Shining Light on Relationship Cutoff

Shining Light on Relationship Cutoff

Shining Light on Relationship Cutoff

Cutting off exes not only hurts our former partners but limits our own growth as well.

Most of us don’t blink when a friend says they’ve cut off an ex. But if you’ve ever been cut off by someone you care deeply for, then you know how distinctly painful an experience it can be. While it may be socially acceptable to cut off communication with our exes, we’re not always cognizant of the impacts on ourselves and our former partners. When we cut off, we may do so from anger but often we may be avoiding feelings of discomfort. Furthermore, if the person being cut off has trauma in their background, the psychological impacts can be devastating.

I’m not talking about distancing ourselves from those we casually date or asking for space after a breakup or simply choosing not to be friends with our exes. I’m talking about breaking off all contact with the most intimate person in our lives without civility — refusing to answer the phone, reply to emails, or acknowledge any aspect of their communication or needs — often without explanation.

Few of my friends know I’ve been nursing a broken heart, for nearly two and a half years. It’s not a typical broken heart but one that combines the end of a romance with the bewilderment and sadness of being cut off by a dear and trusted partner without explanation. It’s also one that echoes painful experiences from my childhood.

I met Emma (not her real name) while assisting in her new media class. Initially, we were acquaintances. She would house sit for me and care for my cats when I’d travel. We would occasionally interact on Facebook, often about gardening or winter sports. And, she joined me once for an amazing National Geographic photography lecture. But we wouldn’t begin dating until a year and half after we met. On our first real date, we made soup together with ingredients from my garden. The intensity of our chemistry caught us both by surprise.

Because I was much older than Emma, we knew it was likely that we would one day have to end things. She would often tell me how important it was that we stay friends regardless and “preserve our conversations.” She had a way with words that made me lower my guard and believe in her completely. After I left to travel abroad for a few weeks, she wrote:

“It has been really illuminating to be with someone who is so open, communicative and caring. I want to thank you for that. When I’m with you I feel a similar sentiment to traveling, it’s new and exciting and a little ungrounding while still feeling tangible, relaxing and enlightening. I do really appreciate our friendship, and like you said that is more important to me than anything else… more importantly I just don’t want to let something that has been so good become anything other than that.”

Our relationship lasted four months. Following our breakup, she continued to say she wanted to be friends. At the last minute, she canceled our first night out as friends and tearfully said she needed a week of space. I left the ball in her court and didn’t hear back from her. She completely withdrew. It was a very painful time for me, and she later acknowledged that it was for her as well.

After nearly a year of silence, I reached out to her and we began a series of conversations toward repairing our friendship. She said she had recently begun dating someone new and I think it was difficult for her to talk to me about our relationship. Her response was to withdraw again. There were misunderstandings and miscommunication.

She stopped responding to my email and when I called to inquire she blocked my number and emailed me to stop contacting her. Over a space of nine months, I wrote her two kind emails in the spirit of healing. Finally, she replied, “I do not want to see or hear from you ever again” and threatened to file an anti-harassment order against me. The open, thoughtful, communicative Emma I knew had vanished.

Cutoff Culture

Cutting off contact with exes seems to be a common practice. A friend of mine related being told by another friend to break up with her boyfriend via “JSC”; just stop communicating. “Love is a battlefield,” goes the saying.

When personal safety is involved, cutoff is warranted. But most times this isn’t the case. When it’s not, this kind of behavior dehumanizes the other and sends the message “your needs don’t matter, you don’t matter.” University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo told Psychology Today, “‘The pain of losing a meaningful relationship can be especially searing in the absence of direct social contact.’ With no definitive closure, we’re left wondering what the heck happened, which can lead to the kind of endless rumination that often leads to depression.”

Emma once told me, “You’re the first one to want me for me,” but her abrupt about-face might make you think I ran off with her best friend or boiled her rabbit … I did neither. In fact, to this day, I have only guesses to make sense of her hostility to me.

Because Emma’s withdrawal and eventual cutoff surprised me so much,I had a lot of intense emotions and questions about what she’d experienced and the choices she’d made. Rather than face my need for explanation and desire for resolution, she chose to withdraw.

Our society supports you when a loved one dies, but when someone dumps you and cuts off communication, you’re supposed to just get over it. Friends are often uncomfortable talking with you about these kinds of feelings. They want you to let go, move on, and definitely stop talking about it.

In The Journey from Abandonment to Healing, Susan Anderson writes, “When a loved one dies, the loss is absolutely final…[but] abandonment survivors may remain in denial and postpone closure, sometimes indefinitely.” We’re not comfortable witnessing the process of grief and acceptance when it stems from the loss of romantic attachment, especially when it’s extended.

When there are emotional loose ends — unanswered questions, mistrust, betrayal, disbelief, bewilderment (as it was for me with Emma) — it can be very difficult to heal. Our culture is very hostile to people in this situation. We often judge those who don’t move on right away. Being the one struggling without answers is one of the most difficult human experiences.

Cutoff and Trauma

People with abuse and trauma in their backgrounds are especially vulnerable. The breaking of attachments can trigger anxiety, depression and evoke unhealed psychic wounds. Says Anderson:

“Emotional experience is more painful when it echoes an episode from the past; that’s especially true when it comes to rejection and loss. The relationship that ended today may be the fulfillment of your worst nightmares from childhood. Grieving over that lost love opens a primal wound.”

Cutoff for someone with attachment wounds can be especially painful. I was raised by an abusive, likely bipolar mother. She physically abused me from age seven to fourteen. After she’d hit me, I would often sit alone in my room in complete disbelief that this was continuing to happen to me while adults who knew, such as my father and uncle, chose not to intervene.

My mom regularly oscillated between loving and abusive behavior toward me but it took me nearly a year to realize exactly how Emma’s reversal had brought up my feelings of past trauma. After all she’d said about remaining friends, Emma’s withdrawal so shocked me that it reactivated my earlier experience of disbelief and suffering in isolation, essentially triggering episodes of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Breakups are often hard for me, but hardest when there is cutoff. For me, Emma’s flip from care and openness to withdrawal and, ultimately, hostile rejection mirrored my mom’s behavior and re-opened deep wounds from my past.

Following her withdrawal, I cried nearly every day and struggled with sleep for months. People often see me as a successful technologist, an ex-Microsoft millionaire, but I can attest to the capacity for trauma to upend your emotional stability and make life a living hell.

Often, the partner doing the cutoff may also have experienced trauma. Cutting off may be a way to avoid pain — or it may be a way to exercise power to feel in control. Anderson says that for serial abandoners, “Creating devastation is their way of demonstrating power.”

Cutoff culture is violent in its own ways. The person cutting ties gets what they want, but the person getting cut off is left in a situation where what they need or want doesn’t matter.

Emma’s last note included the phrase, “Apparently, what I want seems irrelevant to you.” She didn’t realize the irony that what I wanted had long been irrelevant to her. Being on the receiving end of a cutoff, surrounded by friends and culture that just expect you to get over it, can leave you feeling utterly powerless.

Unfortunately, modern technology aids in cutoff. It’s easy to screen calls or block each other on Facebook. Psychology Today’s Elizabeth Svoboda writes, “Remote shortcuts like electronic endings look deceptively appealing—although, at the very least, they chip away at the self-respect of the dumpers and deprive dumpees of a needed shot at closure.” She says it’s “contributing to large increases in stalking behavior…More than 3 million people report being stalking victims each year, the ultimate measure of collective cluelessness about ending love affairs well.”

I believe that most domestic violence is the result of men with trauma histories reacting to powerlessness in response to experiences with their ex, friends, or family. Certainly men are responsible for finding nonviolent ways to respond to feeling powerless, but culturally we need to understand the dynamics driving these kinds of situations if we’re to reduce them.

Our culture needs to have more discussions about power and powerlessness in relationships.

Cutoff Is a Flight Response

Trauma specialist Hala Khouri says, “If it’s hysterical, it’s often historical.” I view Emma’s threat of a court order in response to my letter in this light. Those with trauma in their background often can’t discern between the person triggering them and the original source of trauma. When difficult emotions arise, they may feel real feelings of threat and anxiety. Their brain may shift toward fight-or-flight mode. Cutoff can be a flight response that helps keep difficult emotions at bay.

How we treat others is a mirror of how we behave in the world and how we treat ourselves. When we cut others off, we’re missing a chance to grow. I believe Emma’s cutoff of me helped her avoid facing unresolved difficulties from her own past. There were hints of trauma in her personal history and her occasionally limited capacity for difficult emotions during our relationship.

Sometimes people cut off others to avoid feelings of guilt for hurting them. During our final conversations, Emma told me she would feel guilty and shut down when I shared my feelings. The sad irony is that withdrawal actually compounds the hurt.

I’ve also had partners cut me off after they’ve lied or cheated and don’t want to deal with the impacts of their misbehavior. In this case, cutoff compounds feelings of betrayal.

Author Pema Chodron (who became Buddhist after her husband left her) says:

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”

The person doing the cutoff may benefit from taking some deep breaths and asking themselves, “What am I trying to avoid here?”

It’s not easy for me, but deep down I believe that Emma’s own past traumas were evoked by our relationship and that this is what’s limited her capacity to show up with her typical maturity.

If you’ve cut someone off, the ideal response is to ask what the other person needs to feel at peace and to try to offer compromise. Yoga teacher Sarah Powers says, “A lot of wounds in this world could be healed if we would say to the other, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you, what do you need now?’” Sometimes we cut off because we lack capacity. One can also say: “I can’t do this right now, but maybe can touch base later. What do you need in the meantime?” This is a place where technology can be helpful. Email can be used to communicate at a distance that feels safe.

Sometimes we cut off because we’re trying to get the person to do something we feel too vulnerable to ask them to do; for instance, we actually want them to apologize, but we’re afraid to ask. It can be difficult to experience the vulnerability of asking for anything from an ex; cutoff is easier than the possibility of rejection.

The Vulnerability of Men

I believe that men are especially vulnerable to cutoff culture because of cultural expectations around masculinity. Women want us to be passionate, masculine lovers, yet we’re expected to turn off our emotions and let go the moment we’re dumped. If we persist in asking for communication from a woman who has cut us off, we may be considered a perpetrator, as exemplified by Emma’s threatening me with a court order.

Culturally, men aren’t supposed to be vulnerable and to be open with our feelings. In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown writes, “Basically, men live under the pressure of one unrelenting message: Do not be perceived as weak.” She continues:

“Here’s the painful pattern that emerged from my research with men: We ask them to be vulnerable, we beg them to let us in, and we plead with them to tell us when they’re afraid, but the truth is that most women can’t stomach it. In those moments when real vulnerability happens in men, most of us recoil with fear and that fear manifests as everything from disappointment to disgust. And men are very smart. They know the risks, and they see the look in our eyes when we’re thinking, C’mon! Pull it together. Man up.”

Furthermore, and this will also be controversial, this particular realm of sexuality and breakups is one in which women wield more power; it’s easier in our culture for women to find emotional and physical intimacy when a relationship ends than it is for men.

I remember Emma described during our breakup that her housemate would cuddle with her as she cried; with no such support and few single friends, I was left to watch TV with my cats. It’s rare for men to have the rich emotional networks of support that women do.

The rise of social isolation for men in our culture has a real cost. In “All the Lonely People,” New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat writes, “The suicide rate for Americans 35 to 54 increased nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010 [but] for men in their 50s, it rose nearly 50 percent.” Says Douthat, according to “sociologist Brad Wilcox… there’s a strong link between suicide and weakened social ties: people — and especially men — become more likely to kill themselves ‘when they get disconnected from society’s core institutions (e.g., marriage, religion) or when their economic prospects take a dive (e.g., unemployment).’”

In my experience, female support networks offer richer, warmer emotional support than is traditionally available in male friendships.

Healing After Cutoff

When someone we deeply respect abruptly changes how they act toward us, it can be bewildering. Something that was positive and special is now hurtful. This can be extra hard for someone with a trauma background.

The lack of support from friends may leave the person cutoff more deeply isolated. Even when they mean well, friends rarely say the right things. I’ve heard it all, for example, “Good thing she’s not in your life anymore,” “There’s other fish in the sea” or “You just need to stop thinking about her.” I see these comments as misguided efforts at care.

I’ve learned the hard way not to talk to most of the people in my life about Emma. I have just a couple of trusted friends that I confide in now. For the most part, no one asks me about her anymore and I only bring the topic up with one or two friends. From the outside, almost no one sees how painful, devastating, and open this wound has remained.

If you’ve been cut off, it’s important to take good care of yourself. Focus on self-care. Confide in just one or two close friends. If you have a trauma history, it’s important to understand that culture won’t understand the intensity of your struggle and won’t offer much empathy to your path. Consider counseling. Exercise and eat as well as you can. Go easy on yourself when you slip up. Eat lots of dark chocolate.

Do whatever you can to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the body that relaxes and heals. Hot water and cold plunging at the spa, massage, acupuncture, getting out in nature or being around pets, restorative yoga, and yoga nidra are all great ways to support yourself. Read from authors who enlighten you and affirm your values. For me, Brown’s support of vulnerability and authenticity have been supportive and inspiring.

She advises that we all need a “bury a body” kind of friend; my friend Kerry is mine. After Emma threatened me, Kerry wrote, “You deserve beauty, fidelity, truth and someone who can stay in the room and show you regard.” That meant the world to me.

When we’re relaxed, we feel at peace and more comfortable with how our lives are going, the good and the bad. It’s the state when we have the most capacity to be neutral and loving. For me, yoga has helped me build capacity for difficult feelings and be in them without trying to change them or move through them. When I’m most relaxed, I feel deep affection for Emma as a friend and wish her no ill. I just feel sadness for my loss and empathy for her limited capacity. I can acknowledge my anger at her, but it’s only a piece of a much richer tapestry.

Trauma as a Catalyst for Personal Growth

My experience with Emma has been a catalyst that led me on a deep personal journey, painful as hell, but transforming. I’m a fundamentally different, more self-aware, more loving person than I was before. I don’t condone her behavior, but I am grateful for the opportunity it created for me to grow.

The Sanskrit word ahimsa means to do no harm. As hurt as I’ve been the past two years, I’ve tried to follow this path of non-harming in my thoughts and actions both to myself and toward her. For example, when others criticize me for not having let go, internally, I validate my own emotional experience. I’m kind to myself and avoid self-destructive dialogue. I try not to beat myself up for having unresolved feelings.

The next time a friend tells you they’ve cut someone off, think before you respond. Is cutoff really a behavior we want to support in our friends and culture? Instead, ask a lot of questions about why they’re doing this. Ask them if they’ve considered the other person’s wishes; empathy is underrated. Ask them if this is a path that will lead both parties to feel resolved and have healthy closure, or not.

Some time after her final email, a date took me to a restaurant in which Emma happened to be waitressing.

She grimaced when she saw me. Her expression seemed mixed with frustration and anger. She walked by our table about two dozen times without ever making eye contact. For nearly a year, I’d had only a couple of short email sentences saying she wanted no further contact with me. It was quite powerful to see emotion in her. Until that night, I didn’t realize how angry she is at me—but in person, it was obvious.

When we don’t tell people why we’re angry at them, we’re also robbing them of a chance to apologize and make amends. I would like nothing better than to understand how I’ve hurt or upset Emma and to apologize and make repairs.

As I left my date later that night and began reflecting, for the first time I had a visceral realization that perhaps I was further along in resolving my feelings about our relationship than Emma was. I felt empathy for her. I felt neutral and loving. I felt sad that we’re estranged but I care deeply about her and wish the best for her.

The friend who was told to break up via “JSC” told me another story. One of her friends chose to have sex with a lover after breaking up with him; she said even in the midst of ending the relationship, she wanted to “be generous in spirit.” While I don’t necessarily advocate taking things that far (in part because it can create confusion), I embrace the sentiment.

Relationships are beautiful and inspiring. We need more good endings and fewer walking wounded. Musician and teacher MC Yogi says, “Everyone you come across in this world is in struggle; so be kind. Kindness makes things easier.” Keep that in mind as you love, lose and break hearts so we can all go on with the positive, creative aspects of our lives without so much baggage.

Update: For my full response to the controversy this piece created, read Shining Light on Internet Rage and for additional context, On Opening Up Your Ribcage for Public Criticism.

Postscript: This clip from Girls of a fight between Jessa and Hannah over friendship cutoff may resonate with you.


  • Helen

    Thank you for this article, I was recently cut out of someone’s life and although it’s been a few months im still finding it very hard to cope with. I dont understand if any of it was ever real and I really can’t understand how someone could just cut a ‘friend’ out of their life without a second thought.
    its an odd situation and I just can’t seem to let go of him. We were never really a couple just really flirty friends. We were on and off for about 3 years, we would meet, hold hands, kiss etc. When I asked if there was a future he told me he was young and wanted to focus on his career but he was happy taking it slow and being friends. We kind of cooled it off and after a month I texted him to say happy birthday he called me the next day asking me if I wanted to go out for dinner, I said yes and we kind of picked up where we left off minus the hand holding and kissing. This went on for about a year where we would meet every single week and he kissed me again. I asked again if there was a future for us and this time he said no because of religious differences (neither of us are even religious.)
    The thing with me and this guy is that neither of us like talking about feelings and I don’t ask unless I really have to. But whenever I do he gets really mean and defensive and so I get angry and then we never end up sorting anything out.
    Last year, was a tough year for him in terms of losing his mum and I thought the best thing to do would be to give him space. During this time he went abroad and invited me to come with him (he said he would pay as I didn’t have enough money) but I couldn’t as I had other commitments. While he was away we ended up sending some inappropriate pictures which I completely regret. When he got back from holiday we met for lunch and he was saying how he wanted to get married in the next 2 years, I never said anything but obviously it was hard for me to hear. (Since he got back from holiday we were still sending each other pictures and arranging to stay together). A few days later he was being rude to me and I made the decision that if we were never going to be together I thought it would be best that we just end everything as it would be hard for me to see him with another woman. He told me that I was overreacting and that we would never be together but we could stay friends.
    After a month or so of not speaking I saw on his snapchat that he was away with another girl, they obviously stayed the night together in a hotel and seemed really coupley. I know I shouldn’t have but I texted and asked if they were together to which he didn’t reply. I was getting so frustrated and I sent a few essays getting everything off my chest that he had never allowed me to and then he blocked my number. I even said if he had a gf I would never contact him again because I obviously didnt want to interfere.
    I just feel so stupid because I think me and this new girl over lapped, and the fact that he blocked me makes it so much harder to get over. Everything was always on his terms and I was always running after him. The minute he would ask to meet I would get ready and go rushing there.
    I’m finding it hard to deal with because I can’t understand how it went bad so quick. We got on so well and were both really attracted to each other so I just don’t understand what was missing and what more he could’ve wanted. I mean, we met all the time. I didn’t even spend as much time with my female friends as I did with him.
    I don’t blame him entirely as I know I should have run the second he started disrespecting me but I do think he led me on slightly, he knew I liked him and I think he just wanted to keep me around as an ego boost. But because I haven’t really been involved with many guys, the fact that we kissed meant a lot to me because I don’t go around kissing everyone or the fact that he asked me to go away with him.
    Whenever we argued and stopped talking it was always me that made the first move and because he kept allowing me back into his life gave me a tiny glimmer of hope.
    Obviously, I know I have no choice but to get over him but I can’t stop thinking about whether he ever liked me or if I was always just a big joke to him. Part of me thinks he only ever wanted to see how much action he could get off me.
    I’m just finding it tough to deal with because I know I shouldn’t compare but I can’t understand what this new girl has that I didn’t. They’re officially a couple now and it seems as though they’re in it for the long haul. Now that he’s found her, he doesn’t feel the need to stay on good terms with me because now that he has her, me not being around doesn’t make a difference to him. I never ever imagined he would hurt me like this. Cutting someone out of your life without any explanation is a huge thing and I would never be able to do that to someone no matter how hurt I was. So I can’t deal with the fact that he’s done this to me when the only thing I did was care about him.

  • The callous reactions by many bloggers to Jeff’s article are frankly disturbing, and reinforces many of the points he makes, especially about gender role expectations for males in breakups.

    One year ago today I was dumped by a girl I’d been dating for about 3 months. She did it via text message, and like “Emma” insisted she wanted to be friends. We made plans to hang out several times, and each time she backed out at the last minute. Eventually I deleted her phone number so I wouldn’t be tempted to embarrass myself any further. It’s been six months and I haven’t heard anything. Every day I think about her. I thought we had a very profound connection and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this person. I can understand her not feeling the same way and choosing to end the relationship. What I’m struggling with is being totally cut out of her life, it’s almost as if she died.

    I dated another girl in the interim for a few months and my lingering doubt and feelings over the breakup eventually ruined this relationship as well.

    My self esteem is slowly recovering but I’m worried it will take years to recover from this and really open myself up to someone new.

    In cases of physical/emotional abuse the nuclear option is totally acceptable but too many people these days are using technology to avoid painful conversations and awkward interactions. The nuclear option is now the default for many emotional cripples out there, who in turn create more emotional cripples out of the poor saps who fall in love with them.

    If you’re going to break up with someone, the very least you can do is to tell them to their face, and not treat them like an infectious disease afterwards. I can think of nothing more cruel.

  • Jess McConnell

    I’m one of those that cut exes out immediately after breakup. Sever ties completely. It’s the only way I can focus on my life and getting back on track.

    • Bo

      See, you just sound selfish to me. I don’t think it’s right to treat others like that. Needing time to get your life in order is one thing, but being cruel and inconsiderate is another entirely.

      But we’re all entitled to our own opinions. Power to you, & best of luck to you, regardless.

      • Jess McConnell

        We all have to do what’s best for ourselves.

  • Andrea

    Jeff, if you’re still checking comments on this article, I have gentle criticism for you. You did not respect Emma’s boundaries. I think you know this. She asked you not to contact her anymore, and you did.

    While your intentions in writing to her in the spirit of healing were kind, please understand that they were a breach of her stated boundaries, and that can be very scary. If someone won’t listen when you ask them to leave you alone, they are showing you can’t trust them, and that they may chose to violate other, more fundamental boundaries. You were devastated by the loss of the open, communicative Emma you loved. She was almost certainly frightened by your transition to someone whom she could not trust to respect her boundaries.

    When you showed up at her workplace, you perceived anger in her. I would like to suggest that there was also likely fear. She didn’t know you were there accidentally. She likely thought you had purposefully sought out her place of work. If I were in her shoes, I would have perceived your arrival as stalking–as a way of showing me you could reach me in places I didn’t know you could find me. I would have grimaced with rage, and then afterwards cried in fear and frustration. I feel overwhelming empathy for her. She could not find a place you would not go. It takes no physical violence, nor even a threat of violence, to feel this fear. It takes only that someone you trusted proved themselves untrustworthy and unwilling to respect your boundaries. I know that’s hard to understand. You never hurt her. But you showed her that she couldn’t trust you, and wouldn’t respect her peace or her privacy. That is scary, even though you didn’t mean to scare her.

    If you ever again find yourself somewhere where Emma already is, I very respectfully put forth this suggestion. Turn around. Leave the restaurant, the store, the park, whatever it may be. Show her that it was an accident, and that you understand she doesn’t want to see you. Show her you respect her boundary. Show her you are in fact the person she remembers, not someone frightening she fears you have become. Give her space, give her peace, and pursue your own peace knowing you did right by her.

    • Hi Andrea, your post is one of the most thoughtful on this topic that I have received. I wish this had been the tone of reaction from other critics, but it wasn’t. If you haven’t read Shining Light on Internet Rage I encourage you to: Responses like yours would have driven a much more constructive conversation overall — for everyone.

      Many of your points make sense from a general point of view but the direct criticism of me lacks context. As I wrote in the latter piece, ” I wanted to share my story and my views on cutoff while protecting her [Emma’s] privacy as well as my own. People criticized me for making assumptions about her trauma but again context is critical here. I was writing from my experience; readers were jumping to conclusions based more on their own experiences than what I wrote.” In other words, to protect Emma’s privacy and to minimize word count, I left a lot out.

      When Emma and I dated, she worked across the street from her residence. And a year after we broke up, she told me of a new place she was working. I purposely avoided those places out of respect for her.

      The place I mentioned in Relationship Cutoff of having encountered was not one of those workplaces. And, while this is now going back in time a number of years, I believe I hadn’t had any contact of any kind with her for over a year when my date invited me to that restaurant. The last I’d heard from Emma was that she’d planned to send me my remaining belongings (but never had). Emma had broken my trust in a number of ways and I didn’t feel at that moment that it would be appropriate to ask my date to leave with me on account of her.

      I appreciate the points you’ve raised and see how they seem accurate in a general sense, but I don’t think they reflect this story.

      Emma’s an incredibly strong woman. Knowing what I know of her history, I believe that her actions were more driven by anger at me and not by fear. This also informed my choice.

      • Laura

        They do reflect your story. You overstepped her boundaries. They’re not accurate in a general sense – they’re accurate in your story as well. A boundary crossed is a boundary crossed – end of story. Regardless of why the boundary is crossed, the crossed boundary remains.

        • Laura, in what way do you think they reflect my story? Saying, “A boundary crossed is a boundary crossed – end of story.” is one of those out of context broad generalizations I was referring to.

  • Laura

    I understand your situation has caused you a lot of pain – and that is unfortunate.

    However, I’d really caution you against stating that you think most domestic violence is caused by men not given a reaction.

    Many women leave domestically abusive situations because it’s the only way that they can get out safely. The most dangerous time for a woman is after the partner knows she is leaving, because that is when he no longer has control.

    By indicating that giving a reason can reduce the prevalence of domestic abuse, you’re putting women at risk. If they follow the advice about being up front about the end of their relationship, they potentially face death or life-long physical/emotional pain.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for posting. I don’t think I said what you are saying I said.

      However, I may not have been as clear as I could have been. I address this in the “Reframing” section of the followup. Please check it out:

      In fact, a lot of research shows that early trauma and childhood abuse are significant risk factors for men to later commit intimate partner violence (IPV) e.g. a systematic review of ten studies “all…found an association,” another reported, “a statistically significant graded relationship…between the number of violent experiences and the risk of IPV … [up to] 3.8-fold for men, “ et al.

      links are included in the follow up piece.

      • Laura

        I actually did read that piece. The issue isn’t what you meant – but how it was understood. If I (and several others) have mentioned this is how it reads, it’s fair to assume a high likelihood of a vulnerable person reading it and feeling similarly.

        If it wasn’t your intention, I would add a note in the text itself to clarify your intention.

  • Vanessa_T

    Your post is very touching. It is nice to see that I am not the only one who feels that this “cut-off” culture is a cruel and harmful method of breaking up with someone that at one time you supposedly cared for. I am currently going through a difficult breakup in which all communication was cut-off and It is devastating to say the least. I am grateful to have came across your article and even more so touched that it was written by a sensitive and compassionate male.
    Much Thanks to you Jeff!

  • Miranda

    This relationship actually describes what I’m going through with my current ex. We were friends for two years and then dated for a year and a half. He told me that no matter what happens, I’d be a big part of his life.

    When he left, I had been dealing with an autoimmune illness for five months and became depressed. I could do all of my caregiving myself, but I needed emotional support from him. He admitted his vulnerabilities about fear of not fitting in shortly before I became ill and I was fully available for him. So I figured he would be open to supporting me with my illness.

    When he broke up with me, he had avoided following through on any plans with me for three weeks prior. The night before we were supposed to meet up, he left. I tried to encourage him to talk to me in person as opposed to messaging, but he refused even that. He got mad when I asked how he was doing three days later.

    Three weeks later, I sent him a friendly message hoping to make him smile. He responded with a full-out block on all forms of communication without my knowledge.

    Two months later, I sent him a letter trying to give him kindness and empathy for how I made him feel with an apology for my role in the relationship. He never answered. I texted a family member of his asking if she knew why he left and he told me to never speak to him again. I responded and told him that I’d love to have him in my life and that I respect his wish.

    It’s been five months now and I finally got an answer in regards to what’s been going on with my chronic illness last week. I reached out to tell him and explain to him what happened with my illness, and he still never answered. I feel incredibly alone and abandoned knowing that he still couldn’t answer me.

    This article meant a lot to me. I’ve been through unimaginable losses and struggled with trauma like yours and it’s comforting to know that I’m not irrational for doing the whole “an ex is an ex for a reason” BS.

    • I’m glad it helped Miranda. I think withdrawal of friendship and the related loss of trust can be the most painful aspect.

      Embrace your feelings always. Find your healing from within by following your heart about who you are.

      • Miranda

        Thank you. People tell me just to move on and I try everything that I can to. But unplugged all of the built of crap inside me. My dad’s been an alcoholic for as long as I could remember. When I was thirteen, my mom got a serious brain disorder that presented itself like dementia. My dad kept drinking himself to the point of drooling while I had to take care of my mom and my younger brother. When my mom got better after five years, my parents separated. My brother and I would show up to his appartement to see him and my dad would always lock us out. I tried to tell my dad that he needed to get help (for the first time in years because I gave up for a long time) and he promised to go to the doctor. Now a month later, he’s denied ever making that promise. I swear to God that he couldn’t ever be there for me even if my life depended on it. He told me just to “get over it” and that I’m “disrespectful” for speaking to him about that topic. My ex helped me through much of this and I was incredibly grateful. When I told my ex last week that I couldn’t have gotten through the ordeal without him and appreciated him for that, he told me that he didn’t care and was going to call the police if I spoke to him again. Cut off sucks. Like seriously? You’re gonna call the cops on me because I thanked you? I feel like I’m dealing with my dad all over again and my ex isn’t even an alcoholic. It baffles me how people go so hardcore with this. That’s just mean…

        • Miranda, I apologize for not responding to this. I didn’t see it until today.

          I’d like to suggest you seek out a counselor to support you at this time. You leaned on your ex for some serious trauma wounds from the past and he has betrayed your trust. You are dealing with a lot on your own.

          Having a counselor can help with this.

          If you can’t afford one, please reach out to the crisis line in your area and ask them for low cost resources.

          I am wishing you the best.

  • possibility

    Jeff, thanks for sharing so openly. It is clear that you are sensitive to your own emotional processes. At the same time, what appears lacking here is any awareness or empathy for Emma’s emotional process. Have you considered that she might have her own issues, perhaps all the way back to childhood just like you, perhaps her own version of PTSD, that made her behavior of ending communication necessary for her? Why does your wounded past somehow trump her own emotional pain and confusion?

    I honor that the situation was very uncomfortable for you, but trying to control someone else’s behaviors only makes us crazy because, well, you can’t. Demanding that she communicate with you is like demanding that your athiest neighbor convert to Catholicism just because you feel uncomfortable. It seems like emotional coercion, using your hard feelings as a cattle-prod. Your feelings belong to you. Sometimes that really sucks, I know. But it’s what we all have to learn if we want to stop being victims of circumstance.

    Take a bigger picture: Emma just stopped communicating with you, and you can still heal and move on–but one day not so very far off, death will rip everything from you whether you like it or not, PTSD or not, months of crying with your cats on the couch or not. I do not say this to be harsh, but to simply give a reality check. I have sincere empathy for the pain of a hard breakup. It took me more than three years of pain before I got over my last relationship. I used the same kinds of emotional tactics you appear to be using as well…I really really get you, I really empathize. And I also see that hard as it may have been, it confronted me with REALITY, which is very often unammenable to what we believe we “need” or “should” be experiencing. You lead mindfulness classes, right? Well, isn’t this what mindfulness is all about? Meeting reality without resistance? Confronting the reality of impermanence? Taking care of our own pain without blame or shame? This is mindfulness, friend, if you really practice.

    From the length of your article I can see how much energy you invested in this thought process, just like how much energy you invested in your relationship with Emma…that may make it hard to let go, to see through the illusions or expectations you may have projected onto the situation and own up to your own part in your pain. But there is still time to respect yourself and put down this baggage–it’s only hurting you, really. What you are experiencing at this point is really nothing more than a recycling of thoughts and feelings, disconnected from present-moment reality. Use mindfulness to check it out if you doubt this. It can be embarrassing to notice, but it is ultimately healing and freeing. And I am not just calling you out as though you are alone in this. All of us have to face this in one way or another in our lives, depending on our particular wounds and attachments (Emma included). Realize that you are ultimately more than your pain, and you will then able to extend compassion and empathy not only to yourself, but also to others, including Emma, simply and kindly accepting everyone in all our imperfect perfection.

    Sincere blessings to you.

  • Laura Wang

    I’ve recently been cut off myself and to be honest, a lot of that’s on me. I have a lot of issues and I haven’t always been my best self to people I’ve been with. All I can do is try to do better. Conversely I’ve also had to cut people out of my life and set boundaries that haven’t been respected. I first came across the blog post that completely refuted your article and I can see that person’s point. But…I can also see your point, to a certain extent. Is there ever a definitive answer on these things? For the person that cut me off and wants nothing to do with me, I do feel a slight sense of entitlement to better treatment beacuse I don’t feel like i would ever cut someone off in the way he’s cut me off. But I have to move on, I have to accept responsibility for my actions and stop basing my self worth on other people’s opinions of me. I can’t control it.

  • Dave Lowrey

    She’s never your girl, it’s just your turn…

  • I’ve added a postscript with a clip of a scene from Girls of a fight between Jessa and Hannah over friendship cutoff. The dialog is well crafted and thoughtful.

  • ballardlass

    I happened upon this after following several articles. It resonates deeply with me but in the context of having a very long term best friend simply cut me off, no explanation… and move to another state. I had been married for a year then but my best friend was so very important to me. I was so confused. I literally sat on her “old” porch and cried for nights alone. It’s been years, but I will go to my grave wondering what happened. I still love her as a friend but I do not have the guts to look her up and say this and I am not sure that is the right thing to do since it feels stalkerish. We shared some hobbies and over these years I read something posted on a book review site that I absolutely knew was her, and when I looked up the name of the poster, it was her.

    Anyway, thank you for the writing. Gives me another view to think about.

    • Thanks for sharing Ballardlass … people who’ve been through this experience understand the pain of having deep trust in the other broken without explanation. I’m sorry that you went through this.

      Expressing to someone that you care about them as a friend after several years doesn’t seem inappropriate in anyway but I always recommend people speak to counselors about what the experience means to them, what effect it has on their own psychology and discuss the best ways to heal.

      Best wishes.