Please go away forever?
July 30, 2021 1:26 AM   Subscribe

An ex who I cut off all contact with, and explicitly told that I want nothing to do with, suddenly seems to be creeping/stalking me online. I'm very upset and shaken up, and need people who are wiser and more objective than me to tell me what to make of it, and what my next steps are.

This is a guy who really, really hurt me. He was extremely charming but equally as manipulative, and I'm ashamed to say that I told him previously several times that I was done, but I let him reel me back in every time. Until the last time, when I realized that he was never going to be anything but a big black hole in my life, sucking the light out of me. I sent him a message stating that I wanted no more contact from him, then blocked his number and all his social media profiles. He never tried reaching out in other ways, such as email or through mutual friends, so I thought he finally respected my wishes and we were done for good.

Despite how shitty he was to me, cutting him off was traumatic. I loved him. I really did. And "losing" him drove me into a deep depression. I honestly didn't think I'd ever feel the same way about anyone else, and the belief that I wasn't good enough for him tore my self-esteem to shreds. I think it's relevant to note that we never officially dated. His particular flavor of toxicity involved what I now recognize as love bombing, and then cycles of hot and cold. It put me in a position where I felt like I had to win him over, and I couldn't do it. I wanted him more than anything and I failed. It was devastating. I had to move on because I had no other choice.

In the years since, my life has improved exponentially. I'm so, so happy. I just got married to my sweet, loving husband, we're both in really great places in our careers, we just purchased a beautiful new home together, we're surrounded by wonderful friends and family, and we have everything to look forward to. And in hindsight, I realize what a bullet I dodged. The ex was awful and flawed in many ways. I heard through the grapevine that he's also recently married, but isn't faithful. It's not surprising. He's always been a "the grass is greener on the other side" type.

Last week I received a notification from a professional networking account. This particular platform tells you exactly who sees your profile and how they arrived at it. It indicated that he specifically searched for my name and then clicked through to view my profile. I thought maybe he was just curious to see what I was up to work-wise, and tried to put it out of mind. But today I got another notification from one of my new social media accounts that I don't have the security settings dialed in on. He followed my account. It's obviously me, my name and photos are on the profile. Still, I thought maybe the follow could've been an accidental click. Then he also liked my most recent post. So not only has he been actively searching for me online on various platforms, he also wants me to see that he is.

It's been hours now and I'm still shaking. I know this reaction must seem overly dramatic, but I can't express how damaging the whole on-off relationship was, and how long and painful the process of getting over him. I think I know that ignoring his bid for attention is good. I think I know that he has no good intentions toward me, and there is nothing he could say or do that wouldn't be hurtful. It kills me that I've known him for so long and seen so much of his evil, and yet I still can't clearly understand his motivations. And that he has hurt me so much, and yet I don't know where his weak spots are. Part of me deeply wishes I could hurt him back. Part of me feels scared and violated, because I made it clear that I never wanted to see or hear from him again, and it's been YEARS. I don't think a normal, not-unhinged person would do what he's doing right now, especially not after this long.

My questions: What does he want, or what is he trying to pull? Should I care? Am I safe? Should I be worried? What are my next steps?
posted by keep it under cover to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oof. I'm actually a little shaken by your question, because of how much it resonates with me. Many hugs. I don't think you're being over-dramatic -- which is not to say that he's necessarily an actual danger to you. It just means that, from experience with a similar situation, I know this is really really hard.

A couple of thoughts:

1. I strongly suggest that you do whatever you can to limit his access to you, even if doing so lets him know that you are rattled. In the long run, that is much better than letting him continue to get in your head with every like or follow or comment he makes (or, even if he doesn't do anything, you imagining him reading and reacting to your posts will get him in your head by itself). So, block him or lock him out or set things to private or whatever you need to do to feel safe from him. This may mean you have to give some accounts up or lock them down; it will probably be very worth it to do so. Not only will this prevent him from affecting you like this again, it sends a very clear signal to him that you still want him completely out of your life. You're not over-reacting; you know that you can't trust him, and more than that you know that he really affects your mental health. So do what you must to make it so he can't affect you further.

2. I also strongly suggest you think through clearly what you really fear, how likely that is, and what things you can do to protect yourself if he does those things. (e.g.: does he know where you live? do you have friends or acquaintances in common that he could smear you to? if he did, would they believe him? do you have other ties, like common projects or colleagues through work or whatever, that he could hurt you through?) If you need to, ask your partner or a therapist or a trusted friend to walk through the logic with you. I suspect you'll find that at least some of the fears, if not all, are you catastrophising (no judgment! I've been there and it's natural given the heavy emotions involved in this situation!). And for those that aren't, you'll be very reassured by having a plan and knowing that some people have your back.

3. Other than blocking him, absolutely and without question ignore any bids for attention. Grey rock is the only way to go. Resist the temptation to try to figure out what the hell he is thinking. That way lies madness, you'll never be able to know or figure it out with any surety, and the more real estate you give him in your head, the more you're playing out this toxic cycle.

Good luck, you can do it. I'll be thinking about you. Feel free to DM if you want someone to commiserate with.
posted by sir jective at 2:22 AM on July 30, 2021 [28 favorites]

Block him on LinkedIn and block him on whatever your new social network is -- Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat all let you block people.

And then... give this as little time and attention as possible. It's likely that he casually looked you up one day, saw that you recently got married, and thought it would be ego-massaging and/or challenging to see if he could pull your strings again. That's what fuckboys do. Yours isn't special, he's operating as expected.

I get that it's easy to say "don't worry about it" but your post doesn't give any reason why you might not be safe. Being emotionally shaken isn't the same thing as being physically unsafe, even if your brain doesn't distinguish between the two. Remember that.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:12 AM on July 30, 2021 [32 favorites]

I am sorry you are going through this. Please don’t downplay how you are feeling, I can understand why this would shake you up.

I also had an abuser like this in my life. I eventually had to make peace with the fact that I was never going to understand his actions, and spending mental energy trying to work him out was just one more way he was draining me dry.

You have power here. Block, block, block, ignore.

My best guess, not that it matters, is that he is bored with the current drama in his life so is reaching out wherever he can to create more. It’s not really about you. The only play is making yourself more boring. I’d hold on to that anger, if it helps. This is a way to deny him what he really wants. Attention.

Feel free to MeFiMail me if you’d like to share war stories.
posted by arha at 4:22 AM on July 30, 2021 [10 favorites]

There's a reason a lot of people put pretty heavy restrictions on their Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. When I see those pages, I always think "oh good, that person has taken control of who gets the privilege of seeing their life".

I consider myself normal and not-unhinged. I have many ex's, I've viewed their social media before, even though I'm married and have no interest. It's usually just a curiousity, not looking for a connection. So I doubt the person has any intentions either way, is just reminiscing and seeing if anything exciting has happened to people from their past.

I hope this eases your worry. Even if they may not be intentionally hurtful by looking you up, it's still in your best interest to block them as described above.
posted by bbqturtle at 4:59 AM on July 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

My suggestion would be, rather than blocking him, either turn off notifications or have someone else read them. I’m thinking of some of the information and examples in Gift of Fear here, but if he sees he is blocked, he will a. Gain satisfaction from having an effect on you, b. Try to find another avenue to get to you.

If he continues with this, and you literally are not aware and just ignore him, he gets no additional satisfaction. Just blank nothingness.

I’m sorry this is happening to you, it’s completely understandable to be shaken by this.
posted by ElasticParrot at 5:01 AM on July 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

Ugh, I'm sorry you're dealing with this.

Definitely block him. I agree with the above Mefites that he's probably just vanity searching people from his past or just trying to "check in" and see if he can get anything from seeing your life as it is now. Deny him that access. He's not entitled to it.

Talk to your husband and close family/friends about it as well if you can. Don't bottle it up, you need support and to talk through your anxieties. Your ex might have also tried to add other people in your life; let them know they can (and should) freely block him.
posted by fight or flight at 5:09 AM on July 30, 2021 [6 favorites]

Seconding Bri and Jubey. Block it out.

You shouldn't care about his intentions (unless they're actually risky), you're probably just fine. It may be the person is instigating, it may be the person has changed, saw you're married, and is seeking contact because they think the situation has changed. Even so, when you decide someone no longer has a place in your life: they don't. Don't give this person energetic pull.
posted by firstdaffodils at 7:37 AM on July 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

Adding to the above: whatever "grapevine" you're shaking for news of the ex, I suggest informing it that you don't want to know and you'd appreciate not being told.

I totally get having trouble evicting an ex from your headspace; I'm living it, because brains be like that (and in my case, there's thirty years of ex in the brain and only a little over two of post-ex). Since this doesn't appear to be a personal-safety situation... the only way I know of to make the brain seek other sources of whatever the heck it is the brain wants from pointless rumination on the ex is to go cold-turkey on ex news.
posted by humbug at 7:56 AM on July 30, 2021

Best answer: I'm concerned at the dismissiveness of these comments and the suggestion that you are somehow obsessed with him or that what he did to you was not abusive. What you describe is very classic emotional abuse intended to control you. I'm sorry you went through that and that are still dealing with the aftermath.

No one on Metafilter knows this person, only you do. If you think based on your long and extensive history with this person that they are trying to reconnect or that this is an attempt to continue/restart manipulation, then that is what is happening. You know you and you know this person intimately well. If you felt that you needed to block him before and it helped you (which you say that it did), then you should continue to do so.

I'm sorry you are in this situation, but unlike before, you are in the driver's seat now and you have the ability to say, "no thank you" as many times as you want.
posted by Toddles at 8:27 AM on July 30, 2021 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah I also don't understand the people who are interpreting the abject panic that you're experiencing due to someone abusive making contact again (liking and following your instagram is making contact) as you being obsessed/hung up on this person. I don't think you're still hung up on this person but I think you feel this as a threat so you're having a huge panicky "what do I do" response that probably seems over the top to people who haven't had to deal with this sort of person before. But the best thing you can do is ignore him. Lock everything down on social media so he doesn't have access to any information about you. His motivations don't matter, they won't be anything good and you don't want contact with him anyway. So shut him out and ignore. Do not respond to him. He will get bored and go away if he isn't getting anything out of the contact or any new information.
posted by Polychrome at 8:44 AM on July 30, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Your reaction is entirely normal, it is a trauma response, and it is not weird or overreacting or some indication you wish to have an affair with this guy. At the same time, there's not a lot actionable steps you can take. Some platforms, like Twitter, have a sort of backdoor - you can block and unblock and it will unfollow you from his account, though he may eventually notice that has happened - and hopefully any professional platform you use has a block.

Nobody but him knows what he wants, but from watching these dudes operate for many years he's likely either retconned his past actions so that it couldn't possibly be questionable or bothersome for him to do this, or he's testing the waters to see if you're someone he can manipulate for fun and/or profit again.

I think you get to live your life and run your social media how you want. There's not a ton he can do without your participation unless he's going to wildly escalate, but that's pretty rare for this type - if he can't coax a civil if not friendly response from you, he'll wander off before he causes a major scene that someone might see and rightly recognize his participation in it. Block or lock him out to the extent you can, and just be mindful that anything you put on open social media - and this was as true a month ago as it is now - is available for public consumption. I don't personally think that means you have to go dark or lock if you don't have any highly-personal data going on those feeds, which you never should under your real name anyway.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:34 AM on July 30, 2021 [8 favorites]

What does he want? He wants to know that he can control you. That you'll still respond to any beck or call of his. That you still want to know what he wants. He just wants to see you twitch.

What is he trying to pull? Your strings.

You should deny him of any sign of that.

It sounds like you're still vulnerable, still emotionally engaged with how it all went down, and not totally safe. Please take care of yourself -- in your own way, within your own life. Keep him out of it.
posted by Dashy at 11:53 AM on July 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

I do not think you are overreacting.

This person has clearly demonstrated a lack of respect for your boundaries and has a pattern of ignoring your "no". It is reasonable that you would find that threatening because this is threatening behavior.

DV hotlines also have resources for victims of stalking, which is why I am going to share this link to the National DV Hotline.

You wrote, "Part of me feels scared and violated, because I made it clear that I never wanted to see or hear from him again, and it's been YEARS. I don't think a normal, not-unhinged person would do what he's doing right now, especially not after this long."

I think you should trust your gut on this. I do not know if he will try to escalate, but the trained staff at the DV hotline can provide you with resources. You mentioned that you have a wonderful support network in place now, and if you feel comfortable reaching out to close trusted friends or family members to let them know what's going on, it's likely that they will want to help and support you in whatever way they can.

I'm sorry this is happening to you. I'm also glad to hear about the many good things that have happened in your life since you parted ways with this man. You had the strength, courage, and wisdom to get out and build a beautiful life for yourself. If you find that you're still struggling with the shame of going back several times before finally getting out (although I don't think you need to feel shame because what you described sounds like the cycle of abuse), many DV orgs also have counseling resources at no cost to individuals who have experienced abusive relationships. It's worth noting that this is actually very common, and that for many people in abusive relationships it takes multiple attempts to leave before getting out.
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 12:07 PM on July 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ugh. He’s dying to be back on your radar because he wants a hit of that sweet sweet female attention, he wants the ego-stroke, he’s bored, he’s a bad spouse and needs to feel he has options and other irons in the fire, he wants to see whether he still has control over you, he wants to feel important and causing negative reactions makes him feel big, he has a high opinion of himself and thinks his presence in your life is a gift, he’s testing your boundaries, he’s horny, he’s delusional and thinks the period of time that was traumatic for you was romantic and exciting, he can’t accept anyone seeing him negatively so he’s hoping you’ll be glad to hear from him because that will absolve him of his prior wrongdoing.

You know, just guesses. Based on experience with this type of guy.

Luckily everyone has covered the solution, which is to hide or block him.

Please take extra nice care of yourself. What do you need to take care of yourself today?
posted by kapers at 12:47 PM on July 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Please make sure you alert your friends and family he might know that they are NOT to engage with him. If he decides you're a challenge he's up for, he might search for whatever people he can track down to help him contact you. They need to know that he is potentially dangerous and that they should refuse and hang up.

He might have been manipulating you for kicks before, but perhaps now, several years later he has more malign intent. I would try to be meticulous in your efforts to make yourself impervious to him. Please don't underestimate him.
posted by citygirl at 2:35 PM on July 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: An update that I doubt anyone will see... but nonetheless, thanks to everyone who responded and helped to talk me down.

I blocked him. I debated sending a quick "F you" message, but decided not to engage at all. I've informed a couple of trusted mutual friends, who would be the most likely targets for the ex to hit up for information or to smear me to, that he is not welcome in my life and to please not discuss me with the ex.

I also found out from one of the trusted mutual friends that the ex's wife is expecting, and the date he started searching for me online was early in his wife's pregnancy. So there's that - my intuition told me there had to have been some kind of trigger for him to suddenly come looking for me out of the blue. I knew it was something major, and I thought getting married might have been the trigger for him. Now I know that it was also a baby.

I feel incredibly bad about all of it. That I was ever dumb enough to let such a sleazebag get his hooks in me, and that his wife apparently has no clue about him... or maybe she does and this is a desperate bid to fix their relationship. I feel guilty that I had the chance to warn her and I didn't.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:02 AM on October 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: That I was ever dumb enough to let such a sleazebag get his hooks in me

It was never about you being dumb. Trusting people by default is not dumb. Keeping an open heart is the brave way to live.

It was always about his having such well-honed hooks and so few scruples about wielding them.

There need be no shame in having taken damage from somebody so skilled in its infliction. Further, any obligation to prevent the infliction of more damage falls firstly on him and secondly on those who stood by and watched him and not at all on those he's already damaged.
posted by flabdablet at 3:21 AM on October 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

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