My pen-pal romance went bad

I thought we were in love. Then he disappeared. Then he was cruising my house: Weird. And now I can't let go


Cary Tennis
September 24, 2010 5:01AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

Earlier this year, I was in a short-lived "relationship" (in quotes, as I never met the person). He found me on a pen-pals site. He said he had plans to vacation in Los Angeles in the spring and was seeking local contacts to provide him with insights about the city. We hit it off quite well and before I knew it, he was calling me from Switzerland every day. We're close in age (I'm 36; he's 38). We saw eye-to-eye on so many things and he seemed to have very little baggage. Plus, he had the accent and the European culture and all that. As I got to know him, I started to wish I could date him. I admitted my feelings for him; he reciprocated.

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Well, the "relationship" followed a pattern familiar to too many of us -- he declared his love for me in a short period of time, I got swept up in our emotions, we talked about a future together, he started pulling back (including postponing his vacation), and then finally he stopped contacting me altogether. I cried about it for a day and then pulled myself into reality, feeling glad that he never came out to meet me. I deleted his phone number and all our correspondence. It didn't take too long to reduce him to a fleeting thought.

Then, just over a month after the end of this "relationship," I got a short e-mail from him. He said "a lot of things happened" and now he is in town on vacation. He said he made a mistake and hurt me, and it was "never his intention" to do so. Then, he had the gall to tell me that he actually drove by my place and that he wondered about me, and would I be interested in meeting him.

I thought about ignoring him; instead, I sent an angry reply, but said I'd actually entertain the possibility of meeting him, in a public place, so that he could explain himself. I added that if the reason he stopped contacting me was because of another woman, then he should do me a huge favor and never contact me again.

I didn't hear from him.

A couple of days later, I sent another angry message saying that I needed to hear from him after all, because I deserve an explanation for what happened. I demanded to know if there was anything he was lying to me about. I had a number of other questions for him, such as what did he hope would come out of meeting me at this point. He responded -- not answering any of my questions but reminding me that I'd asked him not to contact me and that he will honor that request "and vice versa." He said, "I do have feelings, too, believe it or not. Farewell."

I shot back to tell him that I was sorry for hoping he was a good enough person to answer my questions. And that was that.

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This final exchange sent me into a two-day depression. I feel like an idiot for falling so quickly and easily for a person I've never even met, and allowing myself to be so hurt over how it has ended -- after all, the guy's tacit admissions should tell me a lot about his character, should tell me that he's not worth having in my life.

But suddenly, I now have this crazy desire to meet him while he's still here. Just over coffee; I have no romantic feelings left for him. I feel like I need to see him, in the flesh, in order to give validation and closure to this "relationship" that otherwise seems to have existed only in my mind. Of course, I am also borderline desperate to know just what his motivation was to carry on with me. Maybe that's what he was planning to do, before I shot off my accusatory e-mails. Maybe I just don't want him to get away with thinking that he was wronged. I want him to apologize, to my face.

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I have had ex-boyfriends try to contact me again after some time has passed, and I had no problem ignoring them. Why can't I ignore this guy? Why am I letting this arschloch affect me so? As I write you, he is still in town. Would there be any point at all in attempting to reach out one last time to him, even if it's too late? Just how crazy am I?

Looking for One Last Chance

Dear Looking for One Last Chance,

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Well, you're not crazy, but you're caught up in something that's got you acting against your own best interests. Maybe I can help you analyze it.

You were having a flirtation, a disembodied romance. But something happened. You don't know what exactly. Maybe he became involved with another woman in Switzerland. Who knows. But he broke off contact. He did not handle it tactfully. You were hurt.

But then, when he drove by your house, this flirtation became a battle. Perhaps, unconsciously, he meant it as a threat, as an aggressive escalation of the flirtation. It may have struck you as dangerous. I would not fault you for sensing it that way. Things were getting out of control at this point. You had never met this man. He had treated you poorly. And now he was buzzing your house.

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Part of his strategy may have been to get you off balance. That also may have been unconscious. But it did get you off balance. Rather than succumb, you fought back.

However justified you may have been in feeling angry, you might have benefited from a few minutes of contemplation. A talk with a friend might have been fruitful. You could have made one or two drafts of a reply before sending what you sent. This was your chance to clarify boundaries and options, and reassert your dignity. As you say, you thought about not replying at all. That might have been the best option. But you could not resist. He had taken something from you and you demanded redress. You demanded an explanation.

What had he taken from you? Well, I think that he was playing a power game. He was taking your power.

What you could have said, in this power game, was that you needed to think about whether you really wanted to see him or not. You might have asked how long he would be in town, and if you might call him in a day or two with an answer.

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That would have given you some breathing room. Then you could think about what was really going on.

And what was really going on?

I see what happened between you as an erotic battle, a seduction and a power struggle.

He had the upper hand. This may have been calculating or it may have been unconscious. But he had the upper hand and he was provoking you.

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He may be a very bad character, someone you do not want in your life. But you were drawn to him. You were drawn to each other. Why? Because you are two of a kind.

You were not simply a victim. You were in the game. You wanted something from him. You two professed love for each other. But did you really love each other? How could you? You had never met. Rather, each of you was transported into a fantasy; each of you regarded the other as more or less an object. So each of you was hurt.

I think you will benefit from knowing this about yourself: Power is important to you. You need to have enough power in a relationship to feel secure. And you are drawn to power-hungry, manipulative men.

That's a good thing to know about yourself. In the future, when you begin to get agitated and start feeling out of control, you can ask yourself, Is this about power in the relationship? Am I reacting to protect myself in some way? Is this person really trying to harm me? Or have I chosen someone who also values power, because that is the kind of person who turns me on?

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If someone we do not trust seeks to have power over us, that can be threatening. But if someone we like very much is jockeying for the upper hand, that may not be such a bad thing. It may mean that we simply have to give up some of our accustomed certainty and autonomy; we have to give up some control. That may not be such a bad thing. It may be erotic.

It is easy for a person to claim that the reason he pursued you so rashly and then disappeared so suddenly is because he is a free and impulsive spirit and really does not know what he is doing half the time. But claiming to not know what you are doing is a great way of getting exactly what you want. How do we do this? By acting the archetype of the innocent. Think about it. The man who cannot commit, the woman who is helpless, the charming bungler who ends up with the pretty girl and all the money, the hapless incompetent who somehow is taken care of, the impulsive and impish lover, the unpredictable but lovable ...

So maybe you reacted to his con too. You may have sensed that he was playing a game on you, and it infuriated you. So maybe you were right to unleash your scorn. But I just think that you forgot you were playing a game.

Romance is a game. It can be a deadly, bruising game. But it is a game.

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I hope that you can let this go. And I hope you have been able to glimpse something of yourself. This part of you is powerful. I hope you do not try to put it away. It can scare people. It probably scared him. But it will protect you, too. This part of you can come at people with fury, and maybe at times you need to come at people with fury. After all, the world is not a carnival of generous, loving souls looking to make everyone else happy. The world is full of people who just want what they want and not what you want and don't care that much what happens to you. The trick, I think, is to recognize when you find someone like that. There are, for instance, people who are narcissistic, or borderline personalities. They may or may not know of their condition. But as long as they have their condition, they will be dangerous to you. So the sooner you can suss out what is going on.

You may have a weakness for such people. That is another way you might benefit from this experience. You could look over your relationship history and see if this fits a pattern. Have you been involved with other men who were initially charming, with whom you fell in love, who then disappeared, or backed away? If so, then you know something about yourself. You know you have a certain weakness. You can use this knowledge to protect yourself.

I would not demand answers from this man. That is a power move. What I would do is take some time to think this through and then write him a goodbye letter, telling him that you were hurt by the encounter but that you learned a great deal about yourself, and rather than harboring ill feelings toward him, having thought about it, you feel grateful that you were able to learn these things about yourself.

Make it clear you won't be having any further contact with him.

And then leave it at that. If it would help to do a ritual in which you bury all the correspondence, and truly delete all contact information, then do that. Realize what happened, be grateful for the opportunity to learn something about yourself, and move on.



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Cary Tennis

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