Q. Wondering what I can do about my clingy ex. She’s a friend of some friends and we dated exclusively for about four months. She decided to go to grad school and I supported her decision, even though that meant she would be moving a thousand miles away. We stayed in touch via text and social media daily. We met up two or three times after she moved, and neither could deny there was still an attraction between us. After six or so months and a particularly gloomy winter storm, I asked her if I could come visit. She told me that I could but that she recently started dating someone else. I was upset at first, but after a day chalked it up to awkward timing. I knew it would be unreasonable of me to think she’d be single forever. She tried consoling me by sending me cute pictures and emoji-filled texts, but it backfired. I told her that I knew she meant well, but by sending me cute selfies she was making it hard for me to transition to just friends. I told her that I needed some space for a little while to adjust, and she told me she understood.
After maybe a week of silence, she e-mailed me asking if I was “done making her sad” and if she could visit me and our mutual friends on her spring break. That really pissed me off. I felt she turned herself into a victim, and by doing so made me the bad guy. She ended up breaking up with her boyfriend a few months later and started sending me a never-ending flood of texts and emails. Her texts would alternate between the cute, trying to win me back variety and the overly dramatic, I’m ruining her life, name-calling variety.
This continued for over a year and most of the time I didn’t bother replying. Whenever I did reply, I’d explain myself as clearly as I could, and purposely wouldn’t resort to petty insults. Our mutual friends agreed that the relationship turned toxic and they saw the stress she was putting on me. They tried helping and explaining to her that she should move on but she ignored them. Somewhere along the line, I blocked her on social media in hopes she’d leave me alone. No matter what I’ve done or said, she’s under the impression that we’ll be friends again someday. I normally don’t even think about her but she emailed me last week, now MORE THAN THREE YEARS after we broke up. Her email said we should be friends and that I should unblock her from social media because “so much time has passed.” Calmly explaining myself didn’t work. The silent treatment didn’t work. Mutual friend mediators didn’t work. I’ve made it clear that I don’t hate her, I’ve moved on (by at one point saying “I don’t hate you, I’m moving on” for instance). I’m at a loss here. Will she ever stop or am I going to hear from her for the rest of my life?
A. This letter inspired me to call the good people of the local domestic violence organization Casa Myrna, because they’re experts about issues like harassment and stalking, and I wondered what they might tell a person whose ex just won’t go away.
Their answer wasn’t very simple. There are harassment laws and paperwork you can fill out to deal with someone who won’t leave you alone, but you have to consider the specifics of the situation. I asked Casa Myrna, “What if you don’t believe you’re in physical danger but the ex’s constant communication is super annoying? Is it better to simply block an ex and hope they just go away?” Again, it was complicated. Casa Myrna said that sometimes it helps to call an organization like theirs and talk about specifics — because every case is different.
I have a friend who recently went on a date with someone she met online, and after she rejected him, he kept texting not-so-nice things. She’s asking similar questions. Should she block him? Would blocking him mean that she might miss a threatening text? Should she respond by asking him not to respond? Would that provoke more texts? It’s hard to know.
My advice columnist opinion is that as long as you’ve been clear about your intentions and boundaries, you should continue to ignore her communication and follow your own rules. You should also keep those mutual friends — and other people in your life — in the loop. If she emails, they should know. If they get the sense that you’re becoming more anxious about her correspondence, they should tell you. Sometimes our friends and family have a better sense of the scope of a problem than we do.
I also recommend calling a place like Casa Myrna. I know you might be thinking, “Oh, I’m not in danger,” but if these emails are interrupting your life or stressing you out whenever you check your messages, it would help to get some guidance from someone who can explain all of your options.
Ignore, filter, ignore. She’s a thousand miles away. Tell your friends that you’ve blocked and filtered her. Word will get back to her and she’ll move on eventually.
This is where sexism is unavoidable. If this were a man harassing a woman, she would have slapped him with a restraining order a long time ago. But, as a man being harassed, you think you should just put up with it, asking for a restraining order makes you seem weak.
I was you about 5 years ago. My ex would not let it be. His peabrain could not understand the fact that I could not be friends after our breakup . . . no malice, just needed to move on.There was likely no physical threat, but it still was superupsetting and interrupted the moving-on process. The advice given to me — and that I would give to you — is if/when she contacts you again, say one final time: “Do not contact me again. If you do, I will take legal action.” Then drop off the face of the earth and block every outpost available.
PENSEUSEColumn and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Send letters to email@example.com.