Searching for a respectful way to end communication
April 10, 2018 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Is there ever a situation where it is productive to kindly let an ex know you will no longer be engaging, or is silence always the most graceful route? If you want details, feel free to ask. We've been apart 6 months, and after 3 months of little contact save a cordial text she has lately started sending hostile notes. We'd agreed to keep communication open—there was talk of reconciliation—but suffice to say that what I've gotten from her no longer inspires that as a possibility. I'm just trying to do the most compassionate thing under hard circumstances.
posted by bluecastle to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If someone's sending you hostile notes, the option for "respectful conversation" has already gone out the window.

At this point, were I you, I would simply stop responding. There's no productive way to engage with someone who's being purposefully antagonistic.
posted by phunniemee at 9:52 AM on April 10, 2018 [21 favorites]

As someone who's been stalked by an ex (but was never afraid for my personal safety), I was well served by the advice to by totally disengage, not read messages, and never delete anything in case things escalated to a criminal matter.
posted by eotvos at 9:59 AM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Just block her number, any kind of response will only encourage her further.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2018

Consider the no-response a compassionate act, because presumably one day she's going to settle down and realize oh god, I turned into That Person there for a while and this way you can both pretend it never happened. And she's far more likely to get to that point faster if you don't engage with it.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:03 AM on April 10, 2018 [16 favorites]

I really appreciate your desire to be compassionate in this situation. Most people would take the easy route of silence and leave it at that. And in some circumstances where the person is genuinely behaving in scary, delusional, stalkerish behavior that is definitely the right way to go.

Your goal here is to acknowledge her pain, while still setting boundaries about what you want. And the trick is to this without saying something like, "sorry, but..." which is really insincere. You could use something like this as a starting point.

NAME, I am truly sorry that our relationship didn't work. Endings are really painful and there's little way around that. Relationships are a two-way street, so I know that some of the pain you are feeling is due to me and I am sorry about that. At this point I think it's time for both of us to move on and heal. I don't think we can do that if we stay in contact, that just keeps opening up old wounds. So this is the last note I am going to send you. I truly wish the best for you.

And then you are free to go no-contact with a clear conscious. No more responding. Automatically delete her emails. Stop following her on social media and block her from following you.
posted by brookeb at 10:07 AM on April 10, 2018 [31 favorites]

Don't answer hostile notes from anyone, whatever your history with them, unless they're asking you questions you owe them answers to. or if you think the ex is due an apology for something, and this is the source of the hostility, offer the apology; hostility won't die until that happens or contact ceases.

if you don't consider this person a friend at the present time, stop talking to them for that reason alone, whether they're hostile or not. and if you think they think they're owed an apology for something and you don't agree, don't respond and certainly don't engage or argue.

do not make a grand announcement that you are ceasing contact unless this is stalking/harassment/restraining-order level serious, or you will be the more hostile and the less mature one between the two of you. just don't reply to uncivil overtures.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:11 AM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maybe she has reconciliation in mind and is clumsily trying to confront issues between you that would prevent it? Yes, the medium can be its own barrier, but I think the content makes a difference. You know better than us, I just don't know what your usage of "hostile" here means.
posted by rhizome at 10:19 AM on April 10, 2018

after 3 months of little contact save a cordial text she has lately started sending hostile notes

Am I reading this the right way, that the single "cordial text" was from you?

If so, then there's your answer right there. You send what seems to you like a cordial text, and she responds with hostility. Ergo: the kindest course for both of you is for you to send no more texts.

Also, as I keep saying over and over, texts and emails completely suck as relationship maintenance tools; face to face or GTFO. And if you can't picture a face to face meeting working well, it's an ironclad certainty that any other communication method will work worse.
posted by flabdablet at 10:24 AM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was stalked by an ex, including persistent messaging on every available platform. Here is my advice, with an eye to having your ass covered in court should it escalate to that point:

Clearly, firmly state that you do not wish to have any further contact. You can couch that in kind language if you think that's appropriate, but make it clear you do not want the messages to continue. For example, "I wish you well, but I don't think this is healthy for either of us. Please don't contact me again."

Block. Everywhere. Document any additional attempts to contact you. Screenshots are best.

This is a hard, painful situation. I hope she stops soon.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:25 AM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

What brookeb said. I think for some people, e.g. stalkers, total no response is necessary. But for many of us regular people, I think it's helpful to know that they're intending to not respond as a policy matter, as opposed to say, that they haven't responded because they're having an emotional response to the content of the communication itself and are likely to respond later. Also, AskMe has a strong preference for no contact after breakups, but I don't think that this preference is widespread, so I don't think that you can assume that the other person will know that this is what's going on. Especially since you're shifting from a previous plan to keep communication open, I'd do get the courtesy of explaining that you have changed your mind and will no longer be doing that.
posted by salvia at 10:34 AM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

"I wish you the best of luck in future, but you should know that for now I wish to have no contact with you and I will be auto-declining any failure to respect that."
posted by DarlingBri at 10:49 AM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone. brookeb, I have a draft of a note that is almost identical to what you suggested. It's just that sort of expression that I've been considering sending.

As for the person who suggested this was a clumsy way of broaching reconciliation, that has crossed my mind. And that's what is so hard. I wanted that very intently for months, was very explicit about this, but with time I realized it had to come in a manner that was healthy—i.e. kindly, instead of me prying between the lines to tease it out.

The one cordial text was initiated by her, and I responded cordially.

I would not call this stalker-level. I spent Feb in a foreign country, largely because I was not ready to be in our shared city during a local holiday that I still connect to her emotionally. She spent that day with another man. A week later she texted me asking, "Are you still in [city we live in]?" I was away from my phone. Two hours later she added, "I take your silence means you have no interest in seeing me?" When I offered a simple response ("I'm in [county x] at the moment—back home next week") she snapped with, "Somehow I already f***ing knew that."

I sat with that for a month, then offered an air-clearing reply. Basically: sensed some hostility, don't know where it came from, have kept some distance because I heard you'd started seeing someone, hope you're well and we can move on gracefully.

Got a kind response from her: didn't mean the hostility, not seeing anyone, hope you're well too. But a week later, after I posted a harmless photo of a female friend, there was this: "HER? Hope you're having fun, dude. Shocking choice..." (We're both blocked on all social media, but my feed will always be public for professional reasons.)

Was a bit odd, that. My ex was unfaithful toward the end, and has continued dating others since we parted—hence, I let go of reconciliation. Me, I have not dated anyone in any capacity since the breakup. Have just been traveling, working, digging in with therapy.

So that's kind of the gist.
posted by bluecastle at 10:57 AM on April 10, 2018

Being compassionate has gone out the window now that your ex has turned hostile. This is now about ending contact and protecting your safety. This behavior could easily escalate and make your life into a living hell.

My strategy when I've been in analogous situations has been to notify and then go no contact. Tell your ex in writing, "Please do not contact me ever again in any way. I will no longer be responding to any messages from you, and any future attempts to contact me will be unwelcome. Thank you."

And then stick to it 100% no matter what, starting right then. Like, if there's ever any reason to re-contact this person, it should be major enough that you're doing it through a lawyer. Block her number, send emails straight to archive, block her on every form of social media that you use. If she tries to get to you through a mutual acquaintence, explain to that acquaintence that you do not wish to speak to or hear from this person and refuse to give them a message to pass back. As far as your ex is concerned, you need to drop off the face of the earth. Do not debate, do not negotiate, do not go back on your word. Tell her once that this is over and then make it happen.

There may be a period where she increases the contact attempts in an effort to break through your wall. Hopefully you won't even notice because you'll have blocked her in every way possible, but no matter what you need to stay strong. Give her no attention, no acknowledgement.

She'll probably move on. Possibly she'll turn into a scary stalker, but that's actually much more likely to happen the longer you continue to encourage her by providing attention and acknowledgement. Even negative attention counts as encouragement, which is why you should say that you're going no-contact exactly once and then never say anything ever again. Good luck. Again, this is about protecting your own safety and sanity—being compassionate toward a hostile ex is not relevant.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:58 AM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

sensed some hostility, don't know where it came from

dude, I just read your previous question and I know where it came from. young people sometimes hold grudges and you can't be superior and 'compassionate' at them to make them stop. don't indulge the desire to try; it will not be received in the spirit you may hope for. just stop replying.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:04 AM on April 10, 2018 [31 favorites]

If you do choose to engage, even if it's just for a quick "please don't contact me," I'd strongly urge you not to mention any personal details whatsoever. If she asks if you're in town, there's no reason to say where you are -- that quick turnaround from a simple question to a supposition on her part indicates things are not good. Don't assume or mention anything about her, because it indicates you're interested in her business. Whether or not she's seeing anyone is incredibly off the table, and the last topic you'd want to discuss unless you're both in a stable, healthy place and have spoken previously without issue.
posted by mikeh at 11:05 AM on April 10, 2018

don't try to hold onto the pattern you had in your relationship where you guide her and show her while demonstrating your superiority etc.

She sent a rude text to an ex. People who send rude texts to their exes get blocked. I don't see anything in her text to suggest she's unstable, dangerous etc. Just block her the regular way people block rude exes and move on.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:20 AM on April 10, 2018 [9 favorites]

Reading your additional details it seems clear that your ex's instinctual response mode is to catastrophize is a big way. Someone doesn't respond to my text right away - it's not because they are in the middle of something else, it's because they no longer want anything to do with me. Someone posts a picture of a female - it's not because that person is just a cool person, it's because they obviously just had wild sex and are having an affair. I suspect that she jumps to the most awful conclusion because she's assuming that other people behave just like her - cheat on their partners and lie to cover it up.

There are also people who like the sense of control or power they get from having people hung up on them while they are free to play the field. Some of her hostility may come from the fact that you are moving on and she's losing some of that power-trip she had going on.

That's definitely not a healthy way to go through life and not something you need to be subjected to. Moving on is clearly the right thing to do here. And I think doing it in a compassionate/adult way is more about doing something that will make you feel good about the way you go through life and has less to do with being nice to your ex, who may not really deserve the consideration.
posted by brookeb at 11:28 AM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

[Couple comments deleted. bluecastle, I suggest just privately reviewing the suggestions here and choosing for yourself what you find helpful; better to skip anything in the neighborhood of you doing more processing in this thread. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:12 PM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

On seeing your update, I would like to revise my advice somewhat. Just leave this lady alone. I don't think she's any danger to you; I think this problem is at least half your own creation.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:33 PM on April 10, 2018 [13 favorites]

Yeah, her responding to you telling her where you are with cursing etc. is...just no. She was unfaithful, now she's being angry at you for whatever reason, and you don't want to reconcile. One short "This is not working out and it will not work out in the future, either romantically or as friends. Please do not contact me further. Thank you."

Then block / delete / etc.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:44 PM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, it doesn't matter who was at fault or what the issue is. Allowing any opening for any kind of back-and-forth or questioning on her part would be clearly unhealthy and unnecessary. A short, clear, and unmistakable boundary is the best way to go, regardless of who did what to whom.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:47 PM on April 10, 2018

Assuming this is the same woman from your previous question, please don't go with that compassionate reply you want to send, the one that lets you feel like you are the nobler and more evolved human. That was the story that made the relationship so fraught in the first place, trying to continue that behaviour is like trying to continue the relationship. Just stop it. Neither of you can properly move on as long as you both keep feeding the embers of the fire. You need a bucket of water to put it out. Sadly, this isn't possible - only time will do it - so do not engage. Do not engage. Do not reply, block her, no contact. If this seems too painful, think of it as the next necessary step on your journey of self-development, that you are doing it for her sake.

Also go back and reread the answers to your previous question. See how many people were telling you the same thing 6 months ago? Discuss it with your therapist. Maybe also discuss why you ask for advice only to ignore it.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:38 PM on April 10, 2018 [10 favorites]

I think the longer, compassionate message is a bad idea- despite the good intentions, it will likely come across as a sanctimonious and I guarantee if you send something like that you will get a reply. It's too wordy and invites engagement. The best approach here is to just stop responding. If you feel like you have to notify her of this (which you don't actually have to do) a short and sweet "I think it's better for us both to cease contact. Please stop contacting me." Then block.
posted by emd3737 at 2:44 PM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Please stop trying to teach this young woman how to be a person. You are...not good at it, and her anger is entirely understandable given the prior context of your relationship.

You seem to want some misty watercolored memories out of this relationship, and she knows that, because she knows you, so she's poisoning the well. Stop responding, block her, and move on.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 2:51 PM on April 10, 2018 [14 favorites]

It’s funny, before I read your previous question I was all in favor of the “compassionate” message. Then when I had more context I thought “oh god that would be so gallingly tone deaf and patronizing, he should definitely not send that.” But you know, ultimately I think maybe you should. Go with your gut. Be who you are. It’ll be galling for her for a day or two but looking at my past breakups, sometimes it was that final infuriating encounter that so neatly encapsulated everything that was wrong with the relationship that really helped me understand that nothing was going to change, i was never going to be heard, and allowed me to start getting over the whole thing.
posted by mrmurbles at 3:02 PM on April 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

Agreed that in the context of the previous question, the longer reply (which I supported above) comes across as sanctimonious and galling. Go ahead and let her have the last word.
posted by salvia at 3:34 PM on April 10, 2018

There is an action you can take that, when you look back on this whole episode in five years, won't make you cringe or feel ashamed. Do that.
posted by Jubey at 1:28 AM on April 11, 2018

Yep, I was also in support of the longer explanation and thought her hostility was unreasonable until I read the previous question. Now I think you just need to leave her alone. She hasn't behaved perfectly but she's been through a lot of experiences which were not great ways to build a healthy concept of relationships at a very formative age.

If you have to send something emd3737's message above is perfect.
posted by *becca* at 2:19 AM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Holy shit, I feel like your previous question and the multiple answers you provided in it should be required reading for this question. Because . . .

Is there ever a situation where it is productive to kindly let an ex know you will no longer be engaging, or is silence always the most graceful route?

Alone, this sounds reasonable, and like you are confused at the souring of a completely normal relationship. With the previous question as background, this sounds like you totally want to contact her again and are desperate for a reason that responding to her is the "right" thing to do.

No, there is never going to be a situation where it is productive for YOU to respond to THIS EX SPECIFICALLY, ever. Why haven't you blocked her number yet? Because it would be a really, really, really, REALLY bad idea for you to get together again, especially as it doesn't seem like you have gained any respect for her in the intervening months. You still think she's a total fuckup and are dying to tell her so.

posted by chainsofreedom at 4:44 PM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

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