Should I reach out to my ex now?
September 5, 2016 3:29 AM   Subscribe

My ex-boyfriend and I (a woman) were together for the better part of a decade, starting in our mid 20s. We both thought that we would be partners for life. But in the first few weeks of this year, after several months of conversation about our life goals, I decided to break up with him, because we had grown to have different goals re: marriage & children (I want both; he wanted neither). I do not want the relationship back, but I would like for us to stay in touch. Is now an okay time to reach out? Please read the rest.

He did not want to break up. He would have preferred that we take a break. I felt that the kids/marriage issue (and others) would not be fixed by a break.

In the immediate aftermath of the breakup, I moved in with a friend to give my ex space in the apartment, and paid the full month's rent myself so that he could leave at any time in that month without feeling like he was throwing money away. (We were living in a place near the school I attend; after the breakup, he moved back to our old home city, a couple hours away.) I returned a couple thousand dollars to him that he had spent on joint purchases that would now only benefit me.

We only saw each other in person a couple times after the breakup (just in the first few weeks), but we had to be in contact via text occasionally to deal with a storage unit that had stuff from both of us in it. I tried to be kind and cordial in these communications, but kept it strictly business. I haven't contacted him for any other reason thus far. The storage unit was finally resolved in mid-summer, and we have had true zero contact since then. (So, only for a month and a half or so.)

He has contacted me a couple times since the breakup in ways not strictly related to the storage unit. A month or two after the breakup, when he heard about a bombing in the foreign city where my aunt and uncle live, he texted out of concern for them, which I appreciated (and I let him know they were okay). In mid-summer, he acknowledged my birthday (by text) because he was thanking me for dealing with the storage unit on my birthday. I have not, thus far, made any similar gestures.

So, why do I want to get in touch now? There are several reasons. 1) Election season is always the most intense time for his work life, and I would like him to know that I am thinking of him (as a friend) and all the hard work he's doing. I worry about him, and would like to know that he's well. 2) When we resolved the storage unit, all boxes that were clearly his went to him, but all the rest came to me. I've been sorting through boxes slowly, and have been coming across some things that I want to return to him (principally framed family photos). Since I will be in touch to send them anyway, it could be a good opportunity to include a message, rather than just sending them with no apparent feeling. 3) For years, I regarded his family as part of my family. We are all still facebook friends (as he is with my family), though I have unfollowed them since the breakup so I wouldn't be getting constant reminders of the life I gave up. If he and I are able to have a friendly relationship, I'd feel I could occasionally congratulate his family members on big successes and occasions. Various members of his family still "like" things that I post; they have not forgotten me.

However I contact him, it would be in a way that made sure he knew that he didn't have to contact me back if he doesn't want to. I basically want to open the door to being in touch (and being friendly—I know it's probably still too soon to be proper friends) so that someday we might be the kind of exes who basically know the gist what's going on in each other's lives, think of each other fondly, and can say "mazel tov!" to each other at appropriate times or send condolences. He may or may not want that, I don't know.

But above all I want to be kind. I know that since I'm the one who did the breaking up, that as hard as this has been for me, for him it has likely been harder. I don't want to hurt him.

So, what should I do: should I write him a note when I return the family photos to open the door to future friendship? Or should I return them with only a note explaining that I found them recently and wanted him to have them back? (I am not going to send them with no note at all.)

If I don't open this door now, then when?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Nooooooo don't do it. Contact will just reopen the wound for both of you but particularly for him. The only time you should be contacting him is if it's to tell him you changed your mind, you don't want kids or marriage and you want you want to get back together. Any other contact is purely for your own benefit and thus not kind.

When will it be ok to contact him? I don't know, years, if ever. Get someone else to drop off the parcel and just leave it at that. You're fooling yourself if you think you can jump right into being friends after a decade long relationship. Breakups suck but having your ex pop up constantly and never allowing you to move on is a great way to make it suck even worse. Don't be that person.
posted by Jubey at 3:43 AM on September 5, 2016 [35 favorites]

I don't see any harm in making exploratory gestures toward the "just-friends, just-checking" phase, personally. Sounds like you've both been respectful and fair towards each other, since your (apparently not-too-nasty) breakup. After roughly half a year, the rawness of the wound should be diminished for your ex; Not to say that he might not still be grieving, but he's probably not in anguish, or hanging on the chance that you'll change your mind (at least not to the extent that an innocuous note will spin him out).

To my mind, a more important aspect than say, the "correct" time to resume contact, is simply managing expectations and trying to stay honest with yourself. Despite your best intent or effort, some aspect of your gesture could bring him confusion or pain. Alternately, you might want to steel yourself for the opposite: He might not really care, which could be a surprising ego blow.

In other words, I don't think it's possible for there to be a flawless, never-fraught transition from long-term relationship to "friends." And if you note my air quotes there, you'll rightly guess that I don't think that post-relationship friendships are ever as easy or deep as people hope them to be. In reality, it's likely that fairly-neutral messages of concern and slightly-more-intimate birthday greetings are sort of a best-case for most former couples.
posted by credible hulk at 4:21 AM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Imagine you ask him if he's okay because of election season and he says no, he isn't. Are you in a position to do anything about that? Can you be the one to comfort and support him? Would it be healthy for him to lean on you? No. So don't ask. He could be in the biggest emotional mess of his life and you are no longer in a position to help him with that in a way that would be healthy for him.

You have pictures he will want and should return them. It's okay to send a note saying "hey, these turned up in the boxes that were shipped to me, I thought you'd like them back. Wishing you all the best, anonymous". That is kind. Leaving the door open on a future with him you'd like, after saying "no thanks" to the much bigger future with him he was offering you is very unfair to him. At worst it might give him false hope, at best it puts a burden on him to fit into your vision of your preferred joint future relationship with him. If he wants you in his life at all he has to accept the "distant but fond friends" thing you are offering.

His family are his and he needs them more than you do. I think it's fine to stay connected on Facebook, assuming not every Facebook friend you have is a close relative or best friend, but I would be reticent about posting to them. Liking a status is probably fine, posting words might not be. Ultimately HE can block you if it's too much for him, but I would stay out of his family's pages as much as possible anyway, so he doesn't have to face reading your words just to keep up with his relatives lives.

I'm sorry if this all reads as really harsh. I absolutely congratulate you on breaking up for the reasons you did - that must have been immensely difficult and painful for you to get to, but was undoubtedly the best thing to do. But now you have broken up you need to disentangle yourself from any ideas of a joint future, even one of vague friendship. Maybe in five years, when you are married and he is seeing someone new, he will message and say he's in town and shall you all meet up for a catch up. But it's not a given. If he was unhappy with the break up he might take years to get over it. His hurt is no longer your business, and the kind thing to do is to leave him fully alone to heal.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 4:26 AM on September 5, 2016 [45 favorites]

If you can't be his friend without feeling weird and "Is this too early?" about it yet, then it is too early. You still have feelings for him. That's okay. If you continue to show that you have feelings for him, though (and yes, all of those things you mentioned would show that), you're stringing him along, and that's not fair to either of you.

Send him the stuff with the most neutral, boring note you can imagine. Don't text him just to see how he's doing. Ignore his family for now (this is because you apparently can't handle talking to them outside the confines of "I love your son/brother/nephew!!!", not because they can't).
posted by Etrigan at 4:54 AM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think you should return the photos with just a short note, without getting into your hopes for what your relationship with him in the future will look like.

Even though you broke up in January, it sounds like there have been drips and drabs of communication since then. In some ways, I think that's harder to deal with as the person who got dumped than complete no contact, because it keeps the hope alive a little longer and keeps the person who dumped you at the front of your mind instead of letting them drift towards the back. Sending him any kind of long note about how important he is to you and how you would really like to stay friends may give him the feeling that maybe there is still hope after all, maybe you just needed a break, and that you miss him and are going to change your mind.
posted by colfax at 5:53 AM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

You have pictures he will want and should return them. It's okay to send a note saying "hey, these turned up in the boxes that were shipped to me, I thought you'd like them back. Wishing you all the best, anonymous". That is kind.

This. It leaves the door open. If he doesn't reply, then leave him alone.
posted by Leon at 5:54 AM on September 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think your goal here is achievable. Someday. But I also think it is way, way too soon for you to have this kind of relationship with him. He's still getting over you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:22 AM on September 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

As far as letting him know you're thinking of him during a difficult time with his job, one way to do this is to send a casual message via casual means and make it a statement, not a question. "Thinking of you during this busy time of year and hoping you're well." You could do this along with sending the box of stuff: "Ex, here are some things of yours I found while going through stuff from the storage unit. I hope you're doing well during this busy time of year." The sending-of-the-stuff would help clarify that you're sending a closed-end note and not expecting a reply. Something sort of akin to the note you write in a holiday card or condolence card: a vague-ish sort of expression of goodwill, in a context that clearly doesn't require a reply.
posted by not that girl at 6:33 AM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Too soon.
if you have items then just send them with a note that "here are a few things that are yours..."
Don't tell him you are thinking of him.
Not yet.
posted by calgirl at 7:11 AM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hm... It's really hard to guess how he feels and what he wants based on what you have written, so I think you should empathetically express your own thoughts.

As Auntie Sparknotes always says, why not use your words?

Draft message:
"Hi [ex], I was looking through my boxes in the storage unit and I discovered [items]. I know that election season is always the most intense time for your work life. I have been thinking about the hard work you are doing, and hope you are well! The break up was very difficult for me personally but I value our friendship very much. I wanted you to let you know that as your friend I am always here for you! I know what it feels like to be healing and I understand if you want more time and distance apart. If you ever want to meet up and talk, let me know! [Name]"

This is a bit robotic so maybe you could insert a joke or something. And I omitted the part about wanting to be able to congratulate his family because it seems to trespass the conventional boundaries of an ex-relationship.

Probably the kindest thing to do is to find ways to boost his self-esteem (i.e. try to see him as an awesome, valuable and unique human being) and not assume any attitude of superiority as the person who initiated the break up. I know you were well-intentioned when you said 'I know that since I'm the one who did the breaking up, that as hard as this has been for me, for him it has likely been harder. I don't want to hurt him'. However, this statement also seems a bit condescending. Maybe just tune out these assumptions, they aren't helpful and may not be true.
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 7:54 AM on September 5, 2016

I think in general when you break up with someone who doesn't want to break up with you, you let THEM initiate friendship when and if they're ready.

I don't read anything here that makes me think otherwise.
posted by kapers at 8:00 AM on September 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

If this is a tough time at work for him.... NO, NOOOOOOO.

Totally selfish, it'll interrupt his process and focus. Yuck. Please don't.

In fact, wait until after election season to send those photos back. That's how much you should not not not do this.

Ask me how I know.
posted by jbenben at 8:14 AM on September 5, 2016 [17 favorites]

Another vote for leaving him be for now. The possible upside is minimal compared to the downsides. And not just for him-- for you. Your breakup was sort of mutual, it sounds like. He was the one who didn't want to take it to the level of marriage and children. So I think either or both of you is still vulnerable to confusion and hurt feelings. Let it be for a while.
posted by BibiRose at 8:20 AM on September 5, 2016

I've been in a similar situation to this, a few years ago. I feel like it might be ok to contact him, but probably more likely it isn't the right time. If you feel strongly that you want to, it might be best to ask someone who knows you both - a mutual friend, and preferably someone closer to you than him so that it won't get back to him that you've been asking after him (which would feel weird at his end). If you have a close friend who you know will be honest with you that also knows him fairly well, ask them what they think. And if there's any hint of "ummm I don't knowww" then just leave it, at least until after election season.

When I was moving on from my LTR, I found that it took about two months for the shock to wear off, about six months for the grieving of everything we'd given up, and two years in total to really truly move on. My ex and I are now friends, and I feel confident that we will be indefinitely. But if you want that, you need to give it enough time to form. The process is long and slow.
posted by greenish at 8:51 AM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

A) Send the note when you return the pictures. Think hard on what to say and how to say it so it isn't icky for him, but it is a natural point of contact and an opportunity to express yourself. If you are sincerely being kind, it should be fine.

B) This sounds different from a lot of relationships, what with the family history. I continued to run into the mom of an ex boyfriend at family events. It was not a big deal.

C) FWIW, once when I dumped someone and was concerned about him, I waited six months to touch base again. It went okay, but we did not remain in touch because he was totally ready to jump back into a relationship with me with both feet and that was a nonstarter.

It actually sounds like you are handling things pretty well. I don't think you need to worry so much about it. I suspect you could give a lot of people advice on how to do this well.

posted by Michele in California at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I recommend waiting awhile longer before reaching out as a friend. You were together for 10 years and it hasn't even been a full year since you broke up. This will be your first holiday season in 10 years that you haven't spent as a couple. The first year is the most difficult as you have to mentally and physically rearrange all of the holidays and special events that you will no longer spend together. I think it's important for both of you to make sure that an entire year of "firsts" is spent apart before trying to become friends. I'm not sure if even 1 year will be enough after 10 years together. I don't think it would be for me, but everyone is different.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:21 AM on September 5, 2016

Election season is always the most intense time for his work life, and I would like him to know that I am thinking of him (as a friend) and all the hard work he's doing. I worry about him, and would like to know that he's well

That's something close friends would do, and you guys are not close friends. Don't do it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:22 AM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

When is it a good time to reach out to an ex? Almost never in my opinion.

Not making a clean break just drags things out, and causes more problems than it's worth. I think it interferes with getting on with your life. There are exceptions of course.
posted by ovvl at 2:04 PM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I hate going no-contact, as I'm someone who LOVES to stay connected, especially with people I've had potent or profound connections with... but finally, in my mid-30's realized that sometimes it's the only way to resolve things, move on, let the chips sort out, be kind to yourself and the other person, let things heal, let deep attachments get rerouted, grieve, & slowly begin again...

Whoever said "it's a long and slow process" is right, but it doesn't mean you won't be able to be in a friendship ever again. But you have to maybe just ... almost act like you may never be in contact again (?) And then see where you both are in another 6 months to 1 year (maybe through a friend or by very casual, no pressure contact, like sending a note without expecting a response, etc.)

Sorry you're going through this, I'm sure you really care about him.
posted by Rocket26 at 3:54 PM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

You broke up with him, so it's his choice if he ever wants you in his life again.

You are not allowed to keep poking his heart with a stick--which is what your contacting him would be doing.
posted by blueberry at 8:02 PM on September 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

You dumped him. You cannot be friends today. Any form of contact from you is likely to remind him of you and hurt him (someone said stringing along upthread). Leave him alone. Send the pictures. Move on.

I'd even block him and all his relatives on Facebook so it's clear that your lives are totally disentangled.
posted by Kwadeng at 11:58 PM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it depends, and that eventual friendship isn't impossible. But I would bet that it needs more time than you've had so far, and I agree to be careful about contacting him at a busy time at work - it may be more distracting than helpful.

I was with my ex-husband for 10 years total, married for half of that. It took a full year after our separation before we could do a "clear the air and move forward" lunch (at his request), partly because we too had lots of continued business-only contact related to selling our jointly-owned house and finalizing the divorce. We are now friendly if we see each other around town, and I have texted him "hey this thing made me think of you" now and then and it is pleasant. But I wouldn't call us friends, much as it pains me to admit, and I unfriended all his family on Facebook because it felt inappropriate. I still have him blocked on FB more for his sake than mine, although I check out his public instagram once in a while.

I miss him as a friend, a lot. But unfortunately losing that was part of our breakup; after 10 years and that kind of heartbreak it's really hard to have anything more than a distant "I wish you well" relationship.

I do have an ex-boyfriend who I was with for 4 years that I eventually became good friends with. I even went to his wedding and am now friends with his wife. But we had to be no contact for 2 years before I was ready to even consider seeing him again (I was the dumpee in that case). And he once contacted me too soon, and it happened to be the morning that I had a job interview, and it really threw me for a loop. That experience is why I suggest not contacting him during what you know to be a busy time. Maybe a "wow, what a whirlwind! i was thinking about you during this election season" *after* the election would be okay.
posted by misskaz at 7:25 AM on September 6, 2016

Nope, don't do it. Maybe if there is something specific to note--like, say, he's working for Hillary Clinton and she wins the election, maybe a note to say 'congrats on your hard work' on election night or something, but just a note to say 'hi, thinking about you'? No.

If you can't be his friend without feeling weird and "Is this too early?" about it yet, then it is too early.


You would also be setting yourself up for disappointment. How about a worse case scenario: what if you message him next week and find out he started dating someone and you are out-of-sight out-of-mind now? Would that really upset you? Yes? Then it's too soon.
posted by greta simone at 10:52 AM on September 6, 2016

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