Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Should I Apologize for Sleeping with Her and Disappearing?”

I’m a 35-year-old man going through a divorce (10 years married, 15 together). That’s not the issue, but it has caused me to reflect on my relationships with women. One relationship in particular has been troubling me for a while. I was 19, she was 18, we went out a few times and slept together three or four times. After the last time we slept together, I never called her back. When she called, I just avoided her. As I’ve matured, I realized how shitty that was of me. My question is, do I write/email her to apologize? If so, what do I say? I don’t want to be condescending. I would also like to hear what your commenters have to say. Please don’t assume that I’m some arrogant jerk who thinks she couldn’t possibly have gotten over me; I know that she has. I just want to right a wrong. — Reformed Asshole

First, I’m sorry you’re going through a divorce. I can only imagine the emotional turmoil such an event can create in one’s life. I can also imagine there must be room for tremendous self-reflection and growth, both of which will go a long way in helping you find a happy, successful relationship in the future. And the future is exactly where I suggest you keep your focus. Leave this incident that happened 16 years ago when you were still a teenager in the past where it belongs. The woman has surely moved on, as you suggest, and probably doesn’t care to hear from some jerk — sorry, but that’s what you were at the time — from her early years of dating, even if it is in the form of an apology.

The truth is, the apology wouldn’t be for her; it would be for you. And she would know that. Or, if you share the story of your divorce with her, she might imagine that you’re reaching out to her in some hopes of re-kindling what you let die out all those years ago, which — hello — awkward. And what if she is receptive to your apology? Is it really going to change anything? Is it truly going to “right a wrong,” as you say? No. The mistake has already been made — and it was one that most likely didn’t ruin her life or shake her self-confidence too much. If anything, you provided her a common rite of passage for many young women — one that hopefully opened her eyes to the dangers of being too vulnerable with a guy before building trust. And, anyway, it’s done now and no amount of apologies on your part will undo it, and since we can all assume the woman hasn’t spent the better part of the last 16 years pining over you or feeling terrible about your rejection of her, the best way to proceed now is forward. The best way to right that wrong is to never do something like it again. Go forward in your new dating life — once you’ve processed your divorce and feel ready to date, of course — as a gentleman who respects the time and feelings of the women he takes out (as well as the ones he doesn’t!). Treat them as you’d want a man to treat a daughter of yours. Let the maturity you’ve gained as an adult guide you to better decisions and better treatment of women you are both interested in pursuing and those you aren’t.

While I don’t necessarily believe in karma — that is, I don’t think you’ll be “punished” for that mistake you made 16 years ago — I do believe that we have an ability to draw positive energy to our lives by our actions and the way we treat others. Moving forward, cultivate a tradition of compassion in your relationships. Give people the benefit of the doubt, but don’t be naive. Be honest about your feelings, but kind in the way you express them. Don’t lead people on. And don’t get too heartbroken over the endings of relationships that have barely begun. You didn’t ask for them, but those are a few words of wisdom for you as you start a new life and open yourself to new opportunities in love. Good luck.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at [email protected] and be sure to follow me on Twitter and ‘like’ me on Facebook.

50 comments… add one
  • avatar

    oldie June 27, 2012, 9:04 am

    I’d just leave it lie. After all this time, a note from you likely leaves her scratching her head and worrying what your true purpose is for contacting you. You are likely filed in the ‘jerks I never want to ever have any contact with’ file.

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    • avatar

      MsMisery June 27, 2012, 1:12 pm

      Or at the very least, the “dudes I’ve forgotten completely about” file. Then she’d be all like OH YEAH, THAT.

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  • avatar

    kerrycontrary June 27, 2012, 9:08 am

    I agree with Wendy that any apology would be for you to get over your guilt, not to right a wrong. And frankly, I hate when people apologize for something that happened years ago. Usually I’m not even upset about it anymore and I just find the experience awkward. And then I wonder if they are in AA or something where they have to apologize to everyone. It’s great that the LW is taking this opportunity to reflect on his past relationships and how he treats women, it will be a necessary part of moving forward.

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    • avatar

      Christy June 27, 2012, 9:11 am

      Does that happen to you a lot, Kerry?

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      • avatar

        kerrycontrary June 27, 2012, 9:19 am

        Weirdly enough, yes, it does. I’ve had ex-boyfriends do it and then someone I once worked with apologized for not meeting me for lunch. 2 years ago. Which I had totally forgotten about and didn’t even care. I guess I’m good at sticking in people’s minds and making them feel guilty 🙂

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  • avatar

    ReginaRey June 27, 2012, 9:09 am

    I’m not sure that Wendy left anything for us to say…great response!

    But I’ll definitely add to her response by saying that I think part of the reason you, LW, are desiring to reach out and make amends with this woman is (perhaps) because it’s one thing you feel IS in your control…a wrong you think you have the power to right. Which makes me assume that, in regard to your divorce, there are probably a whole lot of personal “wrongs” that you wish you could go back and “right,” but for whatever reason you can’t. It’s either too late, your wife won’t accept it, etc.

    I can only imagine how much a divorce impacts your sense of self. I imagine you’re feeling rife with regret and remorse, and full of “If only I’d done/been/said/acted THIS, things might be different.” If that’s how you’re feeling (and honestly, no matter HOW you’re feeling, I’d still recommend this during a divorce of any kind), I really recommend you go to some therapy. Maybe you and your ex-wife already tried that together and it didn’t help. Still, I think personal therapy should be a requirement when going through a divorce. You can explore the feelings you’re being overwhelmed with now in a professional setting, with someone who has the experience and knowledge to guide you through them. If reflection and healing is what you want, I think that’s a great place to do it.

    And no matter what, remember that the past is in the past. Sure, there are a million things each of us could have done differently. But we didn’t. At the time, we did what we did. No amount of struggle or strife or reflection can change all of the minute things that led us to where we are right now. Maybe you don’t like where you are right now, and that’s ok. But the way to change that isn’t located in your past. It’s located in your present. If you want to change, change what you’re doing/thinking/feeling/saying/acting NOW…with the help of a therapist, I think. Good luck.

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  • Fabelle

    Fabelle June 27, 2012, 9:15 am

    Agree with Wendy 100%. LW, your realizations about relationships and women may have you feeling guilty for past behavior, but an apology isn’t a necessary first step for personal betterment.

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  • avatar

    SweetPeaG June 27, 2012, 9:20 am

    I think that this LW is half well-intentioned, but also half lonely and maybe, yes, looking to rekindle something he had when he was a teenager. In his mind, he probably stills her as an 18 year old fantasy girl. On the surface, yes, he feels bad for the mistake he made all those years ago. And I commend him for that. But, he is also going through a divorce and looking to relive the past. I was watching “Louie” last night (hilarious show!). He was going through a divorce and decided to look up some girl he knew when he was 15. He goes to see her and she is now a messy, frazzled housewife. But, he keeps picturing her the way she was. I think this might be going on in this case.

    I did once have a man apologize to me for a similar situation. He slept with me when I was very naive and inexperienced. I was infatuated with him (ridiculously good looking and charming guy- damn him). After we slept together, he stopped calling. It hurt me SO bad, but I got over it. About four years later, he got back in contact with me and he did apologize. I felt better… and then I didn’t. Because I realized he was really just lonely and horny. He expected I would fall all over him again and fly out to see him in another state. And I realized he never stopped seeing me as a silly, vulnerable girl who could be easily persuaded. Screw his apology.

    All of my long winded rambling is just my way of saying “DON’T”. If you are being really honest with yourself, I don’t really think your true intentions are to make her feel better or to “right a wrong”. I think deep down you are hoping you can pick up where you left off when you were 19. You can’t. Leave this woman alone. I am sure she has gotten over you, but she probably has memories of the hurt you caused her that don’t need to be brought back out.

    Which isn’t to say you are a bad guy. We all do semi-dumb stuff. And you are in a weird place… so, you are clinging to old memories. But, I highly suggest you just let this one go.

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    • avatar

      SweetPeaG June 27, 2012, 9:24 am

      I meant “In his mind, he probably still sees her as an 18 year old fantasy girl.”

      I should proofread before I hit submit!

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    • Emily

      Emily July 2, 2012, 2:37 pm

      Having been on the other side of men contacting me through various mediums with mea culpa “I’m sorry” messages, I strongly suggest LW refrain from contacting this lady. LW, you cannot change the past or right a sixteen year old wrong. The years have turned this unfortunate young lady to be more of a fantasy than a reality in your mind. To state the obvious, yes, you were a royal jerk, you had some maturing to do, and you probably feel really lonely going through your divorce but like Wendy stated, the apology would be far more for you than her.

      When men sent me the “I’m sorry” messages I often thought, “Well it’s great that you see the error of your ways, but why the heck are you contacting me now? I have moved on with my life, and while it’s nice that you are trying to reform your ways, please leave me out of it!” I strongly suggest writing a letter in your favorite word processor to this once vulnerable 18 year old woman to give yourself some closure, examine your wrongs and how you have grown since you were 19 years old then keep this letter on your hard drive or print it off to share with your therapist (if you have one.) Divorce is rough but it can lead to great personal growth. I wish you luck as you go through this process!

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  • avatar

    bethany June 27, 2012, 9:38 am

    A lot of us have done that over the years…. You were young and stupid. It sounds like you’ve matured and learned that that’s not the right thing to do. Move on with your life. Dont’ contact her to apologize. It’s probably just going to open up an old wound for her.

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  • avatar

    honeybeenicki June 27, 2012, 9:42 am

    I agree with Wendy and the other commenters… just leave it alone. Its good that you realize now that you were a jerk, but its not necessary to reach out. Just recently, I had an ex contact me about how he acted when we broke up (and he acted like a jerk and stalker all in one) and I did appreciate it (and appreciated the fact that he hasn’t bothered me since then), but I think the difference is that we dated for a few years so I was more invested. If it was some guy who just stopped calling after we slept together a few times, I would be a little freaked out and question the motive behind it. So, just let it go and continue on a path to make yourself a better person.

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  • Budj

    Budj June 27, 2012, 9:42 am

    Dude you are feeling extra vulnerable and internally agonizing over things you regret in the past. It’s ok – it’s natural – almost everyone has been with someone physically and realized it wasn’t going further and then handled the aftermath poorly.

    I would not apologize…for all the reason’s Wendy suggested. Just grow from the experience (which sounds like you already have) and keep in mind it was part of the path that made you who you are. Not every guy regrets those things / learns from them so you are a step ahead of the game.

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  • avatar

    Ladybug June 27, 2012, 9:45 am

    WWS, all the way. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t done something shitty to someone else relationship-wise that they regret now, but subjecting someone to a blast from the past won’t really accomplish anything–even for you. Going out of your way to apologize only to discover that the wrong you’ve been agonizing over is barely a blip on the other person’s radar is a let down in and of itself. Consider the incident a lesson learned on how not to treat people and carry it forward.

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  • avatar

    Addie Pray June 27, 2012, 9:46 am

    Definitely a WWS morning. And a WRRS.

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    • avatar

      ReginaRey June 27, 2012, 9:58 am

      I feel loved. But you never replied to my text. So now I feel unloved. And needy.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray June 27, 2012, 10:04 am

        Nahh, you simply have needs. Or maybe your needs are needy.

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      • avatar

        McLovin June 27, 2012, 11:36 pm

        Eh, she never replies to mine either. Frustrating, I know.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar June 27, 2012, 10:03 am

    That you are genuinely remorseful and will never act in that way again should be enough for you to put this behind you. If you feel you must act on that remorse – make a donation to a woman’s shelter – many of those women have been wronged (horribly in some cases) by men from their pasts. The woman you treated poorly as a teenager really doesn’t want to hear from you but a donation to a shelter or charity would be a productively way for you to put a period on that event in your life while helping those that actually need help. Good luck – I think it speaks well of your character that you are holding yourself accountable for past wrongs (you just don’t need to include others in that accountability process).

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    • avatar

      bethany June 27, 2012, 10:19 am

      What a great idea!!

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    • avatar

      honeybeenicki June 27, 2012, 10:20 am

      Excellent idea about making a donation to a women’s shelter.

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      • avatar

        ktfran June 27, 2012, 10:29 am

        Awesome idea. I third and fourth and fifth this!

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    • avatar

      MsMisery June 27, 2012, 1:14 pm

      I was thinking something like this, or be a Big Brother or Sister. Be a responsible adult to someone who can benefit from it now.

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  • call-me-hobo

    call-me-hobo June 27, 2012, 10:08 am

    When I was 16, my first boyfriend dumped me when I wouldn’t sleep with him. It sucked. I was sad for a little while, but I understood why he did it. He was ready- I wasn’t.

    We’ve remained friendly, even hanging out and talking sporadically. About a year or two ago, when were with some mutual friends, he pulled me aside and apologized for the way and reason why he dumped me. And my first thought was- “Dude, that was like, FOUR YEARS ago…”

    And then I realized he wasn’t apologizing for me- he was apologizing so I could forgive him. I wasn’t mad, but I was a little incredulous that he thought that I was still wounded over something that happened when I was in high school. So I told him that I was glad he apologized, but even more glad that I had the experience he gave me all those years ago. Even though it was painful, it was something that I learned from.

    Anyways. LW, kudos for wanting to “right a wrong”, but listen to Wendy’s advice and really contemplate who you would apologizing for. Good luck!

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  • theattack

    theattack June 27, 2012, 10:09 am

    Honestly, she probably doesn’t even remember you or what exactly happened. I know I can’t even remember the details of similar events from three years ago! Unless she was in love with you or something, she moved past it years ago. You’ll probably put her in a weird position by apologizing. What’s she gonna say to an apology for something like that?

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  • avatar

    tbrucemom June 27, 2012, 10:19 am

    Even though I agree with what Wendy and the other commenters have said, I think we’ve all been in a situation similar to the LW’s, probably on the receiving end. My best friend had something similar happen to her many years ago and I know for a fact if her ex-BF contacted her and tried to explain why he did what he did she would appreciate it. It’s not that she never got over it, she’s been married and had several BFs since then, she’s just always wondered what happened (was it something I did, did he get back with an ex, etc.). The difference in my opinion may be age. I’m in my early 50’s so someone contacting me from my early 20’s wouldn’t make me think “he wants me back”, lol. It probably has to do with getting older and reflecting on the past, similar to what the LW is experiencing going thru a divorce.

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    • theattack

      theattack June 27, 2012, 10:24 am

      Do you think it’s different that for your friend it was an ex-boyfriend and not someone she just hooked up with a few times?

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  • avatar

    lets_be_honest June 27, 2012, 10:53 am

    I wish my life were so lovely that my biggest concern was apologizing to someone for not returning their call 15 years ago. Seriously dude, this is what you write in for?

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    • avatar

      Jiggs June 27, 2012, 11:20 am

      I know, right? I wish Wendy had more tags because this needs to be filed under “overthinking it”.

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    • avatar

      *HmC* June 27, 2012, 12:40 pm

      I don’t think that’s fair. I doubt he thinks his life is “lovely” right now, for one thing. This man is going through a divorce from someone with whom he has spent 15 years, which is causing significant self-reflection and empathy for someone that he treated cruelly. And yes, I do think it’s cruel behavior to sleep with someone multiple times and then disappear off the face of the planet. I think if more people took time for self-reflection and true empathy, the world would be a lot better place. I appreciate that the LW is thinking about this, and I think it’s coming from a good place.

      That said, I don’t think he should contact her. I think the more time has passed since something like this happened, the more likely she has already made peace with it, and contacting her has more potential to cause weirdness and awkwardness than anything else. If a guy disappeared and then contacted me 15 years later, I’m sure part of me would think he wanted me again or something. So I think the LW needs to just not go there. I think at this point the gesture would be more about catharsis for him than healing for her.

      So LW, I think you need to make peace with this transgression on your own. I know that of all the choices I’ve made in my life, the ones that hurt others haunt me the most. But I think all you can do is recognize that you pulled something shitty (which I think you do already recognize), decide you will learn from it and never do it again, forgive yourself and move on. Honestly, as much as I appreciate your sentiment, much worse things happen to people in the dating world. Dating is a risk with your heart. What you did was shitty, but if she’s a mature adult, I think part of her understands your behavior.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest June 27, 2012, 1:04 pm

        I really do think that if the only thing you write into an advice column about is someone you may have hurt decades ago, then you have a pretty sweet life.

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    • bagge72

      bagge72 June 27, 2012, 3:31 pm

      I have a gut feeling that maybe this girl is also single, and this guys is wondering if it will be easier to start sexing her up again if he apologizes.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest June 27, 2012, 3:51 pm

        Me too.

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      • bagge72

        bagge72 June 27, 2012, 5:44 pm

        I like how you think!

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  • avatar

    Jiggs June 27, 2012, 11:19 am

    If some dude I slept with when I was 18 came around to apologize for whatever, my reaction would be something like “WTF leave me alone I do not care to hear from you.” And I’m only 8 years out from that, I can’t imagine how big the WTF factor becomes after 16 years.

    There’s no benefit to her from your apology, and for that reason I say don’t do it.

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  • avatar

    ele4phant June 27, 2012, 11:20 am

    So much agree with you Wendy.

    This kind of reminds me of when people write into advice columns about being former bullies. As in, they bullied someone in high school twenty years ago, have grown up, and feel really bad about it and what to apologize their former victims to relieve their grief. In those instances, as in this, the apology is really more self-centered and about getting absolution than making geniune amends.

    LW, its wonderful that you’ve matured and realized how terribly you treated this girl. Now that you are back in the dating pool, take that experience and don’t do it to someone else. But leave this woman alone. Maybe carrying a bit of guilt around is your “punishment” for being a jack-off when you were a teenager.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark June 27, 2012, 11:44 am

    Agree with Wendy 100% Such an apology would make me feel weird were I to receive one. If this wasn’t oh-so-long ago, maybe. But far too much water has gone under that bridge for any such approach not to be loaded with oft-putting excess baggage. If you naturally ran into her — and no, I am NOT suggesting you go out of your way to arrange such a chance meeting either — you know, at a class reunion or some such event, then such an apology wouldn’t seem like it was that big a deal. Or that out of place, as you could frame it with: “Wow, seeing you again, I suddenly realize what an asshole I was way back when…” But to actively seek somebody out will only make her think that you WANT something out of the exchange. Look, your cad behavior 15 years ago wasn’t really all that out of the ordinary for either sex to be honest. Truly, people have truly done a lot worse. That said, coming all these years later? An apology is too little, too late. Especially when the only person it’s REALLY going to make feel better is YOU… MOA! From your guilt and this whole debacle…

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  • LK7889

    LK7889 June 27, 2012, 12:02 pm

    The only thing that I can add that hasn’t already been stated is how would you react if you DID apologize and she was mean about it? What if she said derogatory things about you and your character and rejected your apology? I would think since you are going through a divorce, you don’t really need that right now for your own emotional well-being. Ultimately, the apology is about making yourself feel better for being a jerk so long ago but a rejected apology would likely make you feel worse.

    If you really must make amends somehow, follow FireStar’s advice and donate to a charity/shelter.

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny June 27, 2012, 12:35 pm

    Maybe, if it’s still really on your mind, you could write her a letter (or email), but then don’t send it. I agree with Wendy and others who have said that this is really more about you than it is about her. Writing can be cathartic for some people, and writing an apology letter, getting all of your thoughts and emotions out on paper could be really helpful to get past this. But just don’t send it!!

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    • Kristina

      Kristina June 27, 2012, 1:59 pm

      I literally have over 100 drafts in my email that I have written with no intent to send over the years. Writing it out really does help!

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  • avatar

    Muffy June 27, 2012, 12:37 pm

    would she even remember who you are? And wouldn’t she be a little creeped out after all of these years you are reaching out to her when you only went out like 3 times? Statute of limitations has definitely passed on this one

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  • avatar

    Riefer June 27, 2012, 12:57 pm

    An additional way to right this wrong is if you have kids, to impart these lessons to them. It might be hard to do for a daughter, because she probably doesn’t want to talk about sex with her dad, but you can try. But if you have a son, you definitely have an opportunity to teach him the right way and the wrong way to treat hook-ups, and women, and really other people in general.

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    • sobriquet

      sobriquet June 27, 2012, 3:51 pm

      I actually think a father talking with his daughter about it could be the most beneficial. It doesn’t have to be about sex, but more about self-worth. I wish someone had told me that just because a guy doesn’t want to date you doesn’t mean you’re ugly/stupid/etc. It seems obvious now, but not when I was a teenager.

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  • sobriquet

    sobriquet June 27, 2012, 3:47 pm

    Something similar happened to me when I was 19, except he stopped calling me because I wouldn’t sleep with him. I read about it in my journal recently and I literally used the phrase: “He knocked me out of his top 8!” I was devastated for about a week and I just had no idea why he stopped calling. That’s because I was newly navigating the dating waters and thought life was like a Nora Ephron movie.

    There’s no need to contact that girl from your past. She’s doubtlessly heard/read/seen “He’s Just Not That Into You” (or whatever it’s called) and that pretty much covered it if she was wondering why you stopped calling.

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  • avatar

    McLovin June 27, 2012, 4:36 pm

    There’s really no good reason to contact her 16 years later, seemingly from out of nowhere, to dredge up something that most likely she hasn’t even thought about in years. Just leave it alone and make sure you treat people with the same respect that you would hope for in return from this point on, especially now that you’re most likely about to jump in the dating pool again.

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  • avatar

    DMR June 27, 2012, 10:58 pm

    Send a letter. Of course it’s about you, but it’s also about doing what’s right.
    Specifically: apologizing to someone you wronged. That’s a noble and worthy goal.

    Start out by explaining that this is about you, not her, and wanting to make amends. Tell her that you don’t expect any response – and are not looking for one (but she’s welcome to respond if she wants).
    I’m sure she’s over it by now, but maybe the experience left a bad taste for her.
    She will certainly appreciate the gesture and it might brighten her day.

    Do it.

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    • avatar

      ele4phant June 28, 2012, 1:56 am

      Honestly, I had something similar happen to me. Not nearly as much time as this, but I guy I had dated and gotten the fade out treatment from decided he wanted to make up for his previous bad behavior. It did not brighten my day, nor did I appreciate the gesture. My thinking was somewhere along the lines of:

      Gee, he was a jerk to me in the past. I’d gotten over it, moved on, but then because HE’S started to feel guilty, now get to be treated to a blast from the past so he can feel better about himself? It was clear that this was all about him and had nothing to do with me, showing me that he was just as self-centered as he had been when we dated.

      I advise he not do it. Leave this woman alone. As others suggested, if he wants to put his feelings into writing, go for it. But don’t send it.

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      • avatar

        DMR June 28, 2012, 5:29 am

        But in that case, what’s the point of ever apologizing for anything?
        Is the only purpose of apology to make the other person ‘feel better?’ In which case, are apologies nothing more than a specific form of psychotherapy to be administered from perpetrator to victim?

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      • avatar

        ele4phant June 28, 2012, 11:48 am

        If circumstances somehow brought them back into contact and they needed to have some sort of functional relationship – for instance – working together , the air would need to be cleared and an apology appropriate.

        But to HUNT someone down for the sole purpose of unburdening your guilt? I find it insulting. Leave me be, please.

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  • rilooyah

    rilooyah June 28, 2012, 12:06 pm

    Ummm, WHOA, LW…wtf? This was 15+ years ago? I understand you are going through a tough time and such, and GOOD FOR YOU for recognizing that in the past you might have been a jerk-off to this chick…but FIFTEEN-SOME YEARS AGO??? The time for apologizing passed about…15 years ago…when you didnt call her after having sex w her. Please please just move on already and dont be *that* a-hole that you *may* have been years ago.

    I think it was HmC above that said “I know that of all the choices I’ve made in my life, the ones that hurt others haunt me the most.” This is INCREDIBLY insightful! ! ! When you want to apologize for something in the past, first look into your intentions. If you want some kind of release or acceptance of the apology, you are being a jerk. Bottom line. TO release yourself from guilt is not the proper reason to apologize to another. Bc then you are just projecting onto the other (likely unknowldgeable of the transgression, and better off that way) person.

    This is tough for me to accept, as well. However, I have found that it makes sense in the long run. Only apologize in the moment, when it makes sense. NOT years later. We’re adults…and we just have to act like it. 😉

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