hospital if I "helped him through it" by keeping in contact with him.

This continued through his arrest for other reasons and deportation from the country. Once he was finally deported, I cut off all contact with him. He emailed me a few more times after that, but I haven't gotten anything from him in a very, very long time. As far as I know, he's just fine. I have no doubt that if I hadn't completely ceased all contact with him, I would still be getting phone calls from him even today.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:36 PM on April 12, 2010

I was with my ex for 7 years, and after we broke up, I just could not get rid of him for a whole year. I tried saying that him expressing how much he was suffering made me feel guilty and made me more inclined to ignore him. So I did ignore him. But still I received the emails about how he couldn't live without me, and the texts begging me to come back and explaining how much better he was than my current boyfriend.

So I dropped the gentle approach and just said "I don't love you, I'm happy now, I wasn't happy with you, just leave me alone". That worked!

Just be mean. Like John Lithgow in Harry and the Hendersons.
posted by foxy at 5:58 PM on April 12, 2010

Another vote for 'ignore' here. Getting a trusted friend to save his messages for you is a really good idea.

And I'd add - if you at any point feel uncomfortable about him suffering, remind yourself that this is actually the best thing for him too. He doesn't need to hear you repeat yourself yet again (whatever he thinks), he needs to learn how to respect boundaries and take 'no' for an answer, and he isn't going to be happy until he learns that moving on is something he can do all by himself. Your refusing to deal with him will not actually do him harm.

This isn't to say you should ignore him for his sake, obviously - the person you need to be looking out for here is yourself - but if he's good at the dramatic guilt-tripping, and you do catch yourself thinking "oh, but maybe if I just explained to him...", then remind that part of yourself that dealing with him wouldn't be an act of charity, and continue to ignore him.
posted by Catseye at 6:22 PM on April 12, 2010

I've actually been through this from the other side, I freely admit to having sent quite a few rambling depressed emails to an ex. Luckily I had enough sense to not let it go beyond emails; I never tried to impose on this person's life beyond that. Of course, when I was dating this same person their previous ex had repeatedly called and shown up at her apartment, so I've seen both sides. Part of the problem in my case was that the breakup had been over the phone and severely lacked closure, and this person also happened to mean a lot to me at a time when I'd just moved and didn't have a lot of people in my life. It sucks and there's no way for it to not suck, but hopefully your ex will be able to move on. It's really not a good idea to be friends; it wouldn't be good for you and it wouldn't be good for him. If you've already explained how you feel, then there's nothing more to say to him. But, emails are not quite up to stalking territory. If you meant more to him than he meant to you, then venting may just be part of what he needs to do to get over it.
posted by Zorz at 6:37 PM on April 12, 2010

Who hasn't sent an immediately regrettable email after a breakup? People aren't in a normal state of mind at the time. For the love of god don't respond, but at the same time don't get too freaked out...yet. Filter it straight to trash. Or maybe a folder you never look at if you seriously feel like a restraining order is in the cards. If he's a normal guy you're probably doing him a favor and he'll come to his senses in a month or two. And if he's legitimately crazy, well, you have evidence now. Either way you're not seeing them, it's not bothering you.

I speak from the male perspective - having sent some long-winded and nonsensical emails about my feelings and emotions, I sure am glad the girl I was bothering never responded. Really hope she never read them. At the time I totally felt like hey, one email a month never hurt anyone. This went on for two months. Then one day something clicked and I really hope I never see her again because it's damn embarrassing.
posted by wonnage at 12:18 AM on April 13, 2010

he can't move on unless I explain exactly what it is about him that doesn't work

You know, I realize it's not your responsibility to be a good person here when he's being such a dick, but perhaps an honest explanation is exactly what this guy needs.

"Because you make me feel like I'm being stalked you fucking freak. Now leave me the fuck alone or I will call the police," is actually very solid advice. I know if a girl ever said that to me I'd probably appreciate it in the long run.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:01 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Once you've asked him not to contact you, he should stop. If he doesn't, then he's violating your "space", and that's stalking or harassment. Pay attention to Ashley801 and everyone else that says "ignore".

Apart from the suggestions above, I have two more.

- Check out the Stalking Resource Center (the menu seems to want Internet Explorer only. They have good information and links, if you feel that you're being stalked.

- The other thing is that you might look into court orders, either an Order for Protection or an Anti-Harassment Order (may be called something else depending on where you live). The order might shock him into compliance. If it doesn't, then it makes any future legal action stronger. Be careful, though, because an order might antagonize him further.

There have been some previous threads about this as well that you might find useful, here, here and here (apart from others).
posted by Gorgik at 6:37 AM on April 13, 2010

Oh come on. Just put the poor sod out of his misery. Tell him the truth as far as you know it, tell him you don't want to be friends and wish him all the best for the future. Then block his email address without any regrets.
posted by spaceandtime30 at 3:28 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

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