Ex can’t let go after 5 years
August 25, 2007 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a creepy ex to leave me alone?

About 7 years ago I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a very controlling, paranoid, and jealous boyfriend. The good news is I dumped him, had healthy relationships with other people, and got married this year to a great guy. However, out of nowhere the creepy ex decided to email me, asking me to talk about our relationship. I haven’t responded to any of his requests, but he is emailing me almost every day now, and is even offering to pay me money if I respond. He lives several states away, but his emails are really stressing me out.

My question is: how do I make him stop contacting me, while ensuring the safety of my husband and myself? Should I just ignore him, or ask him to stop? I’ve heard restraining orders can trigger violent retaliations, so I don’t want to go that far. I just want him out of my life for good.
posted by Nematoda to Human Relations (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does he have your email address only, with no other way of contacting you? Flag his emails as spam so they get autodeleted and you never even have to see them.
posted by contraption at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2007

Temporary Restraining Order.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:40 PM on August 25, 2007

Have you ever read The Gift of Fear? It says to ignore him -- that responding will just teach him that this is what he needs to do to get a response.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:43 PM on August 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

Why don't you just set up a rule or a filter and have his emails go, unread, into a folder for a week or so (don't read them so as not to become anxious and worrying). Maybe (hopefully, but I know a longshot) he'll get bored, assume perhaps you don't use this address, and just go away. If the email flow doesn't die down, maybe make a complaint with the police (to protect yourself in case activity escalates). I would say retain the emails just in case you need them as evidence of harassment, etc., but don't get caught up in it reading them, and I'm sure you don't need to be told not to even THINK about responding.
posted by bunnycup at 1:44 PM on August 25, 2007

Continue to ignore him. If you respond, you will teach him that he needs to send you 50 (or 100, or 500) emails before getting a response. I'd advise against getting a restraining order for now; that is only another way of engaging him and acknowledging his behavior, which is what he wants you to do.

It's been recommended here before (and I just read it, in fact), but check out The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. There's a whole section about this, and I think you will find it helpful.
posted by kitty teeth at 1:46 PM on August 25, 2007

If you haven't responded at all to his email, he really doesn't even know if you are getting him or that the email address is current. I would continue not to respond and also if you have any mutual friends with this guy still (who are not equally creepy) might not hurt to call them up and see why he is suddenly doing this. Then you know whether you really need to worry about this guy.

Also, restraining orders are not particularly useful most of the time and it is giving him a response, which is what he wants.
posted by whoaali at 2:00 PM on August 25, 2007

This has gone on for years? Get a restraining order and a gun. This may not be a popular answer on MeFi but if you think he is violent at all you had better protect yourself. After you do these two simple things ignore him completely except to have his ass arrested when he violates the restraining order. Getting a big dog is almost as good as a gun if you really don't want the gun. I am not a big advocate of guns, but neither am I afraid of them. This is the right situation if you think he might get violent, and years of harassment, that is not a good sign.
posted by caddis at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2007

This has gone on for years?

No, it started recently.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:27 PM on August 25, 2007

unless this guy actually knows where you live, can't you just get a new email address?
posted by digiFramph at 2:37 PM on August 25, 2007

He emailed me once before, about a year and a half ago to a different email account, and that message was ignored. He didn’t try to email again until a few days ago, but now he is emailing my graduate school email account that is posted online through the school. I think he’s being more persistent this time because of the new email address he found.

I will check out that book though, and I bought some pepper spray too, just to feel a bit better.
posted by Nematoda at 2:40 PM on August 25, 2007

Nematoda, can you mention what state you're in? That might help people give you sane, legal options.

Otherwise, let you husband and everyone else who cares about you know what creepy ex is doing i.e. do not let him make you feel isolated or alone in dealing with him.

Document everything. Visit your local police station and ask for advice and visit a lawyer and ask for advice. Especially talk to a lawyer and get his email address. We'll get to why in a moment.

As to whether to answer him, ask yourself this "Do you want to talk about your relationship with him?" If the answer is no, then plainly and simply write back "Fuck off, creepy X, I don't want to talk to you, I don't have to deal with your shit and I'm not going to. Don't EVER fucking try to contact me again.", referencing all his other emails and ccing the lawyer, and if possible, the police department or even better, a specific cop. The point being is to tell him no and let him no that you've "publicly" told him so and you have witnesses.

Abusers look for soft targets, someone they think they have or can get control over. DO NOT LET HIM THINK THIS. This is not the time to try to take this all on by yourself or to not trouble others because you don't want to be burden.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:48 PM on August 25, 2007

I'm in NC, if that helps.
posted by Nematoda at 2:51 PM on August 25, 2007

"restraining orders are not particularly useful most of the time"


They're incredibly useful, they're just not always the solution. It's also more than a little irresponsible (as a law student and future attorney) to make wild generalizations about the usefulness of legal remedies that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Protective orders are not force fields. They do not physically stop people from being violent, but there are a wide range of circumstances and situations in which they are quite useful and appropriate.

Personally, I think one short, polite email instructing him to stop contacting you would go a long way toward solving the problem. Don't reply to any of the substantive issues, just ask him to leave you a lone.

Sure, it's a "response", but a particularly appropriate one.

It wouldn't hurt to consult a lawyer, here, either.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:57 PM on August 25, 2007

A restraining order gives the police cause to arrest. Otherwise they might not be able to.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:05 PM on August 25, 2007

i would save the emails, just in case he escalates. can you set up a filter so that his mail just goes into a quarantined folder? you don't even have to read the letters--you could enlist a trusted friend to print them out for you and keep them.

a new email address would be a pain, but probably the easiest way to get him off your radar screen. although again, you might want to monitor the emails in case he escalates.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:10 PM on August 25, 2007

oh, and i wouldn't reply, although you might check with a lawyer or the abuse hotline in your area.

you might need a record of saying "stop contacting me" and him ignoring it in order to take legal action, if you choose to. but i wouldn't do it except under legal advice. in fact, if you can get your lawyer to tell him, it might be more effective.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:13 PM on August 25, 2007

Ignore him, but keep the emails.

If it helps, set up an email filter to keep his emails from reaching your inbox. Instead, have them marked 'read' and put into a special "Emails From My Creepy Ex" folder.

Never check said folder.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 3:18 PM on August 25, 2007

What does your grad school say about email abuse? I wonder if there is some remedy through the school. Either way, it seems like something the school needs to know about. The Gift of Fear is a terrific book, and DeBecker emphasizes that the folks around you need to be aware that there is a possible threat to you.
posted by thebrokedown at 3:25 PM on August 25, 2007

can you see if your school will change your email address, and also take the new and old one off the website?
posted by footnote at 3:27 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

OK, I read quickly. This just started up recently. He might just be going through some personal crisis. Tell him firmly yet nicely to leave you alone and never contact you again. If he refuses, let him know you will have a restraining order put in place. If he persists, then get the restraining order. I would skip the gun until he gets more threatening, but really, watch it. Some people get very weird and angry pretty fast.

Also, as to the point about a restraining order sometimes precipitating violence, yes, but not usually in a situation like yours to my knowledge. More typical is someone who has been living with his spouse/gf and been controlling her when out of the blue (at least to him) he is cut off by a court order. That can spark a violent reaction due to it threatening his sense of control, manhood, stability etc. Basically he responds to a threat with violence. Someone who hasn't seen you in years is not living in fear that his world will collapse. It obviously already has. He might get weird thinking he can get you back, but violence at the restraining order itself is less of an issue. That doesn't mean he might not work himself up to anger, it's just that the restraining order itself is less likely to be the precipitating factor.

Hopefully a polite "go away, forever" works for you.
posted by caddis at 3:34 PM on August 25, 2007

If the emails themselves are really creepy, I'd just try to ignore him. If it's just creepy in the sense that he's trying so hard to contact you, I would suggest sending a polite one-liner back to him, and then nothing further:

Hi [ex],

I am now married and do not think that it is appropriate for us to be in contact. I wish you the best in your life.


posted by chundo at 3:37 PM on August 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

What about setting up an autoreply just to his email address that looks like the response you get when a message fails? If he tries to mail you from a different address, add the new address to the filter. And yeah, keep records and be safe.
posted by happyturtle at 3:38 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think chundo hits it right on the head.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:42 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm going to stand by the restraining orders don't do much good thing. They are good for bringing legal action against someone if that is what you want, however they aren't going to protect your physical person, which seems to be your biggest concern. If you'd like to make his life a living hell by dragging him through the judicial system, then go for it, however this guy wants your attention, I don't see him being scared away and going to court could be his way to see you again, I'm guessing it could work more against you than for you. I don't know to what degree this guy is really a crazy stalker or how persistent he will be, but if you get a restraining order, he can go to court and try to contest it, etc. To me the restraining order just presents a concrete way for him to get closer to a face to face confrontation.
posted by whoaali at 3:42 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

I also think chundo's message is perfect.
posted by caddis at 3:53 PM on August 25, 2007

Explain your situation to campus police and IT. IT will most certainly offer you a new email address if you want to go that route. You can make sure that they also keep if off the web pages so he doesn't find it. Another solution would be to get IT to block his email and set it up so he gets a "the email address you tried to reach doesn't exist" response everytime he contacts you.
posted by special-k at 3:53 PM on August 25, 2007

Although I don't discount his past emotional abuse, it doesn't sound like he was ever violent. Given that all he has done at this point is persistently send you messages I don't think it qualifies as stalking and I don't think you could get a restraining order if you tried. I agree that a short message asking him to stop contacting you would be appropriate, but I don't agree with chundo's email, which is too nice. I think something like "I am married now and I do not want to have any contact with you. Do not email again" would be more appropriate. Then I would absolutely filter his email into a folder. If he persists or escalates I would get first campus security then his ISP and the cops involved.
posted by nanojath at 4:09 PM on August 25, 2007

The advantage of a restraining order is often thought to be that if/when Stalker escalates from telephone/email/long distance stalking and shows up on Victim's doorstep, a call to the police will result in immediate arrest and protection for violation of the restraining order. Absent the order, I believe that the police would not take such conclusive action.

"Some creepy guy against whom I have a restraining order has been seen near my house" >> arrest

"Some creepy guy I used to date has been seen near my house" >> pretty much nothing

In that way, the restraining order can be a lifesaver. It's not uncommon, and I can cite to memory cases here in NYC, for a few "creepy guy following me" calls to the cops to yield no action (for absence of restraining order), and tragically culminate in a murder.

Whether a restraining order is the best/right/appropriate/helpful solution here, I'm not making any judgment whatsoever.
posted by bunnycup at 4:11 PM on August 25, 2007

bounce them back at him.
posted by taff at 4:40 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you like an email from your husband might be better. (I'd make a throwaway gmail account for that. )

Does he even KNOW you are married? If he doesn't, perhaps letting him know might take care of the problem.
posted by konolia at 5:07 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you like an email from your husband might be better. (I'd make a throwaway gmail account for that. )

Does he even KNOW you are married? If he doesn't, perhaps letting him know might take care of the problem.
posted by konolia at 5:07 PM on August 25

This is a bad idea. It will cause the creepy ex to think (because they are almost always totally delusional) "she wants to get in touch with me, but her husband must be blocking my emails; I'll drive to their house and get this sorted out."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:43 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Definitely talk to your grad school IT administrators. They are going to be protective of their systems, and most certainly would have an issue with someone using your school email address to harass you, as it will have to pass through their servers to get to you. They can either give you a new email and make sure it doesn't get posted online, or they can block emails from this guy and make is so that he gets a "user not found in the directory" message.

I personally don't think that you should contact him. As a woman who is very active in several gaming communities of 99.99% men, I tend to accumulate random cyber "stalkers" with annoying regularity. I have found over the years that the only thing that works is to ignore them completely. Any contact, even "don't ever contact me again" emails, will be seen as a sign of you "weakening" and will result in increased contact frequency.

I would recommend:
- Make sure your husband and any relevant authorities (your grad school adviser perhaps, as your ex has tracked you down using your school info) knows about this guy. That includes good friends, especially any male friends, who can keep an eye out for you just in case he is crazier than he seems and tracks you down in the real world.

- Print at least a few of the emails and keep them for your files. Don't forget to print the email headers (showing the IP address of the computer he used to send the email). Then put them in a folder and put them away. Good thing to have, nothing to worry too much about.

- Be extra vigilant with your online info and your personal details. If you get him to stop this time, that will ensure that he will not pop up again at some point in the future.

- Remember that it's not your fault that this guy is a creepy weirdo. You don't deserve this kind of harassment (and no matter that it's just a couple of emails, he is harrassing you). If you start to worry about it and let it affect how you live your life, try instead to get just a little bit angry. Don't let him make you the victim. You are a strong, capable, independent person with a perfectly fine life. Don't let some scumbag from your past ruin that for you.
posted by gemmy at 5:46 PM on August 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

It's already been suggested in this thread. Get yourself a copy of The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. Get it tonight - go to the used book store or library.

Truly, it's the handbook for dealing with the creepy.

Stay safe!
posted by 26.2 at 5:59 PM on August 25, 2007

I'd recommend consulting a lawyer. Your local bar association may have cheap legal clinics, or you might try your university. Depending on where you are, you may need to be able to prove that you told Creepy Ex never to contact you again if you want to pursue a legal remedy against harassment -- and I think it's worth keeping that option open.

Keep all the email for your files. (When I had a stalker, I procmailed all his email into a .creepy file so I didn't have to see it pop up in my inbox. Handy.) Document everything. If you have mutual friends, make sure they know you don't want to have anything to do with this guy; he may pump them for information. Same with your parents; he may contact them trying to get information about you.

If he's anything like the wingnut who stalked me, I'd avoid saying even "I wish you the best in your life." Someone who is off-kilter enough to send you all that email (he'll pay you money?! Wow.) may very well be capable of distorting a polite well-wishing into a coded message of love. Sacrifice kindness for clarity; it's the kinder thing in the long run.
posted by sculpin at 6:11 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nthing the recommendations for The Gift of Fear.

Also, if your university has a women's centre, you might want to check it out. It will almost certainly have resources for women in your situation, and may also be able to refer you to other services/resources/legal or police assistance in the community.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:24 PM on August 25, 2007

Geez, I could have written this post. My emotionally abusive, jealous ex from 7 years ago, who lives 8 hours away, recently got my instant messenger name and sent me some harassing messages before I blocked him. He tracks me down and sends off a batch of emails every few years. I don't have anything to add to the excellent advice you have gotten here. I am so sorry you have to deal with this. It sucks to wonder if some psycho from your past is going to show up on your doorstep wanting to "talk." Even just getting emails from some negative person from your past is disruptive and unnerving. My sympathies!
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:10 PM on August 25, 2007

If don't know if you use OS X, but Apple Mail has a "bounce" button that gives mail the appearance of having bounced with the click of a button. Be sure to copy the emails to have a paper trail, though, because when you use the bounce button I believe it deletes the email you're bouncing.
posted by loiseau at 9:18 PM on August 25, 2007

Continue to ignore him. Don't bounce the emails. Just save them into a folder; it's best to automate this so you never have to see them. Use technology to get this jerk completely off your radar.

If he escalates, ignore him up to the point you feel your safety's threatened, then go for the restraining order.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:16 PM on August 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

Nthing The Gift of Fear.

I wouldn't contact him at all (and definitely wouldn't have your husband contact him). He's not emailing you everyday and offering money because he doesn't know you're married. Definitely let other people know what's going on and make sure none of your mutual friends or acquaintances give him any information about you.
posted by curie at 10:25 PM on August 25, 2007

Similar to taff and loiseau's advice, I would bounce the messages.

I've simulated a bounce by sending a message to a nonsense address and then copy/pasting the return message from "Mail Administrator" and sending it to the unwanted sender. Be sure to spoof the 'from' address as 'mail_admin@yourdomain.com' or the like. The message could be any code that you like such as "mailbox_size_exceeded" or perhaps "mailbox_not_found." Bounce all messages received from him and hopefully he'll give up on sending them.

Under no circumstances would I respond to his messages. And a restraining order would initiate an unwanted contact with him via the court system. If you don't feel that he is a threat, I'd advise forgoing the restraining order and set up a filter that will automatically bounce his messages using your spoofed address account.
posted by mezzanayne at 10:36 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do the TRO. It will have very little effect on the ex, but give you ammo to have him put away later if anything happens.

Optionally - If you have friends that are, shall we say, on the shady side (and if not, you should get some, they're very useful at times): Let it be known that the ex is bugging you and making you afraid. Your friends may want to discuss the matter with him and let him know that you don't appreciate his contact attempts.

The guy is jealous and an abuser. Some people like that don't understand anything other than a reply in kind. Might sound like a TV drama thing to do, but sometimes "the system" is a lot more ineffective than some old-fashioned brute force intimidation. Bad guys do it because it works.

[cue MeTa outrage]
posted by ctmf at 10:47 PM on August 25, 2007

One millionthing Gift of Fear. Everyone on MeFi should read it.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:13 AM on August 26, 2007

PLEASE get & read "the Gift of Fear" as soon as possible. I first read it a few years ago when an ex of mine was writing scary emails to me. It is full of good information that will continue to help you in the future.

Don't reply to his emails. Keep them in a separate folder. Printing copies of them out and keeping them in a folder is a good idea.

Warn the people around you about what is going on. Also, you should make sure that your home address is not also posted on your school's site. My uni posts the names and home addresses of all students on their site.

Don't get a restraining order. Getting one would just escalate things. He hasn't said anything threatening in the mails, right? From his point of view, he is just trying to get in touch with an old flame. Suddenly getting a restraining order would feel like a threat to him. It might be a good idea to alert the police about what is going on and see if they have any advice, though.
posted by koakuma at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2007

even offering to pay me money if I respond

He is too far gone for any sort of response; I think that includes the bounce message idea. A freak like that will just get more excited by any contact, including any variation on "Piss off, freak," "Nematoda has given me enthusiastic permission to break your legs if you contact her again. Signed, Mr Nematoda," or "Hey, Freak, friend of mine. Nematoda said you were bothering her; what's up with that?" OR even the "Your e-mail did not reach the recipient..."

Restraining order = junk, for somebody several states away. You'll get weird little anon things from e-card sites and the like, if he pays attention to it.

Just filter it out of your regular inbox. I wouldn't even change my e-mail on the chance that that's noticed and taken as a 'response' (not unlikely with that brand of loon)...

I am nothing but empathetic about the stress it's causing. All I can say is that the good news is that that sort of person does not generally have a life that works out well. Try and focus on your being happily married and his being miserably alone, and those being permanent situations for each of you.
posted by kmennie at 1:20 PM on August 26, 2007

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