My ex-boyfriend’s messages are irritating and upsetting. Should I break off communication?

His messages are a constant reminder of our failed relationship
His messages are a constant reminder of our failed relationship - R.Fresson/A Human Agency

Dear A&E,

I broke up with my ex-boyfriend nearly a year ago and he still messages me regularly. Checking in. Wondering how I am. Congratulating me on some small achievement he’s seen on social media. The thing is, he dumped me. And I don’t want to hear from him. I could have done with all this consideration and praise when we were together rather than his avoidance and criticism. I rarely reply but his emails and texts make me feel worse than I already do about the failure of that relationship (I really loved him) and being alone. Should I just tell him to go away?


Dear Aggravated,

Look at him, being all marvellous with his aftercare and his “I’m great friends with my ex – we just wanted different things.” Check out his breeziness and his positive vibes and his “good guy energy’. The trouble is, every time he’s nice and chatty and gives you the whole, “I’m so proud of you” schtick, you are reminded that he wasn’t like this when you were together and – mad though it sounds – these thoughtful little missives remind you that you are no longer together. Of course you know that, but do you really need it hammered home every time a tiny ambush of kindness pops up in your inbox or on your phone? Every message reminds you of what you do not have. What you lost. What might have been. And the possibility of a message keeps you low-level adrenalised all the time.

In each message lurks the shadow of intimacy; highlighting the fact that you do not – at the moment – have a meaningful romantic connection in your life. Nor are you soaringly, sensationally single. Every dispatch presses a bruise, reminding you of the initial injury. If only he could be kind enough to let you hate him.

At the end of a relationship, when one or both people are feeling uncomfortable, they will often find roundabout ways to broadcast and share that discomfort. In this instance you say he was cold, critical and avoidant. But, of course, when the shackles of the relationship are removed, that same cold, critical, avoidant boyfriend can bewilderingly morph into a warm human being again. The removal of expectation can have a remarkable effect on behaviour. He might be a perfectly decent person, after all, endings are always bad or they wouldn’t happen. But this is not about him. This is about you. And what you need right now. It’s all fine and good for him to be sentimental and chatty but it is not working for you. Not now. Not yet. Possibly not ever.

So, yes, Aggravated, it is indeed time to set a boundary. One thing you learn in therapy is that boundaries are not just for w***ers. They are essential. They help keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. It’s all very well to “consciously uncouple” and feel that you have to be noble and dignified but… do you? You do not owe him your peace of mind. We put up with all sorts of things so it doesn’t look like we’re making a fuss. Or being dramatic. Or being hysterical. Or being neurotic. Or being uncool. But what other people think of us is none of our business.

You could mute him and spare yourself the aggravation, which is just the itch of heartbreak not yet tamed. But where is the agency in that? You could stop posting on social media and deny him any talking points, but that is just giving away your power by taking action in anticipation of someone else’s response. Why not send him a message – not in response to one of his “Congratulations on the Couch to 5k!!!!” memos, but under your own steam. It might say something like, “I would like some time with no contact. I am not ready to be in casual communication with you.  Thank you for respecting this.” You do not need to go into the intricacies of your hurt and irritation. Remember what you hope to achieve from this and keep it simple: you would like his messages to stop. If your objective is to get back together, tell him how much pain he caused or crush him with a withering character assassination then that is a different message and, indeed, a different problem. So keep it clean, Aggravated.

And, finally, we so understand. We wholeheartedly relate to your frustration and your grief and your sense of living on an island of pain surrounded by couples. Remember that there are no rules when it comes to healing. There is no timeline. Try to be compassionate to yourself when you have the inevitable, “I should be over him by now, I should be HAPPY” thoughts. You will be. Breaking this odd cycle of interaction is a resonant piece in the puzzle of your recovery. Of course, his virtual proximity makes you feel more alone. Send him on his way, Aggravated. You may briefly mourn this last thread of connection. But then… oh, the freedom. You don’t feel it yet. But you will. And it will be worth waiting for.