Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Should I Contact My Ex’s Kids?”

I broke up with a boyfriend of over four years two weeks ago because, over the past year, he slid into a depression that changed huge parts of his personality, and he has done pretty much nothing to work on it or make himself better. The motivated, unwaveringly optimistic, thoughtful, and charming man I fell in love with turned into someone who drinks too much, doesn’t take care of his responsibilities, and becomes irrationally angry to the point of being scary about things that don’t even make sense. I broke up with him in a public place (outside the store he manages) because I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t fly off the handle if we were alone. He mostly took it sadly and quietly, and when he started to edge toward irrational-land, I left.

Mercifully, he hasn’t tried to contact me, and I’d like to keep it that way. The problem is, I have a book that I ordered for his teenage son that arrived in the mail after we broke up. I told the son that I was going to buy him this book, and it is important to me to follow through on my promises, particularly because pretty much nobody else in this kid’s family does so. I also discovered the other day that I have my ex’s only pair of nice dress pants.

I want to mail these things to them, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m reaching out or giving my ex a reason to contact me. I feel bad for having given no explanation, apology, or good-bye to his kids, but I’m afraid sending them a note might piss off my ex and stir up drama when I really just want to let things lie. What do you think I should do? — Wanting Drama-Free Breakup

Your ex may live in “irrational-land,” but you live in “fantasy land” if you truly think you can end a four-year relationship with someone — someone who is depressed and angry, no less — and have it be completely drama-free. There may be no contact or retaliation on his part yet, but mark my words, you have not heard the last from your ex-boyfriend. If I were you, I think I’d rather give him a chance to get whatever he needs to get off his chest now rather than let it build and build and surprise you at some point in the future when you least expect to hear from him.

Since you do have this book for his son, you could use it as an excuse to reach out to your ex. Tell him you’d like to pass along this book, and ask if you can give it to him at a nearby coffee shop (again, keeping it public to stay safe). If he agrees, you could express your regret that things didn’t work out between you, tell him you care for him and hope he’s doing OK. I wouldn’t necessarily invite further dialogue or an invitation to hang out again, but letting him know you haven’t simply slammed the door on him, so to speak, may help temper whatever anger he might have festering.

If you simply can’t imagine sitting face-to-face with him again and don’t want to initiate contact with him, forget about the book, accept that you probably aren’t in positive favor with your ex’s kids anyway, and MOA as best you can (but be prepared for future retaliation; I just don’t see this guy walking away from you so easily after four years). And in case it isn’t clear, I would not advise sending the kids a good-bye note at this point. Doing so would risk upsetting a man who already has depression and anger issues and could very well take out those issues on his kids.


You can follow me on Facebook here and sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

59 comments… add one
  • lets_be_honest January 24, 2013, 3:10 pm

    Hmm, surprised at Wendy’s reply. I’m not so convinced this guy is going to come back. I would’ve suggested mailing the boy his book with a note.

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    • lets_be_honest January 24, 2013, 3:27 pm

      I’ll add this must suck for the kids.

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    • bethany January 24, 2013, 3:38 pm

      That was my exact thought! I was really surprised by the answer, too. I’m with you on mailing the book to the kid with a nice note.

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    • Classic January 25, 2013, 12:18 am

      I accidentally clicked “Like” when I meant to Reply, so subtract at least one “Like.” I am fairly certain that your large number of “Likes” can be attributed to readers who have not had children.

      Unless the son is an adult, which does not seem to be the case in this instance, you absolutely must not subvert the parent and contact the ex’s son directly after you have broken up with the parent. You may send the book and the pants to the parent, but do not try to subvert the parent by sending directly to the minor.

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      • lets_be_honest January 25, 2013, 11:53 am

        Well, for what its worth, I have a kid. I think you raise a good point though. And I will subtract 1 from my likes 🙂

      • Classic January 25, 2013, 12:26 pm

        Good one! 🙂

        I was thinking about something funny earlier. If some guy broke up with me who had my pants… if he mailed a package to my house that contained something completely different and he kept my pants… 30 years later I would still be seen occasionally wandering around shaking my head wondering about the nutjob I once dated who kept my pants 🙂 I know how I am, ugh!

  • theattack January 24, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Yeah, I would not meet this man in a public place right now. Two weeks is just enough time for him to get into the angry phase, which isn’t fun to deal with. I say mail it to your ex (not his son) with a note saying what it’s all about, and leave it at that.

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  • jlyfsh January 24, 2013, 3:20 pm

    I really don’t know what to think about this question. I would ask myself if you’re doing this for yourself or for the kids and what affect your actions would have on the kids (calling him up and asking to meet). Do you have contact with anyone else who knows him and his kids? Hopefully they have someone else in their life who can be a support system and help them work through this and I hope that your ex is able to turn his life around for them soon. Sounds like an awful situation 🙁

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    • fast eddie January 24, 2013, 7:14 pm

      I think your idea of having someone else passing it to him is a great idea jly. That would give her physical separation/safety and make it personal for the kid.

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  • cdobbs January 24, 2013, 3:21 pm

    not sure if this is advice or just saying what i would do in the situation….but i would mail the book to the ex with a note explaining it is for his son….probably leave it at that…since you ended it face to face I don’t think you need to explain yourself…and if your ex uses it as an excuse to attack you just explain that you keep your word and you promised his son you would buy the book for him…no one can fault you for keeping your word

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  • katie January 24, 2013, 3:25 pm

    i kind of dont see how this is such a huge situation that needs to much thought- just get the pants and the book to them. mail them, drop them off, give it to someone else to give to them- i dunno, but just do it and be done. i dont see the need for such drama around it.

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  • FireStar January 24, 2013, 3:33 pm

    Either mail the book and pants with the briefest of notes or let it go. There are different levels of “right” and “following through on your promise” to the son of your ex may be important to you but it doesn’t trump re-introducing yourself into your ex’s life – in any capacity really – so soon after breaking up with him. Particularly since he isn’t as balanced as one would like. If it were me, I would walk away without looking back.

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  • Fabelle January 24, 2013, 3:43 pm

    Wendy’s most likely right that you WILL hear from your ex again, but… I don’t think *you* should be the one to initiate contact via this book/pants thing. Following through on your promise to his kid isn’t as important as cutting this guy off is, & who cares about the pants? (That’s just me, though. I don’t really think one or two clothing items are worth doing the whole “exchange” thing. If he wants his pants, he’ll contact you for them.)

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    • lets_be_honest January 24, 2013, 3:43 pm

      With you on the who cares about the pants thing.

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  • GatorGirl January 24, 2013, 4:10 pm

    LW, if I was in your shoes I would either a- do nothing. It’s just a pair of pants and a book. Or b- drop the items by his work and ask a coworker to give them to him.

    If you know any of his family maybe go through them. Don’t meet up for coffee and re-hash your break up. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

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    • katie January 24, 2013, 4:14 pm

      work! perfect. there is your solution, LW.

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  • MISS MJ January 24, 2013, 4:16 pm

    If it were just the pants, I’d say ignore it completely. But, since it’s a book for the kid, a kid whose life she was in some way a part of for four and a half years, I’d say keep the promise and send him the book. That stuff is important. And, might as well send the pants in the same package. I’d just put them in a box with a note that says “FYI – I found your pants and this book came for Jr.” and mail it to him. Seems like reaching out might be interpreted as more than it is intended to be at this time. Of course, I expect she will hear from him once she sends the package anyway.

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  • Lily in NYC January 24, 2013, 4:19 pm

    She broke up with him in a public place for safety reasons. I really don’t think it’s a good idea to meet up with this guy at all and she should just mail the items with a note wishing him and his kids the best. And then don’t look back. Honestly, I wouldn’t even mail the items. Any contact might give him false hope and spur him to contact her. I think this might be the first time I’ve disagreed wtih Wendy’s advice since I found this site last year.

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  • TaraMonster January 24, 2013, 4:23 pm

    I’m kind of surprised by Wendy’s reply too… The LW has voiced that she is actually afraid of her ex, and I would never advise meeting up w a person who frightens you to the extent that you fear for your safety. I mean, I agree that after 4 years it’s impossible to expect a clean break, there will always be some residual effects from severing a long term relationship like that, but since she’s afraid of him, I think she’s doing the right thing. I agree with the commenters above who suggested mailing the items or giving them to a mutual friend to pass on. It sounds like LW possibly got out of the relationship before it escalated to violence and I think she should be proud of herself for that. It’s not an easy thing to do.

    Take good care of yourself LW! It sounds like you have a lot of processing to do. So do the breakup regimen of taking care of your mind and body: eat good foods, do fun physical activities you enjoy, and be around the people who make you feel safe and loved!

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    • Julesoola January 24, 2013, 5:09 pm

      It doesn’t come across to me that she’s actually afraid of her ex, she never says as much. Her motivations for her actions (breaking up with in at work, etc) seems aimed at avoiding a big scene and drama than anything else. She does state that he gets really angry, but nowhere in this letter is there any indication of violence or concerns of violence. I would suspect that if she were concerned about violence (towards the kids or otherwise) the letter would be about that and not about a book and some pants. Likewise, I think Wendy’s response would have been different had violence been the concern. I think Wendy’s response comes from the perspective of her concern being purely about wanting to avoid any kind of “drama”.

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      • Rangerchic January 24, 2013, 6:00 pm

        I don’t think he has been violent yet but something led her to believe that he might be heading that direction….saying she broke up with him in a public place because she wasn’t sure if he would fly off the handle or not…that can get scary really quickly. So I think it is more that just drama she is trying to avoid.

      • TaraMonster January 25, 2013, 12:12 pm

        Yeah I’m not confused about the way Wendy approached the letter, I just don’t agree with it. She did say she wanted to avoid drama, but she also said he became “irrationally angry to the point of being scary,” and then immediately followed that up with details about breaking up with him in a public place. She indicated that he’s unstable and also said she “didn’t want to piss him off” by contacting his kids. Taken together these things amount to a pretty clear indication that the ex frightens her, at least on some level. I also think it’s totally possible that after 2 weeks, LW may not have processed it all, so she’s still focused on details like books and pants, and not able to completely articulate why this feels like a big deal. I’m not saying it definitely would have escalated to violence, but there are enough red flags in this letter to make me encourage this LW to not put herself in a situation where it might.

      • LW January 25, 2013, 2:50 pm

        I think all of you make good points. Drama scares me. Yes, I was mostly worried about him making a scene, but he is a big strong man with a temper and well, I’d be lying if I said I’m not a bit intimidated when he’s mad and irrational. I was afraid that if i broke up with him at my house he might refuse to leave, and we’d have to go over it over and over again, with him getting madder and madder. I wanted to be in a situation where I could be the one to leave.

        I think my gut-reaction to having the book and pants maybe is a little selfishly motivated. I wanted to get them off my plate, to not have any loose ends hanging around untied. I want to be done with all of it and move on. It’s probably a little weird that I feel the need to do that in order to be done with it…

        Thanks for the kind words too. 🙂

      • Datdamwuf January 27, 2013, 11:26 am

        I was nearly killed by my ex after I asked for a divorce – the scary rages he’d always had escalated. My intuition (gut) I had learned to ignore to my detriment – please don’t ignore yours. I totally disagree with Wendy’s advice, I don’t think you should have any further contact with your ex. Return the book, throw the pants in a box (he may use them to see you again, if he does, mail them). I urge you to move on, if he contacts you, don’t respond, any attention can make things worse. Do be aware of your surroundings because he may stalk or try to see you. if you do contact him at any point it is a bad idea to tell him you care about him. That tells him he still has some power over you/a chance with you. You can think I’m being over the top – I never believed my ex would *really* hurt me, until he did.

  • Oldie January 24, 2013, 4:35 pm

    For your personal safety, I’d advise zero contact. Don’t mail the book. Don’t give him a chance to unload. Don’t take Wendy’s advice. What you describe about this guy sounds like more serious mental illness than depression. Depression doesn’t normally cause raging irrational. I’d guess schizophrenia has set in. If your bf is late teens/early twenties, that is a surer bet. Just stay away.

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    • TaraMonster January 24, 2013, 4:47 pm

      He has a teenage son. So he’s likely well past the onset age. I don’t mean to be nitpicky, but late onset very rare. It’s totally possible, and I had the same thought that this is more than depression and sounds more like a mental illness. As someone with a mentally ill parent (Borderline Personality Disorder that exhibits as schizophrenia), I’d never presume to diagnose, but it totally does sound like he’s grappling with much ore than depression. Whatever it is, he sounds dangerous (tho most mentally ill ppl are NOT! Hate that stigma!) and LW should stay away from him.

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    • Sunshine Brite January 25, 2013, 1:38 pm

      I wouldn’t downplay depression like that. Depression can cause irrational anger/rage at times in different people and can be considered a serious and persistant mental illness depending on what ways it is affecting life.

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  • SweetPeaG January 24, 2013, 4:41 pm

    Having dealt with an ex who was prone to scary fits of anger… don’t meet up with him. Even in a public place. The news as of late has taught us that people (especially people with histories of mental health problems) have no problem acting out violently in the most public of places. Maybe I am being dramatic. I don’t care. If you were so afraid of his reaction that you broke up with him at his place of work, he’s not the type of person that you won’t to meet up with.

    Mail the items with a BRIEF note. “These are your pants. The book is something I promised your son.” Then make sure you’re careful… always carry your charged cell phone. Don’t walk anywhere alone at night. Be with people as much as possible. Again, I know I am being dramatic. But, an irrationally angry, possible alcoholic, who you were frightened might “fly off the handle” is not an ex I would let my guard down about.

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    • SweetPeaG January 24, 2013, 4:44 pm

      Sorry for the typo. I should really read first… “If you were so afraid of his reaction that you broke up with him at his place of work, he’s not the type of person that you want to meet up with.”

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  • Rangerchic January 24, 2013, 5:55 pm

    I wouldn’t get back in touch with him either. How about just forget about the pants and mail the book to the son with a note that here is the book you promised and leave it at that. Or give it to a go-between to give to the son.

    If the guy started to scare you that much there is no need to talk or see him again. Besides, putting more closure to it will not prevent him from whatever decisions he has already made in terms of how to move on…especially if he is “crazy”.

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  • Sue Jones January 24, 2013, 5:58 pm

    No, I would send the book with a note to the teenaged son. If LW doesn’t feel safe with the ex, then I think she doesn’t need to reach out to him.

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  • RunsWithScissors January 24, 2013, 6:24 pm

    LW, if you do meet up with him again, PLEASE do not tell him you care for him. I had an ex who had similar issues to yours, and when we broke up I told him this, just thinking it was a nice thing to say. It ended up making it harder for him to move on, as he thought me “caring” for him meant there was still a chance at reconciliation.

    Mail the book, or like someone said above, drop it off at your ex’s place of business (when you know he’s not there).

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  • Classic January 24, 2013, 9:31 pm

    I would mail the pants and the book together, without a note. On the book I would put a sticky note that says “For Kidsname”. No other contact should be necessary.

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    • Lark January 24, 2013, 10:22 pm

      This. If she is afraid of the ex, she shouldn’t get any further involved with the situation.

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  • megan January 25, 2013, 9:49 am

    Having ended a 5 year relationship with a man (also depressed and a touch irrational) with a child (who i loved and adored – probably in the end more than i did the father) I understand where the LW is coming from. Luckily, I also had a great relationship with my former ‘step daughters’ mom and was able to take her for breakfast once after the break up just to let her know how much I cared for her, always will care for her and wished nothing but the best for her and her dad. After that though, I never initiated contact her again. It may seem cold hearted but I felt that me trying to stay involved in her life would only add to the confusion of her family dynamics. Her dad quickly moved on with someone new after our relationship ended and I didn’t want to make things uncomfortable for his new girlfriend and her relationship with his daughter. That little girl is now a teenager and with the benefit of facebook does occasionally contact me as a friend, no longer as family. Perhaps the LW could mail the book (forget the pants) directly to the child. What kid doesn’t like getting a package in the mail. I’m sure the kid will know who it is from, if not, who cares. Other than that, I wouldn’t initiate any further contact unless you know that is is OK with his dad or another parent. You being involved against the parents wishes will only put the kid in an uncomfortable (and who knows with this guys mental state) possible dangerous situation. Good luck moving on with your life. Take it from me, things only get better from here 🙂

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  • Jess January 25, 2013, 11:04 am

    Rather than offer something helpful, I’m inspired to share a “giving stuff back” memory that this letter reminded me about.

    I dated a clingy, possessive, creepy guy for about 4-5 months. It was long distance and he was a high school acquaintance that I reconnected with. The distance and the high school connection interfered with my usually accurate weirdo radar. When I broke it off, he DID NOT TAKE IT WELL, even though I tried to be thougthful, compassionate, kind, etc. Within 24 hours he left a public “break-up message” on Facebook and blocked me. A week later he called accusing me of giving him an STD. This kind of drama is completely foreign to me so I just kept quiet, mostly. Finally, he fell silent and months went by without contact.

    Then one day I received a package with a bathing suit and sunglasses I’d apparently left at his place during one of my visits. This was months after our break up. There was no note but I immediately understood the message he wanted me to see. The return address. It was a LOCAL address! He’d moved back to our hometown.

    Knowing he’d go ballistic without some recognition of the package, I wrote a two line thank you card and sent it in the mail. “Thank you for returning my bathing suit and sunglasses. I appreciate it.”

    A few weird text messages followed in the next months –mostly letting me know he was working near my office. Stuff like that. Not full-blown stalker but creepy.

    That was years ago and he eventually faded into the darkness. I heard awhile back he had a new girlfriend and that’s about when he stopped.

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  • BeckyGrace January 25, 2013, 11:39 am

    I usually agree with Wendy but not on this one. Please do not contact him or send anything. You are opening the door back up for drama you don’t need. For your own safety and sanity move on with your life. You are doing a great job taking care of yourself and although I understand you don’t wan’t to let the son down you could put yourself in danger by getting back in contact in any way. Plus… this will set you up for looking bad if he DOES come after you and you need to get a restraining order or something. I see a constant theme that we always have to end our relationships in a happy way with all this closure and both people being friends… reality is… move on like you are doing and don’t look back for your own safety.

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  • LW January 25, 2013, 1:57 pm

    Thanks for all the advice everyone. It’s been three weeks now. I was all set to mail both the book and the pants, addressed to the son (who is 18; and his brother and sister are 16 and 14), with a note that said, “This is the book we talked about last time. I’m sorry about everything. Please tell your brother and sister I’m sorry too. These pants belong to your dad. Please give them back to him.” but I couldn’t bring myself to actually drop them off at the post office. They are still in my car. I polled my friends and they all said to wait until it’s been more time, so that’s what I’ve been doing.

    My ex texted me last Tuesday. He said something about having heard a song that reminded him of us and he’s feeling sad. He said that he hopes he’s not being inappropriate in sending the text, and he understands if I don’t write back. I thought about writing back to say that I’m not ready to talk yet, but after some deliberation, I decided that it would be best not to. I haven’t heard from him again.

    My ex is in his late 30s. By “irrational,” I meant quick to take offense and think that I am being manipulative (projection!) and that I want to control him or make him feel bad. He would read non-existent ulterior motives into things I said and get mad about them. He would always snap out of it later, acknowledge that he was being irrational, and apologize, but I felt like I had to talk him into trusting me all the time, which as you might imagine, is very draining. He is not schizophrenic. He does have a lot of baggage from past hurtful, manipulative relationships (both romantic and family) and major trust issues that come out when he’s unhappy, and he could certainly use a healthy dose of counseling. No, he was not violent with me and he’s not going to hurt his kids.

    I am relieved to see that so many of you disagreed with Wendy’s advice to meet up with him, because that’s the absolute last thing I want to do right now. My breaking up with him was not a surprise; there were plenty of conversations in the months leading up to it about not being happy, not-followed-through-on promises of getting help, etc., so he definitely knew it was coming. I ended up telling him that I needed him him to give me a reason to stay, and he said that he couldn’t give me one. My point is that I believe that closure has been had and there’s nothing else to be said that hasn’t already been said a million times.

    I am on good terms with all of my past exes, and I hope to be on good terms with this one someday too, after we have both healed from this. I expect that I will talk to him again someday, months or years down the road, but not until I’m totally over the breakup. In the past, my policy has been not to talk at all until I wouldn’t care if he was dating someone else, and thus far it has worked out well for me. I don’t know; maybe I am living in fantasy land, but I hope not.

    I thought about giving his stuff to his coworkers or friends, but he was very private about our relationship troubles, and I’m pretty sure he’d be very uncomfortable with me involving them. I think for now I’m going to continue doing nothing and perhaps re-evaluate in a month or two. Maybe it’s easier if his kids are mad at me; if they think I’m the heartless jerk who abandoned them. That’s better than them blaming it all on their dad and straining their relationship, right?

    Sorry about the very long response! If you have more thoughts, please share them. And thanks for helping me.

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    • lets_be_honest January 25, 2013, 2:00 pm

      That’s a very good policy about talking to exes. Good luck.

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    • kate January 25, 2013, 7:55 pm

      I was about to post when I saw your response. Having been through a similar situation myself (sans kids, which i realize is a fundamental difference), I think you’re doing the right thing. I was with my ex for 5 years and the fifth year he became depressed, withdrawn, paranoid, and irrational. He thought I was manipulating him, and I even began to feel unsafe. He’s not schizophrenic or a bad person, He was just mentally ill (and wouldn’t get help). After we broke up, it was two years before I contacted him (because it was absolutely necessary regarding some leftover financial issues due to living together, etc). And it worked out well. We talked a few times over a few months – always related to the finances – but also managed to get some closure via (very) short conversations during the financial discussions that were only made possible by the very clean (and long) break we had made two years prior. —My point being, my advice is to wait as long as you possibly can before sending these items (if you even ultimately decide to send them at all). I know that you want to keep your promise about the book, but honestly, if you plan on keeping your distance, the truth is you will NOT be in this kid’s life anymore, and a book won’t change that fact. And the ex can get new pants. Take care of yourself and not anyone else right now.

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      • LW January 28, 2013, 12:17 pm

        Your situation does sound very similar to mine. Thank you for sharing!

  • Jiggs January 25, 2013, 10:49 pm

    LW, DO NOT MEET YOUR EX ANYWHERE!! You were afraid enough of his reaction to break up with him publicly. You don’t owe him a chance to get things off his chest, and given his erratic behaviour it may be unsafe for you to do so. It is not your job to manage his anger over your breakup! I’m really surprised at Wendy for suggesting you need to try to mitigate his anger.

    He hasn’t contacted you and you expressed that you were happy about that. Great! If you really must, mail him a package with his things and no note. If he contacts you and wants to meet/write/”talk”/dissect the relationship, say (or email or text depending on the medium) some version of I felt it was important to return your things and give X his book. I hope you’re doing well. I have decided I am not ready to talk to you so soon after our breakup. If and when I feel ready to talk again, I will reach out to you. All the best.

    If he contacts you just to say “thanks for the stuff”, a simple “you’re welcome” will suffice and leave it at that.

    Best of luck LW. It sounds like you know what you want and are determined in your course, which is wonderful. I hope you’re healing well post-breakup.

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    • Jiggs January 25, 2013, 10:51 pm

      Blargh, I didn’t see your reply LW. Great decision.

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  • Cali February 9, 2013, 6:47 pm

    Given the fact that this man has a bad temper, I would advise you to let sleeping dogs lie. So far, it seems as if he has been no trouble after the split – so why rock the boat now by initiating contact for a book and a pair of dress pants?

    I understand that you might have become fond of his child during your relationship, and want to live up to the promise you made him, but your safety and well-being has to come first. I worry that if you re-establish contact, it might open old wounds for your ex and could result in some kind of altercation between the two of you.

    If you feel really strongly about the book, is there any other level-headed person (another relative perhaps?) in that child’s life that you could reach out to and ask to deliver the book anonymously? If not, I’d really suggest leaving this whole situation alone, because why invite trouble for no reason?

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  • baccalieu January 16, 2017, 3:08 pm

    I’m a little surprised about Wendy’s prediction that she hasn’t heard the last of him and (although less so) everyone’s focusing on his potential for violence. Obviously, her safety is of paramount importance and better safe than sorry, but this sounds (and she refers to it as) depression. Depressed people are extremely unlikely to be violent, except, unfortunately, to themselves. It is a misconception that all mental illnesses are the same and that anyone with a mental illness is completely unpredictable and could do anything at any time. Depressed people are actually extremely predictable. We can almost invariably be relied on to not do anything.

    I remember that when the pilot crashed that German Wings plane into the Alps a couple of years ago, I read a very good article by a mental health professional complaining about this tendency and about the fact that when people found out that the pilot had been diagnosed with depression everyone seemed to say, “oh well, that’s obviously the explanation” or wondered why the airline hadn’t automatically grounded him, when in fact this was extremely out of character for a depressed person and suggested either that he was misdiagnosed or that his actions had nothing to do with his depression. She was worried that this would lead to more fear of, and discrimination against, mentally ill people.

    I would say that almost certainly when this lady told her depressed boyfriend that she was breaking up with him, he almost certainly went away thinking “this is only what I deserve….I’m worthless.. she’ll be much better off without me…this is completely in line with all the other bad things that happen to me” and vowing to save her from him by staying out of her life forever. I do hope that before leaving she did try to encourage him to get treatment so she could get her happy confident boyfriend back. Of course, if he wouldn’t get treatment she had no choice but to leave and even if he was getting treatment, she’s not required to hang around and wait for him to maybe get better, but I hope she did do what she could do.

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    • Kate January 16, 2017, 3:25 pm

      “…becomes irrationally angry to the point of being scary about things that don’t even make sense…I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t fly off the handle if we were alone.”

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    • Skyblossom January 16, 2017, 3:25 pm

      Because of this.

      “and becomes irrationally angry to the point of being scary about things that don’t even make sense. I broke up with him in a public place (outside the store he manages) because I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t fly off the handle if we were alone. ”

      He was being angry to the point of being scary. People worried about her safety because she worried about her safety.

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    • Ron January 16, 2017, 5:30 pm

      Bacc — I agree with you that the vast preponderance of mentally ill people can be treated such that they do not present any appreciable threat to others, or themselves. Mentally ill people who are unable to obtain/afford treatment and even more so those who refuse treatment, can be very dangerous. We’re not talking about the mildly mentally ill here, but the more serious cases, most of whom would have been in custodial care in past years. Part of ‘the mentally ill aren’t a threat’ meme comes from governments and a health establishment who have decided that is too expensive to provide the treatment which the seriously mentally ill badly need. Misguided civil liberties types sued governments to have the seriously mentally ill released from institutions and governments literally fell over themselves to lose those lawsuits and save the money that long-term treatment required.

      Seriously depressed people aren’t a threat to the public at large but can be a serious threat to themselves and their families. This is the source of quite a few family murder-suicides. We just had a very young depressed woman sentenced to prison in our small city for jumping off a bridge into the river with her infant. She survived, the child didn’t. Unfortunately, it is all too common (still not at all common) for seriously depressed mothers to decide that they and their children are better off in the next life. A lot of the crimes committed by women, especially those which harm their families, are crimes committed out of depression/despair/hopelessness. For the moderately depressed, emotional or physical abuse is often the trigger. For the seriously depressed, hard times can be sufficient. This, more so than the physical pain afflicting men who have done decades of hard labor, also seems to be what drives many women to opioid abuse. Drug use is a notorious form of self treatment among the mentally ill.

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  • baccalieu January 16, 2017, 4:32 pm

    I did see those lines and I do get the better safe than sorry. But he hasn’t done anything else but yell (depressives can do that it doesn’t take much initiative). Also, as one of the previous commenters suggested, the reason she broke up with him in public was not so much because of fear of being hurt but wanting to avoid a scene. The LW’s later update, in addition to clarifying that he’s never been physical also clarifies that his “scariness” is his irrational thought process and not any threat and that the reason she doesn’t want to see him again is to avoid a scene (“there’s nothing else to be said..”) and because she has a policy of avoiding meeting exs after break-ups.

    In any event, discussing whether this particular gentleman is a genuine threat is rather missing my point that not every irrational or mentally ill person is a potential threat and that the mentally ill suffer severe discrimination from people who conclude that because they are mentally ill they must be dangerous or just don’t want to deal with them.

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    • Kate January 16, 2017, 4:40 pm

      Mentally ill people can and do hurt others frequently. And so do mentally sound people, like Dylan Roof claims to be. We need to trust our instincts, rather than worry about hurting someone’s feelings by distancing ourselves. Yelling and scary displays of anger are more than enough reason. People who don’t trust their instincts get hurt, as the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker explains.


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      • Kate January 16, 2017, 4:43 pm

        I know it’s a small percentage of the mentally ill who are violent, but there are a LOT of people with mental illness.

      • Kate January 16, 2017, 4:59 pm

        Or, to put it a better way, I realize it’s said that a small percentage of violent crimes are committed by mentally ill people. But if I am around someone who makes me feel fearful, I need to get away from that person. I may or may not know that they have a mental illness or understand it, but I can’t put that ahead of my own safety. I have to trust my instincts. If I’m with a guy who is scary, and I also know he claims to be depressed, I’m not going to stick around in spite of my fear of him and my unhappiness in the relationship.

      • Ron January 16, 2017, 5:17 pm

        And Dylan Roof is definitely among the mentally ill. Those who deny it the most are frequently the most ill, especially with schizophrenia.

    • dinoceros January 16, 2017, 6:21 pm

      “I did see those lines and I do get the better safe than sorry. But he hasn’t done anything else but yell (depressives can do that it doesn’t take much initiative).”

      Then I don’t think you truly *get* the “better safe than sorry.” That whole concept means that even if it’s not that likely for a bad outcome, that the person is going to take the precautions just in case. That’s the exact point of “better safe than sorry.” I don’t see why meeting someone in public is THAT terrible that she should feel guilty for doing that or people are monsters for suggesting it.

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  • baccalieu January 16, 2017, 5:51 pm

    You guys are doing exactly what I am complaining about;putting all types of mental illness into the same category. I am mentally ill; I suffer from severe depression. However, I am literally no more of a risk than you are (and perhaps even less) to do something like what Dylan Roof did. If your gut tells you to fear all mentally ill people then you need to be educated and learn more about types of mental illness. Just like police officers need to be educated when their gut tells them to be particularly suspicious of black men, or airport security needs to be educated not to suspect every person from the Middle East. It’s not just a matter of hurt feelings, like the above examples, it can have a severe effect on the mentally ill person’s quality of life and basic human dignity. It is no big deal when one person avoids you, but when most people do it, it becomes a very big deal

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    • Kate January 16, 2017, 5:58 pm

      My gut does not tell me to fear mentally ill people. It tells me to fear people who are acting in a way that makes me feel unsafe. And if they happen to be mentally ill, I’m not going to stick around just because they are mentally ill.

      You don’t have a monopoly on mental illness, Baccalieu. I’ve suffered from depression. I can’t sleep unaided. I get it.

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      • Kate January 16, 2017, 6:00 pm

        I resist “suicidal ideation” regularly, I should add.

        Nothing that Ron or I wrote even hints at putting all mentally ill people in the same bucket, or being afraid of mentally ill people.

    • dinoceros January 16, 2017, 6:19 pm

      I’m confused why this is being brought up since it was from 2013. Am I missing something, or were you just searching for something to criticize?

      Most of the advice here is directed toward the particular question, rather than every single person who fits into a certain category. If an LW says they are nervous that their partner will fly off the handle, then we’re responding to that particular concern. It doesn’t mean that we are saying that any person with mental illness is a threat to society. It’s odd to me that someone would make that jump. I’m all for getting rid of ableism, but not at the expense of a person’s safety or even emotional well-being. I think trying to prevent an unreasonable outburst is a good enough reason for being in public.

      This reminds me of a post from years ago when I commented that a woman should be more clear when not interested some guy she knew, and somebody jumped on me and implied that I was a rape apologist. They were saying that because I told this particular woman that she needed to be more straightforward in her situation, that it automatically meant that I’d tell a woman who was assaulted that it was her fault. So, again, I had to try to explain that advice in one situation doesn’t mean that’s the same advice I’d give in a different situation with different people.

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  • baccalieu January 18, 2017, 1:47 pm

    This thread struck me because a number of the commenters were not just saying it was a good idea to meet him in public, they were absolutely stressing it (saying things like “oh my god, please make sure you don’t meet him alone.” and the like) and criticizing Wendy for suggesting that the LW meet with him. and even Wendy stated that she guaranteed that she would hear from him again. They said this despite the fact that from her actual description of this guy’s symptoms and reactions (“he mostly took it sadly and quietly..”). He seemed like a typical depressive like to me and highly unlikely to attack anyone and her reaction to him seemed to be a bit over the top, so I commented.

    I’m not “looking for something to criticize”. I raised a comment about something that interested me that I thought might be interesting to others and would make an interesting exchange of posts. If you think I’m just being a troll or wasting people’s time, you simply don’t have to comment.

    Neither am I saying that people are monsters. In fact it’s the opposite, they are doing something that seems normal and reasonable to them that has a serious effect on the people it is directed to. As I said above, if one person becomes fearful of a mentally ill person and avoids them, it’s no big deal but if everyone does it has a terrible effect.

    I don’t think that the police officers that unconsciously racially profile blacks are monsters either. Their gut, that tells them when to be suspicious of someone, isn’t properly “calibrated” or “tuned” and it needs adjusting through education. If just one officer were like this it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it is a problem because it is so common. It is one thing to follow one’s gut about fearing people, but what if, through ignorance or misunderstanding, your gut is calibrated badly? Of course, everyone is a free agent and can avoid people they are scared of if they want, but if too many do it can be very hard on the people being avoided. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to try to engage and educate people so the fear isn’t so common, and that (in a very, very small way) is what I am trying to do. If that makes me a jerk or troll, then I guess that’s what I am, and it’s already been made pretty clear to me that some people feel that way. All I can say is I am sorry, if you do.

    Kate, I didn’t know you suffered from depression and I am very sorry about it. (It really sucks doesn’t it.) However, I am glad you mentioned it. It shouldn’t be some embarrassing secret. If there is anything I can do to help (e.g. is there anything about the way that I post or write to you that I can change) I will do so.

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