birthdays summon ghosts of the past
August 28, 2022 5:56 PM   Subscribe

My ex unexpectedly sent me several thoughtful birthday gifts. I have handled the situation well, but I’m struggling to emotionally process it.

Really, I feel like I summoned him or something with my recent post about dreaming about him.

My birthday was this past Friday and to my surprise, he sent me three gifts in the mail. They were thoughtful gifts and though not terribly expensive, certainly not super cheap either; I can tell that there was genuine effort and time put into finding the presents. He included a note that said something to the effect of “you deserve to be happy more than anyone else in the world, and I would love to catch up if you’re interested in that”.

At first, my people-pleaser response kicked in and I sent him a gushy text thanking him for the lovely surprise. I immediately felt uncomfortable with the presents though; we haven’t been in contact for a month and it just feel really inappropriate and unexpected to me. If he wanted to wish me happy birthday, he could’ve done so through a text — a gift was really not necessary. It was such a confusing gesture and really overwhelmed me and hurt me, honestly.

Later that day, I sent another text being more honest and setting a boundary. I told him that I appreciated the gesture, realized there was no ill intent, but it made me really confused and frustrated, and I needed him to either check in with me first or not send me the gifts in the future. I think he’s replied to me but I haven’t checked his response.

I’m proud of my reaction; I think I handled this situation well. But I’ve been emotionally stuck on it over the past couple days, despite active processing with family/friends/my journal and active efforts to focus on myself (went biking, to the movies, out with friends several times, etc). My brain keeps returning to these questions: why did he send me these gifts? Does he possibly still have feelings for me? Why do I care? Was my response rude and unreasonable? What is he going to think of me?

This pattern of obsession was a huge part of my relationship with him, and I want to choose a different reaction. I am planning on focusing on finding alternative grounding activities and will definitely be talking to my therapist about this. But I was also hoping for some advice from all of you: perhaps on the situation and the questions I’ve been puzzling over (if you have personal experience), but more importantly on how to stop obsessing and let go of the false hope that this situation arose for me.

Thank you very much in advance.
posted by cruel summer to Human Relations (7 answers total)
have you read the book attached? reading this question and the previous one, along with your comments about over thinking (and dang do i relate) i wonder if you two are in an anxious/avoidant cycle. he woos you, you fall in love, he pulls away, you mourn, and just when you’re alllllmmooosssttt over him, he makes a dramatic reappearance.

i have had a messy and confusing love life and learning about attachment styles made the whole thing so clear to me.
posted by missjenny at 6:02 PM on August 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

The "that" in "if you’re interested in that", is, I think, sex, getting back together, etc.
posted by signal at 6:18 PM on August 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think you did GREAT! You told him how you felt, and asked him for what you want going forward. You feel proud of yourself! This is the ONLY feeling that matters. You haven’t been rude. Block his number and don’t puzzle over this at all. His motivations, his feelings in response, what he wants - even if you could know them, they will not help YOU to continue to move on and build your best life going forward. (I would actually give away the gifts and buy myself something nice instead.)

Also, if it helps, I think that what *he* did is un-self-aware to the point of unkindness. When we’ve broken up with someone, we have hurt them. Making sentimental gestures, even ones we think are kind and generous, are likely to re-open the wound of our rejection, if not to salt it also. Three months later? It might not be explicitly selfish or manipulative, but it’s pretty willfully ignorant to imagine that an ex we dumped would feel *good* to receive gifts like this.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 6:33 PM on August 28, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It’s hard to say whether he has feelings for you or what his goal is, I think what is more important is whether anything has changed on his end that would make a relationship with him worthwhile or contact healthy.

I don’t think things have changed in a good way! Those gifts and reaching out on your birthday are lacking in self awareness at best and manipulative with shades of love bombing at worst. The response he’s induced in you with his actions is not a kind thing to do to someone.

It would have been kinder to let you have your birthday without intruding on it, then maybe approached you a few days later with more clarity about his intentions and with actions directed at a low stakes, considered response rather than something that emotionally laden. Ugh!

Your emotions will fade if you go no contact. In situations like these, it’s helped me to look at how much emotional energy I was directing at the situation to “make things work” and how little that was being reciprocated.
posted by alphanerd at 6:39 PM on August 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You did fine. I can easily imagine a variety of different possibilities for what he could have been thinking, but honestly it doesn't matter. What matters is that you thought it over, decided what you need, explained that, and are taking some space now to get yourself re-centered before talking to him again. That's a lot of big difficult work!

Your brain may keep chewing on this for a while because brains do. It's not anything you're doing wrong, and it will fade, especially if you take a good long break from talking to him so you're not feeding your brain anything new to play with.
posted by Stacey at 6:57 PM on August 28, 2022

"Thoughtful"? Hell no. This is a dick move, babe. In more ways than one. If only I could find a gender-swapped version of this, then you could put in on and dance around your living room until you feel better. Then this one.
posted by Coaticass at 1:13 AM on August 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

You said in your prior question you broke up six months ago, and in this question you said you haven't been in contact in a month. To me, what that contact a month ago was (like, how did it go? did it end in screaming, crying, cussing? was it civil? what was it about?) would inform how I looked at his actions here.

If I had had civil contact with a six-month-ago ex last month, I wouldn't be flabbergasted to get birthday gift(s), even ones that had some thought put into them. (If anything, I would be more weirded out if they were very expensive gifts, but you said they weren't.) If our last contact was bad, I would have a lot more suspicion about the motives behind such a move.

Obviously everybody has different life experiences. I've always ended up back on speaking terms with my exes pretty quickly (even if that contact gets to once-every-few-months texts also pretty quickly), so that naturally colors how I look at this situation. I still send happy birthday texts to one guy who, at the time, broke my heart worse than I had ever felt and I thought I would never get over it or stop hating him. If I had more money and kept track of his address as he's moved several times, I probably would send gifts, too, but I also have a problem where I buy people too many gifts, so that's a whole other thing.

As far as your questions: You care what he thinks (both about his feelings for you but also about his reaction to your reaction to this situation) because this person was a massive part of your life for a year, and you haven't gotten to the stage of that being completely in the past yet. You also are a people pleaser (as you outright said) and so you don't want him to think ill of you for your response, even though it doesn't really matter what he thinks.

I don't think your response was rude and unreasonable. If you've never communicated to him before (going back to what the contact was about a month ago) that you're still decompressing from the relationship, you have now, and his response to you doing that (if you care to find out what it is, which you don't need to) can also help you decide whether you want contact with him going forward.

The reason you're thinking about this over and over is part people-pleaser (you're worried you were mean, or too harsh, or any number of other things) and part because this stirred up weird feelings for you. It takes time to think through, to talk through (not with him, with others in your life), to figure out how you actually feel about it, and then come to terms with those feelings. It's been literally like two days. Give yourself some time to figure it out. You will, eventually. It takes time.
posted by tubedogg at 2:25 AM on August 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

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