DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve got this ex, and we’re friends. We’re exes because the stars didn’t align for us, and that’s it. We’ve been close for ten years, on and off, and I really love her. We’ll call her Amber.
Seven years ago, her boyfriend, we’ll call him Cory, ghosted her (but didn’t block her or unfriend her on Facebook) when she violated his trust. Five years ago, she stopped reaching out to him. She always talked about him with regret, but lately it’s been turned up to eleven. She’s been speculating about how serious he really was about removing her from his life. She started watching his semi-popular livestreams, and she even sent him a harmless message anonymously. I check out my crush’s Insta every once in a while, so I don’t think I can judge.
And then it went to twelve. She decided she was going to send him a letter. At first, she was going to write and not send it, but as time went on, she became more determined to send it. I told her that he made it clear he didn’t want to hear from her, and she responded that maybe he did want to get in touch with her, and he just needed permission. I decided I was going to help her write the letter so it didn’t come across as pushy or threatening. She sent it. Surprising no one but Amber, he didn’t respond. I thought the matter was settled.
The amp goes up to thirteen, folks, because now she assumes that he changed his email, and he never got the message. Now she wants to comment, as herself, on one of his livestreams, the prospect of which is making me queasy in the stomach region. He’s going to have to be polite to her because he has to, and she’s going to take that as confirmation. At this point, I used the word “obsessing” and “unhealthy” to her, and she said that she would simply stop talking to me about it, matter settled. I feel sorry for the guy, but it’s not my problem anymore.
She publicly vaguebooked about how when someone tells her not to do something, she’s more inclined to do it because “nobody tells me what to do.” Taking this as a personal attack (which it was), I publicly responded that she sounded like an anti-vaxxer, and now, suddenly, I feel like it’s my problem again.
I’m really, really worried about her. This obsession of hers is unhealthy, and, as someone who has his own stalker, I really feel for this guy. I’m also thinking about walking away from her for a while and letting things develop without me. But I keep going back to, the fact that, for seven years, Cory has not acknowledged the existence of Amber, and now suddenly he gets an email from her, and a message on his livestream? What would be going on in his head for this. Would he get scared? I would. And, more importantly, what does this mean for my relationship with Amber. Is this going to be the hill our relationship dies on?
What am I supposed to do here?
Leaps and Boundaries
DEAR LEAPS AND BOUNDARIES: There’s the snarky part of me that wants to ask if this is related to the last time I got a “I want to date my favorite Twitch streamer”, but that’s not terribly helpful.
So there’re two parts to this. First is the question of “how bad is this, really,” which I think needs to be addressed — both on her end and what her actions are, or might be doing to Cory.
Part of the problem I have with calling her behavior dangerous or obsessive is that there’s a distinct lack of detail in your letter. You don’t say why Cory ghosted her — just that she violated his trust. That’s one of those things that would be an important detail that could explain why he would just ghost her instead of having a proper break-up. “Violated his trust” covers a wide range of possibilities or actions; some would be heinous and make it clear that Cory peaced-out because he felt it wasn’t safe to confront her, while others would make Cory the asshole for just up and leaving without a word. Nor, for that matter, do you mention how long they were together; weeks, months, years, etc. All of that adds context to her actions and makes it easier to tell just how bad things are or aren’t.
That lack of detail and specificity, likewise, makes it a little difficult to say “yup, this is bad.” Since you don’t share what the first draft of her letter said (assuming that there was a first draft before you got involved) or what she wanted to write that might have seemed threatening or pushy, it’s hard to make any sort of judgement call. Without that sort of info, it’s more or less impossible to gauge how potentially threatening any of this is or how bad it’s likely to be — especially for Cory.
Similarly, you don’t say that she’s acting in ways that seem untethered to reality in dangerous ways or that her attitude towards him has become vengeful or threatening or anything other than… well, painfully awkward, honestly.
Looking at things from Cory’s end, if I’m being honest, I don’t think I would round up to being dangerous or likely to cause him to feel threatened. Thus far, what we’ve got is “sent an anonymous message” and “sent an email”. Even if she decides to comment in the chat… I dunno, her behavior doesn’t seem to be escalating in dangerous directions or in ways that would make him feel under threat. Mostly this comes across like someone’s ex who’s full of regret and Wild Turkey messaging them at 2 AM going “Hey, WYD?” or occasionally sliding into their DMs and trying to flirt awkwardly.
Now to be fair: there’s a gendered aspect to this. While women can and have been stalkers and 1 in 17 men have been victims of stalking, according to the CDC, as a general rule women tend to present less of a threat to men than men do to women. This doesn’t mean that s--t can’t go badly or that he can’t decide that yes, he does feel threatened by her behavior. But what you present in your letter doesn’t sound like she’s dangerous, threatening or causing stress, emotional or mental harm to him right now.
I should say: she’s not exactly covering herself in glory here. While it sucks that she got ghosted by her boyfriend… dude ignored her attempts to get in touch for two years straight. What I’ve said about online dating applies here too: no reply is a reply. It’s the other person saying “I’m not interested,” and as much as folks may not like hearing that, the only real choice is to accept it and move on. And unfortunately Amber doesn’t seem to have absorbed that particular message. But while she seems willing to ignore the glaringly obvious — if he’d changed his email, she would’ve gotten a bounce back, not echoing silence — this sounds more like an awkward attempt to get closure on her terms than some Fatal Attraction-esque “I will not be ignored, Dan!” escalation.
The same goes for her whole “nobody tells me what to do” schtick. If I’m being honest, this mostly sounds like kinda cringe “Yas queen/girl-boss!” self-aggrandizement by someone hoping that their friends will have her back and justify her making what she knows is a stupid decision. That doesn’t come across as “We were meant to be together and I’ll stop at nothing until he’s mine”, it sounds more like someone getting upset that her friends told her that she needs to dial back on the drinks when they’re out on the town.
Does any of this mean that things can’t or won’t escalate to dangerous levels? Of course not; it’s certainly a possibility. Is it likely? Well, ye olde magic eight-ball says “signs point to no”. Not with the information that you’ve presented, in any case.
Which brings us to the second part: what do you do about this?
Well, to be blunt, the wise answer would’ve been to say “not my farm, not my pigs,” and wash your hands of the whole mess long before it ever got to this point.
I’m not entirely sure why you decided to get neck deep in this. It’s one thing to say “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Yogi.” It’s another to, y’know, be directly involved to the point of helping her write her letter to the dude. While I get that you’ve got a stalker of your own and I sympathize… your actions weren’t exactly de-escalating things. If anything, it could be argued that you were enabling her by participating to the level that you did rather than shutting her down and telling her that this was a horrible idea.
Similarly, you had an out. She got pissed that you were telling her to knock it off and she said “fine, I’m not going to talk about this with you.” And hey that was it! You were free! You could have moved on from this! But responding to her vaguebooking about you instead of, I dunno, rolling your eyes and just muting the thread, seems to have given you reason to get involved in this s--t again for reasons that I just don’t get.
But quite frankly, you’re not helping here. You’re not helping Cory, especially as you’re making unfounded guesses on his mental state, nor are you convincing Amber to make like Elsa and let it go. You’ve functionally inserted yourself into a situation that is ultimately causing you more stress, but isn’t otherwise doing any good for anyone.
My take on this is simple: it’s time to peace out, cub scout. You’re not in contact with Cory, so you’re making assumptions on his behalf. You’re not changing Amber’s mind or otherwise getting her to change course here. All you’re doing is working yourself up into a froth over this and apparently reopening your own emotional wounds which ain’t good for you. And honestly, I think you’re transposing your own feelings about your experiences — which are awful and I’m sorry you’ve gone through that — onto Cory. Unless Amber’s behavior is escalating or is threatening, I think “my ex just popped up in the comments” isn’t going to cause Cory great distress.
If you want Amber to think twice about what she’s doing, then let her pay a social price for it. Drop her like fifth period French and tell her that it’s because her actions to Cory are too close to what you went through with your own stalker, so that she understands why you’re cutting ties. She can reach out to you if and when she’s let this go, gotten over things and gotten some help. If things are actually escalating to the point that she’s causing Cory emotional harm, then hell yes this is a friendship-termination offense. This is a hill that relationships should die on. Why in pluperfect f--kery wouldn’t you end this relationship if she’s acting in a dangerous or threatening manner?
Unless it really is just someone being a bit cringe because they can’t accept a bad break up, even after seven goddamn years.
Now, if you have reason to believe that this might actually be stressful or harmful to Cory, then you could drop him — or his chat moderators — a line and let them know that Amber’s planning on doing this and to give them a head’s up. This way the mods can be on the look out for her and head her off before Cory has a chance of seeing it. This also would give Cory the opportunity to weigh his own options, as well as start a potential paper trail for a TRO, should things ever get to that point.
But again: that’s assuming that there’s reason to believe that Amber is going to escalate to dangerous levels or that Cory is likely to experience harm from this.
Otherwise, though? Cut Amber loose, let her know why you’re doing it, and then tap out of the whole situation. Not your farm, not your pigs.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org