Better late than never? Or just never?
November 16, 2010 6:18 PM   Subscribe

Should I return possibly valuable stuff to ex - decades later? If so, how?

So I'm going through my stuff before moving, and I find a few things that belong to an ex. They were loaned to me, not given, and ex was very attached to them at the time, in a family heirloom kind of way. So I should return them.

Problem: it has been 15+ years since the breakup, which I instigated. It was a clean break, not acrimonious. We have not been in contact at all. I have absolutely no desire to intrude on ex's life, and I don't want to revive any kind of communication. Ex is (I think) married, and I don't want to cause any trouble.

I found ex's profile on facebook, which indicates an interest in the particular things I have, so this also makes me think I should give them back.

How should I do this if at all? I could send a package to whatever address I can find for ex in the phone book - but might a package from an unknown person, with stuff that obviously belongs to ex, cause trouble for ex at home? If so, I don't want to do that. Or I could message ex on facebook to ask if I should send the stuff; but I do not want to get back in touch. Separate lives are a good thing. Or I could just keep the stuff and continue to feel guilty about keeping it. It's a pretty small burden of guilt, as guilt goes, but it's one of those things that bugs me when I wake up at 3am. What would you do?

Anon because ex and I met online in the late 80s (it happened then too) and I would not be surprised if ex were a MeFite.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total)
"hey, ex, i found some of your stuff - specifically _______________. would you like it back? this isn't a veiled attempt at getting back in contact with you. i just came upon ____________ and would feel weird about not offering it to you. i hope your life is well. best, anon"
posted by nadawi at 6:21 PM on November 16, 2010 [24 favorites]

I did this recently. Contacted via Facebook, asked for address, did the whole "How ya doin?" exchange. It was fine. I did send the somewhat valuable item back.

Memail me if you'd like to know more.
posted by purpleclover at 6:26 PM on November 16, 2010

Can you do a little facebook snooping to see if Ex still hangs out with anyone you used to be on good terms with? You can then get in touch with them and let them know you found some old stuff of the Ex's and would they mind returning it to Ex since you think it would be a little weird for you to get back in touch after all this time.

btw, this no pronouns thing is exhausting
posted by 256 at 6:26 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you should at least offer, eg using the format nadawi suggeted, above.

An ex of mine owes me a few thousand dollars - which she has had more than enough time & opportunity to pay, and that kind of selfishness has completely clouded my opinion & memories of her.

Or better put, you should offer to give the stuff back if you don't want your ex to think of you as a completely self-centred asshole parasite.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:27 PM on November 16, 2010

(oh, and that was over the same kind of time period you describe, so if you think these kinds of resentments just magically disappear, well, they probably don't)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:29 PM on November 16, 2010

Send stuff. Attach a note along the lines of what Nadawi said. I have had stuff sent to me from people I would really rather never hear from again, and for me, having them just DO it, with a succint note clearly indicating that no further contact was coming/expected, made it much easier to shrug off. Some of the items I was even happy to see. Overall I was left feeling more charitable to the individuals. That would not have been the case, and I would not have responded, had contact been required to get stuff I had already mentally written off.
posted by Ys at 6:31 PM on November 16, 2010

She probably wants the stuff back but doesn't want to bother asking you for it. So yeah, just send her a quick and friendly message acknowledging that you know this seems totally out of the blue, say you came across the stuff, and ask where you should send it. Definitely don't just send the stuff somewhere without checking with her directly first.
posted by wondermouse at 6:32 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

if you think these kinds of resentments just magically disappear, well, they probably don't

If you're not talking about thousands of dollars, they mostly do. At least they did for me. Otherwise, your ex should have asked you directly for the stuff back.

Also, I like nadawi's answer except for this: this isn't a veiled attempt at getting back in contact with you. Too awkward. Don't do this.
posted by purpleclover at 6:34 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Send a message to your ex via Facebook. You can do this without friending him/her. Just explain that you found stuff and you wanted to contact him/her to see how he/she wants this handled, as it is his/her property. Let your ex decide and go from there. Nadawi gets the win for the text of the message.
posted by cooker girl at 6:37 PM on November 16, 2010

No one needs to receive a Box Of Past without notice. Get the address on Facebook (if she even wants it back,) and give her a heads up when you send it out. Then dust off your hands and walk away.
posted by griphus at 6:37 PM on November 16, 2010

I had this happen recently with an ex -- she had an old, sentimentally-valuable jacket of mine, which she found at her dad's house. It was pretty cool to actually get it back after 17 years (but dear lord, did it ever not fit).

Nthing the FB contact before sending, but by all means, I think it's a nice gesture.
posted by liquado at 6:43 PM on November 16, 2010

Not even a question... send it.

A few pictures, gifts, mutual acquisitions are all ok to keep without any concerns/second thoughts.

Something of his/hers, of worth to them, and potential family heirlooms are a must return item, regardless of time passed. Consider finding him a fateful moment and act.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:44 PM on November 16, 2010

nadawi has it. The "and would feel weird about not offering it to you" makes the feeling that you might have other motives in mind less likely. Don't ship it without checking first. Might feel weird.
posted by Carbolic at 6:52 PM on November 16, 2010

I bet it's one of those things that bugs them when they wake up at 3am as well - not a huge cloud overhead, rather a fleeting thought once in a while.

You should initiate contact and return the items.
posted by davey_darling at 7:06 PM on November 16, 2010

It was a clean break, not acrimonious.

Well, then they won't mind getting a random facebook message asking if they want their stuff back.

What nadawi said. It's not awkward or weird in any way. In fact, it's rather nice of you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:12 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

A lot of this depends on whether or not the ex knows you have the stuff, or if he/she just thinks the stuff is missing.

I have to say that if my least favorite ex contacted me and said "Oh, I was moving and I found your grandmother's sardonyx ring" I would be delighted beyond words, because I have no idea whatever happened to that.

I like nadawi's formulation above.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:50 PM on November 16, 2010

Here's another vote for what nadawi said.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 8:02 PM on November 16, 2010

so if you think these kinds of resentments just magically disappear, well, they probably don't

I walked away from a *house* in my breakup. It's just stuff, and I don't resent it. I got more important things than stuff in the end.
posted by kjs3 at 8:18 PM on November 16, 2010

My ex contacted me on facebook to chat and catch up (7apparently a lot of people do this on facebook?) which was weird and unwelcome after 12 years, but if he had said hey I have xyz of yours I would not have minded. Just one data point.
posted by bananafish at 9:20 PM on November 16, 2010

I recently got in touch with a former acquaintance who lent me a necklace I never returned. I mean, I tried--I carried that thing around for weeks hoping I'd run into her (apparently I hadn't heard of phones in those days?). Anyway, I found the necklace a few years ago, at least 10 or 15 years since I (ahem) borrowed it. I got her email through a mutual acquaintance, we exchanged a few emails, I apologized, and sent it back. I don't think she especially cared at that point--it was more valuable for nostalgia than anything else. It wasn't expensive.

But, the guilt and weight of 12 years was lifted. It was excellent.

So, yeah, what nadawi said.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:39 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I totally hear that you don't want to "get back in touch", but the thing is, getting in touch (sending a FB message w/ no friend request, getting an address, sending a package, possibly getting a "hey thanks" reply) is entirely different from staying in touch. You don't have to reply "no problem, best wishes" at the end, you don't have to include "so how've you been?" in any of your notes, you don't have to say anything more than "good thanks" if you're asked "so how've you been?", you don't have to respond to emails once the package is handled, you don't have to accept any friend requests or stay friended if you do.

Get in touch.
Give the ex the stuff back.
Sleep soundly at night.
posted by aimedwander at 7:39 AM on November 17, 2010

I agree with nadawi and I don't even think you need to add in the "this isn't a veiled attempt at getting back in contact with you." It wasn't a bad break up and you have no history of coming up with convenient excuses to contact him, so no need to be preemptively defensive of your actions.
posted by whoaali at 8:36 AM on November 17, 2010

In my world, one of the simplest ways to do this and being CLEAR that it's not some sort of "hey I want to talk to you again" situations is sending the stuff to someone's parents. It's a little strange, sure, but it puts one degree of separation between you and the ex and where I'm from most people's parents are living where they lived when we all knew each other so it doesn't require any sort of tracking down or weirdness. This is especially useful if you had any relationship at all with your ex's folks. This may not be possible for any number of reasons, but I think if I were in this situation this is what I would try first.
posted by jessamyn at 9:09 AM on November 17, 2010

As many others have said, sent a quick note via Facebook.
posted by TurkishGolds at 11:48 AM on November 17, 2010

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