‘My ex-boyfriend of 50 years ago is bombarding me with messages. It’s very wearing…’

Cartoon of spurned lover revisiting ex-girlfriend 50 years on
'He says I was the one and displays extreme jealousy of my other relationships' - R.Fresson/ A Human Agency

Dear A&E,

An ex-boyfriend from 50 years ago found me on Facebook. He was very cut up when I finished with him when I was 18 because we were going to different universities. He now says I was the one and displays extreme jealousy of my other relationships. I have been widowed for ten years and content with my single status but I am very stirred up by his contacting me and feel like a teenager. He is married – his wife knows he has been messaging me all day long for weeks but seems unperturbed.  I am finding the situation very wearing. I can’t sleep properly or concentrate on anything. I treated him badly in the past and don’t want to do the same again by cutting off contact.

–  Perturbed

Dear Perturbed,

This was our immediate reaction: No, no, no, no, no. This, lovely one, is not okay. This is an ambush. Every missive is a trap. You are being entangled, manipulated and cornered. Time for some boundaries before “stirred up” becomes “overwhelmed”. We are genuinely alarmed.

When we say “I feel like a teenager” it is supposed to conjure something meltingly romantic, isn’t it? Something gorgeous, honeyed by the peachiness of extreme youth. But was it really like that? Wasn’t it often deeply stressful? Heart-pounding pressure. Jealousies. Obsessions. “I feel like a teenager” is not necessarily something to aspire to. It is not where we want to end up; infantilised by our inability to process our own feelings.

Your “teenage” feelings may just be a sign that you have been triggered back into the anxiety of that time. You feel guilty because you say that you treated him very badly. Did you? Or did you make a decision that you had every right to make. You didn’t commit a crime. If he needs to hate you for dumping him 50 years ago, then let him. You cannot be held accountable for his inability to process his feelings and manage his hyper-fixations. As humans, we have a hard lesson to learn: we need to find a way to understand that someone not loving us back can feel horrifically painful but it is not a crime on their part.

It is a weakness in all of us that we can feel so flattered to be told that we are “the one”. That we hold the key. That we are the answer. It can glamour us temporarily. But this conclusion (in your longer letter – edited above – you tell us that he insists “it would have worked”) has not been put through your emotional processor; only through his. And he is presenting you something he has decided and framed as “the truth”.

He is married. This is insane. He has managed to make you believe that you are both his perfect partner and some kind of emotional criminal. Neither is true. His feelings are disturbingly inappropriate. How dare he be jealous of your friendships and relationships? What is he trying to achieve with this? Nothing happy. Nothing healthy. If you allow this to progress unchecked – if you collude with him in this idea that you made a cruel mistake and you must now submit to his fantasy – then our strong sense is that his behaviour could become abusive. Potentially, this is a pattern of control and manipulation.

You think you are weary? Why do you think his wife seems unbothered. It seems highly possible that she has either been exhausted into indifference by his nonsense or bullied into submission by something darker.

Please do not let his desire to declare his injured feelings and assert his rancour over what happened 50 years ago explode your precious equilibrium. Because balance is precious. “Content” is precious. Nothing in your email suggests that you are getting one iota of pleasure from this. Adrenaline rushes? Yes. Any kind of joy? No. It is time to set a boundary. It is time to respect yourself to protect yourself.

We would advocate a direct message stating exactly what your desired outcome is, with no cracks for emotional manipulation or deliberate misinterpretation to seep in. Something along the lines of “I do not want to communicate anymore. I wish you well. Please do not contact me again.” It’s a bit bald, yes, but you’re standing in an emotional sniper’s alley by being in touch with this man and anything more lyrical or involved could be taken as an invitation to carry on this unhealthy intrigue.

Detach, Perturbed. Your happy life is your own. It is not there for the taking. You may get a brief withdrawal from the fight-or-flight rush you are currently experiencing. You may feel a little flat, for a time. However, with a little distance and perspective, you will clearly recognize him as a bullet dodged.

From the Midults: My friend set up my (recently) ex-husband with someone new

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