So an ex-girlfriend finds you on Facebook and contacts you out of the blue 12 years after the fact. What do you do?
1. Jump up and down like a giddy schoolgirl because someone’s interested enough to find you after all that time?
2. Passive-aggressively sit on the message?
3. Tell her exactly what you never had the chance to tell her?
Although option 2 crossed my mind, I thought it best to handle it a little bit differently.
My wife wasn’t home at the time, so I actually had a few minutes to think about it, which is probably good. The answer really was pretty easy.
I didn’t even open the message. When she got home, and after our son went to sleep, I told her, and I asked her to read the message and tell me what she wanted me to do with it.
Just this past Sunday, our pastor said in his sermon that one thing destroys marriages the fastest: secrets. To me, this seemed like a classic example of something (most likely) completely innocent that could very easily turn into something out of control under the wrong circumstances.
While my option certainly could be construed as overkill, it eliminates all possibility of misunderstanding. And it sends a very clear message that she’s more important than the ex.
Nothing in the message made her feel uncomfortable or threatened. Curious certainly, but not threatened. She spent some time poking around the ex’s Facebook profile and asking questions. And that was fine. It’s better for her to know than to wonder.
Maybe I handed over more control than some people would be comfortable handing over. But since this was completely innocent, what was there to be afraid of? I trust my wife, and this tells her that in a big way.
An hour or two later, I wrote a reply. I was cordial. Cordial is the appropriate tone. I’m not interested in being best friends. And being hurtful 12 years after the fact accomplishes nothing. Well, nothing worthwhile anyway.
And I was brief. This is also appropriate. Minutes after I saw the message, I talked to one of my best friends for the first time in months, and we talked for about 15 minutes. If that’s all I have right now for the guy who was the best man at my wedding, then I shouldn’t have more than that for someone who broke my heart 12 years ago and–I’ll say it–wasn’t very nice about it.
All relationships are different, but I can’t think of any good reason for two people, both married to someone else, to be writing long epistles to each other 12 years after the fact. That only invites the mind to go all sorts of places it shouldn’t go. "Your Wildest Dreams" by The Moody Blues doesn’t need to be cuing up in your head, and neither does anything by Barry Manilow.
I asked my wife to read my reply before I sent it. It’s all about checks and balances. She knows what’s going on. I was going to say it also prevents me from saying things I shouldn’t say, but self-restraint in e-mail is a requirement for my job and I’ve had lots of practice. But everyone is different.
"So are you going to friend her?" my wife asked. I said I didn’t know.
That, too, is a situation where everyone is different. If the parting wasn’t especially bitter and two people can both gain something by corresponding occasionally, why not? On the other extreme, if the sight of a person’s name triggers fight-or-flight mode, then it’s obviously not a good idea.
If the sight of a person’s name does cause you to go into fight or flight mode, I will say, speaking as someone who’s been there, that you need to deal with that issue. I don’t say that flippantly; I spent a lot of time and money working through it myself. It’s not easy but it’s necessary.
Ultimately the most important thing to do when a situation like this crops up is to keep priorities straight. There’s no reason to say, write, or do anything on account of 12 years ago that might mess up today or tomorrow.
Depending on what you make of it, this situation can sow seeds of trust or seeds of doubt. Personally, I’d rather have trust.