Should I meet with my former fiance to "help facilitate healing"?
November 20, 2010 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Should I meet with my former fiance to "help facilitate healing"?

Bear with me as I inevitably leave out lots of details in an attempt to keep this to a few paragraphs...

In mid-August, I broke things off with my fiance about a month before the wedding for various reasons. We got engaged after only 5 months, and we were to be married before we had known one another for a full year. I learned things about him and about myself after we got engaged (we feel differently about children, he wants a white picket fence while I want to roam the world, he has no family and wanted the rest of mine to become "just relatives" after we married, we didn't have a solid spiritual connection but are both entering the ministry, etc....) that I really should have thought about before agreeing to marry him. I didn't admire and respect him as an equal but rather saw him as someone in pain who needed someone to love him, and I am good at loving people. I am independent to a fault and, at this point, am not wife-and-kids material. Also, I have very thick skin, so I mostly ignored the people who told me that he wasn't particularly nice to me much of the time.

Fast forward a few months. We attend the same small-ish graduate school, and it was extremely difficult to make a clean break because of many shared friends, daily sightings, numerous "You're a fool for breaking things off because I'm the best thing in your life" emails, and his general inability to accept that I meant it when I said I could not marry him, now or in the future. He was (quite literally) crying all over campus daily and oversharing with anyone and everyone which, as a very private person, was embarrassing and painful for me. It got to the point where, at every meal, some table of new students sitting with him would, in unison, stare over at me, the girl who "more or less left me at the altar." I had a hard time handling all of that and I ended up going to the dean of student life. We decided that, to make the boundaries clear, she would tell him to stop talking about our breakup in public and, moreover, not to contact me at all.

Things have, of course, been incredibly awkward. Still, not having any contact was useful and probably the best course of action. Then, I did something stupid. On the 2nd anniversary of his mother's death a few weeks ago, I sent what I intended as a well-intentioned condolence, "thinking of you today" email. I realize now that this was completely out of bounds because of the no-contact rule. Still, what's done is done. Shortly thereafter, he requested that we meet to talk. He wanted to do this with a third party present, but that felt too intense for me. After asking him what the hell he wanted to talk about, I agreed to take a walk with him this afternoon.

I'm terrified to have this conversation. He tends to be a much more emotional person than I am, and I know he is looking for answers. I don't have all the answers. I told him as much. He says he just wants to work towards healing and forgiveness, and I figure that really, it can't get much worse than it already is.

My question is this: is this conversation bound to make things worse? I recognize that I broke the poor boy's heart, and I don't want to intensify any pain. Is there any hope that this conversation will actually help us heal, or is this idea delusional?
posted by lovelylucy to Human Relations (29 answers total)
I think that you need to stay away. It doesn't sound like a conversation would do anything but further muddy the waters. Don't undo the good that you have done through struggle and self-discipline.
posted by pickypicky at 7:02 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If he wants to know "but, but, why???", could you tell him what you wrote in your second paragraph? These are all sound reasons for not wanting to enter a marriage with anyone. Delivered in a calm and rational tone, I think it would provide the kind of closure he reckons he needs. [Not that you need to provide him with it, he must know this stuff already. I don't think meeting up is a great idea but, if it must happen, you know your own mind and you know what was/is right for you]
posted by honey-barbara at 7:07 AM on November 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Yes, this conversation is bound to make things worse. Your email has inadvertently rekindled in his heart (if not his mind) that there's a chance. Send him another email canceling the appointment -- and call it that, not a walk or a date or a meeting -- and apologize for initiating contact.

If he presses further, reiterate that the two of you are not supposed to have contact, and that you apologize for breaking that, but that's all you're going to say.
posted by Etrigan at 7:09 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually I think his idea of a third party was not a bad one. As long as it was someone you consider impartial I think you should reconsider the idea.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:12 AM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd err on the side of not having the conversation if possible too, but remember, you don't need to do anything. Based on what you've written here, it just seems very unlikely that having or not having this one conversation is going to figure so centrally in your mind a few weeks from now. Avoid it if you feel can; be judicious in what you say if you feel you can't; but try not to beat yourself up in either case...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:19 AM on November 20, 2010

He was (quite literally) crying all over campus daily and oversharing with anyone and everyone which, as a very private person, was embarrassing and painful for me.

Well, I think the two most obvious outcomes here are:
a.) Drama keeps being drama.
b.) Things get more awkward.
c.) Things get worse and more awkward.

And of course, on the off-chance that he has gained the ability to control his emotional vulnerable state and the childish "kiss and tell" mannerisms he seems to be showcasing here through your story:
a.) Things work out, he stops being obsessed, and the bad-mouthing ends.

...I don't want to intensify any pain

I've found that cutting off all contact with an ex helps them forget about you. But then again, you already knew that.
posted by Evernix at 7:20 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I bet I can guess what school you are and knowing it all too well, you have my deepest sympathy.

I generally don't comment in relationship threads, because I think it is hard to say things about people's relationships, but knowing that place as I do, I would advise you based on what you have presented here not to meet the guy with or without a third person. Send him a kind e-mail or tell him on the phone you can't meet and you wish him well.

It's a hard place and a hard time, but um, speaking from experience, personal relationships and the social scene does get better with time.
posted by vincele at 7:20 AM on November 20, 2010

two most
*Three most...
posted by Evernix at 7:22 AM on November 20, 2010

Doing this is with a third party present might actually help the situation. Meeting him without a third party has all the earmarks of making things much worse. Not meeting at all is what I would do - after somehow re-instating the no contact rule and remembering that it applies to both of you.
posted by marimeko at 7:29 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, I think the two most obvious outcomes here are:
a.) Drama keeps being drama.
b.) Things get more awkward.
c.) Things get worse and more awkward.

Fo' reals. Don't do this. No contact is good for you guys right now.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:31 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, a couple of more things, and excuse the typos.

- I wouldn't meet him or say more than necessary because it will intensify the pain for him.

- Your contacting him was a completely human, compassionate thing in the wake of his mother's death. You shouldn't feel bad for having done it.

- But he might use it as a pretext to start talking about you again.

- Even in that small, isolated community of grad students, this will pass. I knew people who came in with fiances, and within a year had new ones. And then a year later, were single. And variations thereof. Because it's such an isolated community, separated as it is from the undergrads and the worst of the worst of New Jersey townspeople-- and no they are not found on the Jersey Shore-- gossip travels fast, but it is also generated quickly and soon forgotten.

- Take care of yourself. This guy's mental health is not your responsibility. There are ample, free resources for him to access.

- Eat in the other Dining Halls if he is making you uncomfortable. CJL is a good one.

Good luck.
posted by vincele at 7:33 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I kind of think the damage has already done by the e-mail conversation you initiated. Possibly this walk-and-talk can help him (and maybe even you) get some closure. If not, cut off contact again (we're only talking of delaying that by an afternoon), but next time, don't send him any "thinking of you" e-mails.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:41 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had an ex like this in college way back when and I hate to say it but I still hear from him on and off with slightly TMI chatty messages. It's weird.

You sending the guy a "thinking of you" note wasn't that out there, but it did basically say "I can initiate conversation with you for a good reason, but it's still not okay for you to initiate conversation with me" which is sort of not that great. Again, I totally sympathize with the situation, and with your awkward place in it, but I think you really have to dial it way back to give this guy the space he seems to clearly need. Only you know if he's a huge drama factory or not, but to me this all spells huge drama.

So, if this is an unavoidable walk [and my response would be more like vincele's "I'm sorry I can't do that"] I'd be prepared to restate what you said above. You have differing ideas about family, about travel and about life. The wedding was ill conceived and is not going to happen now or ever. Be firm, indeed firmer than maybe you even feel. It's not a good time for being brutally honest as much as it's a time for making a clean break. Don't leave a door open, don't do "I love you as a friend" stuff [even if true] just explain yourself, don't apologize and make it clear that this is the final discussion you'll be having on the matter.

And then leave it. No matter what he does. And move on. You're not responsible to him, he's behaving badly [even if it's for a good reason] and the less you interact, the quicker everyone moves on.
posted by jessamyn at 8:12 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know if you should actually meet him, but I think he deserves to know the things you say in your second paragraph. Hopefully you said those things in the breakup itself so you can just refer back, but if not, well, I don't know.. I'm probably more like this guy, so I sympathize with him and don't necessarily think you'd be leading him on, but I don't say I'm the best thing that's ever happened to anybody, either, so he may be a bit more glommy about it.
posted by rhizome at 8:21 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've written that you are both entering the ministry. He has made a reasonable request. He is dramatic and upset and in the future you will have to minister to dramatic and upset people. Don't ministers help others solve problems and draw from their own experience? The meeting sounds like it won't be all that much fun, but I believe you owe it to him. If you don't explain that you do not seek to rekindle your relationship and you blow off this meeting you could be viewed as "toying" with him...which quite frankly, I think you were when you sent that email.
posted by naplesyellow at 8:24 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think meeting with him would be a bad idea. Send him an email telling him why you broke up (only if you feel it necessary, I would not), and don't contact him again. Personally, I would not meet and not email. It just gives them a false hope to cling to.

I went through something similar in that we dated for 5 years and he was planning on marriage, white picket fence, etc. I woke up one day and thought, "What the HELL am I doing? I don't want this!" Broke it off, told him that really it's just not what I want. He cried and begged for 6 months, showed up at my apartment, trying to win me back. The best thing was to avoid all contact. I have not spoken to him since I told him (finally) to never show up and never speak to me again. I'm sure he did not take it well, but as jessamyn says, you are not responsible for him and his bad behavior. Make a clean break, move forward and don't look back.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:32 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, you should not meet him.

He sounds really immature and frankly a little unstable. YOU cannot do anything to change either of these things. Absolutely nothing you do or say will make up for the "injury" you inflicted. I say "injury" because if he were reasonable, he would have realized by now that breaking up with an incompatible partner is the gracious thing to do instead of marrying them out of guilt and being miserable forever.

Since you did initiate contact despite a no contact rule, I suggest another short note to this effect: "Name, I apologize that I broke my no-contact rule to send you a note of condolences. Further contact is not appropriate and I am not interested in having any kind of conversation with you, now or ever. You want answers that I have already given or do not have. You are the only one with the tools to heal and I wish you the best in finding peace. Please do not contact me again and I will also not contact you."

And really, there is nothing you can do or say. HE needs help getting over this; it's not your fault that he can't pick himself up and take the pieces to a therapist or something.
posted by motsque at 8:32 AM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Loving the feedback. Still not sure what I'm going to do. I really appreciate your thoughts.

To be clear, he has been told (over and over and OVER again) exactly why I cannot marry him. By myself and many others. Doesn't mean he likes/understands it, but he has certainly heard it all before.
posted by lovelylucy at 8:42 AM on November 20, 2010

In that case, email, apologize for the previous contact (no, this was not wrong of you, but probably a misstep, oh well) and state that it has all been said before, you wish him well, and it's time he looks ahead and not behind.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:08 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

he has been told (over and over and OVER again) exactly why I cannot marry him

Then what is the purpose of this conversation? You have told him multiple times why you can't and won't marry him. It's disrespectful for him to keep asking "why?" and it's foolish for you to keep repeating yourself.

He wants to get back together, won't accept your reasons for breaking up, and is now asking for your additional time and attention. I don't think it's a good idea to spend any time together, with or without a third party, until he explicitly says, "I accept that we are broken up."
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:18 AM on November 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

I met with with an ex of mine after a break-up very much like yours. It was four months after the break up and he said he needed to have a talk so he could begin to heal.

I went, we talked, he threatened suicide. I wouldn't do that again, especially since now I know that once he got himself into a new relationship the two of us could interact easily without any drama.
posted by Shusha at 9:24 AM on November 20, 2010

You know what? I can see you're trying to handle this with kindness but the best thing may be to take the walk you said you would take and be a bit unkind. Since your words don't seem to be getting through, see if you can let your lack of emotion about this communicate for you.

"I'm sorry you feel that way."
"I can't help you with that."
"I have nothing new to say about that."
"I'm here because you asked me to be but I don't think I can help you."
"There is nothing I can do for you."

If nothing else, he'll decide you're not the person he knew and it will, in fact, expedite his recovery. It is kind, it just isn't nice.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:32 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's very, very unlikely that meeting at this point and under such emotional circumstances can help to heal anything.

I'd also respectfully suggest that you might want to examine your own motivations about breaking the no-contact rule. I'm entirely sure that you were thinking of him with compassion and your heart was in the right place when you sent him the thinking-of-you message on the anniversary of his mother's death, but... ow! That was kind of pouring salt on a wound, really, since it sort of compounded the reminder of his losses — a parent and his once future-wife — if you had no intention of re-opening personal communication with him.

Maybe there's a chance you subconsciously sort of miss the passion and drama now, after the period of no-contact? I'm not accusing, but it is at least a question worth asking yourself. We sometimes do strange things without acknowledging their true motivations. (I know I have, anyway; I'm a lot more careful now, after realizing the truth of this.)
posted by taz at 9:51 AM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Aw HAIL no. Don't do it. He's manipulating the shit out of you as it is, if you go meet with him, after all you've already said, it's a pretty huge "I can STILL be manipulated" signal to him.

You don't owe him anything - you were kind, fair and sincere, and he can't handle what he's feeling. That's not your problem.

I've had cheese in my fridge for a longer time than you guys knew each other before getting engaged. It's quite dramatic. And he looooooves drama, don't give it to him any more.
posted by tristeza at 11:00 AM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

What on earth could he want to talk about, especially with a third party present? To rehash your relationship yet again? This is a no-win situation: He wants to get back together, you don't. There's no solution. Ask yourself, what do I want to happen as a result of this meeting? If the answer is, for him to accept that our relationship is over and move on... do you think that will happen? If not, don't go. None of the events leading up to this indicate that he's going to act any differently now than before.

Gavin de Becker (who wrote the Gift of Fear) says that if you call someone back after he leaves twenty messages, you teach him that the cost of getting a call back is twenty messages. I think if you agree to this meeting, there will be more in the future. Go back to square one with no contact and this time stick to it. You've been though a lot with this guy and it sounds like you've been as kind as possible. But you need to take care of yourself, too.
posted by lucysparrow at 11:18 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would encourage you never to meet with him without a third party present. Having a third party present in these situations de-escalates the conversation rather than escalating it. Your instinct about that was absolutely wrong.

That said, I would encourage you never to meet with him, period. You made a mistake by contacting him in the first place. Yes, I am sure you were trying to be kind, but the thing is he needs to learn to get comfort from people who are not you.

To be quite honest, he doesn't sound like someone who's ready for a pastoral role. I hope he is getting help from qualified professionals in managing his behavior and moods.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:44 PM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your posts reminds me of this blog post from baggage reclaim.
posted by TrinsicWS at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2010

I'd vote against meeting him because you've already said everything you need to to him—meeting him is just going to be a front row seat for you to his wallowing/pleading.

If you do decide to meet him, DO take your own third person (because what happens if he says he'll bring the third and then he doesn't, or he does but it's some angry friend of his), DON'T get into a car with him, and DON'T go anywhere other than a public space with lots of people around.

Also, please post an update or at least an "I'm okay" check-in.
posted by blueberry at 11:57 PM on November 20, 2010

Response by poster: I did decide to meet with him in the end (partially because I don't have his phone number anymore and would have had to go meet him to tell him I wasn't going to meet him, and that felt silly). Surprisingly, the meeting was a success. It actually was "healing," in a non-corny way, because it offered us a chance to clear up third-party miscommunications and ask for forgiveness. I think we both came away feeling calmer because of a broader perspective on the breakup.

The drawback is that, well, we got on well together, walking around in bright blue weather and laughing about how ridiculous we've both behaved from time to time. It made me miss our friendship so much. We were (both) quick to reiterate that he can't be "friends" without being more than friends, and since we can't be more than friends...this was not a buddy-buddy conversation, and it wasn't going to happen again. We'll go back to not talking, and then he'll graduate in half a year and move far away, and that will be that.

Thank you all for your input. I used a good bit of what you wrote, from what to say, to what not to say, to simply expressing my general lack of clarity on whether or not this conversation was a good idea to begin with.

(Also, "I've had cheese in my fridge for a longer time than you guys knew each other before getting engaged" made me spit soda on myself.)
posted by lovelylucy at 4:58 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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