Leave now and never come back - email edition
October 25, 2013 10:12 AM   Subscribe

For some time now, I have been receiving occasional, but unwanted emails from an ex. For the most part, they're completely harmless reports from their life - might as well start with "Dear Diary" - but I'm a little creeped out nonetheless. How should I proceed?

Their first email came a decade after our very brief, long distance relationship had ended. We exchanged two or three messages, then I began to realize they were hoping for - at the least - a penpal-type situation, when I would have been content to just catch up maybe once a year, if at all. I get easily stressed out by conflict and confrontations, so I just stopped responding (not the nicest course of action, I realize).

Since then, the emails have been coming in a couple of times a year, for the past three years. I never respond. They are harmless "what I've been up to" reports, but there's a touch of neediness and TMI about them. I also find it slightly creepy that they never acknowledge my lack of response at all. I have reason to believe this person is also monitoring my profiles on a couple of social networking sites.

I feel like it's too late to tell them to stop now - surely most people would have gotten the hint by now? On the other hand, I talked about this to a friend and she strongly feels that I am being cruel and should just tell my ex I don't want any further contact.

I feel a weird mix of dread and guilt whenever one of those messages pops up in my inbox. I realize this is a minor problem - I could just filter the mails and never even realize they are there - but I also don't want to (continue to) be unkind. Thank you, hivemind.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This person is looking for a response. Don't give it to them. Just filter the emails into the trash and leave it be. If they haven't taken the hint of you not responding to them, they will not consider it unkind that you continue not to respond.
posted by Etrigan at 10:14 AM on October 25, 2013 [23 favorites]

Just filter them to trash, and you'll never see them again. It's not unkind to save yourself the anxiety. Really, you don't owe this person anything. Your friend is out of line.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:16 AM on October 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

Thirding filter to trash and do not respond.

One thing to think about though - are these emails definitely to you alone? I got a series of weird emails like this from a guy I had dated, and I finally realized that he was sending them to EVERYONE - like a multiple-times-per-year Christmas letter. Still weird, but I didn't feel so creeped out since I wasn't being singled out.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:18 AM on October 25, 2013 [18 favorites]

I would definitely not engage with your ex - even by sending a "please don't contact me" email, you are starting a conversation that won't lead anywhere good. Just set up a filter in your email system so you don't need to see them anymore.
posted by barnoley at 10:18 AM on October 25, 2013

I have been in a similar position and I still have the filter-directly-to-trash set up. A++++ would remove from my life permanently again.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:19 AM on October 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

Filter or block in whatever way your mail client can make it so that you never see the emails, even to delete them. Do not open or respond.
posted by Sara C. at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree to filter them without contact. I would try to filter them somewhere that wasn't trash but that let me retain a record for whatever reason. If you are using GMail, set up the filter to mark them as read and to archive and you should not see them unless you are searching for them or you monitor your "all mail" tag/folder.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:21 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have no obligation whatsoever to read these mails. You don't reply, and you don't want to read them. How would it be 'unkind' to filter them? For all they know, after a decade, this is a defunct email adress.
posted by HFSH at 10:22 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

N-thing "filter them". And never, ever, evvvvvvvvvvvvver respond (this immediately resets the counter on the amount of time it'll take to get this person to go the hell away). Your friend - while perfectly lovely, I'm sure - is full of shit on this one: when someone initiates contact repeatedly and you do not respond, you ARE sending a signal ("I don't wish to communicate"), and THEY are the one who is being cruel/inapporopriate/a-social-norms-eschewing-dumbass if they persist in contacting you.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:30 AM on October 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

There are situations in which it would be appropriate to tell a person you want them not to contact you anymore. This is not one of them. +1 for filter.
posted by fearnothing at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2013

Why are you reading them? That's a choice on your part. Thus, you feel conflicted because you 'partake in the entertainment' but don't respond.

If you cannot control your impulse to read them, then utilize technology to block the suckers. The unkind dilemma will resolve itself quietly thereafter.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:36 AM on October 25, 2013

I doubt you have anything serious to worry about, aside from the negative feeling itself you have when you get one of these messages. I also had an ex who did this, maybe a couple of times a year for two years, after we ended a non-close relationship. I never responded and they eventually stopped. They were also along the same lines as a "report" and didn't acknowledge or seem to expect a response. I think this is some people's way of dealing with and responding to an effect that people from their past have on them. I actually do think it would be a good idea to send a brief e-mail saying that you are not interested in keeping in contact with them, and that it could very well lead to this person stopping these e-mails. By not responding you keep up the image for them of what they need (however they are thinking this) in a response (not an actual typed response but your response to the words), by saying "I'm not interested in hearing from you", I think you will burst that image for them. They are probably feeling the need to feel close to someone, and the idea of sharing these words with you constructs that (false) sense of closeness.
posted by Blitz at 10:39 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I totally understand people saying just to filter and ignore.

But just for another perspective. Your sense of being "unkind" (which I don't think you are) seems to be stressing you out as much as the emails, especially since you're not just blithely ignoring them but rather hoping to avoid a confrontation, and thinking that even if you did want to say something it's now too late.

From that point of view, I personally would just send a one-line reply - just once - saying something like "With no hard feelings I would prefer not to have contact with you as our relationship is in my past. I will be blocking your messages but wish you well." That way you've expressed your feelings - which you have a right to do - you can filter away with a clear conscience, and the other person can stop wasting their time.

But if you do decide not to reply don't worry, you don't owe them anything at all and it doesn't make you a bad person. It just feels like for you, it might be an easier way to put it behind you. Good luck.
posted by billiebee at 10:45 AM on October 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

I feel like it's too late to tell them to stop now - surely most people would have gotten the hint by now?

These two assumptions are obviously not true, as the person in question keeps contacting you. However.
That is entirely that person's problem; don't make it into yours, and resist being guilt-tripped by this type of behavior. It is not "cruel" do lack an interest in unsolicited tmi-type e-mails.

So yes, do filter out these messages, and try your hardest to ignore this person. Trust your feelings on this.
posted by Namlit at 10:48 AM on October 25, 2013

If you're technologically inclined, you could set up your email client to automatically respond to this person's emails with a fake bounce message, making it look like the account has been closed.

I don't think you're being "cruel" to not have contact with this person or to not tell them not to contact you again. Three years without a response of any kind ought to be a clue-by-four big enough for anyone. Unfortunately, it's not enough for this particular person and you have to deal with what actually is, rather than what should be.

I would tell them not to contact me again and then set my email client(s) up in such a fashion that I wouldn't be aware if they were emailing me or not. At that point, I'd have done everything in my power to ensure that this person was clear on what I wanted, and any extinction burst that they engaged in would go completely unnoticed. Giving someone clarity like this is a good thing, I think. Unfortunately, there are people out there who just don't get social norms and who do need to be expressly told things. Saying you don't want any more contact might even work and stop them from bothering you.

Also: read The Gift Of Fear. It talks a bit about how to handle situations where someone won't leave you alone. It's aimed at scarier situations than a twice-yearly email, but it's still very good advice. The book specifically recommends sending a short message to your interlocutor telling them to cease contact and then filtering emails/voicemails/phonecalls, etc.
posted by Solomon at 10:48 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Stop reading these emails.

2. Set up a filter to immediately delete them. If you need help with that, contact the moderators at the contact link at the bottom of every page, tell them what software you're using and they'll post your response in this thread, so people can give you step by step instructions on how to do this.

3. Don't fret about being unkind. It's perfectly ok to not want to deal with this person in any way.

4. See #3.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:49 AM on October 25, 2013

There are two possible explanations. First, maybe he sends these updates to a list (and this would be true even if you only see yourself on the to line) or just to you as part of a personal process and it's all over for the ex when ex hits send.

Second, he is sending to you and you alone and, possibly, tracking whether or not you've read.

In either case, a personal email from you will do one thing: get something started. If he's not really concerned about your response, why be mean? If ex has been hoping for a response, giving one would be the worst thing you could do.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:54 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Any contact from you will give them hope to keep trying. Don't give him that hope. Not responding does not make you unreasonable or unkind.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:58 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Putting myself in the shoes of your ex: I'd personally much rather be ignored than explicitly told to go away. If someone ignores me, I can assume some sort of benign reason behind it, like they moved to Fiji or are too busy with their ostrich farm or something.

But if someone tells me to stop contacting them, the only reasonable conclusion I can draw is that they don't like me. That always hurts, and if the person telling me so is someone I had fond memories of, it can shake up my perception of that person and that time, and I'll wonder if they always disliked me, and if I'm not in a good mental space I could see myself spiraling further down in response to that.

Filter him to spam and don't feel guilty about it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:58 AM on October 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Filter them to spam. WITH FIRE.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:06 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this had just started I'd agree with your friend. But it's been this long, just delete and don't feel bad about it.

I would not set up the fake bounce message though, on the off chance that they think you're doing that and make a new email to test that theory. Just delete, your ex will never know.
posted by theichibun at 11:09 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know - I don't necessarily agree with everyone saying you should just ignore these emails forever and never respond EVER AGAIN.

I don't feel as if this guy is stalking you or anything. You had a few email conversations back and forth and this person obviously wants to keep in touch. You don't, which is fine, but you haven't explicitly told him that.

If it were me, I'd probably just send a quick email saying thanks but no thanks and THEN I would ignore him forever. Anything else just seems rude to me.... but maybe I'm too nice!
posted by JenThePro at 11:55 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing filter and ignore

My wife has an estranged relation who emails me out of the blue, and usually it's pretty awful. Set up a filter to mark as read and send straight to trash. No idea how many of these emails I've gotten in the last few years, because I'm aware of 0 of them.
posted by colin_l at 12:23 PM on October 25, 2013

It's not unkind to stop reading emails from an ex a decade after the relationship ended.
posted by kidbritish at 12:35 PM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't filter them to the trash, because if this person seems to be getting goofy on you, you might be able to assess that by the contents of the emails.

Filter to a folder and skim when you feel like you can. Don't ever reply.
posted by sockermom at 12:56 PM on October 25, 2013

If it's already been 3 years without a response, then you don't need to send a response now. As far as he knows, you've ALREADY filtered and sent to trash, so just do it and you're done.
posted by CathyG at 1:47 PM on October 25, 2013

I have reason to believe this person is also monitoring my profiles on a couple of social networking sites.

Stop putting things on the internet that you wouldn't be OK with anyone in the world seeing.

Set your social networking profiles up so only your friends and contacts can see them.

They may be getting news about you from a mutual friend, either talk to the friend or don't let the friend know as much about you.
posted by yohko at 7:50 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Filter to trash, unless you think there's a chance that in future your ex might progress to threats or other over-the-line behavior. In which case, you might consider asking a trusted friend to act as recipient, then set up an auto-forwarding rule in your email to bounce anything from your ex directly to Trusted Friend and then delete it from your email. Trusted Friend can archive it without reading it. It's then available if something happens that warrants seeing what Ex has been writing, but it's not sitting hidden in your email account acting like a pebble in your mental shoe.

I've done this for friends in the past. So far, nothing's ever come of it, but my friends felt a bit more peace of mind for having it set up this way.
posted by Lexica at 8:23 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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