A reader recently emailed me to ask:
I’m having a such a hard time with no contact. My ex broke up with me 3 weeks ago and since then he has texted me a few times. There really isn’t much to his messages, they’re usually something like: “Hi, how are you?” or just “hey.” All of my stuff has already been moved out and there are no other loose ends so I just don’t get why he keeps contacting me. I feel obligated to respond but when I do, not much really comes of it. He either gives me one word responses or waits for hours to respond. If he wants to talk to me why doesn’t he just talk?
I feel stupid for bothering you but I don’t know how to handle this. I’m trying to do no contact but it seems like I’m being mean if I don’t even respond. I want him back and cutting off all contact like you say to do is scary— what if he tells me he wants me back. What if he gets mad at me? Am I being mean by cutting off contact? I miss him so much.
First, I’m so sorry you’re going through that, Lynn. What I’m going to say applies to both male and female exes, but I’m going to use the male pronouns here since your ex is male.
This is really a two part question:
Why does your ex keep contacting you even when he broke up with you?
Is cutting your ex off and going no contact mean or cruel to them?
Let’s start with the first part.
Your ex keeps contacting you after the breakup for a several different reasons. First, it’s a habit. During your relationship you both probably talked a few times a day. Until he breaks that habit, he’ll probably reach for the phone when he thinks of you.
Next, your responses are a twisted ego boost. Your ex probably doesn’t even realize it, but each and every time you respond to his messages, he can feel a little jolt of superiority. He can think to himself, “well she hasn’t completely cut me off, so I still have that cord of emotional support if I need it. This breakup was a good idea. I’m not really a jerk for leaving her. It’s really all good between us.” Over time, your responses allow your ex to displace responsibility for the breakup away from himself.
That sounds cruel and it deep down, it probably is, but it’s not usually a conscious thing. Some people get over their exes by reminding themselves repeatedly of exactly what they’re trying to move on from, namely you.
The third reason why an ex will hang around and keep contacting you after a breakup is that they haven’t found someone new who provides them with the same level of emotional support that you did.
This is often the case during breakups where two people had a really strong, supportive emotional connection while they were together. That cord isn’t so easy to cut or replace. If you allow it, your ex can mistakenly start to believe that they can have their cake and eat it too— namely, be broken up from you but get all of the emotional (and sometimes even sexual benefits) of being with you. They can go search for a new person to date while having all of the cushy happy feelings of having someone to talk to who is still “there for them.”
Pretty icky right?
Most of this isn’t even conscious. People (even your ex who shattered your heart into tiny little pieces) fear change. By keeping one toe dipped into your relationship, he gets the best of both worlds. Scary change AND emotional support to get through it.
As far as whether no contact with your ex after a breakup is mean or cruel, let’s flip it around a little bit and think about it a different way.
By breaking up with you, your ex walked away from every fun moment, every amazing thing about you, and every bit of your emotional support to forge his own path without you.
He looked at everything you both had together and said, “thanks for the memories, but no thanks.”
He’s the one who made that decision about you and you’re asking me if it’s cruel to stop responding to crumbs of attention that he’s carelessly flinging your way? After all, he’s the one who told you it was over and you’re wondering if you’re the cruel one?
It sounds a little silly when I say it like that right?
Nothing great in a relationship is achieved in a state of fear.
The fear that your ex will get mad at you or think you’re being mean has caused you to pander to him. And pandering behavior is at odds with making yourself scarce and rare— thus, more attractive.
That’s why worrying about whether your ex (or anyone else who doesn’t treasure you) doesn’t like you is counter productive.
I don’t say this to upset you or make you feel worse than you already do. I just have to point out that you deserve to keep your self respect and in the wake of this breakup and that does not include jumping every time he tosses attention your way.
One other thing.
Going no contact with your ex is an essential part of getting him back should you want to rekindle your relationship.
Sticking around and catering to his every crumb of attention actually makes it a lot LESS likely that you’ll eventually end up happily back together.
Because he knows deep down that he’s the one who doesn’t deserve to talk to you.
By providing him with anything in his absence, you’re saying that what he did is really okay. He needs to STRIVE to get back into YOUR good graces if he regrets it, not the other way around. By going no contact you force him to see what he really thinks about your relationship. And frankly, he can’t miss you if you’re always waiting there, ready to pounce on the phone and respond to every piece of half-hearted communication he farts out.
Because exes don’t think these things through unless you raise the stakes and change the game on them by forcing them to face up to the cold, hard reality that they’re going to lose you if they don’t make a change fast. No contact spearheads that process.
Going no contact with your ex is a definite “alls fair in love and war” moment. You don’t ever owe anything to anyone who decided to step back from your relationship.