It's a Trap...right?
February 26, 2018 9:17 PM   Subscribe

An ex who broke my heart has written to me, a year after the breakup. Now what?

About a year ago I got dumped. It was a 1.5 year relationship, I was very much in love, and the break-up was, for me, out of the blue. I was pretty much a mess afterward. This was me, sobbing over a beautiful live edge wooden snowboard rack:(https://ask.metafilter.com/306040/Thanks-for-the-breakup-heres-your-parting-gift).

Anyway, I was a wreck for a few months. I could not move on, and just wallowed around, super sad. To my credit, after the last heartfelt letter that I mention in the previous post, the one he never replied to, I never contacted him again. He never contacted me, so that was that.

After about 5 months of Extreme Sadness, I got into therapy. Wow, what a game changer. With the help of my awesome therapist we worked through what the relationship had been, what it had not been, why I was reacting so strongly to it ending, and how I could truly let go and move on. We worked through tons of stuff from my past/family/growing up & my divorce, and I feel the most emotionally healthy I have ever been.

After a self-imposed dating hiatus, I have dipped my toe back into that pond, and have been pleasantly surprised. I’ve mostly been casually dating, and it’s been very fun and non-anxiety provoking (a first for me). Life is good.

This weekend I received an email from my ex. It was shocking to see his name in my inbox. It was a very beautifully written letter, that basically says: he’s been wanting to express these feelings for months; he’s debated calling or coming by, but felt an email would be less intrusive; he has thought about me every day for the past year; he loves me; he realizes that it was his issues around commitment that caused our breakup; he has worked on those issues (he did not specify how he worked on them); can we please see each other/talk.

Now my head over the past few days has been full of memories of the time we spent together. It was so, so wonderful, until it was just…over.

The things I ask myself: Can a middle-aged commitment-phobe really change his stripes? Or is even replying to him just opening the door for more pain & disappointment?

What I’m asking you- Is it ever worth exploring a 2nd chance with an ex? And under what circumstances?
posted by aviatrix to Human Relations (46 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
It doesn't really matter if he changes his stripes. The well of your relationship is still poisoned by what he did and that can't be undone. Maybe his stripes will be better for the next girl.

Also, if he actually cared about your feelings he would have asked permission to dump all that shit on you before he actually did it. That's what respect looks like.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:20 PM on February 26, 2018 [47 favorites]


That guy had his chance. Stay away.
posted by trbrts at 9:24 PM on February 26, 2018 [12 favorites]


It seems he’s still focused on what he wants and not what you want. If I had a million bucks for every time I wish I’d hung back and not gotten involved again with guys like him...

His offer must feel irresistibly enticing. I say you should let him test out his newfound maturity on somebody else.
posted by Libelula y colibri at 9:34 PM on February 26, 2018 [18 favorites]


I’ve mostly been casually dating, and it’s been very fun and non-anxiety provoking (a first for me). Life is good...Can a middle-aged commitment-phobe really change his stripes?

He heard somehow (social media, mutual friends, who knows) that you were out having fun with other dudes instead of crying over him and his snowboards and he didn't like that and now he's trying to make that your problem. He sucks and you should ignore him with prejudice. I'm sorry it worked out this way.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:35 PM on February 26, 2018 [100 favorites]


Can a middle-aged commitment-phobe really change his stripes?

Let someone else find out.
posted by Toddles at 9:36 PM on February 26, 2018 [30 favorites]


You did so much important emotional work over the last year.

I’d bet my last dollar he’s done very little emotional work in his entire life, which is why a change of heart and a pang of regret feels to him like his character is brand new.

It’s not! He’s exactly the same. It will end the same way, again.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:43 PM on February 26, 2018 [34 favorites]


Go find the book "He's Scared, She's Scared." It changed my brain.

If he's a commitmentphobe, he will probably do this to you again unless he's done major major work on himself, the authors say. These people break up with you and assume they can just get you back if they change their mind. But if they're still freaked out, this will happen again.

Also, something like this happened to me recently and I got burned and dropped like a turd again.

Go read the book first and THEN decide if you wanna go on this roller coaster again. Not to mention talk to your therapist. Mine figured that after all these years I'd be okay if I talked to mine again and guess what, I still wasn't. I really wish I hadn't.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:55 PM on February 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


Having read your last one, hell no. That ship has sailed. He doesn't deserve you, and you deserve much, much better than him. I know you loved him, I know you had wonderful times with him. You can have wonderful times with someone who hasn't already dragged you through emotional hell, and ideally who is not a demonstrated commitophobe.

I got back together with an ex not just once but twice and boy howdy was it a mistake. Like very big. Mind you, there were other things going on, but still. Be kind to yourself and him and say, no, I'd rather not, thanks. Then block him if you can so you're not tempted.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:59 PM on February 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


Beautiful letters don’t mean shit. Actions do. Timing is very suspicious. Hard pass.
posted by skewed at 10:20 PM on February 26, 2018 [17 favorites]


If you value all of the hard hard work you've done? NO.
posted by jbenben at 10:21 PM on February 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


I think the only good reason to get back together with an ex is if there was some external problem (long distance, work hours, etc.) that have been proven to change (moved closer, new job, etc.). This is not one of those cases. There was not something external. Don't date him again.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:23 PM on February 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


Has he had a girlfriend in the intervening time since you two broke up? Maybe he just got dumped. Maybe he can’t get another girlfriend. Either way I’m suspicious!
posted by EatMyHat at 10:40 PM on February 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


Aw hell no.

I'm a sucker for a re-return but I'm prejudiced against late 40s commitment phobes. People who manage to change their stripes do so by their late 30s. They somehow just manage to.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:22 PM on February 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Wow, I just reread what he did to you. I would take an extreme amount of pleasure in telling this man that thanks to him breaking up with you in such a callous way, you've had to reassess everything. You've grown so much in this past year that ending up with him would be just going backwards, and quite frankly, beneath you. Because it's true. And sometimes people need to know that actions have consequences.
posted by Jubey at 11:45 PM on February 26, 2018 [28 favorites]


he has worked on those issues (he did not specify how he worked on them)

I suspect his "work" on those issues was trying to date and failing, or getting dumped.

It's a Trap...right?

Right.

After about 5 months of Extreme Sadness, I got into therapy. Wow, what a game changer.

That's awesome. You owe it to yourself to keep going forward. This guy represents backward.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:07 AM on February 27, 2018 [23 favorites]


Print the email and burn it.
posted by Coaticass at 12:31 AM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


Film the burning and send that back.
posted by fullerine at 12:45 AM on February 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


Can a middle-aged commitment-phobe really change his stripes?

Well, yes, technically, although it's pretty unlikely and it's nigh-on impossible without doing some very heavy introspection that goes beyond "I have realised I feel sad about this".

However. Your best-case scenario here even if he has changed is not that you go back to the awesome great times. It's that you get back together with him, he's great, and.... you spend the next however many years of your life waiting for him to flip again. That's a tough road to walk.

(also, I don't want to read too much into his email from your summary, but it's notable that even your summary contains a lot about his feelings, and not so many unequivocal, grovelling apologies for the utter shit he was to you. If he's still elevating his feelings (however loving, noble, whatever) above acknowledging the consequences of his actions to other people, you're going to get burned again.)
posted by Catseye at 1:18 AM on February 27, 2018 [28 favorites]


yea, it's a trap. I mean, on the surface, it feels great to get a letter like that - it seems to be exactly what you'd want to hear, that he'd loved you the whole time, and wants to get back together, but if you think it through, it just doesn't make sense.
If he's thought about you every day, why hasn't he gotten in touch? If you really care about someone's feelings, you don't just leave them hanging like that, for a whole year. Every sensible person knows that refusing to talk, or even acknowledging your attempts at communication is cruel and hurtful. So that's either an outright lie or he's a selfish heartless jerk.
On top of that, How could you possibly trust him again? You'll never know when the next thing will happen that will make him turn his back on you. The backbone of a good relationship is good communication, and refusing to engage with you for a year is the polar opposite of that. It sounds like your life is going really amazing right now, don't let him muck that up. You deserve better, and you are getting it. Just not from him.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:27 AM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


If he's still elevating his feelings (however loving, noble, whatever) above acknowledging the consequences of his actions to other people, you're going to get burned again.)

oh wow yea, that is very well put.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:29 AM on February 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


I think this is what the saying "Not today Satan!" was made for.

You should be very proud about the progress that you've made. Continue having non-anxiety provoking fun and living your best life!
posted by like_neon at 2:11 AM on February 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


Step away. Don't engage. Block his email. You don't need to inflict additional pain on yourself or send him a clever retort. Just ignore it. That is really hard to do but I would have saved myself some heartbreak if I had been able to do that myself. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:39 AM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I've gone through practically this exact scenario. It IS a trap. In my experience, the only reason guys do this sort of thing is A. they are really feeling down, for some reason, and they reach back out to you because they think you will gratefully crawl back and re-boost their self-esteem; or B. They are really feeling good, for some reason, and they finally feel strong enough to engage with you on the level that before, they were too scared to do.

Either way, it's still ALL ABOUT HIM. He is still using you, to whichever end suits him most. This sums it up excellently: If you really care about someone's feelings, you don't just leave them hanging like that, for a whole year. Every sensible person knows that refusing to talk, or even acknowledging your attempts at communication is cruel and hurtful. So that's either an outright lie or he's a selfish heartless jerk.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:21 AM on February 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


You may or may not frequent AskMe as much as I do, but one of the asks that is almost a trope is "I broke up with someone now I regret it/feel bad and want to let them know, should I?".

The answer is ALWAYS no, and the reason is that it's almost always a self-serving exercise that will put a perfectly nice person (in this case, you) through a load of extra heartache/confusion/distress for their benefit.

This is my way of saying that this person sounds like someone of whom AskMe would Formally Disapprove, and therefore who you should probably approach with extreme caution, but preferably not at all.
posted by greenish at 4:15 AM on February 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


I wonder if he's struggling to find someone new and then why that is the case. It sounds like he is still a commitment-phobe and 'the possibility of getting back with you' is the new reason he's giving people for why he may not have been able to commit to anyone else since. He may be convinced of that. It may be the case that if you get back together and he can't use that as a reason that he will just find another. I feel he is attached to a fantasy about you that absolves him of having to make any commitment to anyone. So his issues haven't gone away, they're just hiding under a different excuse. He's living in his head. That's a bit scary. Just speculating, of course, but I am getting a commitment-phobe vibe from this.

If you want to probe, you can ask what he believed the issues with the relationship were (him saying 'it was all me' just sounds vague and like he's telling you what you want to hear - he should be able to be specific) and maybe how he has worked on his issues. If you don't trust that you can interact with him without becoming emotionally involved again and going to a dark place then I would leave it. I really don't like the sound of him.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:48 AM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


This is part of the abusive relationship cycle, colloquially referred to as hoovering, because it's all about the offender trying suck his or her victim back in.

Sometimes it's a deliberate ploy, sometimes it not so much deliberate as that the former partner doesn't know how to do relationships any differently. Either way, they keep doing it because it works - for them. It's not perfect, but it works out well enough that they're seldom motivated to change how they do relationships.

So - no. He's just not a good fit for you.

Not only that, but it's so commonplace for these types to run multiple hoovering simultaneously, you can't count on the relationship resuming even if you agree to get back with him. Because if he's also hoovering any other exes besides you, he'll be working on all of you and keeping you all in the dark before he decides which lucky ex he picks once again. At which point the rest of you will either be summarily dumped, or strung along, just in case his first pick fails to work out.

If you decide not to rekindle the relationship, but are curious, it could be illuminating to quietly monitor his social media and those of his friends, and see for yourself what happens next, after you tell him you're not available. That can be a real eye-opener. Personally, I found it effing hilarious when multiple women posted on my toxic ex's Facebook, all calling him out for having pulled the exact same thing on each of them. That's how I discovered it was his lifelong pattern, and not just how he'd chosen to treat me. Which made it so much easier to stay away from him, since I then knew for sure nothing I might do could change his relationship dynamic.
posted by Lunaloon at 5:50 AM on February 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


As a friend once told me when a similar "we broke up and then he wrote back to me out of nowhere a year later" thing happened to me:

"Never mind why he says he wrote you back: the real reason why he wrote you back is that he's horny and think you'll be an easy lay."

Don't do it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on February 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


I'm sorry but my experience is entirely identical to that of EmpressCallipygos' friend.

It's hard to believe because YOU would never do that -- you don't say things you don't mean, and you are fundamentally caring; when you reached out to this man it was out of love. But this guy is not like you. He is not sincere, he is not self-examining, he doesn't take others' welfare into account in his decision making.

He wants to get laid, and/or be assured of your continuing love for him because he's heard you're over him. Or both.

I think the power move here is to not respond. Alternately tell him you wouldn't make the same mistake twice and that he needs to go bother someone else with his whining.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:37 AM on February 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


Is it ever worth exploring a 2nd chance with an ex? And under what circumstances?

In my experience, the answer to this is a resounding no, unless there’s external circumstances (as Margalo Epps talks about above) such as location change. The problems that were there before are usually still there the second, and third times around.

In my case, I spent a grand total of 10 fucking years with someone who was a bad fit for me. We broke up 2 times during that duration, and kept getting back together. Each time, it was good for a while, and then it just went downhill. Any work I had done on myself in therapy - I slided backwards. By the time I finally ended it, I was in a really bad place emotionally and self-esteem-wise.

Based on what you’ve written here, I would not go back to this guy. You sound awesome and you deserve much better than this.

TLDR - he probably has not put in the same level of therapy and work in himself that you have for you and he is not worth your time.
posted by FireFountain at 7:59 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


As someone who has been very close to becoming this guy, close as in finger-hovering-above-the-send-button close:

...the only reason guys do this sort of thing is A. they are really feeling down, for some reason, and they reach back out to you because they think you will gratefully crawl back and re-boost their self-esteem; or B. They are really feeling good, for some reason, and they finally feel strong enough to engage with you on the level that before, they were too scared to do.

Bingo.

...he loves me; he realizes that it was his issues around commitment that caused our breakup;

No, he doesn't. He hasn't had any interaction with you. He's 'in love' with some idea of you, and lord knows what that actually is. He's willing to commit to that fantasy idea, not you.

Hard pass. Exes are exes for a reason. His problems are not your problems. Stay away, do not engage the troll.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:47 AM on February 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


How could you ever really trust him or feel secure in your relationship if you took him back? Things were 'wonderful' before, and then he broke up with you out of the blue. If you take him back, and presumably things are wonderful again, there would always be this nagging anxiety at the back of your mind. You never saw it coming the first time. What could possibly reassure you that this time is different?

You're in a good place without him (yay for you! Sounds like you worked hard to get there.) My gut feeling is you should not give him another chance to screw you over.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:16 AM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


See how many of these answers are highly sympathetic to the ex?

Dump the email, erase his address, and go about your merry way.

If he escalates, he's a stalker. Avoid him like the plague.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:15 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here's the linchpin: letter that says ... he realizes that it was his issues around commitment that caused our breakup

"Caused our breakup" is a far, far cry from any kind of "I know I did very wrong by you"

There was no "our breakup" here. That was exactly the problem, no? You did not decide together to break up. There was only him freaking out and leaving, and no choice for you in it at all. And yet he's couching it passively as something that just, well, happened, like what can you do, you know? He has no idea what "our breakup" was like for you, and there's no indication that he has gained any new concern about YOU and your experience. It's all about his feelings and his progress. "our breakup" my arse.

So no, this is not an approach that should earn him a second chance.
posted by Dashy at 11:27 AM on February 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


Been there, got the SECOND heartbreak! No no no no no. Seriously, fuck this guy.
posted by cyndigo at 11:37 AM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


This is without the shadow of a doubt a trap. He's already had his shot at you and he blew it like an idiot. Delete the email, block him on social media, and keep living your fabulous life.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:23 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh, I've been you and I've been your ex -- both sides of this issue.

The thing about fear of commitment is that it's usually not just fear, it's ambivalence. You both want it and fear it. When you don't have it, you want it. When you have it, you're afraid of it.

Which means that nothing you say or feel when you are not in the committed situation is a reliable guide to how you will act or feel when you are in the committed situation.

Suddenly being in touch with your desire for commitment when you're not committed isn't progress. The actual progress happens once you're experiencing the fear of commitment within the relationship.

The absolute best case scenario for the person on the other side of it is that at some point in the relationship, the commitmentphobe gets all distant and freaked out again, and you live with it indefinitely while they work through it. Most people don't! They just break up with the person again. But even if they do, for their partner it's months or years of being with a person you can tell is, on some level, fundamentally unhappy in the relationship with you, even if they wish they were happy.

Please don't subject yourself to this. You deserve better! I absolutely guarantee that if you're patient you will find someone you like just as much who will not hurt you this way.
posted by mrmurbles at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


A small, sticky point: don't refer to this as a "letter" when you think about it. Call it an email. It is an email.

"Letter" implies something with more gravity, more sincerity, more thought and planning. It's intimate. What this dude did was send you an email, after who knows how much planning or thought or care (also, what Lyn Never said). Don't give this thing more credit than it deserves. It's just an email.

Also, it sounds like you have done really good, important work for yourself and that you're having fun dating around. Don't let this fool undo all of that!
posted by witchen at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


I agree with jenfullmoon. Take that email with you to the therapist's office and talk it over. If you're no longer going to that therapist, it's fine to make an appointment just for this.

My take: He hurt you very badly. You've come a long way in the past year and most likely aren't the same person you used to be. There's nothing wrong with just ignoring that email. It's fine to write to him or see him ONLY IF it will benefit you. That should be your only reason for communicating with him.
posted by wryly at 3:04 PM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Delete. Delete. Delete that unwanted email.

Continue to date others, be proud of your personal growth.

Live a nice life, no regrets.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 3:47 PM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Eh, I do think people can grow and change their mind, but I think those people are sensitive enough to write emails like "hey, I'd love to talk if you're into it, can we get a coffee?" They don't suddenly write a long email out of nowhere about how much they love you. That's what people who are only thinking about themselves write.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:55 PM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I have once in my life had this kind of thing work out okay--for a value of "okay" where we aren't still together, but we got back in touch, we got to be super good friends again, we tried going out again, it still didn't work out but she's still one of my very best friends. But a lot of why it wasn't a disaster came back to how we still both wanted to be around each other even if the romantic thing wasn't working. We still do. We have lots of stuff in common. We kept accidentally running into each other even during the initial attempt at no-contact because we were doing the same stuff, separately, and enjoying it less for doing it that way.

How much they supposedly still love you while you're away is meaningless. What people think is love in those circumstances... it's not a predictor of relationship success. The only time this has some chance is when they're not like "I love you and desperately miss you and I can't live without you" but rather "okay so we tried going no-contact but do you think we could be friends again because I am still only halfway through this TV show we were watching together and none of my other friends take my crackpot theories about it seriously" kind of stuff that might turn into later admitting that you do, in fact, still have feelings. I would sooner hear "I'm doing fine but I miss you because nobody else still wants to play Diablo 3 with me" from an ex than "I miss you because I've never loved anybody this much ever and I'm sad all the time". The latter from an ex is just as bad as from someone you just met on a dating site.
posted by Sequence at 4:11 PM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Oh, wow. I just read your post about how he broke up with you. Run like the wind from this guy. Do not respond. Delete the email, block his address, and keep moving on with your life free from his toxic baggage.
posted by sarcasticah at 6:55 PM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm wiling to give your ex's email a sympathetic reading. He may be sincere, if going about it badly. But I agree with Lynn Never about this poisoning the well for a future relationship. You could end up spending years wondering if he's really committed or just afraid of being alone. And what about the criticisms he gave when breaking up with you? How do you handle those? And will he continue to keep his feelings to himself until they boil over?
posted by serathen at 7:10 PM on February 27, 2018


Response by poster: You guys are great. Email deleted. With extreme prejudice!
posted by aviatrix at 9:33 PM on February 27, 2018 [32 favorites]


Good for you!
Out of curiosity, what did you end up doing with the snowboard rack?
posted by exceptinsects at 10:05 AM on March 2, 2018


Response by poster: The snowboard rack was customized (it was for a specific, weirdly shaped place, + had a quote that included his name burned into the wood), so I knew I probably couldn't sell it. I contacted the artist who made it and she had a local friend pick it up. She uses it as a sample of her work, and she gave me a really nice discount on a wine rack (for me!). Win/win.

And again, thanks to everyone who answered this question. I know deleting that ridiculous email was 100% the right thing to do.
posted by aviatrix at 1:13 PM on March 2, 2018 [12 favorites]


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