Over a year later, my ex saw another social media post showing that my boyfriend and I had bought a house, and he emailed this information to my boyfriend’s ex-wife (they are now completely divorced). I’m distressed by this level of fixation two years after we broke up, but I’m not sure what to do about it. This seems designed to provoke a reaction from me, and I think a reaction would reward bad behavior. At the same time, someone should point out that this is very creepy and tell him to turn it off. What would you suggest?
Get out: I would keep a close record of all this, with as much detail as possible, including dates. This is in case you need to get a future restraining order or file stalker charges. I’d also see if someone from your local police department (ours has a non-emergency number with a community liaison officer who is nice about answering all sorts of questions) can talk to you about state and local stalking laws and when you might have. grounds for a restraining order. This man has indeed gone wild and entered stalker territory.
Get out: As someone who has dealt with an attention seeking and misbehaving family member, I can tell you that ignoring is your absolute best plan. Not just ignoring it, but finding a way to remove all connections to the ex. Filter emails straight to the trash, block all phone numbers, etc. This will allow you to free up head space and not let your ex in – or much less often. Any involvement with your ex not only rewards his bad behavior, but also encourages more of the same.
I don’t know if there are any possibilities to get the police involved as this doesn’t seem to fit with cyberstalking. It’s a step away from you – going to the boyfriend’s ex and not you – although of course it’s super creepy. If your friend is on good (enough?) terms with his ex, he can ask her to block your ex as well. Plus, anyone your ex reaches out to can hopefully cut it off.
If every person your ex contacts then contacts you, it could trigger you again. So maybe, “I’m all over the Ex shenanigans. Please ignore him, and for my own sanity, don’t let me know if he contacts me again. Your ex is looking for a way to get in or to get back at you and make you angry or anxious. Gather your troops so as not to deny him access points.
— Guts from Nashville
Get out: Yes, your ex is trying to provoke a reaction from you. Each response is a reward that encourages him to continue provoking. If he were made aware of his deeply creepy behavior, he would be induced to stop doing it, he would probably be self-aware and sane enough not to engage in it in the first place. As counterintuitive (and unfair) as it may feel, not responding in any way is the best option.
This practice is discussed at length in Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear,” an excellent resource for equipping yourself to deal with this and other forms of unwanted attention. In my own experience, I did two things to regain a sense of control that made “don’t respond” an easier rule to follow: (1) I limited how the person could contact me or find personal updates – I blocked them on all social media and blocked all communication except email, allowing a minimally invasive way to monitor any correspondence for escalation; and (2) I asked the other people in my life who this person was likely to contact to also block and not reply to them. We kept each other informed of any correspondence or signs of escalation that any of us received. If you can’t immediately coordinate this with everyone you want, start with yourself and your friend, limit what others can share about either of you on social media, and expand the circle of trust if you can. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Good luck.
Each week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted via Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s episode here. New questions are usually posted on Fridays, with a submission deadline on Monday. Comments are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself, and have been edited for length and clarity.