How and if to extend an olive branch... ?
January 11, 2008 9:45 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago, I wrote a nasty letter to someone I loved who'd wronged me. I shouldn't have done it; it was a very mean letter. I apologized profusely, but was asked by this person to never contact her again.

I miss her friendship desperately. Given that it's been two and a half years, would it be unconscionable for me to pen her a short letter asking if we can make peace?

Background: we dated off and on for two years and talked about having a child together. The letter was written at the tail end of that relationship when I was severely depressed due to a multitude of factors (severe debt, unemployment), most of which have been overcome completely (I have a great job and am no longer depressed) or almost completely (still have a bit of debt but am making major headway against it).

I truly want to respect her request to not contact her. However, the whole thing that came between us (her actions and my letter) now seem so trivial compared to never spending time with her again ... I'm torn. It'll hurt me to contact her (not out of pride, but because I feel her wish should be respected), but it's killing me not to.

Note: we have no common friends that can be felt out for advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (75 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Contacting her again is the perfect recipe for getting a restraining order.
posted by Memo at 9:53 PM on January 11, 2008

Memo- I doubt *one* letter after two years would be enough for a judge to be willing to issue a restraining order. Now if the OP sends a letter and after getting another negative response (or no respones) were to continue contact, *then* there might be some justification.
posted by R343L at 10:00 PM on January 11, 2008

Well, if you do send the letter, and she doesn't respond at all, how would you feel about that? I have tortured myself with these kinds of things before, trying to reestablish contact with people that really should have been left in the past, and the unanswered ones are the ones that continue to bug me because it'll always be hanging out there. You have something of a resolution now, even if you don't like it. Perhaps you should just come to terms with it and move on?
posted by cabingirl at 10:01 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I truly want to respect her request to not contact her.

No, you don't. If you did, you wouldn't be posting this.
posted by Jairus at 10:03 PM on January 11, 2008 [11 favorites]

I think it is ok to write her as long as you accept that if she doesn't respond, that's it. Put in the letter that if she doesn't respond, you'll respect that and she'll never hear from you again. First you have to make sure though that you really have the self control to let it go if she doesn't respond. That is a very real possibility, even if she has forgiven you, she may not want to go back to that place in her life, she may be in a relationship or she may suspect that your motives aren't just platonic. Also, even if she does respond you could be very disappointed. She may be alright with having some level of contact, but has no intention of picking up where she left off with you and after a couple short emails that'll be that. I would prepare yourself for the strong possibility that you will be severely disappointed no matter what happens.
posted by whoaali at 10:04 PM on January 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

do it because you think it will make you feel better. don't do it because you want/expect a response.
posted by violetk at 10:04 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

She has no desire whatsoever to hear from you again. Just put her behind you and move on.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 10:06 PM on January 11, 2008

quickie update from the OP
"In no way was the mean letter violent or threatening -- nor was any part of our relationship. Before this goes off on too much of a tangent, I thought it necessary to state that I don't think there's any fear of stalking or anything like that on her part. Though my letter was mean, it wasn't unjustified; it was just stupid, but her wronging of me was definitely its equal."
posted by jessamyn at 10:08 PM on January 11, 2008

Sometimes this kind of communication can be beautifully healing. I don't think your impulse should be ruled out at all.

However, two years isn't that long a time. It's great that you overcame your depression and the anger and bitterness have faded for you. But it's still not that long a time. If you have important things to say to her, think about them, and be patient. Live with them. In six months' or a year's time, if you feel it's truly a generous impulse to apologize and free her from some of the pain this may have caused, go ahead and do it.

Meanwhile it may be best to concentrate on your own life and all the positive developments it it.
posted by Miko at 10:11 PM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

The friendship's over. Even if you do start talking again, this issue will hang over your head and cause issues for you, for her or for both of you. Also, if you write her it will probably drive you crazy if you don't hear back (it's already killing you?). Honestly, it sounds like you're not over her. Don't open up old wounds with such a low probability of success.

Let her contact you. If she wants you back in her life, she will.
posted by null terminated at 10:12 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sometimes if you break something badly, it's never worth what it takes to fix. Find a new friend.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:13 PM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Contacting her may be therapeutic for you but it might bring back all kinds of unpleasant memories for her. And be honest with yourself - is it her friendship you miss desperately, or are you hoping for more? Recognize your own self-interest here if you do decide to proceed. With that said, there is much to gain and not much potential for damage if you proceed gingerly. Write a very brief note saying you wish to put past disagreements behind you and be friends again, and say that you will wait to hear back from her, and understand that if she chooses not to reply then it really truly is over forever and you will have to move on. You can even phrase it like "if I don't hear back from you within a week I'll know that you don't wish to be in touch". This way she doesn't have to reply if she doesn't want to, and you aren't left hanging: after one week, it's a clear "no".
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:23 PM on January 11, 2008

Forgive me for reading this wrong [because there's no other way to be when speculating about anyone else's relationships], but this is how it sounds to me:

She wronged you, you got angry, wrote a mean letter calling her out, she got angry and broke off contact.

Each of those steps is likely distorted in one person's favour or the other, but I don't think it matters. I think that there is a step missing in that equation, and that is the step where she apologizes for what she did/said/screwed/set on fire/etc.

You miss her now. I understand that. She probably misses you, too.

But she needs to contact you [or not] on her own schedule. She knows what she did [whatever it is] hurt you. She's probably not happy about how things ended, either, but she still holds all the cards here.

If she never contacts you again, that's her prerogative. She doesn't *owe* you a reconciliation. It doesn't matter how much you miss each other's friendship if you come back to this without working it out first. And the only way to work it out is for her to initiate contact when she is ready.

Please feel free to ignore this as I am just as full of shit as the next guy.
If you still feel the need to write a letter... one is all you get. make it nonchalant.
posted by Acari at 10:29 PM on January 11, 2008

If it really means that much to you, write a simple "thinking of you" letter with some tidbits about your improved life. I'd be leery of apologizing again, if you were thinking of that - it's probably best to let bygones be bygones, if you want meaningful communication. Just say that you miss her and that you would like to know that she's doing alright. The downside is that, if she doesn't respond, you'll feel like a twit. And even if you feel like a twit after she ignores you, you must never write to her again.

That said, it's probably best to move on. I've lost friends in my life - some good, some bad, some I miss very much, others I don't miss at all, and all degrees between - but I find it more productive to improve my own life and make new friends. The nice thing about making new friends is that you get to approach them with the wisdom you receive every time you lose an old one. The sad thing about renewing old friendships is that they've often moved on themselves. It's a happy kind of sadness - I want all the people who've helped me to be as happy as possible - but it can also make you feel small.

Even when it comes to the friendships I've lost through the actions of the other party (in whole or in part), it's sad to think that they're out there, making their own friends happy, living some sort of fun life without me. That this person has pictures of me somewhere, but we don't talk anymore. Even if we started hanging out again right now, and even if we forgave one another and the other person had grown, it couldn't be the same. I've learned all too well that life leaves a lot of stuff behind. That means saying goodbye. The people who can't say goodbye are many times well-intentioned, but they're often wrong, and the times I've tried to hang too much onto the past have too often been mistakes. When it comes to those friends who've wronged me, and how I'd react to such a letter, even knowing how sad I can be that we're not together anymore - well, it honestly depends. Every situation is different. It depends on what exactly you were doing and where she was at the time. It sounds like your friendship met a definitive end. Most people don't request a complete stop of communication unless they mean it. Even if she forgives you, she may very well still think that you're a bad pony, and that she should not bet on you.

Worse, you two used to date - plenty of people like to have their exes out of their life, especially those who have wronged them, if only because it makes life less complicated. It doesn't mean you're a bad person, but why should she need to have you in her life, if you hurt her so much? If you used to date and once thought about having children, why are you referring to her as simply a "friend?" Is that how she would describe you to her friends? I'm not trying to be snide. It's an honest question, and it might even be an important one.

Why do you want to be in her life again? It's practically impossible that you'll have the relationship you used to have. Do you want to prove something to her? Do you want closure? I'd recommend approaching it from that angle. There's a special person out there who was mad at you because of something you did, but now she has her own life and she has all these happy memories of you, even if she also has bad ones as well. Maybe she'll appreciate a note letting her know that you appreciate her and wish her well, without expecting anything in return. If I were her, that's the sort of communication that I'd want. Something more intense than that would creep me out.

So yeah. If I were you, I'd probably write that letter, but I'd keep it short, pleasant, positive, and a little distant. Do not expect a response. Do not seek this person's friendship again - whatever that means. And don't seek anything more, capice?
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:40 PM on January 11, 2008 [10 favorites]

Your follow-up makes it sound like you're still deeply aware of whatever you feel she did to you that was horrible. I think that's a bad place to seek rapprochement from. It leads to horrible letters that start with "I just really miss you and want to put the past behind us" and then lead to numbered lists of how she done you wrong and end up with a magnanimous offer to forgive all.

If you have forgiven her in your heart and are prepared to take responsibility for being a jerk, sure, send her a single simple letter expressing your hope for eventual friendly relations and be sure that it doesn't imply that she owes you a response because she was the original doer of wrongs.

But then you have to divorce yourself from it. You can't write to her again. Not even if you secretly feel that she does owe it to you, because you were the victim.

So. I dunno. How Zen do you feel about this? Maybe this is something you should give a few months' thought to before proceeding.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:40 PM on January 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Leave her alone. She made it clear that she wanted to move on with her life. Allow her to.

I have a similarish case where someone I do not want in my life anymore attempted to contact me twice last year. First of all, it put me on edge, since I'd made it clear I didn't want him to contact me at least a year before then, and the second attempt just reinforced that on edge feeling. I wonder if he'll ever pop up again sometimes.

So just don't.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:44 PM on January 11, 2008

This kind of reminds me of what the AA crowd says about making amends to people. It is not recommended that a person pursue amends, or a reconciliation, or whatever you want to call it, if they are likely to cause harm by doing so.

It might relieve your conscience or feel therapeutic to reach out to her, but I would ask myself about what the consequences might be for her before pursuing this course of action. If she truly desires never to hear from you again, you could increase the damage that's already been caused by failing to respect that wish. Hearing from you might open a subject she doesn't wish to pursue further. It could affect current relationships.

Your comment via Jessamyn on how the letter was justified gives me pause. I would say that if you can make amends and reach out to her without having it be about her and what "she did to you" or "what justified" your past actions, have a field day. But if you can't move past that in your own mind, your apology will never be without subtext or possible harm.

Sorry if this is somewhat jumbled; I'm trying to respect what is obviously a painful and huge issue and keep acting as my own devil's advocate. :)
posted by mynameisluka at 10:48 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You lost her. You're not going to be close to her again. Accept that. And only contact her if you have, knowing that the contact can be only an apology, an explanation and an expression of regret and remorse, a letting go, a wish for the best for her future. Expecting anything else is not only unrealistic but selfish and unfair. If you want to reckon with the pain you caused her, do so. But this isn't and shouldn't be about getting something from her. If you write her, do so assuming that whatever letter you write is the last chapter of the story.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:53 PM on January 11, 2008

How's this for a thought: Write a letter to her. In the letter, express everything you'd like to express to her, in as much detail and with as much reckless honesty as you can manage.

Then, and this is the kind of important part, don't send it. Put it away somewhere, and don't let yourself look at it for a good month or two. (I know, I know...just hear me out!) When you've let a good bit of time pass, see if you still have the urge to get in touch with her. Read over the letter, and see if you're better able to analyze your own motives through what you've written down. Then, no matter what you decide to do after this point, destroy that letter. That one was never meant to be read by anyone but you.

Sometimes just writing out your thoughts can be cathartic, and sometimes looking back over your own written thoughts with the benefit of some temporal and emotional distance can answer the questions that led you to writing in the first place.

What would be unconscionable would be to repeat the action that caused so much grief the first time round - sending her a letter written in a moment of emotional crisis or confusion, which might be where you are right now.
posted by Hellgirl at 10:55 PM on January 11, 2008 [10 favorites]

do not contact her. if you need to write a letter, do so - but then don't mail it. or burn it.

but leave her alone. she has asked you this.

respect this.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:55 PM on January 11, 2008

I'm sure that the original, nasty letter was justified. But it certainly didn't accomplish anything, now did it? She asked you not to contact her. So don't. That sucks, and I know you want to tell her just one more thing, and whether that's an apology or expletive-filled screed doesn't matter. Like it or not, if she wants to hear from you, she'll let you know.

Write the letter, if you want. But it's not your place to send it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:56 PM on January 11, 2008

Thinking more about it: I've willfully ended a few friendships in my life because the other person either became or revealed themselves to be some sort of jerk. Typically, this action also came from an overreaction to said jerkiness, and this action is also typically followed by a realization of how jerky I had been in return to this person. It's a learning experience, and I've never been perfect in these situations. But, it's also an experience that is, to me, ultimately about my life, and it's not meant to be a total condemnation of that other person. I know they'll get by without me. Most people do!

I surround myself with people who make me feel good and who help me, and I try to do the same for them. Sometimes things get fucked up, and sometimes it's worth patching things together, but it's a sad fact that I can't spend my time tending to broken people who hurt me. I'm a little broken myself, sometimes.

Your friend might feel the same way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:58 PM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you have no mutual friends, then I presume that you don't know what she's up to these days, is she married, does she have a child, etc. Suppose she is married or in a serious relationship? How would her SO react to her receiving a peace-making letter from a man she'd originally considered having a baby with? Leave the situation alone, and learn from your mistakes. If you feel compelled to vent your anger in a letter, wait 24 hours before sending it.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:58 PM on January 11, 2008

What do you have to lose really? You say what you want to say. She may or may not read it. If it gives you some kind of closure whether she responds or not, go ahead. If you are already at zero with her, there's not a lot at stake.
posted by greta simone at 11:32 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would prefer that at least one of my exes not contact me BECAUSE we talked about marriage for awhile. I've moved on, don't know if she has, but regardless if she has or not, I wouldn't want to see her again because of that baggage. Who knows? Maybe that will change some day. But this has been five years and it's rare that she even crosses my mind these days.

My point is that our relationship didn't end like yours did. Yes it was painful, but we hugged goodbye, etc. People are different, but if yours only ended two years ago and ended badly, I would recommend writing the letter, putting it in a drawer, and think about sending it twelve months from now. Maybe a Christmas card next year?

Sorry - I'm sure this isn't what you want to hear and I know this must be difficult for you.
posted by Pants! at 11:47 PM on January 11, 2008

Do you have any kind of web presence, anonymous? If you do, perhaps you can make your apology and plea for contact in the web publicly, and your friend, should she choose to seek you out, will likely see your effort via search. Of course, your anonymity here won't do it, so you'd have to speak up as yourself, if your self is recognizable.
posted by cgc373 at 11:49 PM on January 11, 2008

I've been in your situation. I was the girl, and also the one who wrote the "Dear John, Please Fuck Off" letter. Problem is that, I've never gone through with the letter-writing process.

I say do it anyway. When the letter lands in her hands, she will either read it or toss it away. If she reconciles with you, good. If she doesn't, then the current situation remains the same anyway - thought at the risk of some drama.

Even if you don't write the letter, that's fine. I haven't written, either. I comfort myself with a somewhat ridiculous thought: if there are parallel universes out there, one to accommodate every decision split ... somewhere out there, we are still together.
posted by Xere at 12:12 AM on January 12, 2008


"I was wrong to write you that letter. I've addressed the things that got me to write it. I'm still sorry.

I will not contact you on my own initiative again. Sincerely, _______"

Minimum wait between writing and mailing: 21 days.

Notes: "I miss you" is absent from the above text. It's less likely to cause awkwardness that way, but it's there between the lines if she wants to read it. "I've cut ties to all the lies that I'd been living in, but if you did not want to see me again I would understand" is also absent from the above text (as indeed are all lightly adapted Third Eye Blind lyrics), and is also between the lines. Argument and persuasion are absent from the above text, and so is concealment. This is a feature, not a bug.

Final mandate: If she wants to renew contact, she will. If she doesn't, for any reason, you are still responsible to make that last sentence true.
posted by eritain at 12:35 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I side with those who say the pros probably outweigh the cons. If you do manage to reconcile (while not necessarily to the point of having a romantic relationship again), she'll feel better too, and can look back at the last couple of years in a better light. It sounds like you'd be putting most of the blame on yourself, and hope to explain that you've changed since then.

From her perspective, it's easy for anyone to get angry and try to break things off for good, and convince yourself you'd never speak to someone again. And perhaps she didn't want to seem weak by trying to put out an olive branch, so despite any regrets, she remains stubborn and sticks to her guns, and lets the relationship die off for good.

Maybe over time she felt those regrets, and became too embarrassed or ashamed to make the first move, and maybe she'd hoped all along that you would. On the other hand, if she is too stubborn to accept a sincere apology from you, maybe you weren't meant to be friends (or anything more) after all.

But two and a half years isn't all that long. It's never too late to apologize in an effort to heal old wounds.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:42 AM on January 12, 2008

I'm part of the "write the letter and don't send it" crowd.

If I were you, though, I'd write several letters. Write one, tear it up. Write letter #2, tear it up. Write #3. Save it for a month. Read it, then tear it up.

I have used this method with great success. It gave me peace of mind and a clearer emotional picture. Good luck.
posted by eleyna at 1:28 AM on January 12, 2008

I vote with the "move on" crowd. It is over and the sooner you accept that, the better for you. And believe me, I write as someone who has "done that, been there, got the tee shirt". Still, your mileage may vary and if it does, good on you. But, my gut instinct tells me otherwise. And I suspect yours does too - otherwise you wouldn't have asked the question here :-)
posted by vac2003 at 2:00 AM on January 12, 2008

Do not be selfish. You have made your decision, and now you must live by the consequences. Do not even try and justify getting in touch with this person.

Please leave them alone.
posted by oxford blue at 2:42 AM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

As long as you don't get your hopes up, there's no reason not to send it. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Some advice:

1. Keep it short and sweet.
2. Don't grovel.

Having said that, I think it's unlikely she'll respond positively, so it's probably best to keep that mindset during this whole process.

And to the people calling the OP a stalker, etc.: seriously, chill out.
posted by mpls2 at 3:21 AM on January 12, 2008

Just wanted to reiterate what cabingirl said right at the start and add to it a bit:

Well, if you do send the letter, and she doesn't respond at all, how would you feel about that?

As far as I can tell from your original question and followup, there's no question here about your respect for this person. The classic "you made your bed now lie in it!" strain of RelationshipFilter responses, according to which nobody is ever allowed to regret their actions, is even more inappropriate here than usual. BUT. If all you hear back is silence, or alternatively get a brief and unequivocally negative reply, how do you really think you'll react? If you truly, truly believe you'll be OK with that, it's not for random internet people to judge otherwise, so do it.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:41 AM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

"I truly want to respect her request to not contact her."

Then don't. She's asked you not to contact her, either because you hurt her terribly or frightened her beyond words, and now several years later she's probably managed to forget all about you and what happened and perhaps gained some sort of semblance of sanity in her life. If you contact her again, you may fuck all of that up again, and force her to go through that whole process all over again.

The only reason you can give for contacting her is that not to do so is painful to you. That's terribly selfish and not a good reason at all.

You want to respect her request not to contact her. For all the reasons given above, you should not.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:54 AM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Your desire to get in touch is perfectly understandable, but it's motivated by your own needs, not hers. If you want to do something genuinely loving for her, figure out what's going on in your own head and leave her alone.
posted by teleskiving at 4:04 AM on January 12, 2008

My advice is perched precariously (and unhelpfully) between: "Write the letter, expect nothing" and "Write the letter, expect Bad Things to happen."
posted by Jofus at 4:32 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Write the letter and send it, but only if you can really handle her not responding to it. In the letter mention that contact is totally up to her and then you will respect whatever decision she makes.

Also, this should not be opening salvo in trying to restart a relationship. You should mention that in the letter too.

Ultimately, life is short and if there is someone's someone you want or miss, you should let'em know, so good luck and I hope you two are able to have a friendship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:01 AM on January 12, 2008

I don't know about your situation, but I was involved in a similar one. I have a very close friend (A) who received a very mean letter from another friend (B). A never forgave B for that letter. Not to this day. B felt terrible for sending it for years. A could not forget what was said in the letter - even years after the letter was long destroyed. A knows B is sorry. A feels strongly that anyone that could ever say those things to her, even with the best of intentions or the worst of judgement, should not be a part of her life anymore. Occasionally B has tried to contact A and apologize. A always refuses to respond. She doesn't even read the correspondence. She just throws it out.

Others have said this and I think it is key to your decision. Know that if you do try to contact her she may never respond. Try to recognize how you'll feel about that.

I also really like teleskiving's comment.

Friendships have an organic nature sometimes that is difficult to force. Is she or you have moved away from that it's hard to make it happen even when both parties are game for it. Sorry about your loss.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:23 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Man, people here are dire.

Years ago, I lost contact with one of my best friends. We'll call him Joe. Joe and I had grown up together, knowing each other since we were about 4 or 5 years old. Around the time we were both 21-22, we got very crossways with each other. We were both young, stupid and squirrely, said a lot of mean things to each other (both to each other and to other people), basically dicked each other over in a few smallish ways, and brought things to the point of having a total falling out.

We didn't speak for about 6 years.

After a while, this gnawed at me terribly. I heard through the grapevine that Joe had gotten married and had a kid. I had reasonably settled down, myself. I decided to send him an email and extend the proverbial olive branch. I didn't expect a response.

What I got was a letter full of apology, both for everything that happened when we were 20, and for being the weaker one and not sending the email first. He said he had been wanting to make peace for years. We initially met over coffee, patched things up, and get along famously now.

Now in our early 30's, we keep in touch regularly. He has a wonderful family - a charming wife and two of the most awesome kids I have ever met. When I finally got married last spring, Joe got ordained online and performed the ceremony for us. His 4 year old daughter walked my mother down the aisle to her seat.

If I hadn't sent that email, I likely would have lost a lifelong friend forever.

So I say write that letter. Don't expect a response, as has been suggested above...just send it out into the ether and let it go. And only do it once. Let the letter be *your* closure, and if you get a good response, so much the better.
posted by kaseijin at 6:01 AM on January 12, 2008 [10 favorites]

It seems strange that you are trying to resolve this situation with the same tactic that got you into it in the first place, i.e., letter writing. In my short life, I have learned to never, NEVER, send a letter from anger, neediness, depression, or any emotion besides reciprocated infatuation, gratitude, or love for your grandma.

Given your experience, you should have learned this lesson by now. In your heart you know you shouldn't send the letter, that's why you are hesitating. Write or don't write it, but don't send the letter.
posted by milarepa at 6:05 AM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

dont get back in touch - notice your life got better not being around them ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:20 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are many people who, when it comes to past relationships, prefer to keep them in the past. Your ex-girlfriend seems to be one of them. You should try becoming one of them as well.

Move on. Write the letter if you must, but don't send it.
posted by emd3737 at 6:37 AM on January 12, 2008

it's very easy to idealize the past, and recapturing a perfect relationship seems so much easier and more appealing than seeking out a new one. so my first warning would be that no matter what you decide to do about the letter, be ready to accept that she may not want to ever see you again, and even if she does, you may not be able to recapture the relationship.

assuming that up till now you have not tried to be in touch with her, i think she will at least open your letter and read it. things get said in the heat of battle that we reconsider later under calmer circumstances. as long as you don't propose getting back together again or anything, i don't think it would be creepy. reaching out and apologizing for past bad behavior is, i think, always noble and the right thing to do. i really do. you could do that and stop there. focus on "this is how i felt, this is how i changed, and i am so sorry i hurt you. i'm not asking for forgiveness, i just want you to understand. i hope you are having a wonderful life."

consider not just how you will feel if she never responds, but how you might feel if she writes back saying, "thanks for your note. i'm sorry that chapter in our lives continues to trouble you, and i hope you find a way to make peace with it. my life has been pretty good--i got married last fall and we are expecting our first baby in july."

good luck.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:43 AM on January 12, 2008

You don't "truly want to respect her request to not contact her" -- you want to contact her, and you're looking to us for justification.

There are some success stories reported in this thread but beware: if you did write and get back in contact (and I agree that in your case it must be a VERY SHORT, SIMPLE, UNROMANTIC APOLOGY that clearly states you don't expect a response), you would likely be seriously disappointed again.

From personal experience: in 1999 I was asked never to contact a dear friend again. This was an ultimatum from his wife because his wife thought I was trying to steal him away from her. (Which I was not... yes there were some issues there.) He was very sad and embarrassed about this but chose her over me and told me never to contact him again.

I respected this although it really hurt and depressed me. We had no common friends so we couldn't hear about each other through the grapevine. The only thing he knew is that I was moving to New York to work in lower Manhattan. Then in September 2001 something happened which we might remember would cause a person in his position to worry about a person in my position. After a lot of thought, I took a chance and sent him a very simple email, basically: "I'm safe and so are all of my friends here. I hope you're fine and I want you to know this is a one-time email and I don't expect a response."

He immediately wrote me a long, detailed email saying how relieved he was, how his wife had relented but he didn't know if I would want to hear from him (!!??), and we started about three months of long emails catching up on our lives and adventures. They were platonic only and, just as before, I understood that his wife was probably snooping and reading everything we were writing. I was so happy.

Then in December he dropped the bomb: she'd just told him she never relented, if she did it was her perogative to change her mind, and I was never to contact him again and that was FINAL.

My point here is that however you've changed your circumstances, you and she are fundamentally the same people with the same issues and many of the same people around you. There is probably not a fairytale ending here, but more to the point, she made a much more direct and personal request to you than my friend made to me and the right thing to do would be to respect it.
posted by lorimer at 7:04 AM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

You mention how hard it is for you to not have her friendship, and I think that is the salient point here. This isn't about you anymore. If she wants to reestablish contact with you, she should already know how to find you. Let it go. Your desire for contact is only to make you feel better, and that's not enough to justify this. Take it as a life lesson, move on, and don't make this kind of mistake again.
posted by qwip at 7:10 AM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Let her contact you. If she wants you back in her life, she will.

Seconded. Don't do it.
posted by languagehat at 7:10 AM on January 12, 2008

I would do it. But it would be short and it would just be to acknowledge where I had been wrong and not either a discourse on the 'whole state of affairs' that transpired nor an analysis of her actions and motives.

Something like: "Hi. I'm just contacting to say that I'm really sorry for the way I acted way back when. I know you didn't want to hear from me but I thought that you should know that I very much regret what I did. You're welcome to respond if you want, but I'm not counting on it. I won't write again I promise. I hope life treats you well."
posted by peacay at 7:24 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Now that I'm thinking about these topics, I'll also say: The people responding with strong words like stalker are likely reacting to the very strong expression of emotions in your question such as "desperately" and "killing me." You appear to still have strong feelings for her and about her, and it's not realistic to imagine she would be comfortable sensing that kind of strong feeling or "desperation" from you. I think some people responding here are sensing the denial and the conflicting statements within your question and thinking she would sense them too and be made uncomfortable by them. None of us can know anything about your relationship, really, so we're reacting based on the way you're presenting it.
posted by lorimer at 7:28 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If your original letter was particularly nasty, and it sounds like it was, then even seeing your hand writing on the envelope might cause her spirits to sink with a sense of dread. She may or may not even open the envelope, but just knowing it was from you will probably cause a negative reaction.

Sometimes people aim low, say things that cruelly abuse a trust or shoot an arrow through a self disclosed weak spot at a persons most vulnerable moment. It may feel totally justified for you, but it isn't fighting fair to mention and use information you have from an intimate connection to crush someone. Once you go there, there is no coming back. Some things a "sorry" just doesn't fix. It's an abuse to them. I think you need to accept the fact that you probably caused a very deep pain and she isn't willing to revisit it again. Maybe you did have some good times, have a serious relationship, but she is under no obligation to remember the "good times". She'll remember the damage and any relatively mentally healthy person isn't going to subject themselves to that same pain twice if they can help it. You will have to give yourself closure on this because seeking it from her isn't the right thing to do.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:48 AM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

We don't have full information here, but you do. From what you've told us, I think it is clear that she really never, ever, wanted to hear from you again, and that hearing from you would be upsetting to her. As noted by others, if she changed her mind she could have contacted you. So chances are rather strong that she has not changed her mind. Given that, do you think she will welcome your letter? The answer is no. A letter from you is liable to hurt her, to give her sleepless nights and worries, no matter how nicely you phrase it.

But, go ahead and write the letter. Then, DO NOT SEND IT. Put it away, look at it once in a while, and think, using your intimate knowledge of your erstwhile friend, how she might react to your overture. I think you'll decide, after a while, to destroy it and move on.
posted by beagle at 7:59 AM on January 12, 2008

I didn't bother to read the 50+ other responses, but from personal experience, I wouldn't see the harm in writing a non-threatening, short letter.
Back in college, I royally pissed off my best friend because I was dumbass extraordinaire. A year or so after the falling out, I contacted her with a short, "Look, I know I royally fucked up and am sorry. I don't blame you for not wanting to talk to me ever again, but I just want to try this over again," letter. Whatever you do, do not bring up her actions or blame anything whatsoever on her. That will result in an immediate write-off on her part.

Anyways, she responded back and we tried out a few "trial chillings." FWIW, she didn't have to tell me, but the damage done by me had screwed up things enough where we stopped hanging out again. Things just weren't the same and was pretty awkward. The stupidity and hurt that occurred was still strong enough and I doubt it'll ever go away to the point where we can be friends again.

I say you to be prepared for things not working out well.
posted by jmd82 at 8:03 AM on January 12, 2008

Oh, and I should add that writing that letter and attempting to rekindle our friendship was, though maybe it's selfish, deeply therapeutic. I'd always wondered what could have been and relived that whole scenario out my head thousands of times. I'm guessing you know what I mean. After I contacted her again, it's like a weight was lifted off my mind and while it's something I still regret, it doesn't fill my head up anymore.
posted by jmd82 at 8:06 AM on January 12, 2008

I truly want to respect her request to not contact her.

Then do not contact her.

It's that simple, really.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:19 AM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I disagree. Do it. The worst thing that could happen is that you end up in the same place you are now, except you will *know* there is no chance.

The best thing? It could be a new beginning for you. Please understand, this is much, much less likely. But you will still, I think, feel better for having taken some action, no matter what the outcome.
posted by misha at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2008

No, you fucked up and it's her business to open up contact again.
posted by beerbajay at 9:41 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Two years of not contacting you is a very solid sign that she doesn't want any contact with you.

Walk away.
posted by tkolar at 10:04 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to come down on either side of contacting her or not. I think there's arguments on both sides, and that you've not provided anywhere near enough information about what the original problems were about and how things went down for us to even begin to help you decide that.

I'm going to offer you a piece of advice for writing her, in the event that you do decide to write her, which I am, by no means advocating. If you must send the long, heartfelt letter explaining how you've changed and how much you miss her and blah, blah, blah (which I am also not advocating), please do her the favour of putting that letter in an envelope, then writing on that envelope a very brief note that says 'This letter is from Your Name Here. If you still don't want to hear from me, please don't open it. I will never contact you again.' Then put that in another envelope, address it with a very clear return address, including your full name, and send it to her.

I suggest this because it gives her a second chance to avoid reading your letter. She might accidentally open a letter without looking at the return address, and once she's got it open in her hand, it'll be hard for her not to read it. By putting two layers of wrapping on it, you avoid the possibility that she's in any way taken by surprise by the contents of the letter.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:01 AM on January 12, 2008

Oh no; don't write to her. Let it go.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 11:20 AM on January 12, 2008

I'd just write the letter. Send it off, tell her she never has to contact you again, but that you wanted her to know that you were truly sorry for what happened. The letter has to be about the apology, not about you seeing her again. Whether the rest of that happens or not is beyond your control. Your apology has to be real and not about you.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:24 AM on January 12, 2008

I'd take stock of my life and address what was making me feel the need to rekindle this friendship. More often than not, looking backward to our mistakes is a mechanism to prevent us from dealing with our current situation. If you have a history of self-sabotage (and it will take a lot of long hard thinking to determine if this is the case) attempting to get in touch with this person might just be another way you are hoping to be able to sabotage yourself.

I'm in the camp that says you have a lot of thinking on your own left to do before bringing this other person back into your life, even just through a letter. Take some time. Do a lot of thinking. Write letters to yourself and to the other person. And if, after a prolonged period of introspection, you still think that contacting this person (and violating their wishes) is the only way to find peace, then write the letter in the spirit of humility, and in the act of sending it, let the entire affair be lifted off your shoulders. I tend to doubt that this is the absolute only way you can find peace. There are a multitude of ways we can rectify our past mistakes, including not missing our current life by living in the past.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:31 PM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

You don't even want to just write her a letter, you want to "spend time with her again".

She didn't say "contact me when you have a job and less debt" she said "don't contact me."

AND, you're still mad about whatever it is that she did to you.

So, uh, NO. Don't contact her.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2008

If you do, perhaps you can make your apology and plea for contact in the web publicly, and your friend, should she choose to seek you out, will likely see your effort via search.
Don't do this. The only thing worse than being contacted by someone you don't want to contact you is having the WHOLE INTERNET know that someone you don't want to contact wants to contact you.
posted by winna at 1:45 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If she wasn't the type to hold a grudge she'd have contacted you by now. If she is you are not going to make your life better in any way by contacting her.

Leave it and go on with your life.
posted by konolia at 2:06 PM on January 12, 2008

I truly want to respect her request to not contact her.

Then don't. That's what "truly" means.
posted by nanojath at 2:17 PM on January 12, 2008

The worst thing that could happen is that you end up in the same place you are now, except you will *know* there is no chance.

I don't really see the logic in that. Say he sends the letter and her response is just as negative as her response to the original letter. She says, "look, I told you before, I don't want you to contact me anymore. Please respect that." Now he *knows* for sure? Then what happens two years from now? Just as much time has passed, just as much has changed in each of their lives. Does he have to write her again to make sure that when she said "don't contact me again," she really meant "wait two years, then contact me to see if I want to be contacted again"?

What's missing from kaseijin's admittedly uplifting and relateable story is a specific request from the friend never to contact him again. When someone wants to be left alone, sure, that doesn't necessarily preclude an eventual reconciliation. But it is up to the requester to take back the request. There's no reason why she couldn't, if she wanted to, right?

It may seem he has nothing to lose by sending the letter, but he does. They both do. It could be like hitting the reset button on the pain that they've both spent the past two years healing. I say that if you've come to a point where you can remember your friendship fondly, just cherish that. And use the lessons you've learned in your new friendships as you move forward. You'll both be happier if you respect her decision and respect the fact that it is, in fact, her call.
posted by lampoil at 2:53 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was on the other side of that letter! (Not you and me, hehhe)
Wow did that feel like crap.

I never held a grudge. I moved on very easily after that letter. It is easy to not ever want to know someone, even if they meant the world to you for some time, after a letter like that.
I have found the love of my life and am the happiest person I've ever been. I don't think I would care if I heard from this person. But, if I did get a letter I would respond cordially.
posted by octomato at 8:37 PM on January 12, 2008

I'm kind of surprised how many people are so against you sending the letter (assuming you will actually only send one letter and that you are being entirely truthful, which I feel you are).

People do stupid things all the times. They say things they shouldn't, they take things too far, they make huge grand statements that they don't really mean. Often it is simply peoples' pride who stops them from making the call or writing the letter they want to. You were close friends with this woman, you were involved with her, you seriously considered having a child with her, I'm going to take a wild guess that she is going to be in the top 5 or 10 closest friends you will have in your entire life. Friendships/relationships that close are intense and volatile. People fuck up. They especially fuck up when that relationship is on the rocks or they are having emotional issues. Send the letter, expect to be disappointed and if she doesn't respond or responds negatively you must let it go. But you should send the letter.

You only meet so many people in your life like this. You will only have so many friendships that close. I'm guessing she is not replaceable or replicatable. I've had friendships that self destructed and then years later we came back together and without exception I am extremely glad we did. You do have something to lose (and it will hurt like hell if she rejects you) but you have way, way more to gain if it works out.
posted by whoaali at 11:18 PM on January 12, 2008

Been their done it. Write the letter with no expectations. Two and a half years is a long time and your apology now might mean more than it did then. If you get no response let it go, secure in the knowledge you've made the effort to make your amends. Then move on.
posted by brautigan at 4:22 AM on January 13, 2008

Years ago, I lost contact with one of my best friends...

It's a nice story, but it isn't really relevant. Losing contact is different from angrily breaking up, and being friends is different from being lovers and almost having a kid together. Exes often don't maintain relationships after they break up. It can be an emotionally complicated thing, unless it was a really amiable split, and/or both parties are amazingly good at healing over. Getting back in touch with a friend doesn't involve having to fit in old memories where you played an entirely different role - you can play the same role you always did. Becoming friends with an ex-lover means you have to hang out without touching each other (too much), have polite conversation without silly jokey teasing and nicknames, be comfortable going to their house as a guest and watching them be familiar and intimate with whoever their current lover is... If everyone is able to move on & especially if everyone can find someone new, it can work - people do it. But a lot of people find it hard, and especially after only a couple years, it is asking a lot. If she specifically asked that you never contact her, then she's clearly not the type to put that high on her list of priorities.

I would concentrate on your own life and on basically not feeling so desperately in need of contacting her. As is always the case with these things, you'll be ready to be in touch with her once you don't really care anymore... when you're truly happy with the way things are going for you. Your post sounds sort of wound up, & as if you're pinning a bit too much hope on your image of this person. I'd recommend trying to let it go, and maybe in some number of years you'll run into each other at the grocery and have a pleasant conversation, and say something about how you should have a coffee sometime, but then never actually get back in touch.

Re: the two envelopes thing above, that is like a trick letter - she'll be stressed enough by the first envelope, trying to decide whether to open it or not, but finally will, because it's arrived and curiosity gets the better of her, and then she's faced with the second one being like "haha, so will you take real responsibility for opening this? it's not like I didn't warn you!" - I think if you were to send something you just leave it short & don't try to make it her "fault" for opening it. You're the one who sent it. You could make sure it's clear on the outside of the envelope I guess, but sometimes throwing away something received is not easy even if you don't really want to receive it, unfortunately. Depends on the person & the relationship, but a lot of people will be stressed just by the envelope even if they don't read it. It's the thought of that part of their life, "what might have been" and "what went wrong" and all that.
posted by mdn at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2008

My suggestion wasn't meant as a trick. I, and many other people I know, open hand addressed mail by default, without really looking at what it is. If he decides to send this letter, I don't want her to have already opened it and started reading it before she realizes what it is. A note on the outside of the envelope that would attract attention would seem like it would also work, but it might raise awkward questions for whoever she might be in a relationship with now, or just generally make their business known to every postal worker between them.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:58 AM on January 13, 2008

I don't think it's a bad idea.
A written apology used to be the standard way to say "yes, I really fucked up and I respect you enough to humbly admit it." I think it's a nice thing to do.
Just don't expect too much out of it, and write it with HER feelings in mind, not yours.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:40 AM on January 13, 2008

fair enough jacquilynne - I guess I just felt like it was trying to relieve oneself of the guilt of breaking the promise not to contact by imagining that it wasn't really contacting unless she opened it, and if she was warned then she'd accepted, when it seems to me a)it's contact as soon as she sees your handwriting / is reminded of you and b)even if she opens it, that doesn't mean she fully wanted to receive it - she could be tempted by curiosity when ultimately it will be more pain than it's worth.

But if a lot of people do open their mail without looking at a clearly printed return address with the full name etc, then perhaps it's worth putting a post-it on the front & throwing the whole thing in a manila envelope. Writing some sort of nice "I don't want to hurt you but I wrote you this letter" type of note on the outside of the other letter seems like serious overdoing, though, as that is already a letter of its own, and basically enough for inside the envelope.

Whatever you send, if you send something, may raise "awkward questions" with whoever she's with no matter what, of course, and postal workers care far less than you might wish.
posted by mdn at 11:49 AM on January 13, 2008

I think it's nice that you want to apologize and make ammends. I think expecting anything to come of it has a good chance in resulting in disappointment. For your own peace of mind, send her a simple note, like what mpls2 suggested. Make it very clear that no action is expected on her part, though it would be welcome. Hang on to it for a week before you send it.
posted by MiffyCLB at 1:21 PM on January 13, 2008

I couldn't help thinking about the guy that wrote the book, he's really not that into you. I just blew up a long friendship over the holidays..Called a friend out over something she did...comforting to know others know put their foot [ah, pen] in their mouth also.

I realized after my blowout that my friend was pretty much sealing the end of the relationship with what she did...Probably unconsciously meant to...But there it is.

After two and a half years you can reasonably conclude that the other party doesn't miss your relationship that much. Let it go. Wish them peace and love and all good things and humbly learn from your mistake..
posted by AuntieRuth at 10:28 AM on January 17, 2008

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