Q. I want to know whether to send a long overdue apology or leave things as they are.
Growing up, I was close friends with a girl I met through my sister. Things were very flirty between us, but when we both went off to college, I decided to cut her off. She was in a long-term relationship with someone else and I felt like I was being strung along. My friends felt I wasn’t doing enough to draw boundaries with her (she was dating the brother of one of my friends). I was feeling hurt and rejected for so many reasons, so I pushed her away.
She tried very hard over several years to reestablish a connection, but I wasn’t willing to budge. Cut to several years later and I realize how much my actions must have hurt her. At the time, I couldn’t see past my own hurt. I have wanted to send her an apology and have been drafting and redrafting versions for the past three years. It’s really weighing on me. However, I don’t know if reaching out now will just cause her more hurt.
She is in another long-term relationship and I’m afraid my reaching out would damage that. I have been so careful to craft an apology that is heartfelt but platonic — one that doesn’t ask for forgiveness or to reestablish our friendship. That said, there is a selfish part of me that would love to reconnect and misses the attention she gave me. I clearly have a lot of conflicting emotions about this, but I haven’t been able to get past the feeling that I need to apologize.
I realize I cannot predict how she will react or what impact an apology might have on her. I guess my question is: Do you think I should apologize or do you think the risk of causing her further harm is too great?
A. You’re the letter writer here, so I’m thinking about what’s best for you. I’m worried that if you send any letter, her response (or lack thereof) will become too important. I’m not sure you should send a note if it means this much.
You can always wait and see how you feel later. There’s no deadline here.
If you do send a note, make the message short and clear. What do you need to say? Based on your letter, it goes like this:
1. You’ve been feeling bad that you cut her off without much explanation. You’d like to acknowledge how much that might have hurt.
2. You dropped her to protect yourself — because you had romantic feelings for her and needed to draw boundaries so that you weren’t waiting on a relationship that wasn’t going to happen.
3. You hope reaching out doesn’t cause pain; your intent is to provide some closure and understanding.
4. You’re happy for her and have no expectation for friendship now. In fact, you acknowledge that maintaining the boundary makes sense. Also, you wish her the best.
She might have figured some of this stuff out by asking mutual friends and noticing the obvious. The thing to think about, as you consider hitting send, is how you really feel about point No. 4. Is the temptation to seek her attention too great? How will you feel if there’s no response — or a negative one? If she wants to be friends, how will you maintain a boundary? If these questions are too much, wait and think.
Honestly, if you’re writing this many drafts, you might not know how you feel or what you want to share. Take a beat and think about what you need her to know and why.
I doubt it’s a quick note based on the length of this letter. It’s probably quite emotional and lengthy despite your revisions. And face it, you’re silently tracking her from afar if you know her relationship status. All this adds up to a big NO — don’t send this letter. Wrong time, too late, she’s moved on. You need to as well.
Why are you so focused on her hurt? From what you say you were hurt too. It sounds like a flirtation that never went anywhere, for various reasons, as opposed to you really having harmed her. In any event, she’s in a relationship and it doesn’t sound like your motives are completely pure. Leave it alone. Check in with a therapist if you still can’t let this go. Three years is a long time to be drafting a letter.
She’s not the same person you knew from your teenage years.
Your last paragraph makes me say that you definitely should not reach out to her. First of all, you’ve overblown your importance to her in your mind if you think that after several years of no contact, a letter from you might cause a rift in her relationship. If you could get in between her and her love interests, I imagine that would have happened before you cut her off. Second, you admit your motivation is that you want attention from her. This is the sort of thing that should be investigated in therapy, not made to be her problem.
Time to move on. Print the letter and burn it. Then invest some of that time and energy you have been wasting on this yearslong pining on finding a girlfriend who is available. (I’m assuming you are single.)
You don’t want to apologize, you want a second chance. She moved on, you should too.
There is no need to send a letter. What you need to do is forgive yourself.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.