Free Advice Q3: How do I tell an ex friend to stop emailing me?

dear lia,

there is a woman that i used to be friends with. when we were friends, she was cheating on her husband and made vague passes at me. She even vibed one of my best friends when she came to visit me, acting rude and curt towards my friend and trying to draw me into private conversations, acting jealous and weird. i lost respect for her and don’t like being around her. being friends with her seemed to mean a lot of drama for me, and i’m really trying to keep off the drama.

i really haven’t been friends with her for 3 or 4 years, since she vibed my friend. she has tried to contact me on several occasions through email. she’ll include me in a group email to go see music or get together for her birthday. a couple weeks ago, she wrote me an email about a dream she had about me. i never respond to anything she sends, just erase it. on my bday, she sent me a message just saying happy birthday. i didnt respond. I really don’t have any interest in maintaining a relationship with her and don’t want her to think I want to be her friend by responding, but clearly she isn’t getting the message that I’m not her friend. Is there a miss manners answer to this?

Crowded in Chicago

Dear Crowded,

Ah yes, the clueless ex-friend who is so wrapped up she didn’t get the memo that she’s an ex friend. Some might advise you to let sleeping dogs lie, reasoning that she doesn’t contact you enough to warrant drawing that boundary. But I’m not. Sleeping dogs often growl and bare their teeth while chasing prey in their dreams. You are never quite sure when you are going to hear from her. And hearing from her is clearly a source of stress for you-stress that she isn’t taking the hint and respecting your wishes. If she is taking the hint and not respecting your wishes, that’s a form of emotional terrorism. (The email about the dream, with it’s creepy intimacy totally unmatched to the circumstances of your current relationship, seems to bear this out). Or else, she has very different criteria for friendship and a much higher tolerance for games and drama than you do, and therefore not a suitable friend for this time in your life.

You could just block her from your email and be done with it. But, you wanted the Miss Manners answer for this, which means you are afflicted with etiquette and ethics. And in the name of ethics, I do think it is nice to give someone an opportunity to reflect on their behavior and why it has turned you away if you are up for the effort. Plus, if you ever happen to run into her in that huge, cold city of yours, you will feel like a jerk having blocked her on email without explaining.

So I advise a very brief and brisk email, such as

Dear ex friend

Please don’t contact me anymore. The circumstances of my life have changed and I am no longer able to be your friend. Thank you for respecting my wishes.

sincerely,

Crowded

If you go into a long explanation, it will be drama-bait. If you call out her negativity, it will be drama-bait. If you send that without blocking, it will be drama-bait and she will want to know why and to argue her case for remaining your friend. If you have already made your decision, this will not be productive. The short email above is an “I statement”, which are tougher to argue. You don’t say you can’t be her friend because of her behavior or jerkiness or lack of boundaries: you just say you have been unable to fulfill the terms for friendship for some time and you are officially nullifying your contract. If you think the short email above will ratchet up the drama and cause unwanted phone calls or visits, just block her and be done with it.

Oh hey, Crowded? I ran this one across the key member of my advisory committee for consideration. She came up with this:

Having been on BOTH sides of this nasty issue I think there are some fundamental things to consider.  You’ve hit on them, IMHO, but I would emphasize that not having an explicit “NO THANK YOU” from a “former friend” is VERY confusing.  Especially true if the individual is a busy person or has a pattern of occasionally dropping out of sight from time to time.  I think the I statement giving a CLEAR message of friendship termination is absolutely the way to go.  Do not let someone hang; if they are clueless in general how can you expect them to get the clue on this issue?? Being the break-upper does suck, and you don’t have to go into the real nitty gritty, but I would highly encourage an explicit termination.

So, you have options, crowded. I take the “don’t stir up the drama” approach and my advisor basically does too, but she makes the excellent point that you must be clear that you do want to end the relationship and you do not want any more contact, and that just blocking her on email and avoiding the situation might not be enough for an already clueless person to get the hint.

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About Lia Salciccia Prusha

therapist and blogger
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