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Heavy Meddle: Does Blowing Off My Ex Make Me Cruel?

Dear Steve,

I live in the same neighborhood as an ex-boyfriend I dated for a brief three months. Whenever we bump into each other, he gives me a guilt trip about not remaining in touch. He has even gone so far as to corner me in a local cafe and barrage me with texts when I don’t respond immediately to his messages.

I broke up with him because he was difficult, angry, and because he hated all my friends and pretty much everything I love to do.

My feeling is that given the situation, he no longer gets access to me other than a civil hello on the street, but several of my friends feel this is harsh. I think this is because I’m a woman, and we’re expected to handle men with considerably more care than they offer us.

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Thoughts? Do strict boundaries make me a jerk?

Signed,
Lookin’ For Back Up

Dear LFBU,

I got your back, sister! You’re reading the situation just right. If your friends can’t see this, tell them to try this little thought experiment: Let’s say the genders were reversed. Let’s say a male friend of theirs — let’s call him Lance! — had been briefly involved with a woman who was difficult and angry and hated all of them. Then Lance had the good sense to break up with her. But this woman, who lived nearby, continued to encounter Lance and guilt trip him and send him harassing texts and even go so far as to “corner him in a local cafe.” How would your friends feel about this woman? Would they feel she was acting appropriately? Would they feel Lance was being cruel? Or would they refer to this woman as a “nightmare” and give Lance sympathetic pep talks and make joking (but not that funny) references to the film "Fatal Attraction"?

I’m guessing it would be some variation of the latter.

Your friends need to recognize that protecting yourself from further harassment isn’t cruelty, but self-preservation. And if they can’t, you need to find a new set of friends.

But let me to return to the actual gender set-up, because you’re experiencing something I’ve observed a lot over the years, which is that troubled guys who get broken up with often pull this crap. Sadly, I speak here as a former troubled guy.

Protecting yourself from further harassment isn’t cruelty, but self-preservation.

So here’s what’s going on inside us. Basically, we feel humiliated and abandoned, because we know we had a good thing and that our personality defects pushed that good thing (you!) away. And we know that we’re not going to get back into your life in a positive way, so we settle for negative ways — a kind of bullying guilt provocation, with just a pinch of physical menace.

The key thing for you is simply not to give this guy anything to grab onto, emotionally or otherwise. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t make you responsible, in any way, for this dude’s unhappiness. Be polite and nothing more. For the short term, you might avoid places where you’re likely to encounter him. My hunch is that he’ll find someone else upon whom to inflict his charming brand of bull (or preferably, a good therapist). But again: That’s not your responsibility. You just want the guy to observe the proper boundaries.

The fact that you identified this guy as “angry” makes me feel as if I need to include this caveat: If he escalates his harassment, you need to tell him (gently, but firmly) that his behavior is unacceptable. And if he can’t hear that, or he in any way makes you feel physically threatened, you need to be prepared to tell an officer of the law. I’m not trying to be an alarmist. Like I say, this guy will almost certainly move on once he realizes you can’t be bullied into paying attention to him. The whole thing will blow over. But it’s also true that too many women fail to speak up when they feel intimidated, whether out of sympathy, fear, or some blend of both.

Here’s to hoping Mr. Wrong gets the help he needs. Or takes his trouble elsewhere. ♥

Editor's Note: What do you think, readers? Did Steve get it right? Should LFBU be more/less sensitive? Are her friends being unreasonable? When it comes to navigating post-relationship relations, is there a double standard for women? Weigh in in the comments. 

And, what about you? Need advice? Send your dilemmas via email.

This program aired on July 24, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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