Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Several years ago, I abruptly and unilaterally ended an 18-month relationship. I stand firm with my reasons, but my (kind and lovely) ex was understandably upset. We haven’t spoken since. I still feel guilty, but that’s my cross to bear.
Despite a happier relationship since then, I’m pretty sure that The Ex hates my guts. Here’s the problem: In a few months, I expect to see The Ex at a mutual friend’s event. Being in proximity will be unavoidable. I want to send The Ex an email saying that I’m sorry how things ended and that I’d like us to be at least cordial at this event, and that I’m willing to keep my distance if Ex doesn’t want to talk to me.
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Part of me thinks this is sensible and will allow both of us to enjoy this event without apprehension. The other part of me thinks this email will just sound condescending and melodramatic. What is the kindest way to approach this situation?
– Bad Guy Trying to Be the Good Guy
DEAR BAD GUY TRYING TO BE THE GOOD GUY: Are you willing to share your reasons? I suspect they might affect my answer.
In the meantime, my advice is just to go without any pre-call, and be polite when you see Ex.
Re: Bad Guy:
Please, do not say one word. I’ve received “apologies” like this in the past and they all — without exception — have a “sorry I threw you on the pile of other men I’ve destroyed” tone and come off as very condescending, rude and awkward. He got broken up with, he was bitter, but now he has moved on. Be prepared that he’s actually happier than you are.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Last line is suitable for bronzing. Not because it puts one in one’s place, but because it rounds out the realm of what’s possible — and an open mind is what inoculates against condescension. Assumptions, on the other hand, all but guarantee it. Thanks.
My reasons? To make a long story short, I was undergoing a lot of unrelated life-stresses and found my ex was only making me feel worse instead of better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t express that until I had a panic attack and cut all ties. I expect — and really, hope — that Ex is happier than I am.
– Bad Guy again
DEAR BAD GUY AGAIN: That’s an argument for saying something to Ex. Not the pre-event icebreaker you had in mind, though; a, “You never knew why I did what I did, and I wasn’t able to articulate it until recently, but here it is now,” blame-release that you’ve owed him for quite some time (but are contemplating only now when you know you must face him. Hm.).
Include in this letter that “stresses built up, I had a panic attack and fled,” that he deserved better and you wish you’d handled it better, and that you want nothing but happiness for him. Don’t even expect a response — it’s just stuff he deserves to know.
Thank you. That is … reassuring. I actually just teared up a little. I think that might be a therapeutic letter to write, even if he deletes it instead of ever reading it.
– Bad Guy again
DEAR BAD GUY AGAIN: Hope so, for both of you. Thanks for writing back.