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Advice for the Modern Man: The Aftermath of Abandonment

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(Questions have been modified for space and clarity.)

First let me say that I am a female, but my question concerns my ex-boyfriend’s actions. I broke up with him after two years. It was a tumultuous relationship because he was always talking about his ex-wife of 30 years and his ex-girlfriend of 10 years. I was hearing the same stories four and five times over. I could not stay in a relationship where I felt he wasn’t present. He was living in the past and had issues putting it to rest.  

We tried being friends but that didn’t work, so we each went our separate ways. He immediately hooked up with someone, because he can’t be alone, as his past behavior dictates. I chose to not date for a while and process what happened between us, but he kept contacting me either through email or texts. After a few months of this, I told him that since he was now in a relationship, I didn’t feel comfortable being in contact. I didn’t want to be in a position of possibly disrupting any present relationship he was in.  

But, it continued. He would send me jokes through email or text messages about nonsense, things he really didn’t need to contact me about. Then happy birthday and happy holiday messages.  I told him since he didn’t honor my request to stop, I would have to block him from my phone, text and emails. Which I did. Then he contacted me through Facebook saying he got a friend request from me.

Do you think he’s still looking to reconnect with me even though he has a girlfriend? Also, do you agree with me that I did the right thing in blocking him since I couldn’t depend on him not contacting me? I know if I had a boyfriend who was doing this with his ex, I would not be happy about it. I doubt his girlfriend knows that he was contacting me.
–Adviseme; Holbrook, NY

First, a thank-you to Adviseme of Holbrook, NY, the first female to submit a question to this column.

While this is called “Advice for the Modern Man,” that doesn’t mean women can’t participate. Quite the opposite.

One of the most important things men can do is learn how to better understand women. And hearing what you’re struggling with, what’s bothering you, what’s working for you and what’s not, will only accelerate that process.

So let this be a call to all female readers: Let us hear from you. What’s going on in your world?

Now, on to your actual questions…

No, I do not think your ex is trying to reconnect with you. I think he’s doing something far more self-serving.

As you pointed out, he has a clear pattern of being unable to let go of the past. You experienced this firsthand when you were a couple. He talked about his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, which kept him from being present with you.

You also pointed out that he can’t be alone. He went from a 30-year marriage to back-to-back extended relationships to immediately hooking up with someone new — without taking a breath. That’s quite a run.

I believe those two inabilities — of letting go of the past, of being alone — are what’s driving his behavior.

Because when I read your description of his behavior, I couldn’t help feeling like, to some extent, you were describing mine.

I’m not proud to admit it, but when I was younger (and stupider), there were a couple girls I treated in a similar fashion to how he’s treated you. After ending relationships with them, I kept the lines of communication open for a bit, despite knowing I was done pursuing a future with them.

I didn’t do this out of cruelty (although it was still cruel); I did it because I couldn’t let go. Which was hypocritical (and selfish), considering I was the one who cut them loose. But the thought of them moving on with their lives without me, I just couldn’t handle it. It felt like a rejection — despite the fact I rejected them first.

Doing this was wrong, and it was regretful, and it was the result of my deep-seated struggle with abandonment. It’s something I’ve battled since I was a kid, and something I’m continually trying to conquer.

Obviously, I have limited info on your ex’s history, but if I had to guess, he’s struggling with something similar. Maybe one of his parents left when he was young, or maybe his wife of 30 years was the one who filed for divorce. That level of abandonment, by someone you’re that attached to, can wreak havoc on a person’s psyche.

Now, when someone important leaves (on his accord or their own), he does everything he can to hold on. Emailed jokes. Texts about nonsense. “Happy birthday” and holiday messages.

These are his way of not feeling alone, of filling the void created by your departure. As long as he can still talk to you and hear from you and laugh with you, he doesn’t have to face the reality of your absence. Because in his mind, you’re not completely gone.

There’s a comfort in that for him, and as he’s proved, he’ll do whatever he can to keep you around. Which is why you’ve absolutely done the right thing in shutting down his advances.

You clearly expressed you didn’t want to be in contact, and when he didn’t oblige, you took the necessary steps to block him. And when he found a loophole, you shut that down, too.

That’s really all you can do. While he needs professional help, that is no longer your concern. Neither is his relationship with his current girlfriend.

Your concern needs to be with you. What do you need to be happy? What do you need to move forward?

To this point, you’ve handled everything the right way, every step of the way, so there’s no reason to change now. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

What do you think? What advice would you give this reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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