Hi, Carolyn: I was in a relationship from age 24 to 36. I'm now over 60. The relationship was abusive, but subtly so — or so it seemed to me. Lots of gaslighting, lots of picking fights at dinner (until it got to the point I'd lost 20 pounds), lots of, "Why aren't you like this?" or, "When you did X, were you being obtuse or were you just being mean?" Even things like waking me in the middle of the night to discuss some point about my personality or actions that offended or hurt them, when they knew I struggled to sleep.
This person had been a mentor first, and my gratitude combined with an ever-disappearing sense of self kept me with them far too long. I finally did get out by listening to my friends who claimed the relationship was abusive, getting a therapist, going on antidepressants and making a pact with myself not to have any contact with this person again.
Although they tried to pull me back in, I never gave any response: gifts went into the dumpster unopened, letters were shredded unread and I changed my phone number. For the past 15 years, I have heard nothing and not even spotted them in public (we still live in the same town). I have been married for 20 years to a loving spouse. I am truly as happy as I've ever been in my life.
I've now learned this person is probably dying of cancer, and they have asked through a friend of theirs if I would agree to one joint meeting with a counselor so they can "finish" their life "with nothing left unsaid" (the friend's words).
I am not going to do this. But I wonder about how to reply to the friend's email. I don't wish them ill, but I feel I barely made it out that relationship alive. I have no wish either to give absolution or argue anything out again. I'm thinking I should just . . . not respond, which of course is a response. Or should I try to be kinder with my "no"?
Because the request itself is a renewal of the abuse.
Your ex could say the “unsaid” in writing. Instead, they conditioned it upon your engaging with them again. That says they have not changed, grown, gotten healthy or learned a blasted thing in the decades since you left.
Abuse is a transaction requiring two people to complete it. For your ex to manipulate you, you need to change your behavior at their bidding. Just by dwelling on how to respond, you have already been manipulated. That’s why it was selfish of your ex to reach out to you this way. The “with a counselor” element is just a false promise of your protection, and probably a disingenuous one at that, intended to draw you in.
So choose actions toward your goal of complete detachment.
Counterintuitively, that doesn’t mean not responding, which could passively invite the friend to keep trying — and also leave you with something to dread. Instead, pull the plug firmly and clearly in an emailed response: “I want no interaction with [ex]. Please do not contact me again.” Block addresses and numbers as needed, and live without apology in your hard-won peace.