Recycling people?

Dear Amy: I recently reconnected with a man I was engaged to, many years ago. We have not gotten together in person because we live several hours away from one another and are both in our 70s.

The problem is that he blames me for a breakup that happened 50 years ago! (His perception is incorrect, by the way.)

We do love one another and spend hours texting together.

It is a “virtual romance,” and we are happy with that, but his constant reference about how I destroyed his life gives me a debilitating migraine, and I can’t function afterward for 24 hours!

I have told him that I’m not responsible for how he lived his life after we parted, but he simply says that he’s sad, and then we move forward, only to have the same outburst (all caps, as though he is shouting) happen within the next day or two.

How can we resolve his anger management issues without breaking up again?

— Frustrated Old Lady

Frustrated: I’m not sure I can help you to help this man resolve his anger issues. That’s his job.

Is he experiencing some cognitive decline? Does he have untreated anxiety? Is he drinking when he does this? If so, he should take on the responsibility of taking care of his health.

His reasons for behaving this way are actually immaterial.

Imagine that — instead of being yelled at textually — you two were actually in the same room when he did this.

What would you do? How would you react?

I imagine that you would leave the room when he raged. And then — once you had left the room — you might reconsider being in the relationship at all, because it has become a Groundhog Day reenactment (and a biased one, at that).

Imagine further that you had a friend or family member witness one of these rages. That person would say to you, “Myrtle, this is abuse. Look at what it’s doing to you! It is damaging your health.”

Abuse does not only happen in person. It can happen online, through text, on the phone or via Zoom, FaceTime or postal mail.

I suggest that when this happens again, you respond: “I want our relationship to succeed and proceed peacefully. I completely dispute your memory of this. But regardless, I’m telling you now that if you EVER communicate with me this way again, I really will break up with you. Do you understand?”

If he responds in any way other than to acknowledge and apologize, then you should break up.

If he acknowledges and apologizes, but then reverts to his previous behavior, it’s over. (c) Ask Amy

Wow, that bites.

In general I’ve learned not to recycle relationships. There are always new people out there to connect with, so if someone was left in the past, then they probably belong there (although I’m always open-minded to see if someone’s changed, because change is always possible). It’s just that I used to believe, rather idiotically, that new relationships would never happen; that we could only hold onto past relationships and not plan on any future ones. I think I’ve been a lot happier since I ditched that belief!

When I reconnected with Mr. Wrong last summer, he accosted me for sending him a mean email four years ago, and he showed it to me. “Why did you send this back then?” he asked. “It hurt my feelings.” (Unlike the letter writer’s boyfriend, he was acting hurt, not angry.) So I looked at the email. By my rageful standards, it was on the nicer end of the continuum than you’d expect. Just basic stuff about where he could shove it; nothing too hostile or graphic or creative. However, after four years, I had no memory whatsoever of the circumstances under which I’d written it. Total blank slate in my mind.

(Now that I’ve had time to remember, I recall that our relationship in 2017 led me to listen to this hardcore Tears For Fears song called “The Devil” while sobbing hysterically and forgetting to eat, to the point that little Mr. Kitty brought me a fresh kill so I wouldn’t be hungry; and I shrieked like a lunatic and Mr. Kitty bolted to the basement, demoralized.) (It was a hard summer.)

Anyway, when we reconnected I told him that I felt bad for sending the email, which was true because I’ve tried really hard to quit being a rage machine. But as our reconnection progressed, I quickly came to see that he hadn’t changed one iota, and I also came to see that I didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

So I have no idea what was up with Mr. Wrong’s belated reaction to my email, but there’s nothing about the way his mind works that I understand. I attempted to separate from him, but he tried every which way to keep me around, even joining (or rejoining, rather) Sonya’s writer’s group so he could read my submissions and irritate me. But I was finally able to lose him, and good riddance. The guy’s a diabolical, scheming manipulator with no morals. Geez, Meg, don’t hold back, you foul-mouthed pirate. 

I’ve known people with a tendency to recycle relationships. After I broke up with the first guy I dated for a while, he told me he was going to go rekindle things with a former girlfriend of his, and I was like, do you need someone to play the part all the time? Ugh. It wasn’t that he’d never gotten over her. It seemed more like he was thinking, If Meg and I are breaking up, who can fill the void? Hmm… let me check my rolodex…

There’s no one from my past who I miss. I’m trying to think of who I’d want to reconnect with, and the answer is no one. But I’d keep a few things open. To be honest, I miss my cousin, Andy. However, things went badly awry between us. To recap, his wife has Munchausen’s and Munchausen’s by proxy, pertaining to their child, who’ll turn nine years old this year. Back during their baby’s first year of life, the kid was in the ER about five or six times despite not being sickly. Andy’s wife had medical training and got some sort of sick thrill from having her gall bladder removed due to self-reported symptoms but no confirming lab results. She kept posting stuff like, “I got a bad bruise. Please send me support,” and when she wound up in the hospital once over something minor, Andy asked me to send photos of my Care Bears to comfort her. All of it looked really, really bad. An aunt of Andy’s and mine was suspicious too and dropped hints about how she felt. Said aunt was later shocked that I’d correctly interpreted her cryptic hints. [Eyeroll.]

Then the baby was back in the ER with a fever of 105°. That’s right. 105°. Alarmed, I reported my cousin’s wife to CPS, and you can probably guess how well that went over. But the kid’s still alive. I don’t think anything else really matters, not even my relationship with my cousin. He hates me, but I did it for him. Because he loves his daughter more than life.

Would I be open to reconnecting with him? Interesting question. It’s food for thought. Even prior to that, his wife had her eye on me because he and I were close friends, and she took me out with some triggering social media posts. And then he made a crass joke on social media that hurt my feelings.

(My aunt, Andy’s mother, complained about having to interact with a difficult customer in her job as a pharmacy tech, and I completely get where she’s coming from; but Andy replied that she should’ve yelled after the rude person, “Hey, come back! You forgot your antipsychotics!” And yeah, he knew that I take antipsychotics. He also knew that I always send my dad to get my prescriptions because I can’t handle interacting with pharmacists.)

It’s just weird. He was the best friend I had at the time, but now I have better friends, and I might not be open to letting him back in; so I’m not even sure why I miss him. Oh well.

Relationships die. On that pleasant note…

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