Since it’s pretty easy to reach me through social media, it’s rare that people use the contact form on my website to reach out.
I always get a little bit excited when I get one of those emails. I’ve had some interesting people contact me in the past about our similar interests, and I’m generally pretty happy to make a new connection.
I was surprised to find that the message was from an old boyfriend, someone who I had dated briefly when I was living in a different town a few years ago.
I had almost forgotten about the relationship, or, at least, it wasn’t something I thought about often. It wasn’t a super-serious relationship.
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He was a guy I met in my ceramics class. We had flirted a bit at school and ended up dating for a couple of months. We were spending a decent amount of time together for a little while.
I remember him as being an okay guy. He definitely wasn’t mean or abusive in any way, but he had some personal issues with his health, self-esteem, and motivation; and I think this caused him to behave in a relatively self-centred and inconsiderate manner sometimes.
The details aren’t relevant here, but suffice to say that I lost interest in hanging out with him before too long. However, I had moved on easily from this relationship and wasn’t bothered by thoughts about it.
I was surprised to get his message, and I remember the line that stood out to me the most: “It was 90% me and 10% you.”
It’s rare that you get to hear an ex say something approaching “It’s all my fault,” and of course, it almost never is all anyone’s fault in a relationship.
Nonetheless, that’s a sentence that feels pretty good to read. I could hear my ego purring like a cat.
Do I feel vindicated?
When I first started reading the email and understood what it was about, I had a moment of feeling really awesome.
It was him and not me. I was the great one all along, and any doubts I ever had about that can die now.
That feeling passed really quickly.
Then, I started to second guess myself, and it was only the beginning of an unexpected emotional roller coaster.
I’m sure I probably annoyed him at times just as much as he annoyed me. We just weren’t right for each other – we were in different stages of development in many areas of our lives, and I don’t think it could have been long-term relationship regardless of anything inconsiderate that he did.
After feeling victorious, I started feeling sorry for him – but my feelings took a different turn after I thought about it for a while.
Is it too little, too late?
Hold on a second, who is this guy to apologise, years after the fact, anyway?
If he was going to say he was sorry, shouldn’t he have done it when it mattered?
Was this a real apology, or some kind of manipulation?
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Isn’t changed behaviour the best apology?
Maybe this guy had gotten over some of his issues in the last few years. Maybe he had grown and changed and become a better person.
Maybe this apology was a sign that he had matured – but we weren’t in touch anymore, and I wasn’t getting treated better as a result of that maturity.
How did I know that his words weren’t empty if I wasn’t around to witness his actions?
Is his apology about my happiness or his guilt?
Was he emailing me because he wanted me to feel better, or because he was hoping to get an email in return, so he could stop feeling bad?
Was he concerned about how his actions had affected me, or how he might appear to others or to himself?
Is my forgiveness about his guilt, my happiness, or my own ego?
If I write him back, am I doing it out of compassion for him, wanting to absolve him of his guilt; or am I doing it for me?
Am I doing it for me because I want to move on without harbouring any resentment, or am I doing it because I want to feel like a “good” person who arrogantly deigns to forgive?
Should I take what I can get?
Whether his apology came from a place of authenticity or not, it’s something, isn’t it?
Plenty of people get treated way worse in relationships and don’t ever get an apology.
Should I strive to feel purely grateful, instead of questioning it?
I’m still not sure how I feel about my ex’s apology, but I feel happy that I was able to notice all of my emotions about it. I’m also proud of myself for sitting with those emotions for a few days before doing anything about them.
After some thought, I decided not to write my ex back, and to treat the apology with a little bit of stoicism.
“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.” ― Epictetus
Relationships are complicated.
“Right” and “wrong” in a given situation is not always clear. It can be confusing deciding how you feel or what you want to do when it comes to your close relationships.
I feel like the best thing we can do when we feel overwhelmed is to slow down and detach ourselves from the situation. If we take a step back, it’s easier to remain present and aware of what we’re thinking, how we’re feeling, and how we’re deciding to react.
Not everything has to matter. You get to decide whether something is a meaningful event in your life, and how much of your mental energy you want to let it consume.
My ex’s apology made me realise that sometimes it’s okay to do nothing.
If you’re out there reading this: thanks.