What’s the kindest thing to do?
October 15, 2019 4:48 PM   Subscribe

My most recent ex texted me on Saturday, after about two months of no-contact. I haven’t replied. I don’t want to see him again, but I also truly wish him well in his life. Is it better to keep ignoring, or send a brief reply?

The relationship lasted seven months, of which four of them were him sinking deeper and deeper into depression, cancelling plans, and becoming a recluse. I had to break up with him over text because he wouldn’t answer calls and I hadn’t seen him in weeks, and my own mental health and emotional well-being were suffering.

I don’t have any anger or hatred, I’ve moved on to a wonderful new relationship, and I don’t ever want to see my ex again, though after the breakup I did say we could be friends and hang out again at some point.

His message was short, just asking how I was. My gut reaction when I saw it arrive was to swear and say, “no no no” and feel my stomach sink. But I also have guilt not replying. Is there a way to convey my general hope for his well-being, without wanting to see him again? Or is it better to just not reply at all?
posted by umwhat to Human Relations (35 answers total)
 
Honestly, I wouldn’t open that door. What good is going to come of it? You don’t want to see him again, you’ve moved on and you’re happy. If he’s still depressed, hearing that you’re with someone else will probably not help him. In an ideal world, he would have told you that he’s doing well so at least you know he’s ok, but he didn’t and I don’t think it’s good for either one of you to get involved in any way just in case his mental health is still at risk because then you could both get affected. Say nothing and just think good wishes for him.
posted by Jubey at 4:53 PM on October 15, 2019 [13 favorites]


Your gut has supplied the only answer you need.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:54 PM on October 15, 2019 [68 favorites]


Based on your description of the breakup and your gut reaction to his text, your life is better without having this guy around even as an acquaintance.

I think you're okay either deleting and blocking, or briefly replying to say that you're doing fine, wish him well and prefer not to have contact going forward (and then deleting and blocking).
posted by bunderful at 4:56 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Hi, thank you for the note. I hope you are doing well. I’ve moved on to new things in my life and I don’t want to re-engage with past in any way. Best regards, umwhat."

After that, complete radio silence.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:05 PM on October 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


Any reply is going to start a dialog. Believe it or not, you'll be doing both hi and yourself a kindness if you ignore it.
posted by ftm at 5:10 PM on October 15, 2019 [35 favorites]


He is counting on your guilt. Feel guilty over eating a decadent dessert, or that extra slice of pizza. Never feel guilty over something like this. Trust me, he will move onto the next woman who feels enough guilt to be drawn back in.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:13 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


Forget it, forget him. Move on. Your gut has spoken, LISTEN TO IT.
posted by dbiedny at 5:20 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


If you want to reply, Bunderful's scrip would work, BUT add that for your own emotional health you need to go 'no contact', and will not be replying to any further contact. Then block him.
posted by GeeEmm at 5:24 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


My gut reaction when I saw it arrive was to swear and say, “no no no”

your gut knows what's up. do not engage.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:30 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I guess I’m in the minority here, but you asked what the kind thing is to do, and I don’t think that’s ever ignoring someone. I would tell them you think it’s best not to have contact now. The other reason I say this is because I recently went through something where someone kept texting me and never took a hint when I didn’t respond or when I declined invitations repeatedly. I really think it was better that I eventually told them explicitly that I didn’t want to stay in touch or hang out anymore.
posted by pinochiette at 5:50 PM on October 15, 2019 [31 favorites]


Did you ever tell him you wanted no contact? If not, that might be kind -- to just say what you said here. If you say nothing, he might imagine you're furious or "hate him" or something. I think something like "I'm doing fine and hope you are too. I think it's simplest if we just don't have any more contact [for at least a few months**]. Nothing personal, it's just how breakups are for me*. I wish you the best, and thanks again for everything*."
* If applicable
** If you would be open to light contact after some time has passed.
posted by salvia at 5:57 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Just delete it and block him. Being kind also means being kind to yourself.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:24 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I find it somewhat aggravating when people text me open-endedly just wanting to know how I am if we haven't been in some sort of regular contact, especially if they don't tell me anything about how they are. It feels sort of like a fishing expedition for affirmation without offering anything of themselves.

Like "Oh hey, just wanted to drop a note. I've gotten my shit a little more together and just wanted to say I'm sorry how things ended with us. My bad. I can understand why you wouldn't want to hear from me, but just wanted to drop a note" would be something more appropriate. If you want to make sure your ex knows you're not mad at them, I'd send an email which doesn't open a door to some back and forth communication (or not one that's so immediate) and just says what people have mentioned above.

- good to hear from you
- I'm doing well
- I don't really want to re-establish contact but hope you're well
posted by jessamyn at 6:40 PM on October 15, 2019 [15 favorites]


The kindest thing is to reply, let him know you hope he’s ok, and tell him you don’t want any further contact.
posted by FencingGal at 6:47 PM on October 15, 2019 [21 favorites]


Agree with FencingGal. Ghosting is for assholes. He was a part of your life, you told him you could be friends again, and he has depression. No reason to not reply with a simple message saying "Hi" and that you need to move on and would appreciate if he would respect that. If he contacts you again after that, that's different. It just sounds like maybe he needs closure, and being cool to people usually pays off.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:58 PM on October 15, 2019 [15 favorites]


Ghosting is what the ex already did. Which isn't to say he deserves it in return, but is worth keeping as a data point in the overall scheme of things when determining what to do. Ghosting because you're depressed is understandable but that doesn't make it not ghosting.
posted by jessamyn at 7:01 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


The other thing about the "no offense but let's not talk anymore" reply text is that then the exchange is done. It won't be lingering there unreplied to. He won't have an excuse in a week to be all "oh hey, I don't know if you saw my earlier text but yeah, I was just wondering, how are you doing?" You'll have said what you wanted to say. You'll have said you don't want to be in touch. Sending it out is momentarily more stressful but overall so much cleaner and less stress.
posted by salvia at 8:34 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Two options:

1. Delete, block, then mentally wish him well.

2. Text back: "Hey, I hope you're doing well. I don't wish to maintain contact, however. I'm saying this as kindly as I can: please don't contact me again." Then do #1.
posted by foxjacket at 9:46 PM on October 15, 2019


If he had never shown a creepy or cruel streak, I'd give a quick response that says, "I hope you're doing well. I know that I mentioned the possibility of being friends and hanging out at some point, but after further consideration, I have decided that it's best for me to go no contact. Good luck out there."

If you had already told him no contact, I'd say that ignoring every attempt is the way to go. If this guy was otherwise decent and the main problem was that he got very ill while you were dating and couldn't maintain a relationship anymore, I'd feel like one last message would be kind. Then, strict no contact.
posted by quince at 9:58 PM on October 15, 2019 [10 favorites]


I've been grateful after the event that people haven't replied. I contacted them in a needy moment, hoping for what I knew was impossible. Those who have sent generic "nice to hear from you [but implied "please don't "] have embarrassed me when I got my head back together. Kindness to you both. Ignore and block. It is a goodness.
posted by b33j at 4:29 AM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm in camp "Do Not Engage". You broke up. They're not your problem. Whatever it is that they want, they can look for it elsewhere. Trust your gut, delete the text, move on.
posted by Zudz at 6:26 AM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


A lot of times, after a breakup, people are like "omg go no-contact" for your safety, or to prevent you being sucked back into a mess you don't want to be in.

This doesn't sound like that kind of situation. It sounds like you could reply, if you wanted, and not have it be a catastrophically bad idea for you. (Whether it would be a kindness for him or not, who knows.)

So, you could.

Still, it sounds like you don't want to. So don't.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:29 AM on October 16, 2019


My gut reaction when I saw it arrive was to swear and say, “no no no” and feel my stomach sink. But I also have guilt not replying.

The guilt you're experiencing here is spurious; you've done nothing wrong. In any case, it will fade a hell of a lot faster than the consequences of ignoring your gut could ever possibly do.

The right time to end a no-contact period is when your gut stops telling you not to.
posted by flabdablet at 6:50 AM on October 16, 2019


Did you ever tell him you wanted no contact? If not, that might be kind

Breaking up is not kind. It's not supposed to be kind. It's done because it's necessary.

No-contact is such a common pattern after a breakup that anybody who has been broken up with and then doesn't hear from their former partner ought to know that (a) that's what's going on and (b) that's what's meant to be going on.

If you say nothing, he might imagine you're furious or "hate him" or something.

The entire point of ending an intimate relationship is that after doing so, the former partner's feelings are no longer your problem. He might imagine all kinds of things. All of them are his to manage, and if he needs help with that, he is completely free to seek that from friends and/or therapy. He no longer has any claim on you.
posted by flabdablet at 6:57 AM on October 16, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm on Team 'Tell Him You Do Not Want To Keep In Touch, The End.'

I strongly believe that we all owe each other the basic human courtesy of directly communicating our desire not to communicate. No reason needed. Definitely no further engagement, either. But a short message informing them that you will no longer contact them - that's necessary for meeting minimum standards of being a decent person.
posted by MiraK at 7:07 AM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


I don’t ever want to see my ex again, though after the breakup I did say we could be friends and hang out again at some point.

yeah, he didn't know you didn't mean it so he is going to act as though he believed you, because he did.

mind you, everybody should know better than to believe that people mean it when they say Let's be friends later during a breakup any more than they believe you care how they are when you say How are you? But this is complicated by the fact that every once in a while, someone does mean it. He is checking to see if you are one of those, and if it's "some point" yet.

if it were me I would never answer because if you do, you have to not just say I'm fine, let's never talk again! but probably also Sorry for saying we could be friends, I didn't expect you to take that seriously and it wasn't true, I don't actually want to be. So given those choices, silence is kinder and it communicates the same message in the end.


The entire point of ending an intimate relationship is that after doing so, the former partner's feelings are no longer your problem.


right, that's why you don't tell them that at some point you will be happy to be friends again and make their feelings your problem, as friends do, if you actually don't want to.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:10 AM on October 16, 2019 [8 favorites]


I went through a similar situation earlier this year, so I can sympathize -- it's not great being ghosted on and then having the ghost pop back up after you've moved on. Normally I would say that it's fine to just ignore the text. But you did tell this guy that you'd be okay with being friends and hanging out post-breakup, so in this specific situation, I think it would be best practice to text back with something like, "I'm well, and I hope you are too, but I no longer want to keep in touch." There are better examples up-thread of kind ways to do this.

(In my particular situation I got away with responding to my ghost with a bland "I'm well, hope you are too" because I was about a month away from a cross-country move that the ghost was very well aware of -- he didn't make any overtures about getting together to chat, and if he'd done that I had a ready excuse about being WAY too busy. But in your situation, I do think it would behoove you to be clear that your feelings about being friends have changed.)
posted by palomar at 8:12 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don’t know, as someone who’s been depressed in the past and is also sort of an anxiously social person, hearing “I’m great but I really have decided going no contact with you is best forever” would legitimately be terrible for me. I would think, “wow, did I mess up this person that badly?” Or “wow, they really don’t like me.”

I would actually strongly prefer no response and I would find that kinder. I would infer “this person has moved on, is very busy, or doesn’t know what to say. Maybe they even changed their number. That’s fine, oh well.” And I would feel a little disappointed but not embarrassed, guilty or angry.

This is a guy who is very comfortable with ghosting and does it himself, so I strongly suspect he will understand the same behavior in someone else and may even prefer it, as I would. Direct communication about boundaries can seem harsh and reproaching to generally unassertive types.
posted by stockpuppet at 10:16 AM on October 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


Words = dialogue. Words imply that a conversation is possible. Words can also be misinterpreted.

If you don't want that, you have to reply in a way that does not set the stage for back-and-forthing. I have found that a couple of neutral emojis do the trick in this type of setting.

In my experience: this is why emojis exist. If you really feel like you must respond, a smiley and a thumbs-up can be sufficient, and leave the conversational window closed. It's kind of like waving from a safe distance.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:30 AM on October 16, 2019


I'm honestly surprised by these responses, pretty harsh.
I have been through this situation several times, one very recently with the same scenario (i.e. breaking up with the ex via texting because they ignored my calls after weeks of going downhill).

I did receive a brief text from him wishing I was doing well.
"I am doing very well, thank you"
He wished me a happy birthday and hoped I was doing well.
"Thank you! I'm having a great birthday"

Never followed up with subsequent questions or comments he texted. I think it's a pretty clear indication I didn't with to reconnect but appreciated him wishing me well. Because of this we can see each other in public without there being drama or us trying to awkwardly avoid each other.
posted by hillabeans at 1:50 PM on October 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


> I had to break up with him over text because he wouldn’t answer calls and I hadn’t seen him in weeks, and my own mental health and emotional well-being were suffering.

He ghosted you, his then-partner, for weeks?? This was absolutely unacceptable of him and in my opinion, it releases you from any obligation.

> His message was short, just asking how I was.

Sooo... he didn't even apologize, huh? Great guy.

>My gut reaction when I saw it arrive was to swear and say, “no no no” and feel my stomach sink.

Give your gut a hug. It's telling you the right path. The guilt is just patriarchal socialization that makes women feel responsible for men's feelings and guilty all the time. Listen to your gut!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:34 AM on October 17, 2019 [7 favorites]


Wow, I feel so differently! He wasn't abusive to you; he was suffering himself. You certainly seem to have made the right choice in breaking up with him, but this was someone you loved and shared your life with for 7 months. I think you could at least offer him the human dignity and respect of a response. Just say, "Good, thanks! Hope you are well, too. Enjoy the upcoming holiday season." Or something equivalent. No need to ask him a return question and the comment about the holidays implies that you don't plan to be in touch.
posted by amaire at 11:46 AM on October 19, 2019


If he's not a boundary pusher and it's safe for you to do so you could include an apology. You don't have to mean it. But you could say that you're sorry that you'd left the door open to future contact, after some self work you've realised that you don't have the capacity to do that - that is a you thing not a him thing - and while you're really sorry for having said otherwise earlier, any further contact is unwanted due to YOU reasons. If there's any risk of boundary pushing or what have you, ignore.
posted by Mistress at 3:13 PM on October 19, 2019


Thank you, everyone. I’ve been wrestling with this the past few days, from deciding I won’t reply, to drafting (several) texts, with all the different wording suggestions above. I ultimately have decided to not reply. I’m not saying this is the best answer, but I could not imagine a scenario where replying that I didn’t want to keep in touch would not send him into a spiral. And then, also, I could not imagine a scenario where he wouldn’t try to contact me again.

Then, I suddenly remembered other exes that have texted me some months after breakups, and I always replied to them with no hesitation, wishing them well and meaning it. Something in my gut (and I’m honestly still trying to learn to trust my gut) told me not to engage again with this ex (even though I never felt unsafe with him), so I’m honoring it.
posted by umwhat at 1:32 PM on October 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


Oh, also, a small clarification, if it matters - when he wasn’t answering calls and wouldn’t see me, we were communicating over text. Come to think of it, however, I am remembering that feeling safe with someone doesn’t just mean physically, it means emotionally as well. So, I’m at peace with my decision.
posted by umwhat at 1:38 PM on October 20, 2019 [7 favorites]


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