How do I ask an ex to quit calling?
February 27, 2007 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Is it too pathetic to ask an ex who wants to be friends to quit calling me because I’m still stuck on him? If not, how can I do it and maintain a shred of dignity? What do I say?

I’m a 42 year old woman, which I mention up top because this is going to sound like the lamentations of a 16 year old drama queen and I’d rather you knew I was just fairly inexperienced with men, not an idiot kid.
So anyway, last summer, I met a guy and fell hard. But it soon became clear we were mismatched and so we kept everything casual. In the winter, a combination of a tiff, a misunderstanding and trips out of town conspired to keep us apart for a couple of months and by the time we were both back in the same city and in regular communication, things seemed to have changed. He turned down a few suggestions I made to get together, and never suggested any dates himself, and pointedly ignored any flirtatious emails. We never discussed it, but I got the message that any romance was over. Maybe he was bored of me, maybe he found a new girl. I don't know.
But for ages now, he's called or emailed at least once a day, just to chat. This would be fine, I love talking to him, except I haven’t been able to let go of my feelings for him. I still fantasize about the amazing sex, I still long for his arms around me. While part of me secretly still hopes maybe he’ll want me again, I know that’s stupid and that I must move on. But even though I've met some new men and at least one has made advances, I can't get interested because I'm still mooning over this guy I haven't even seen in months. It seems the only way I’ll stop obsessing is if I cut off contact, at least for a while. How can I do that, without sounding pathetic and psycho?
posted by poxuppit to Human Relations (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Tell him you need some time/space to yourself to re-evaluate your relationship and get used to the new context? It seems perfectly acceptable to ask for distance after a break-up, and even advisable.
posted by Phire at 7:40 PM on February 27, 2007

not too pathetic, you should definitely do it. I said it to my ex a few years ago (granted i was 20 years younger than you are now, i think it still applies). I said to her 'you know i love you, and you know i want to be with you. but it wont work, and you're the one whose made that clear. I need to get over you, you've got to let me move on. Please no more phone calls, or text messages for now. I need to get over you"

It was the smartest move I ever made.

posted by ZackTM at 7:43 PM on February 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

I don't think there is anything pathetic or psycho about aksing him to quit contacting you. He may just stop contacting you. It could also open up and uncomfortable conversation or it may open up a very informative conversation that will help you understand his feelings/actions.

Actually, before you ask him to stop contacting you, you might want to ask for some clarification about what happened to the relationship in general. At least it you'll be guaranteed some sense of closure before you end communication.
posted by necessitas at 7:45 PM on February 27, 2007

This isn't clear from your question — are you positive he doesn't want to rekindle the relationship. You say he may have found a new lady and that things fizzled, but are you sure? Some men are just, how you say... distant... at the beginning of relationships. This includes only answering one of every five emails and not calling you as frequently as you think they should. Stupid, but a fact of life nonetheless.

However, to answer your real question, no, it's not stupid to tell him, in simple terms, exactly what ZachTM says above. I have never, ever been able to "stay friends" with someone after a break-up. Some people are capable of this, but I find the history, baggage and residual emotions of a relationship make it impossible for me, since emotions are usually lop-sided at the end of a relationship anyway. Someone's heart always gets broken.

I once ended a 4-year relationship by saying "If we break up now, that's it, it's over, I'll never want to talk to you again." Immature on my part, perhaps, but that's the only way I could make it work for myself.
posted by Brittanie at 7:50 PM on February 27, 2007

Simply ignoring his emails and not taking his calls would probably end it pretty quickly.

But, the better answer is what ZackTM suggests.

And there's nothing the tiniest bit pathetic or psycho about it.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:50 PM on February 27, 2007

Response by poster: I guess the reason I'm hesitant is that we never had A Big Official Thing, it was more a buddies with benefits thing. And now that he doesn't seem to want the benefits anymore, I feel like a jerk making a big fuss about how I'm still stuck on him.
posted by poxuppit at 7:55 PM on February 27, 2007

I'm with Brittanie- I wonder if he wants back with you. I can't imagine why he would call you everyday if he wasn't interested in you again (unless he's crazy- in which case, you're in love with a crazy man, and that's probably a separate question). I think you should go ZackTM's route, modifying it a bit to suggest that the ball is in his court if he's interested in pursuing things for real, and to leave you alone otherwise.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:55 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

He might even get a big egoboost out of being asked to have mercy. "W0W, I'm THAT h4wt!"

Of course he could take it wrong and think you REALLY mean he's disgusting and repulsive, but I'd think he knows you better than that.

What I'd think actually is not that he wants you back but that he's lonely; is he shy and/or depressed?

If asking him to fuck off politely fails consider a restraining order.
posted by davy at 8:00 PM on February 27, 2007

There's nothing psychotic about it, and to be honest my immediate reaction to "He turned down a few suggestions I made to get together, and never suggested any dates himself, and pointedly ignored any flirtatious emails. [snip] But for ages now, he's called or emailed at least once a day, just to chat." is a big red flag with a warning horn. That to me screams "fallback woman."

Even if I'm being cynical, there's nothing wrong with protecting yourself and if he's a friend he'll be sympathetic, if sad. "Listen Jim, I love talking to you but I'm not content with things the way they are. If I'm gonna get over you and move on I need to stop talking to you for a while, maybe forever. So please, don't call me again."
posted by phearlez at 8:07 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

you are his fallback girl like phearlez says. he likes knowing that you are around, that you are pining for him, that you want him. it makes him feel good about himself while he goes and tries new things. this happens all the time. you are an ego boast and a cushion for whatever misadventures he ends up in.

just flat out tell him 'listen, i need some time and i need some space; please don't call'. if he keeps calling, don't answer. if you are his fallback person, the calls might even increase after this point - he might even suggest to see you. but don't fall for it. it's okay to focus on yourself now.

if, however, he really wants to be friends - he'll respect your decision and once you're ready to talk, he'll be there to listen.
posted by Stynxno at 8:20 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's a normal part of the process. Just tell him that you need some space right now, and that you'll let him know if and when you're ready to be friends again. Be straightforward and direct, and he'll respect you for it.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:24 PM on February 27, 2007

I don't think we have the information to say that he is just stringing you along as the fallback girl. It's even possible he wants or could realize he wants a shot at the real thing. But whatever, in the event that he expresses interest in renewing a romantic relationship, don't accept a casual thing again. It is very obvious that deep down you want more.
posted by nanojath at 8:26 PM on February 27, 2007

And everyone else is right, there is nothing pathetic about getting hung up on someone unattainable or needing space. I suspect most of us have been there at some point, although usually one can manage to just fade out of the relationship without having to get explicitly into it.
posted by nanojath at 8:28 PM on February 27, 2007

Play hard to get. You'll either get over him or he will get fascinated.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:42 PM on February 27, 2007

I agree with the people who think he's basically just trying to keep you in reserve, even if he's doing it semi-unconsciously. I wish there was a way for you to accomplish your goal without actually revealing to him that you're actually still a little hung up on him. Is a lie like you're going to be away on travel for a while so lay off the communications totally out of bounds here? Or maybe don't respond for a week or so and then tell him that you've met someone and have been really busy recently? Then hopefully as he sees his power over you waning he will lay off.

Others may say that honesty is better, but I'm not sure it's really necessary here if a white lie would accomplish the same goal and keep things from being awkward with him in a few months if you are able to be friends again. But I wouldn't encourage you to try friendship with him again until you're actually dating someone else.

Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 9:03 PM on February 27, 2007

I wonder if he wants back with you. I can't imagine why he would call you everyday if he wasn't interested in you again (unless he's crazy- in which case, you're in love with a crazy man, and that's probably a separate question).

I wondered the same thing... He's either interested again or he's a manipulative jerk. Either way, you need to ask him point-blank what his intentions are (although that's a risk because his answer might be calculated to lead you on)... Hopefully you can both communicate openly and honestly about what you're each feeling, and about what you're expecting.
posted by amyms at 9:05 PM on February 27, 2007

I think you should say something like "You know, as much as I like you as a person, I think I need some space to really put the other, um, less-friendly, more-naked part of our relationship behind us. Hopefully we can be chummy again in the future, but for right now, I just can't. You understand, right?"

And then he'll either go:

1) "Yes! I do understand, even though it's kind of saddening. Let's reconvene when you feel more able to hang out, okay?"

2) "...what? You're... breaking up with me? But I was trying to get back together!!!!"

Someone will probably be offended by this, but I think, in general, it's good for men in these situations when you take a step back. He'll either chase you, or he can't be bothered-- either way, you'll have clarity.

Good luck! (And good for you for wanting to be brave and clear.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:15 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's not pathetic and psycho. It sounds pretty normal; not a lot of relationships can immediately transition from sexy to unsexy without some weird emotional fallout on at least one side. Plus, think of it in cost-benefit terms: you spend a long time being miserable until 1) something happens that proves to you it's really really over (like you find out he's engaged or something) or 2) you get back together, and it doesn't work out any better than it did the first time* OR you risk that he thinks you're weird because you need some (perfectly rational) post-breakup space.

Good luck with moving on!

*I am speaking from experience here.
posted by SoftRain at 9:37 PM on February 27, 2007

In my experience, no relationship can transition from dating/romance to friendship without a period of radio silence. I'm close friends with two of my three long-term ex-girlfriends. One of them I dated for three years, tried to be friends for awhile, couldn't do it, so we didn't talk for three years. Now we're really close. In her case we just fought all the time after the breakup but kept saying we wanted to be friends. The other, we dated for about six months, and then trying to be friends was just really hard for me. I asked for a break from her; no calls, no emails, no IMs. Took her off my buddy list, put away my pictures of her, and just lived my life for about two months. Then we slowly started talking again, on occasion, then hanging out, and now we can sleep in the same bed on occasion and it's no big deal.

My point is, if you WANT to be friends with him, but you're still hung up, then you need to force yourself to take a break, remove all daily reminders of him from your life, and just relax for awhile.

If you think he might be getting interested in you again romantically, just ask. If he says no, it's a pretty good segue into the, "I need a break from you for awhile because I'm not over you" conversation. If he says yes, well, you can take it from there...
posted by autojack at 10:03 PM on February 27, 2007

A restraining order would be overkill.

You don't need to get into any discussions. Just stop replying. If you feel you must, let a day or two pass before replying, and make your reply brief. He probably doesn't want a relationship, but he may be looking for the flattering attention you've given him. Stop giving it. Lean back, and go do other things instead.
posted by zadcat at 10:12 PM on February 27, 2007

Play hard to get. You'll either get over him or he will get fascinated.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:42 PM PST on February 27 [+]

Gawd! Please don't play anything, leave the games out of it all. Life is hard enough without having to deal with players of any sort.

You're learning the hard lesson that 'friends with benefits' can get away from anyone at any time; sex can open doors whether we want them opened or not. I've been on both sides of this sort of thing and they both are awkward and one of them hurts like hell - you got that side, this time anyways.

Nothing is pathetic in affairs of the heart. Somehow this became an affair of the heart. Sometimes we just go nuts over someone for whatever reason or no reason at all.

You have the right - and I think the responsibility, maybe, to yourself - to cop to the fact that you're hurting and you need room, time, whatever. If he won't let you do this with your dignity intact then he's a piece of dogshit, and I'm real glad you're outta there, and you will be too, once you catch your breath.

Movies. A very good cup of coffee, or your favorite tea, once a day. Exercise. Walks with understanding friends, but only with understanding friends - you don't need someone judging you just now, and if someone does so, you have the collective hive permission to kick them in the crotch. Prayer, if it floats your boat; I find comfort in it, maybe I'm just pouring my dumb heart out to the stars - no telling. Regardless, it brings me comfort.

Be *real* careful about sliding into the sack with someone else just now; while it could be just great, and sweet as hell, it could also be adding not insult to injury but rather injury to injury - I've gone this road, and it *really* blows.

Take care. We're on your side, we've got your back, best as we can on a cold, bright screen.

I wish you peace.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:23 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's taken a minimum of 6 months of "radio silence" (nicely worded, autojack) for me to manage anything like friends between me and the exes I've managed with. The mail from the address change gets delivered, out of common courtesy, but that's about it. Maybe the occasional every-3-month call or visit.

My latest success story in that regard is now married to a mutual friend and works in a related department. I spend more time talking to his wife as often as not. It's turned out pretty happily.

You aren't pathetic. Get some space to yourself. It's good for you.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:47 PM on February 27, 2007

Yeah, I've done something similar before and it worked. She thought it was unexpected and perhaps a little over the top, but having tried other things it was the only one that worked. NB, you have to be serious about it. Don't go into it expecting that he'll become intrigued and like you again. Even if he does it'll still probably end up the same way eventually. Go into it with the express purpose of getting over him.

Go for it.
posted by teem at 12:54 AM on February 28, 2007

no, you're not crazy. you have a choice about whether he's in your life or not.

i am not really sure why he's in touch with you every day if he's not interested, but it sounds like he's trying to maintain a friendly relationship to keep you in reserve, as backup for booty calls and such.

you don't have to tell him anything, just let his calls go to voice mail and don't return them (or tell him you're busy and can't talk right now), and don't reply to his emails, or if you must, reply in very neutral, noncommittal ways that don't keep the conversation going or invite a response (don't introduce new topics, don't ask follow-up questions, keep it to a line or less). he'll get the message.

if you were having sex and then weren't, without his telling you why, he's not a nice guy. he may be charming, but he's not nice. don't agonize over him. he's playing you.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:05 AM on February 28, 2007

I feel like a jerk making a big fuss about how I'm still stuck on him.

Then don't. You don't need to say why you want to cut off communication; just say (as Stynxno put it) "I need some time and I need some space; please don't call." I've done it myself, and it works.

I don't really understand the people who are saying he's "interested again." If he was interested, he'd be meeting you for dinner and drinks and getting into your pants. He's calling and e-mailing because he enjoys chatting with you. He doesn't know it's causing you turmoil—and he doesn't need to know. He just needs to stop. You can protect both your heart and your dignity. If it leaves him wondering, that's all to the good. Maybe he'll learn something.
posted by languagehat at 6:16 AM on February 28, 2007

To second what other people are saying (from bitter experience): since he's calling/writing every day, you may not want to let him know that you're still hurting, since that may just encourage him. Instead try and phrase it to sound like you can't talk to him as much because you've got other things going on...and then start ducking out of phone calls early, not replying to e-mail quickly, and so on. (But definitely tell him, just because he was a jerk about breaking up doesn't mean you have to be.)
posted by anaelith at 6:48 AM on February 28, 2007

I don't like the suggestions that recommend that you simply fall off the radar without letting him know. Not only is that a passive way of dealing with an interpersonal problem, it also lends itself to more concentric circles of self-doubt and speculation. As you ignore his calls or emails, you'll be trying to imagine what he's thinking and feeling about your silence, and it will just feed into the whole negative feedback loop you're trying to escape.

If you follow the advice above which invites you to tastefully let him know you'd like to be left alone for a while, not only will you likely spare yourself having to avoid further calls, you'll have forced him (and yourself) to clear the air on the subject. It is doubtful he will have anything meaningful to say on the subject, but at least you'll get to hear it before you leave all this behind for a while.

He is either keeping you on standby, as mentioned above, or he is trying to convince youhimself that he's a decent guy who values people on more than a sexual level. Unfortunately, most people (guys especially) who do this are pretty much just oblivious to the effects this actually has on someone in your position. I'm betting he really, really likes you and cares for you and feels bad that, for whatever reason, he doesn't want to pursue anything romantic.

Tell him you need a break from contact, and that you'll let him know when/if it all blows over. Hold your breath, wait for him to protest and tell you that it's not necessary, that actually he's just been too spineless to tell you that he really wants you after all. Accept it quietly when this doesn't happen. Change, grow, heal. Repeat as necessary.

I'm so sorry. I have been there. In some ways, I'll always be there. Now is your time to prove that you have your own best interests at heart by taking up the reins yourself--heartbreak is a dangerous time to let the horses steer.

posted by hermitosis at 7:23 AM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the good advice. I don't want to mark any best answers because they were all so great.

Reading them, I realize that what I really want is to find out what he's thinking: why does he keep calling me (2 emails and a missed call already this morning) but not make any attempt to see me? I really don't think he's trying to manipulate me, as some suggested. He's not that kind of guy. It's probably just that we get along so well.

So I'm going to screw up the courage to suggest a break (thanks for the great suggestion of "radio silence") and make it as light and undramatic as I can, while still laying my cards out. That way, if he just wants a platonic thing, I'll be able to get over him fairly quickly with some distance and go back to being friends. But if he's got some idea of going back to a "more naked" (another great line) type of deal, then I'll find that out too. Though as we all know, ultimately that's probably not the best idea in the long run. But better than this mystery.

Thanks guys. I love askme.
posted by poxuppit at 7:59 AM on February 28, 2007

Another vote for "I need some time and I need some space; please don't call."
posted by selfmedicating at 8:11 AM on February 28, 2007

What ZackTM said way above. It isn't pathetic and you don't sound like a 16 year-old. The fact that it occurred to you that you should do it is a show of maturity. This stuff hurts whether you're 16 or 42 (or 46 like me). How we deal with it is the difference.
posted by Carbolic at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2007

So I'm going to screw up the courage to suggest a break (thanks for the great suggestion of "radio silence") and make it as light and undramatic as I can, while still laying my cards out.

Good for you. I know some people subscribe to the "he doesn't need to know" philosophy or think he doesn't deserve a statement of continued affection from you, but why not? There's no shame in caring for people or in wanting things and if you're up-front about your feelings you won't even wonder if things had been different if you'd been clear.
posted by phearlez at 8:55 AM on March 1, 2007

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