Was this behaviour inappropriate?
June 6, 2012 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Some twenty years ago, I fell pregnant and had an abortion. Now my former partner has contacted me wanting to know more details.

The sentences above say it all, really. It was an unplanned and very much unwanted pregnancy. My then-partner and I agreed that we did not want to have a child. I arranged the abortion with my doctor (thankfully safe and legal where we lived), my then-partner drove me to the clinic and brought me home again afterwards. We broke up a few months later.

Just to clarify: While I am not exactly happy to have had an abortion, I have never regretted it. Since then I have married and had two very much wanted children, and my experience of giving birth and being a mother has only made me even more pro-choice than I was before.

The former partner and I were in touch off and on for a while (we lived in quite a small town), but I hadn't heard from him for at least ten years. I now live in another country. Last week he sent me an email. He must have had a hell of a time tracking me down: we have no acquaintances in common any more and I have a very common name, making me hard to Google. He found me through my work website (which includes my photo) and sent an email to my work address, stating tersely that he needed information and would I tell him the date of the abortion. No further details other than commenting that I looked well (from the photo) and making a comment about my work's website.

I am shocked by how much this email has unsettled and angered me. My sister said to me, "Well he has a right to know; it was his baby too." Well, yeah - but he was there! I feel somehow as if society (extrapolating wildly from one person's opinion here) sees me as somehow forever responsible for supplying him with any and all information he needs about the event. Even though he was there at the time. (For the record, I have no idea when it was. I didn't exactly write it in my birthday book.)

My question is: Is his request normal and understandable? Is my response to it over-the-top? (While I acknowledge that feelings are feelings, I'm curious to know whether this whole situation is as outrageous as it seems to me or whether it's actually not that unusual to email someone at work out of the blue asking for the date they had an abortion.) Does the fact that he was the father of the unborn child somehow give him the right to do this? Do I owe him something? Why might he think that I did?

Obviously nobody here can help me see into his head, but I am determined not to engage with him on this because it seems to be such a blatant attempt to get my attention. Although - I can't see any reason why he would WANT to get my attention.

(My husband knows about the situation and is supportive of me but understandably dismissive of my ex, who behaved very badly at the time of the abortion.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (73 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Like you said, he was there. If he gave so little a shit that he can't remember when it was, it's not your problem to remember it for him.

You could tell him to fuck off and do his own math, but it would probably be better just to not answer.

Yes, this is a ridiculous request. No, you are not obligated to do anything.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:34 AM on June 6, 2012 [49 favorites]

I don't know you at all but I am also dismissive of your ex, who behaved very badly at the time of the abortion. Seriously, this is no longer anything to do with him.
posted by merocet at 7:35 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it's really weird and you can feel free to just ignore it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:35 AM on June 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

Crazy and intrusive. Block and ignore.
posted by Malla at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2012 [20 favorites]

He probably just doesn't remember the information anymore then you do. He probably took a shot in the dark hoping you would remember, or possibly be able to gain that information in your medical history.

I don't know under which instance he would need this information (Maybe religious reasons?), but if he really did.. then I can see him seeking you out and emailing you out of the blue.

I think your reaction is a little over-the-top, yes.
posted by royalsong at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Sending email to a work address -- which might be monitored, unless you clearly own your own business -- talking about an abortion is pretty iffy.

I don't think you have any obligation to respond to him. If you want to respond to him, I don't see any reason not to, but you don't want to respond to him, so don't.
posted by jeather at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2012 [20 favorites]

Member of the chorus here: Ignore. Do not respond in any way. Filter out his emails if possible.
posted by Kimberly at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

What possible good reason could this fellow have for wanting this information? We could speculate about all kinds of awful reasons, but it's very hard to come up with good ones. If he is haunted by guilt (let's hope it would be over his behavior rather than the abortion) at this late date, he can process - and should process! - those issues without requiring emotional involvement from you.

You don't owe this guy information like this, for all kinds of reasons - it was two decades ago; it does not impact his medical or financial status; you made the decision together at the time....and above all, frankly, because it was your body and your choice.

American rhetoric is very much geared toward a formal, letter-of-the-law "equality" - every problem has two sides and the answer is always a compromise in the middle; everything is fine if people have "equal" (which means identical) rights under the law. This bumps up against lived social reality, particularly with abortion, since there is no way to have an "equal" experience of pregnancy and child-rearing with a man. Some folks will break out the "it was his [embryo] too" line of reasoning...but you know what? It was your body that would have carried the baby, your breasts that would have fed the baby and it is extremely likely that you would have done most of the childcare and taken most of the financial/career hit. It was your decision, not his. You do not "owe" him anything.

Now, if you were very close and had a long-standing relationship of trust, you might want to give him information - and if you are close to someone when you make an important decision, you naturally want to take their interests very seriously. But that's very different from owing that to someone. And since there is no closeness and no trust, you doubly do not owe anything.
posted by Frowner at 7:39 AM on June 6, 2012 [40 favorites]

"Was this behavior appropriate?"

posted by oceanjesse at 7:40 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

You owe this person nothing, especially your private health information. You are not responsible for reminding him of the date of something he was present for. I would not respond... and I echo jeather's concern about the work email address. He has at the very least been cavalier with information that should be kept in confidence. Inappropriate. Delete & filter.
posted by activitystory at 7:43 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

"It is not a memory I care to recall."

along with the usual blah blah have a nice life
posted by caddis at 7:43 AM on June 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

My question is: Is his request normal and understandable? Is my response to it over-the-top?

His request is not normal and your response (to be flabbergasted and pissed off) is not at all over the top. It's not that it isn't any of his business, exactly, it's that he's framed a request as a demand and not substantiated the request in any way. For him to simply appear and demand that you provide him with this information with no context at all is intrusive and rude.

You can ignore it if you like. I'm nosey so I'd be inclined to email back saying "Hi Fred, This seems like a very odd communication after 20 years. Can you tell me why you are interested in this information?" Because I'd, uh, actually be dying to know.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 AM on June 6, 2012 [30 favorites]

I'd, personally, use this an an opportunity to make it clear that this sort of communication is not appropriate as far as you are concerned. Maybe he has some good-to-him reason and maybe he doesn't. He hasn't made it clear. It's not your responsibility to tease it out of him. I do not think his request is normal but I could imagine a scenario in which, to him, it might be. I'd do this:

"Like you, I do not remember the date and have no additional information for you. Please do not contact me further."

If this is, for some reason, normal then you have answered his question to the best of your ability. If it's not normal he's been told in no uncertain terms to leave it alone and failure to do that can be dealt with the same way you'd deal with any other harassment.
posted by jessamyn at 7:45 AM on June 6, 2012 [29 favorites]

There is one possibility in which he has a very good reason for requesting the date of the abortion.

He may be being contacted by someone who is claiming to be his child, put up for adoption. Or, someone may have told him that you didn't go through with the abortion and there is a child running around out there. Though if he was there at the time and subsequently, presumably he'd have seen that this didn't happen? Or did you break up afterwards?

Either that, or there's a MURDER CASE hanging on this! I swear, I've seen this plot!

...okay, yeah, this is most likely intensely weird.
posted by corb at 7:47 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nthing ignore. He was there; surely he could do some leg work on his own without resorting to this if this is important to him. It's over and done long ago, and to be honest I'd say the same about any request that was digging deep into past stressful events out of the blue for no good reason. I think your reaction is natural and justified, and there is no obligation on you to supply this information.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:49 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I can't imagine, if I was in his shoes, thinking that contacting in this way was going to be fine and unweird. If I was to do it, I would have a damn good accompanying explanation to justify the intrusive request: I don't know, something like making amends in a church group or in AA or some other unusual circumstance. Just contacting out of the blue, let alone asking the most stirring kind of question, would necessitate touching some bases of sincerity in explaining renewed contact. Your reaction is a-ok in my book.
posted by peacay at 7:50 AM on June 6, 2012

The only positive reason he might have, and I'll admit this is a stretch, is that he's working a 12-step program and is making amends. Or he's got religion and is atoning, but neither of these reasons/excuses should allow him to bother you.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:51 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll speak up for the guy here and say that if all you have from communication from him is the email then you may be misinterpreting his being brief for being terse.

You certainly aren't obligated to offer up any information though. You don't have to do a damn thing you don't want in this regard.

But, maybe throw the guy a little benefit of the doubt, and I don't think he's asking for much besides a few sentences of information.

And again, to reiterate, you don't have to do any of it if you don't want to.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 7:52 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wait, what?

He knew that you had the abortion. The two of you obviously agreed on it together when you were together and he saw you through it when you were together. Then you broke up. After breaking up, you are no longer together, which means you now have zero obligation to him. This is also your health information, which is private information. You control your rights over your health information and don't have to share it with anyone.

Ok, so now it's 10 years later and you've moved on with your life (and it sounds fabulous!) and he contacts you through work? To ask about your personal health information from over a decade ago? He was in that conscious decision at the time, he should be able to remember through his own mean. Ew.

In my opinion, the fact that he contacted you through work to ask you for information on your personal health, that is your private information from years ago is highly inappropriate. Jesus, I feel offended for you.

I would simply send a very brief, to the point email:

Dear :

Thank you for your note.

This is not a memory I wish to recall and it is my preference to not provide this personal information to anyone.

Please do not contact me at my place of employment.

Best regards,


Please save a copy of this note - print it out even and stick it somewhere in a safe location. If he contacts you again, do not respond.
posted by floweredfish at 7:54 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ignore + Outlook rule to screen his emails going forward.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:57 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe I am exceedingly suspicious and paranoid, but how do you know this is actually your former partner contacting you? Could it be someone digging for dirt, either on you or your former partner? I don't know, but it seems absurd for him to be asking for details about something people tend to keep very private. I would just ignore the request.
posted by wigner3j at 8:01 AM on June 6, 2012 [25 favorites]

A legitimate reason that he might have would involve current fertility issues -- for example, an initial screening process involves asking each partner whether they have "proven fertility" (have generated a past pregnancy), which colors which subsequent tests and steps are pursued. It could actually be that he wants to report this prior event, and is being thoughtless about whether having the details is worth the pain to you of dredging it up. It's imaginable that there are a few other legitimate reasons, and I imagine that none of them are really things he'd want to talk about. However, if such a reason exists, I think he should give you some sense of it, or else leave you alone.

Perhaps a two-sentence email along those lines? ("Do you have some legitimate reason for being a dickhead here, or are you just stirring up the mud for the joy of it?" or friendlier versions)
posted by acm at 8:03 AM on June 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

Do not reply. Doing so will tell him that you are willing to engage in a dialogue. He's in a different country - ignore him and go about your life.
posted by normy at 8:05 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, his behavior is inappropriate. No, your reaction is not "over the top."

I assume he wants this information for a legitimate (albeit, personal, emotional or religious) reason and is just really bad at written correspondence . This is me giving him the benefit of doubt.

You are perfectly within your rights to ignore him or to write back a terse note asking him to cease communication with you.

However, I would probably respond with an honest email, narrowing down the date as best you can (ie "sometime in the spring of . . ."). I would tell him that his email was uncomfortably worded and should not have been delivered to a work email address. And I would ask why he needed to know. I would certainly remind him that he was there the day of the appointment and that he is just as likely to remember the exact date.

I'm sorry that you have to deal with this. This sucks and he should know better than to email you out of the blue with such a personal and inappropriate question after 10 years.

Whatever you do - respond or ignore - you're fully within you rights to be offended.
posted by dchrssyr at 8:06 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't respond in any way. Block his email so you don't have to see it again.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:08 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not a memory I wish to recall

A couple of people have suggested this or variations on this. I would point out that this language makes a problematic assumption - that in fact, the OP can't rememeber the date because she is trying to forget the experience. Women have a very wide variety of abortion experiences, but speaking only for myself, it's an experience I am totally neutral on recalling. I don't wish to repress or avoid recollections because it wasn't a bad experience.

For this reason, I think Jessamyn's reply is best-worded.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:25 AM on June 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

Obnoxious. It may have been "his baby," but it's your body and your health information. I don't think you're overreacting because it has absolutely nothing to do with him, and I can't understand why he would possibly need this information-- and if he really had a legitimate reason(??) he should have explained it to you when he asked. It's insensitive to email you out of the blue and ask you about your abortion-- it's a sensitive subject in our culture, and you shouldn't have to talk about it at his request. If he emailed you asking when you had your gall bladder removal surgery, you'd be under no obligation to tell him that either. I think the way things are in our society, it's perfectly ordinary to be angry over a ex-partner's asserted ownership of your body/pregnancy.

That said, you should ignore him if you feel like it. If you want to let him know how inappropriate the request was, I think there are a lot of good blueprints above.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:25 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is his job to keep track of his own life events - not his ex-girlfriend's. And yes, it is completely inappropriate to write to someone's work email with such a request about your personal medical history and you do not owe him anything, even a response.
But I would not block his future emails in case this gets weirder.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 8:27 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

What a crazy person! Block him!
posted by discopolo at 8:40 AM on June 6, 2012

Block, ignore, and don't reply. At this point in time, he doesn't even know for sure he's gotten a hold of you - company websites can be notoriously out of date. The request to your work email address is not appropriate, your reaction is completely normal (heck i'm pissed off on your behalf, dear internet stranger), and I would just try to forget he even contacted you and go along with your merry life as if it this incident never happened.
posted by cgg at 8:44 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

He's inscrutable. I'd say he's writing a memoir or making amends but with a terse tone, sadly that seems unlikely. "I don't remember, please remove me from your contact list." as the whole of your reply (no signature, no salutation, no closing "sincerely") is how I have handled communication exes who I didn't want to engage with.

Keep it short, engage as little as possible, the second you are getting more email from this person than you want implement mail filters to never see email from that address - for work & personal email.

It may be you've already reached that point, in which case do it now.
posted by artlung at 8:50 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd say don't respond. He was there. It seems pretty insane to email you at work and ask you for details ten years later. You don't know what this person's agenda is, assuming this actually is your ex and not some other person. Block the email address if you can. Don't engage in any way.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:50 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're not overreacting.

I would not engage with this person; I'd ignore this and any further communications from him.

Assuming that this guy is who he says he is, his emailing your *work* address with this question is flat out irresponsible and inconsiderate. At most, he should have emailed saying something neutral like, "Hi, are you the [first name] [last name] that I knew long ago? If so, I'd like to hear from you again." Putting your past business into an email that could be monitored by your company is an ill-considered thing to do...assuming it's not straight up made of 100% bad intentions.

To be honest, I'm not convinced that this person is who he says he is. It could be a private investigator or something, attempting to dig up dirt on you. Maybe I sound paraoid, but this sort of thing has happened to me, so yeah. I'd be wary. When in doubt, killfile.
posted by skye.dancer at 9:11 AM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm a little befuddled by the strength of the reactions here, yours and the commentators. You say you don't regret the abortion, which is good, but the amount of anger you seem to be expressing over a single email is, well, odd.

An ex emailed you at the email address he was able to find, you acknowledge that you would be "difficult to track down", so it is unlikely that he had a choice of which email to contact you through. He asked you a question about the date of a shared experience, one that some people might have found traumatic.

If you don't want to answer it, that's fine but being angry about it is a little bizarre, you say you were fine with it at the time, and that you're fine with it now - why on earth would your ex think that it wouldn't be okay to ask you a single question about it? Perhaps his current partner is having trouble conceiving, or had a miscarriage - when you have fertility trouble later in life it can make you question things that you thought you were fine with earlier - but none of that is particularly relevant.

Was the email terse and odd, maybe. But a lot of people are bad at writing, particularly if they think a request might be odd or an imposition. Ignore it, respond that you don't have the information, or tell him the answer that he asked, those are all reasonable responses. But if I were you I'd be questioning why I was this mad/skived out by a short email about something I'm supposedly fine with.
posted by dadici at 9:15 AM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Do you know anything about his life now? Has he become some anti-choice zealot? I live in a city where a physician was assassinated for delivering this service, and protests go on outside clinics daily. People do crazy things around this issue, so my instinct would be to research him before I even considered giving a reply.
posted by Riverine at 9:22 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would ignore it and block his e-mail address.

My first thought, as far as his motivation goes, was that he's involved in the anti-abortion movement and constructing a victim narrative for them. That seems to be one of their strategies at the moment, focusing on these poor, victimized men that have had their "babies" taken from them.

And dadici, I think the big deal is that this is really personal information and it smacks of laziness to bother her with this rather than figuring it out himself. It's insensitive all around.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:26 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I suspect, to his mind, this was a shared experience -- and it strikes me as kind-of a big one, regardless of how one comes to feel about it later.
I don't fully understand human connection, but I know that I have looked back on occasion and felt very close to people I knew long ago -- felt close enough that I would think nothing of writing and thanking them for something or asking a question. So from that perspective, his asking doesn't seem so strange to me. You shared a life-changing experience. It was meaningful to him for whatever reason, and he wants to know the date, if he can.

So while I'd be annoyed to have gotten this email at work, and be darned curious to know what was pushing him to get this information, I don't think I would be mad.
posted by MeiraV at 9:29 AM on June 6, 2012

Personally I'd respond with "why do you want to know?" because I'm an inquisitive sort and the curiosity would be killing me. What a bizarre request. Once I had what I wanted I would just tell him that I didn't remember (I don't remember the date of mine either) - I would be cordial and not express any upset about it, it really is a simple matter of fact situation - you don't remember the specific date. He was there so he should have just as much vague idea of when it was as you do.
posted by missmagenta at 9:32 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm also going against the grain. I've definitely written some awkward e-mails which would come across as terse, simply because I found the topic hard to deal with and re-wrote the e-mail ten times before giving up and hitting send on whatever I had. Contact with exes can be hard, especially when you're writing because you need something.

Yes, it's your personal medical issue but it's also not a secret from him or anything (since he knew it once). It's not like he's asking about something new that you don't want him to know about. I don't think it's that weird that he forgot the date, since you did as well, and also I have been known to forget major life event dates, too.

It's too bad he didn't handle the original event well, but it sounds like he's not seriously intruding on your life now (one e-mail that's relatively neutral and only asking for information is really minimally intrusive).

The only thing I can see that he did wrong was sending it to your work e-mail address. A better way would have been to confirm that it was you and say that he had something private to ask and was there another form of contact. But it also sounds like he wants to minimize the contact all around by being to the point and may not have fully thought through the consequences (I think a lot of normal, non-MeFi users are simply not as alert to privacy, but that's ignorance, not deliberate).

Of course, you do not have to do anything. But my take on it is that he's awkward but benign and your reaction is stronger than mine would have been. In your shoes, I would probably reply from a personal e-mail address, asking him not to use my work e-mail for personal correspondence and either asking him to clarify what he wants and why or if you really want to minimize contact just giving him the date (if he's going to use it for something skeevy then he'll use whatever he can remember regardless).
posted by anaelith at 9:32 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Absent a cogent explanation why he would require this information, which should have preceded the request, this gets filed under "weird, maybe crazy." Personally, I don't choose to engage with crazy, because it tends to escalate and draw other people into its deep, deep crazy gravitational well. I would ignore this email. He has everything he needs to determine this information on his own. While the request may have some logical explanation, it also has 1) possibly unsavory ones, and 2) bad feelings associated with it on your part. There is nothing to be gained from responding. File and move on.
posted by itstheclamsname at 9:34 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Gross. Another vote for block and ignore, for now. If he escalates, the strategy may need to change. I used to know some of those male "abortion victims"; definitely people to avoid.

Also, seconding superfluousm on bringing a trusted work friend into the loop. Don't give details as to why he said he contacted you.

Finally, you might also want (tactfully) to raise the question to HR as to why it's necessary to have current photos and email addresses available on the public Web, unless you're in sales or some such customer-facing position. I don't see a compelling business case for making that info public otherwise. You can allude to the fact that you've received an unwanted and completely non-business-related harassing message. I'm glad my company doesn't do that.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

You say you don't regret the abortion, which is good, but the amount of anger you seem to be expressing over a single email is, well, odd.

I cannot speak for the OP, but I know that I would be angry about a similar email for the following reasons:

A) It is weird for someone else to expect you to remember the date of a medical procedure that they escorted you to, when they have forgotten it.

B) There really isn't any good reason for them to know the specific dates of your medical procedure. I can tell you that if they were having fertility issues, the fertility docs would not need to know the specific date of a termination of an earlier pregnancy they had been part of initiating (that information would be no use to the docs, because they could not get the medical records of a third party!)

C) Sending an email to someone's workplace with information about their medical history is so not cool. Even if the OP lives in a place where abortion is not as stigmatized as it is in the US, it's still a serious violation of privacy.

I so don't regret my abortions, but I would be pissed as hell if someone had the effrontery to go poking around in my personal medical history years later for whatever random purposes of their own.

I think jessamyn's answer is the right one, especially since it's true.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:38 AM on June 6, 2012 [17 favorites]

sorry, that's super-creepy. first, sending someone you haven't talked to in 10 years an email *at work* about an extremely private matter like that is rude and socially oblivious at best. second, it's just plain weird to ask someone a question like that without acknowledging that it's not the kind of thing you would normally bring up with someone you barely know (and let's be honest, does he have grounds to think that he knows you now?). it's boundary-challenged, creepy, and wrong. he's had 10 years to come up with that question, if his mind were right he would have done a better job than that.
posted by facetious at 9:38 AM on June 6, 2012

You've got a couple options here: one is to ignore all communications from him, the other obviously is to email back. If you choose to respond, I'd suggest keeping it brief, with either some version of "This isn't something I wish to discuss" or else "Why do you ask? You were there and know everything I know." (If you choose to ignore him, you might consider also blocking further email from him.)

But no matter what, you don't OWE him anything, whether its further emails or your personal medical information.
posted by easily confused at 9:53 AM on June 6, 2012

Only answer the email if you're interested in continuing the dialogue. Sounds like you don't want to talk to him or discuss the issue, so don't answer the email. Hopefully he'll assume he got the wrong person or it's out of date or whatever.

All the conjecture about how this could be a legit inquiry for his fertility or AA or whatever seems to me quite misplaced. If he had a good reason to need this info he would have acknowledged that he NEEDED A GOOD REASON to make this intrusive inquiry, and provided it. Since he didn't, we can assume that he does not have a reason that OP would find acceptable, and therefore she shouldn't engage with it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:05 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

He emailed you at work??

No. You are not overreacting. In this day and age, I can NOT believe that any adult would put such private and sensitive personal information in a email sent to someone's else's work address.

I also don't know if this is actually your ex or a third party contacting you.

I would not write back. If I did, I would write back from a burner email account created specifically for the purpose.
posted by jbenben at 10:19 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting to the situation as you perceive it, which due to the terse and vague nature of your exes e-mail is completely understandable, and a reaction that I would have as well.

I've done some things, for better and/or worse, which can be uncomfortable to think about in certain contexts, and given the situation as it was presented to you, it's hard to frame this unexpected revisiting of an old "hurt" in a positive light.

He is very remiss in the fact that due to his own discomfort, obliviousness and/or current mindset he gives no framing to his request for this info. Honestly, I wouldn't even track down an ex after a decade of no contact and ask her about a car we mutually owned or a lease we both signed 20 years ago without providing the exact nature of the reason for the request, let alone something as touchy as an abortion.

The fact he e-mailed you at work, speaks to me of the fact that this is the only information he was able to locate for you, and the necessity for him to determine specifics for the specific abortion date.

To me, this presents a really odd combination of the amount of effort it is presumed he expended in finding your contact information, and the complete lack of further information.

Putting myself in this situation, I don't owe him anything, and given the nature of the e-mail, I may even choose to chuck common courtesy out of the window. Still, he doesn't appear to be the stalker weirdo type, if you communicated for 10 years on and off after the abortion... I'd probably just reply with something like Jessamyn said. Along the lines of


I must say it's really strange and unnerving to hear from you after ten years with the abortion as the reason for you contacting me with absolutely no context for your request. I'm sure you can imagine how you would feel if the roles were reversed in this. I honestly don't know any specifics other than it was 20 years ago. But I do know that your e-mail really made me uncomfortable being asked this out of the blue. Why do you need to know?"
posted by Debaser626 at 10:54 AM on June 6, 2012

Block him - this kind of contact suggests that he has changed his views on abortion and wants to 'discuss' your past history in that context. This is likely to be the start of a 'conversation' you have no need or desire to have.
posted by Wylla at 11:06 AM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you do choose to provide a response to him, I would not do so over your work email. Your privacy is limited from a work account. While I don't have in mind a specific negative repercussion of your admission to having an abortion, I wouldn't want my employer to have access to that information in general.

As regards his contact of you, I think the way he did it is more of a problem than him doing it at all. If he'd contacted you and indicated that he had some questions, and provided some context, that would be one thing. But a two line email out of the blue? Hell no. Ignore.
posted by freshwater at 11:14 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

To add - he now knows where you work. If he makes any further attempt to contact you, contact HR right away. They don't need to know the details, just that a former acquaintance is sending you strange mail at your work address, having found you on the web.

This will protect you if he reacts to your lack of response by trying to reach you by other means. It will also protect you from any reprocussions if he decides to share your past history with anyone else at work in an attempt to get you to talk to him or 'repent': you can just say "Look, this was a person I knew 20 years ago: he was strange then and he's clearly become even stranger in the interim."
posted by Wylla at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

but being angry about it is a little bizarre

There are so many reasons to be angry about this in the society we live in. I don't mean to attack you (the commenter), but knowing a few women who have had abortions and boyfriends with a lot of baggage about it, this kind of question is often the result of some dude's "soul-searching" about the son/daughter he could have had, or some other morally-loaded conundrum that he wants to drag the woman into. It seems a non-trivial subset of men don't realize how selfish this is, but it is. We don't know that that's what he was doing, but this is a country where we've recently watched an all-male panel discuss contraception coverage and where a woman defending birth control was vociferously denounced as a wanton slut. Being okay with abortion doesn't mean you're okay with the fact that other people are constantly trying to define it for you.

Also, it's random as hell, and abortion is a very intimate procedure. If a ex of 10 years emailed me and asked me the date of the colonoscopy I had while we were dating, or the date of my hysterectomy, at a work email address, I'd be similarly upset. (Also, it's so difficult to come up with a good reason for the question that it would have been the least courtesy to mention why he was asking. And why does he think she has any better idea than he does off the top of her head, since he was there? Does he expect her to call up the hospital and ask for her medical records at his unsubstantiated request?)

Anyway, my point is that I think it's okay to feel angry for more than one very good reason, and these are probably also good reasons to send something like jessamyn's email.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:53 AM on June 6, 2012 [30 favorites]

Agreeing with all of the above to not reply.

However, if there is some legitimate reason he needs this information, he should have had his lawyer contact you to avoid all the skeevy feelings.
posted by spec80 at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2012

Do not reply, so that there remains some doubt as to whether his email reached her at all. This works with stalkers who think they may have hunted a person down after many years of lost contact, and it should work here, too.
posted by davejay at 12:40 PM on June 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just wanted to add my two cents and I'll keep it simple: ignore and block.
posted by random thoughts at 12:43 PM on June 6, 2012

Somebody contacts you out of the blue and wants you to confirm details about a personal medical procedure, in writing, from your work email address without telling you why they want this information or what they'll do with it?

Fuck yeah, that's inappropriate, I don't care if it's a root canal.

Block and ignore. You never got that crazy email.

PS. You're not overreacting.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:03 PM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

(btw, sorry for but this is a country where, I misremembered your post apparently and thought you said you had moved to the US)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2012

FROM, from the US
posted by stoneandstar at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2012

hunh! he has a right to know? seriously, when he was out of the picture for so long.

No. He does NOT have the right to know now. He had the right to know then and to support you.

Rights and Responsibilites go hand in hand. Not seperately.
posted by pakora1 at 1:09 PM on June 6, 2012

- davejay brings up an excellent point regarding no response!

"Do not reply, so that there remains some doubt as to whether his email reached her at all. This works with stalkers who think they may have hunted a person down after many years of lost contact, and it should work here, too."

- People keep debating whether it was understandable for the ex to mention abortion in an email sent to her work address just because it was the only email he could find for her.

It would have been OK to politely contact the OP at work, as long as there was no mention of anything of a personal nature. I posit if the reason for contact was legit, he would have done just that.

This contact was not legit. Homeboy followed no rules of privacy, civility, or decency that apply to contacting folks at their job in the electronic age. The email, as it was worded, would have been squicky and ignorable if it had come directly to the OP's personal email address. But at work? Oh, no, no.

I'm with davejay, and also the additional commenters who are worried about proselytizing, private investigators, and other weirdo possibilities.

OP, whatever this is about, I doubt you really want to find out. I think it's ok to delete the email, and any possibility of deepening your interaction with this intrusion, while you're at it.

Good luck. Don't
posted by jbenben at 1:15 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Was just going to add that although it's a bit mysterious, I hope you won't ruminate on why this happened or what was behind it.

Skip this. Whatever it was, I don't think it is any of your business. If it truly concerned you, it would have appeared on the scene in a legitimate fashion, marking it as worthy of your attention.
posted by jbenben at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2012

i'm going with the flow here - if he had a reason for needing/wanting the information, he should have made that explicit to you. he didn't, so you don't need to worry about it. emailing you at work about your abortion is so over the line that even in my own socially anxious bad email writing head i can't figure out how someone would think that was a good idea. if the email had said something like "hey ex, sorry to contact you out of the blue, but i have a personal question that involves our shared history. is this a good address to send the question to?" then i would be more on the side of "once upon a time you probably thought you loved this person, giving them 5 minutes of your time to answer a question seems like an ok thing to do."

as it all actually happened, though - ignore, ignore, ignore. maybe create a rule that emails from that address go to a special folder, just in case things get crazy you won't be caught unawares.
posted by nadawi at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with everyone that this was crass and thoughtless, but would also be terribly curious why he wants this information.

I think you should respond. It certainly doesn't sound like he's trying to rekindle an old flame with a message like this, I don't think he wants to be on buddy-buddy terms with you. It sounds like he needs this one piece of information for some reason, and once you give it to him (if you choose to do so), I suspect he will leave you alone. The fact that you say it must have been quite difficult for him to locate you makes me inclined to say you should respond (perhaps via a sock puppet email account so you're not chatting about this over work messaging), reason being that if he worked this hard to find you and get in touch with you, who is to say that he might not find your phone number and call you? Show up at your house? Start sending you messages in other ways? This information is apparently quite important to him. I would just head things off at the pass by responding, even if it's to say that you're not interested in talking about this with him, otherwise I'd be worried that any day he was going to try to contact me again some other way out of the blue.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:13 PM on June 6, 2012

I'm in the minority that says you should respond, but I would not bring up the procedure at all I would say something along the lines of:

1) "I do not share medical information with anyone outside of my doctors and immediate family"

2) "Please do not use this email to contact me, as it is reserved for business use."

I agree with the others - he can have no legitimate reason for needing to know the exact date. Even in a 12-step program, I don't see why he can't say, "about ten years ago...."
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 2:18 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I had to go back and read the question again before I could answer, because I disagree with most of the other commenters.

So, first reading: The two of you had an unplanned pregnancy, decided an abortion was your best option, you stayed together for a few months afterward but then broke up, and even kept in contact for a while before that fizzled out and you went your separate ways.

From that, I figured you had an amicable breakup, and that this guy was not a stalker or someone who had ever threatened you or made you feel unsafe. Now, he's contacting you 20 years later, and you feel blindsided, which is certainly understandable, through your work email about something very personal, which made you both upset and angry, also understandable!

I'm 100% went you so far. I just don't get why you would block and ignore him? From what I read, the worst thing he did was the work contact--but you cover that, saying that you have a common name and only your work account had a photo of you, which is likely how you found you. Makes sense to me. He is not asking to start up a relationship again, or indicating in any way that he is a danger to you. He was terse, but not at all critical (you say he mentioned you look well). He asked only for that date.

Maybe I have an active imagination, but I can think of several reasons why he might need this information:

He and a partner are trying to start a family, and they and a doctor are trying to narrow down fertility issues--maybe he had an illness and it's possibility it affected his ability to father a child, but he doesn't remember if that illness was before or after the unintended pregnancy (and obviously, if it were before, that would rule it out as a cause).

He (sorry, but it's a possiblity) had an affair with another woman while you were together, and is being sued for paternity or child support, or someone is claiming to be his child, and he is trying to figure out if that's even possible as far as the timeline goes.

The abortion clinic you went to was doing something illegal or unethical during a certain timeframe, and there is a class action lawsuit.

Anyway, you get my point! So I figure, why not just email him back with a NON WORK email account and ask why he needs the information?

And if you don't remember the date exactly--and why should you, when you have a family of your own now and have long since moved on with your life?--maybe just give him a year and a general timeline.

So then, I read the question again, and the only thing that changes in this reading is the very last line of your post, where you put, almost as an afterthought, that he "behaved very badly at the time of the abortion." Well, now I understand more why you are upset about this! But I wonder how that all went down, that the two of you kept in contact and all. Maybe he is a total douchebag..or maybe he behaved badly because he was young and scared? I imagine you both were, but you handled it much better than he did because you were more mature.

Anyway, if it were me--and of course it isn't!--I'd still want to know why he asked, and help if it cost me nothing to do so, so I wouldn't ignore him. But I would use a throwaway gmail account for my replies, and tell him he needs to reply to that email only, and block him on your work account. That just seems like a sensible precaution.
posted by misha at 2:24 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, please don't debate other people's answers and just answer the question please, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:54 PM on June 6, 2012

I wouldnt be angry. I would respond and ask him why he wants to know the date.
posted by KogeLiz at 3:25 PM on June 6, 2012

Could this information be used ever to blackmail you? It doesn't sound like you are in politics or anything where this could be used to hurt you publicly, but this seems like a way to get you to confirm in writing that you had an abortion. Long shot for sure. Most likely is probably some bizarre soul searching on the situation and I'd be very curious to know why he needs this information given he must know at least the year, if not within a month or two of when it took place. Of course that just makes me that much more suspicious. I'd personally be googling his name a bit to see what he's been up to these past ten years... That's where you might find your answers and I wouldn't be above getting in touch with old, but trusted, friends, if you have any that might be able to provide some context for him emailing after so long.
posted by whoaali at 5:05 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Urgh. I think the debate of whether he had a legit reason to email you, and whether doing so to your work address was due to a dearth of contact info is moot: if he really needed this info, and really wanted you to give it to him, he a) would probably try to be more sensitive, to keep the line of convo open and amicable, and b) he would have given you as much contact info as possible to up the chances that you would get in touch with him.

Seriously, if he were being legit about this, he would have emailed something like:

Dear Ex,

I know this may come out of the blue, but I have something I need to ask about and discuss with you. It's about something that happened about 20 years ago that I need more info about. Because it's a bit sensitive, though, I think we'd be more comfortable talking over the phone. I know this may seem random and a little weird; I'm sorry, but this is really important. If you could, give me a call at xxx-xxxx, or you could email me here, or IM me at randomex963. Whichever is more convenient, and only if it's okay with you. Thx - randomex"

He didn't do that though - instead of trying to open contact, he barged right in. That is wtf and suspect. I'm curious and would want to know why he's asking, but if you ignored him, I think that would be quite all right, too.
posted by vivid postcard at 8:36 PM on June 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would ignore and block. I don't think you should respond even with "I do not recall, and do not contact me again" because that would constitute written confirmation of two pieces of information: (1) he found the right email; and (2) you conceived with him and then had an abortion. I really can think of no legitimate reason to want to know the exact date of the procedure, which makes me concerned that he is actually looking for written confirmation of precisely those two pieces of information. Maybe he's actually a private investigator; PI's are hired in all kinds of circumstances you wouldn't expect, including run-of-the-mill civil suits.

Bottom line: I just wouldn't confirm any sensitive health-related information in writing when you really don't know who you're corresponding with, or what their agenda is.
posted by palliser at 9:04 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you respond "why do you want to know?" or "this is inappropriate," you will have granted "I am the same Sally Turner," and "I had an abortion 20 years ago." Right now, nobody seeing that one-sided exchange could say whether his email has any validity. If you reply with anything other than "you've got the wrong Sally Turner," you are further compromising your own privacy. Do not acknowledge the truth of anything he wrote without being sure you want to.
posted by salvia at 9:11 PM on June 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

It's I'm a little befuddled by the strength of the reactions here, yours and the commentators. You say you don't regret the abortion, which is good, but the amount of anger you seem to be expressing over a single email is, well, odd.

Work email isn't private. At all. If it was an email to a personal account, I'd be inclined to use a version of jessamyn's response. But to your work email? Gross. No. Don't acknowledge it. Mark it as spam, even.

I also agree that if the exact date was that freaking important to him, he should have made a note of it. If he's making amends, he doesn't need to know the exact date. If he was being questioned about his fertility, he wouldn't need the exact date (May, 1992 should suffice.) A class-action lawsuit for the men who accompanied a woman to an appointment for an abortion would be ludicrous, there's no record of their names and no proof of their paternity. If he needed the answer for a truly compelling reason that the OP would find sympathetic (like some sort of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction case of murder alibis or wrongfully-ID'd missing children), he'd undoubtedly be more sensitive and more cautious about his email. I can't think of any other compelling reason that he REQUIRES the exact date via an email to your work address referencing private and potentially prejudicial medical information.
posted by desuetude at 10:03 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

It is strange and I don't think you're overreacting. You are perfectly within your rights to ignore the email. I also like jessamyn's offered response. Me, I'd be curious and want to know why he wanted to know and wouldn't give him any info until he responded with a reasonable request. I'd also respond from an anonymous email account (gmail, etc.) and tell him to never contact you at work again as it's an email account reserved for work.
posted by deborah at 11:39 PM on June 6, 2012

Do not respond. If you acknowledge his email in any way, you are providing him (or someone pretending to be him) with confirmation that you've received the email, that you've read the email and that you can be contacted further at that address and will likely see or read future emails even if you don't respond to them. He can't be 100% sure that you still work there or that your email address is still valid.

If I were you, I'd make a fake bounce email and send that back to him any time he tries to email you.

You're not obligated to reply. Definitely don't respond from your work email address, as it may draw your employer's attention to his crass divulgence of your private medical information.
posted by i feel possessed at 10:16 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

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