Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Apologize For Traumatizing My Ex?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I (m20) just made a huge mistake. I’ve been home from college for about a month now, with another two months left before in-person classes resume, and the cabin fever has set in hard. A few days ago, about half of my family started showing symptoms of COVID, leaving the rest of us to take care of them while they isolate. This has been fairly stressful, since I don’t know yet whether I might have been infected, or even if they are. On top of that, distancing myself as much as possible from other family members has exacerbated feelings of loneliness I’ve been struggling with ever since I forced myself to walk away from a frankly toxic friend group (there’s a whole lot of emotional neglect, gaslighting, and overall s--ttiness there that I’m not going to talk about here).

In what may have been the worst possible idea I’ve had in a long time, I sent a “hey, how’ve things been” text (those are the exact words) to a person I had hooked up with for a few weeks at the start of the previous semester. I wasn’t going to talk about the COVID or loneliness stuff, and I also wasn’t going to do any kind of “take me back, I miss you” routine. I had just wanted to talk to someone, maybe make a few jokes about living in a frozen hellscape to get my mind off of things, nothing serious (the idiocy at display here is only becoming more apparent as I write this). I know texting an ex is usually a bad idea, but I figured that enough time had passed and things had ended amicably enough that I thought it would be ok. Besides, I’ve been on good terms with my other exes, so I didn’t think there would be much harm in reaching out.

As it turns out, I was completely wrong. Turns out my ex had been in a new relationship ever since ours ended, and due to a previous experience with a stalker (which was bad enough that the police had to get involved and left her with some serious mental scarring), she really didn’t appreciate random texts out of the blue from exes. She told me that she wanted all communication between us to stop and for me to respect her boundaries. I of course apologized for reaching out, explained that I didn’t know about the current relationship or the stalker, and agreed to cut off communication. I also explained why I had reached out, and apologized for how my message was received, acknowledging that even though I didn’t know about the stalker or the new relationship, it was inappropriate for me to reach out. I deleted her contact information from my phone immediately after I sent the apology.

I feel terrible. I never wanted to hurt her, but I’m pretty sure that I just made her relive one of the worst experiences of her life. I’m not going to contact her ever again, obviously. I guess I’m writing you because I don’t know how much I should be beating myself up for this. On the one hand, I seriously hurt someone I cared about. On the other, I couldn’t have known this would happen and I feel like I did the best I could to repair the damage afterwards. I guess I’m kind of overwhelmed right now, and however bad I feel, I recognize that it was probably worse for her than it was for me.

Who knows, maybe this can serve as a warning for others who are about to make the same mistake.

Sincerely,

Shouldn’t’ve Texted Former hook-Up

DEAR SHOULDN’T HAVE TEXTED FORMER HOOK-UP: You didn’t f--k up, STFU. Seriously. You just had some seriously s--tty luck.

You were lonely and wanting some basic human contact, so you reached out to someone who you had reason to believe you were on fairly amicable terms with. You sent an entirely innocuous and normal text to try to get back in in touch with someone you hadn’t talked to in a while. And while it may not have exactly been the most exciting way of saying “hey, we haven’t talked in a while, so I wanted to say ‘hey'”, your text was pretty typical. 99% of the population wouldn’t blink if they got that text from someone they knew.

Everything else that happened? That’s all your ex, and was completely outside of your control. You had no way of knowing that she was in a new relationship, you had no way of knowing that she had an issue with a stalker or that getting a “hi, how are you?” text from an ex was particularly triggering for her. This was just bad luck. You stepped on a landmine that you didn’t know was there or had any reason to suspect even existed. And while it absolutely sucks that your doing this angered her  — for entirely understandable reasons —  or had echoes of her stalker, this was a pure accident. This wasn’t bad judgement, this wasn’t inappropriate, this wasn’t ignoring the warning signs, this was saying “hey” and through random chance, just happening to hit a raw wound that — again — you didn’t know was there.

And the instant she told you how much she doesn’t like hearing from exes without warning, you apologized and accepted her request that you don’t contact her again. Those were all the right things to do.

There’s nothing inappropriate with talking to an ex, especially one where the break-up was amicable. There’s nothing inappropriate about reaching out to someone you used to date in hopes of reconnecting, having a decent conversation and possibly moving towards a post-break-up friendship. This specific person has (again, completely understandable) issues surrounding random texts from exes. You didn’t know and just happened to pick the wrong person to text that day.

This was an accident, man. Would you have texted her if you’d known about any of this? Hell no you wouldn’t have, because you’re not an a--hole. It sucks that this happened and that you hurt or upset her. But this was a set of very specific circumstances that lined up in a very specific way, that aren’t likely to happen again. You’ve apologized and you’ve backed away like she asked. The only thing left to do is pick yourself up, dust yourself off and just move forward.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com