You Need Help: How Can I Be a ‘Good Ex’?

Q:

I broke up with my girlfriend about six months ago, and I recently got an email from her documenting her upset feelings after seeing me in passing since we had our last conversation. It seemed impulsive on her part and I just haven’t responded. I don’t have anything to say at this point beyond, please get the support you need from someone that isn’t me, but maybe that’s too harsh. I feel like she is asking me to read her mind as to what she wants from me, which just doesn’t feel fair. I’m not interested in reconnecting or rehashing anything, but I don’t want to be mean or inconsiderate.

How can I be a good, gentle person to my ex, without relinquishing important boundaries?

– A “bad ex”


A:

There is nothing in your letter that indicates to me that you are a bad ex. The key to being a good ex is really quite simple: Respect your ex’s boundaries but also respect your own.

It indeed sounds like the email from your ex was very impulsive. This happens a lot in the early stages of a breakup. People act almost feral. Heartbreak does a number on us, and sometimes it leads to… bad behavior. Your ex’s email was not really beneficial for anyone involved: I sincerely doubt she got any semblance of closure from sending it. Seeing you understandably triggered some specific feelings for her, but that doesn’t mean she should have acted on those feelings in the way that she did.

It is NOT too harsh to tell her that she needs to seek support from someone who is not you. It has been six months! And sure, getting over a breakup is not always a quick or linear process, but that’s quite a while for her to still be seeking some sort of validation from you. At this point, you shouldn’t even be expected to be in communication with her at all if that’s not what you want. Because like I said: It’s important to honor your own boundaries in all of this! If you have nothing to say, you have nothing to say. If you’re not interested in reconnecting, then zero contact is fair! It’s not mean or inconsiderate (unless there are details left out of your letter like needing to still divvy up shared belongings or basic logistics like that, but I assume since you’re six months out and haven’t mentioned any of that that it’s not applicable in your situation).

Rehashing a relationship in the wake of a breakup doesn’t really help anyone involved, and your ex might not understand that, but hopefully she will soon, especially if she starts leaning on people to process the breakup who are NOT you. I don’t think it’s always as simple as “you don’t owe this person anything,” but you really…don’t owe your ex anything. The breakup happened a while ago. The time for any kind of processing together has long passed.

I understand that you want to be “gentle” and “good” to your ex, but that does not mean you need to hold her hand through all this or relive the past. You were clear in setting a boundary by breaking up with her. You cannot be expected to read her mind or even let her in on all of YOUR thoughts. If anything, your ex is the one who is feeding into a bad dynamic by reaching out in an impulsive and counterproductive way.

It sounds like you’re not interested in being friends with your ex, so I just want to add that THAT IS PERFECTLY FINE. It’s nice when exes can be friends, but it’s not something anyone should force themselves to do. No one should feel bad for not wanting to be friends with an ex despite what some cliches about queer breakups say. You don’t have to have any relationship at all with your ex, and I assure you that does not make you a bad ex at all. Relationships change. Relationships end. It’s not inconsiderate to move forward.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a writer and critic currently living in Orlando. Her pop culture writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 237 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you, Kayla, for always being here to talk about good boundaries and how the cliche of all queers being friends with their exes doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone in all circumstances! So many snaps.

  2. Hear hear to everything Kayla said. Also I may be misreading, but from your scare quotes I’m guessing that “bad ex” is maybe something she called you in this letter? If so, I think it’s fair to point out that for some people, you will be a bad ex no matter what you say or do, simply by virtue of the fact that you broke up with them (and/or because you aren’t being emotionally available to them now so they can try to convince you to get back together). I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here, but if so that’s likely a response based more on her current emotional state than anything reflective of you.

  3. This is such good advice. I’ve been on the “impulsive ex” side of this (to a lesser extent than described in this letter!), and the best thing my ex did was tell me that she isn’t the person to talk a lot of this stuff through with. It hurt at the time because I had to go through that nasty process of figuring out who to talk to now that the person I liked talking to the most was suddenly permanently unavailable, but it was a totally correct boundary to assert and I’m grateful for it now – it forced me to speak to other people in my life who gave me good advice and new insights and helped me move past things in a way I never could have done if I was still talking to my ex about her thoughts. In a way, sometimes, setting boundaries IS the best way to be a kind ex in the long term, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time!

    The letter writer already sounds they’re trying their best to be a thoughtful, kind person, so I have no doubt that they’ll be able to communicate this to their ex in a kind way.

  4. Have to play devils advocate on this. If she saw you in passing, what matters is also what happened during that passing. She did not blow up your phone or text you.Maybe she thought she would have seen you in passing again, which happens a lot in queer circles with ex’s and wanted some sort of conversation with you. All your feelings are valid but there seems to be some missing pieces here. You don’t want to be friends, then don’t respond. She wrote you an email so possibly you can clarify with her what intentions she has, if you wanted. I don’t think she’s asking you to read her mind if she wrote you an email. If you don’t want a friendship with her just say it because she can’t read your mind as well.

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