Should I contact my ex-boyfriend?
July 30, 2007 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Recently I’ve been struggling with the notion of wanting the ex to know that, despite hurting me, our break up led to many positive changes in my life. I want him to know that I’m not bitter about how things ended between us, and I’m not mad at him. I’m actually grateful to him and I understand now that people who do hurtful things are usually in pain themselves.

A year and half ago, he unexpectedly ended our 14 month relationship with no explanation other than “we’re too comfortable” and “I don’t have deep feelings for you, this is never going to be anything more for me”. He refused to discuss things and gave the lame excuse that any contact we had would “re-set the clock and delay the healing process”. So, with tail tucked, off I went to a therapist and spent 6 months figuring out why I kept choosing the same types of men, my role in all of my failed relationships, what I truly wanted out of life and relationships, and most importantly, I learned to forgive my ex for his hurtful behavior. We've had to no contact whatsoever since the break up.

About a year ago, I met a great guy that turned out to be the most caring, compassionate, generous and loving person I’ve ever met. Fast forward to the present…we are happy, in love, engaged and plan to marry next spring. I really feel that none of this would have happened without the catalyst of experiencing that breakup. Even though I was devastated at the time, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

My previous breakups have always been mutual and I’ve stayed semi-friendly with other exes, so this is new territory. Given that I was not the one to initiate the breakup, is it appropriate for me to contact him and tell him these things? I’m not interested in learning his reasons for ending things, and I don’t want to maintain a friendship or contact of any sorts with him, but I would like him to know that what he did was actually a blessing and helped me tremendously.

Should I try to make contact, or write these things in a letter that never gets sent, or just let this go altogether?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is about you, so you should keep it to yourself. After all, he didn't do anything- you did all the good stuff. You went to therapy, you did the hard work, you have maintained a healthy relationship with your new boyfriend. I can't imagine there is anything your ex could gain from your contacting him and telling him about all the good stuff going on in your life. Writing a letter you never send sounds like a great alternative. And buy yourself a present, while you're at it! You deserve it!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:59 PM on July 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

Let it go. It's self-indulgent -- what purpose does telling him that things ended up being for the best serve other than to make sure he knows that you're wanted by someone else?

gave the lame excuse that any contact we had would “re-set the clock and delay the healing process”.

That's not a lame excuse.
posted by amro at 1:00 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I vote for letter that never gets sent. Leave the past in the past because I see no real reason you should introduce him into your life again.

Besides, I think as time passes people usually know that a breakup was a blessing. I also don't see why you need to forgive him when his behavior wasn't malicious - honesty and a clean break is the least hurtful way to leave a relationship, in my opinion.

If I were you, instead of going out of my way to get the last word in with an ex, I would put extra effort into letting my current love know how much I appreciate him. Channel that energy to someone who deserves it.
posted by infinityjinx at 1:01 PM on July 30, 2007

If I were you, I'd be grateful for how well things turned out, and don't worry about how things turned out for him. He's not your responsibility. Take care of you; and if you feel compelled to spend any time whatsoever on your ex's feelings, why not redirect those urges to your new guy instead?
posted by davejay at 1:02 PM on July 30, 2007

clearly he knows things turned out for the best (for him, anyway), that's why he dumped you and never talked to you again!

it sounds like you had such a horrendous time getting over this that your (wonderful, congrats!) success since then needs more validation than simply living and loving your life

one of the great bi products of relationships that fail is that they slowly teach us enough about ourselves and others that we're finally made capable of meeting that special someone

but, leave it in the past - you've done well, and he probably doesn't care....but i bet your friends, family and fiance care plenty, so spend the happy times with them and move on
posted by Salvatorparadise at 1:08 PM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I would not contact him.

First, though you say twice that he acted in a "hurtful" way, your description of the break-up makes is sound like he was not unusually cruel or inappropriate. It just sounds like he realized after 14 months - not a terribly long time - that you two were not right for one another.

Second, if I had an ex-girlfriend that called me and essentially said "you really hurt me when you broke up with me, but in hindsight it was one of the best things that ever happened to me," I would be a little bit confused and put off. I would be thinking "is she meaning to rub it in? to thank me for breaking up with her? what does that mean?"

Third, you say that you do not want anything from him - "I’m not interested in learning his reasons for ending things, and I don’t want to maintain a friendship or contact of any sorts with him" - so what's the point other than to make yourself feel better?

Fourth, if I was your fiance I might not like that you were struggling with an issue about contacting your ex. I know you are doing so well because of your fiance, but the subject of lingering feelings (of any kind) with respect to exes is touchy.

The question is framed like you want to help your ex understand that you are okay, but that assumes that (a) he thinks you are not, and (b) that upsets him. Given the information in your question, it seems like those are two big assumptions. If the contact really would be for his sake, be sure it would be welcome and appreciated. If it is for your sake, be happy with your current situation and let the ex go.
posted by Duluth?! I Hardly Know Her! at 1:10 PM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I completely second ThePinkSuperhero - that's exactly what I was going to say. You did all the hard work and YOU deserve the payout (which you've gotten!).
I know how you feel, as I like to imagine myself telling my exes that they suck, or to thank them, or whatever - but really, what good would it do? None, besides making them feel cool that I was even thinking about the relationship or them. Just arm yourself with the good feelings YOU worked for and YOU earned and remind yourself that everything happens for a reason - the reason you had a bad breakup was so you could learn from it and appreciate the terrific relationship you have now.
And go buy yourself a present, indeed!!!!
Congratulations on the wedding!!
posted by slyboots421 at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2007

If you contact him to tell him all this, isn't that a little like an alcoholic wanting to drink a toast to the fact that his drinking days are over?

This guy has already demonstrated in very clear terms that he doesn't care about your happiness -- so why do you think he would want to know (or even deserves to know) that you're happy now?

I recommend putting "I Will Survive" on a loop, real loud, until this urge to contact him passes. Write a letter that never gets sent, talk to yourself about it, talk to your fiance about it -- but you have nothing to gain and a great deal to lose to go back and say "one last thing."

Not only can you provide yourself with your own closure on this, but you're the only one who can.

Congrats on your new life -- breaking an unhealthy pattern and moving on takes a lot of guts and a lot of effort.

If you've got a great guy now, don't waste another second of your time with the jerky guy. The jerky guys always get way too much of our attention.
posted by purplegenie at 1:20 PM on July 30, 2007

It's already basically unanimous, but I'm still going to chime in and agree.

You want to tell him these things for different reasons than you're really letting on (maybe even to yourself...)

There's no benefit to telling him these things.. let it go... write the letter if it makes you feel better, but don't send it.
posted by twiggy at 1:22 PM on July 30, 2007

Forget him. Treat yourself to the spa and a giant piece of chocolate cake for all the growth you did.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:22 PM on July 30, 2007

if you want him to know stuff about you, you're not over him
posted by matteo at 1:23 PM on July 30, 2007 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with TPS, and everyone else.

If there were any evidence that he had a hard time with the breakup, or had tried to contact you in any way since, then it would be different. (I had a long, drawn-out, painful, life-cracking-up breakup last year, of which I was the instigator, and nothing would make me happier than to hear that my ex-girlfriend was blissfully engaged. I'd rather that than start a great new relationship for myself). But that doesn't seem to be the case here.

You've done great things. Contacting him seems to me to carry a risk of actually, or being perceived to, desperation or vindictiveness. Your life as it is is wonderful, and you are feeling great. Just as if you had turned things around after a car crash there would be no need to call the person to let them know, there's no need here, that I see, to contact him.

What's the upside? For you, or for him?
posted by ibmcginty at 1:24 PM on July 30, 2007

Why do you want him to know? I mean, it's great you made roses bloom from the pile of sh*t you got handed, but why do you want him to know that?

If you want to rub his nose in it, "look at me, life is perfect!", etc, then I'd have to say don't send it. Perpetuating those feelings isn't going to do anyone any good, you, him, or your current beau.

If you really are grateful, and want him to know out of good feelings, then send the letter, and then forget about it. Don't use it to initiate contact again, just send it and have done with it. And don't forget that the ex is likely to read the letter and a] jump to the wrong conclusions, and b] think WTF?
posted by Solomon at 1:42 PM on July 30, 2007

I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say go ahead and write the letter! Write five letters if you feel like it! Then put them away.

Reread them in a week or two.

Spend some time thinking about the purpose of this communication. What do you wish to achieve? Is this the best way to achieve it? Do the letter(s) make that goal clear? Could they be easily misinterpreted?

If you still think there is a point in sending, reread the letters and edit them to remove any and every thing that sounds like gloating, is mean, or not necessary to share. Wait another week.

Send if necessary. But not after rereading.

What you may find is that there is really nothing left to say, and that you may be happier with yourself at every round of omissions.

I think all of this letter business really depends on your communication style. Being consistent with your self (your new self!) is the most important thing. Don't send anything that you aren't sure you won't regret, or be less than proud of yourself for. And don't fool yourself into thinking you're doing this for anything less than your own benefit.

What it sounds like is happening is that you're so grateful and proud of where you're at that you want to send him a "gift". Make sure your letter really IS a gift. And that he's worthy of receiving your gift. Also keep in mind that he may perceive this as him still having some power over you.

If, after all of these considerations, you don't give a shit, send the letter. And then refocus on sending all your well-wishings, thank-yous, and kind thoughts to the people in your new life, who will be grateful to receive the love NOW.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:42 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

This guy has already shown that he doesn't speak your language when it comes to love and feelings and whatnot, so whatever you say to him is not going to be returned in any way you can appreciate. You can say you don't care, but I don't think that's honest. That's like spending the last six months painting a picture of your soul, getting ready to show it, and saying you don't care whether or not you get any response. I call BS.
posted by desjardins at 1:51 PM on July 30, 2007

My ex sent me his version of this letter. and TPS, amro and everyone else are so very right. There is no reason to send this letter to your ex and because you've had no contact at all since the break-up, it's guaranteed that it will not be welcomed. Even if it is not received negatively, it's unlikely to be received positively. While (possibly) intended as a gift and even with every effort focussed on making it seem a gift, it's just an intrusion, even if it's one with no significant impact.

Let it go. If you really want to solidify all your positive changes, let it go without trying to make sure he knows it.

My reaction to this letter was one big "eh". It didn't tell me anything I wanted or needed to know and having moved very far on, I reacted to it with as much emotional response it as I did to an advertising circular. It also made my boyfriend angry by what he saw as ex's attempt to insinuate his Big Important Self back into my life.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:00 PM on July 30, 2007

I once had an ex-girlfriend, after we had broken up, send me a letter saying how, even though it was best that we had broken up, she had really nice memories of me, and both the relationship and the breakup had made her grow as a person, and so on. It was a really nice letter to get, and I now wish I had kept it. But we had parted relatively amicably, and had kept in touch in a friendly way, so this wasn't coming out of the blue. And there was absolutely no "nyah nyah I'm happier without you, asshole" undertone to it -- it was just a nice letter written to a friend. It was kind of a model of how to write that sort of letter -- she talked about specific things that had meant a lot to her, or that had become important looking back, but without being weird or needy or all me-me-me. However, had I been dating someone else when that letter arrived, and had the new girl seen the letter, it could have been really awkward -- there was a level of emotional intimacy there that could have felt very threatening.

I wouldn't write or send the letter you are describing -- it sounds like it would have a whole set of subtexts that neither he, you, nor your new guy need to really delve into. Depending on how long you guys were together, and if you have overlapping social circles, and so on, it might be the polite thing to do to inform him at some point that you are getting married because that is the kind of news that can sometimes come as a real kick in the nuts. You don't have to invite him to the wedding, but making sure he got the news in a caring way, from you or via a mutual friend, may be the a considerate approach. And that news will tell him that you are happy, moving forward in life, and so on -- without all the baggage of your proposed letter.

And what I would really suggest is that you take the time it would have taken to write this letter to your ex, and instead write a letter to your current guy detailing all the ways he is cool, and how much you love him, and how happy you are to be with him and to spend your life with him. He is where you need to be focusing your emotional energy, and he is the one who needs to be receiving love letters from you.
posted by Forktine at 2:20 PM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

It might just make you feel bad again when you tell him and he doesn't care.

Let it go :)
posted by PinkButterfly at 2:22 PM on July 30, 2007

He's probably going to read the letter, say to himself "This chick is still totally hung up on me"

And he might be right. Why, anon, are you so focused on this ex when you have a good relationship at hand?

You should not contact this guy. You should go ahead and write the cathartic letter but burn it immediately. Hopefully that will help you give yourself permission to walk away from those memories.

I would not normally suggest something like "burn it immediately," but I do here because it is almost certainly the case that no good can come of your fiance stumbling on your catharsis letter. While the act of writing can help you, the longer it exists, the more potential it has to cause misunderstandings.
posted by caitlinb at 2:28 PM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

For a good example of why trying to do things like this come out badly, give a listen to Jim Croce's "Operator".
posted by CRM114 at 2:32 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "let it go." Something I've come to understand in the last year is that you do not owe anything to former lovers. If you stay friends with people, that's fine, but don't contact ex's out of pity, or out of gratitude, unless you really want a two-way conversation and human interaction. My guess is you don't want that, you just want him to know where you are now and nod and smile and think to himself "I'm so happy she's in a good place now. It gives me peace of mind to know this and my thoughts are with her."

But that won't happen, because he's human and resuming contact all of a sudden will stir up illogical human emotions and muddy the waters. Write the letter, put it in your desk, and take it out to read it everytime you're tempted to send it. Then put it away again.
posted by Happydaz at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2007

Why, anon, are you so focused on this ex when you have a good relationship at hand? - caitlinb

Bingo! CaitlinB nails it. Why are you still even thinking about him? Why on earth would you want to contact him? The biggest mistakes some of my girlfriends have made have involved contacting their exes after what seemed like some significant healing had been accomplished.

Don't trick yourself into thinking you are doing this for closure. Most likely you are doing this for some sort of reaction or response. And you're not going to get one that satisfies you. He doesn't care about you anymore & he never will.

Unless you have a child with your ex, or you are able to somehow be truly platonic friends, there is no reason to talk to them or write to them ever again. Don't break your own heart all over again by letting him hurt your feelings by not caring or worse getting angry.

Write the letter, and then burn it outside. As the smoke swirls away, let your attachment to this dude go with it. Let that be your closure.

No statement and no false sense of closure is worth your dignity or independence from ex-obsession.
posted by tastybrains at 2:37 PM on July 30, 2007

Living well is the best revenge. It's also the best cure for a crappy relationship. Keep living well and leave the crappy relationship out of your life.
posted by The World Famous at 2:46 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

In wanting to talk to him about how good you feel, you are really talking to yourself. So go ahead. Talk to yourself. Be proud. Feel good. Enjoy the glow of knowing things really did work out for the best.

At first I was inclined to say "eh, go ahead, tell him," because I was once on the receiving end of a somewhat similar conversation, but now I agree with those who say it wouldn't be appropriate in your situation. In my case, I was the dumpee, and it was the breaker-upper telling me how sorry he was that he wasn't ready to be more serious about me at the time we were dating, and that he felt bad about how he handled the dumping. My response was that life since then had taught me it was a really good thing it hadn't worked out, anyway, and that I bore no ill will.

I must say this was a surprisingly healing conversation, since I was still carrying some hurt feelings which I had just put away, and having some perspective from him helped resolve them. However, many things were different there. We had parted amicably, had remained friends, and had friends in common, and neither of us were in committed relationships when this was discussed, so there was no intrusion into a present partnership. It wasn't as though he was contacting me out of the blue to say this; I think that would most definitely feel weird, and something like a play for attention. Also, I had already put the relationship to rest and gave it little thought in my day-to-day life; so this was an unexpected topic and a short little visit to the road not taken, not something I had been yearning to hear for ages.

So say it to yourself: you're happy, you're doing well, you've done a lot of work, and your relationships have worked out for the best. Each relationship, except the last one, is practice for the next. That old experience prepared you in some ways to be a great partner for your fiance, and that's the value it had for you. If the old guy wanted to stay in touch with you, he would've, and he'd have gotten in touch before now to see how you were.

In the book Eat, Pray, Love, the author talks about how difficult it is to carry around unresolved feelings for her ex-husband. She knew their marriage was totally over, and knew it was the best thing, and yet she was still longing to have some sort of conversational closure with him, where they could each kindly share thoughts and perspective about what the relationship had meant and honor what they had before moving on. This was a real burden to her until, while at a school for meditation, she realized that she could talk to him. She could say everything to him she needed to; just not to his physical presence. She managed this sort of closure in a spiritual way, by trusting that all souls understand one another eventually. That may or may not have any meaning for you, but it resonated with me on reading it so I thought I'd share it. It is hard not to share a moment feeling all right about how the story ended. But life will present us with hundreds of unanswered questions; we need to be able to lay old things to rest peacefully, without needing help from anyone else to do it.

Congratulations, by the way. Well done.
posted by Miko at 2:49 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm going to echo the nope, don't let him know. I mean it's one thing if you'd mentioned wanting to reach out and be friends with him again or something (and even that is a bit hairy), but you started off with the idea of just getting in touch to let him know how well you're doing? Even if it is for his benefit, there's so many ways for it to go wrong. What if he's doing horribly? Then to him there's a chance it'll sound like you're rubbing your good fortune in his face. What if he gets indignant about that and it just starts some sort of argument or disagreement between you two? Then it just puts you in a bad mood for no reason. And what if his lame reasons really were that? Just lame reasons? And he doesn't really give two bits? Maybe he really didn't want to ever hear from you again. Even without the possibility of him being a total jerk about it, why should you assume he's in some dire need emotional or whatnot and needs to be healed by hearing your Saul on the Way to Damascus-esque gospel about your breakup? Maybe he's doing just fine too. Or what if he answers, "Yea, I know, I'm SO glad to hear about that. Breaking up with you was one of the best things to happen to me too, because my life just hit an up after that!" How would you feel?

You're content with where you are, that should be all that's necessary. Really what else could he contribute to your happiness now that would enchance it? What do you expect from him and why? I guarantee you any benefit he can contribute is negligible at most. So you feel better about yourself if he feels better? So what? You're already feeling better about it. It's not like we live in a parallel universe where imparting good news sows monetary rewards or something like that.

Maybe you should evaluate why you're thinking he needs to hear this or what you're expecting as answer, then just take something from that.
posted by kkokkodalk at 3:03 PM on July 30, 2007

Write the letter and don't send it, IMO. What does your therapist say about how you're feeling?

When I read your question and weighed the possibility of your contacting him, the first thing that popped into my mind was "why is this person self-sabotaging?" Don't do it. Demonstrate your gratitude and self-awareness to your soon to be spouse and yourself. You've learned everything you're going to, from your ex.
posted by luminous phenomena at 3:08 PM on July 30, 2007

I was going to type, "This is about you, so keep it to yourself." But then I saw that this was the first sentence in the first reply, so I'm just going to state my complete agreement.

Your growth and your needs are your responsibility. You no longer have any meaningful connection with your ex. If you feel like you need to do something to get closure for yourself, do it. Otherwise just let it go.

What you don't need to do is absolve him of his cruelty to you by pointing out that the consequences to you were actually positive. I guarantee you that he is not still sitting around guilty, wondering if his cruelty harmed you. He was, and is now still, thinking about himself and his own growth and his own needs, just like you (and me and everyone else.) Leave him to it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:21 PM on July 30, 2007

I’m actually grateful to him and I understand now that people who do hurtful things are usually in pain themselves.

you really don't seem to be over it. He didn't do anything hurtful, by any of the description you provided. He was just honest about how he felt and made a clean break so as not to drag things out. There is no evidence that he acted hurtful because he's actually in pain himself. That condescending pop-psychology analysis is a childish way to close the story there neatly without facing the annoying fact that sometimes life just doesn't work out exactly how everyone wants. He wasn't as into it as you were, and left you. You were heartbroken. It ended up okay, because you met a great guy shortly afterward, and now you're engaged. But you still have an inkling to tell your first love that it ended up okay... Seems almost like you want to save face. But as others have said, it wouldn't actually look good at all.

If you wanted to have contact with him again as a friend, that'd be one thing, but it doesn't really look like you want that, or that you'd really be ready for that anyway. Letting him know that you're getting married somehow might be reasonable, but if you only dated for a year, it's probably not even that big a deal. But specifically telling him you're better off without him and something about how you hope his pain heals is definitely a Bad Idea.
posted by mdn at 5:44 PM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Another vote for no, don't say anything, if only for the simple fact that what you see as an "up" right now, you might later look back on and see as a "down."

I'm sure you didn't think the breakup was so great at the time it was happening, but now you're able to look back and see the reasons it was good. At the same time, I'm sure you thought the first guy who dumped you was amazing when you first started dating him.

Just let it go and focus on maintaining your current happiness with your current guy.
posted by Squee at 7:21 PM on July 30, 2007

if you want him to know stuff about you, you're not over him

Why, anon, are you so focused on this ex when you have a good relationship at hand?

Why are you still even thinking about him?

Bruised ego, hello? She wants him to know her life turned out great & that someone else thinks she's awesome, after what she perceives as a brutal dumping. Everyone feels like that about an ex at some point, and it doesn't mean that you're not over the person, just a bit not over the event.

Another vote for don't do it though, it could be embarrassing & taken the wrong way - look how so many here assume you're still in love with him.
posted by zarah at 8:15 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I’m actually grateful to him

Gratitude is only deserved if somebody does something specifically in your interests, not when you happen to benefit in some way from their self-interested behaviour.

We've had to no contact whatsoever since the break up.

Curious typo - did you edit the "next" out of that sentence?
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:29 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, to nth the not getting in touch, this is probably about you wanting to reconnect on some level with him, even if just to know you two are "ok" with each other. Esp. if you usually maintain friendly relations with exes this particular one could be bothering you in that you don't have contact with him any more. Which I think is what the OPs are picking up on in saying 'you're not over him'. You may be over being in love with him or wanting something romantically, but there is probably some unfinished business between you as far as you're concerned. Which may lead you to wonder if he somehow fears that you are angry with him because of what you did, because if he's not, you two should be friendlier, right? And if you let him know that him breaking up with you actually was a gift, and things will be better? Well, here's the bummer - he probably doesn't care at ALL (Salvatorparadise has it). And to keep knocking on that door that is clearly closed isn't going to get you where you want to be. Just let it go. It's good for YOU that you're doing well. And it could be infinitely satisfying to casually flash your new diamond in his face should you ever bump into him. But to assume that he will give a sh*t about whether or not your happy in your new life assumes way too much and leaves you too vulnerable to being blown off yet again. Living well is the best revenge, indeed.
posted by smallstatic at 12:23 PM on July 31, 2007

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