How to Respond to a Random Text From a Toxic Ex

How to Respond to a Random Text From a Toxic Ex
Illustration: Vicky Leta

As you know if you’ve ever broken up with one, a toxic person’s impact on you can long outlast the time they were actually in your life. A particularly bad relationship can lead to trauma, a lack of trust in future relationships, and serious emotional scars. Toxic people can somehow still find a way to get to you, even when they’re not around — and sometimes, they do it on purpose.

If a no-good ex shoots you a text seemingly out of nowhere, it can feel scary or overwhelming. Here are a few tips to get you through it.

Don’t overthink this

Your ex may have seriously hurt you or otherwise just been a pain in the arse, but don’t give them more credit than they deserve. You’re probably not dealing with a manipulating super-genius here; don’t immediately assume this text is some psychological op meant to inflict maximum damage. That gives them more power, even if neither of you knows it.

“When my ex texts me, it tends to be really out of the blue,” said one Canadian woman who asked not to be named. “It’s always something like, ‘What’s up?’ or, ‘Are you out?’”

Does “What’s up?” sound like the brilliant wordplay of a conniving mega-mind to you? Or like the no-effort shot-shooting of a clueless, horny man? Don’t make this more than what it is unless there’s a reason.

“I always wonder what he wants,” said our Canadian woman, “but I usually ignore him. If I do respond, it’s to ask what possessed him to text me at that time.” Let’s get into that.

Respond carefully

Only you know how the breakup went down, so how you’re feeling the moment you get that text depends on a lot of factors, like what happened, how long it’s been since you split, and how you’ve been doing in that time.

Your answer could be anything. You could insult them, you could be nice but distant, or you could ask to hang out. Take time to think about what you want to say. If they weren’t a deadbeat or a terror, maybe you do miss them and welcome the chance to reconnect — but don’t let loneliness cloud your recollection of how they are in real life. If they were bad to you, don’t do it, no matter how much you hate sleeping alone.

Be careful, too, about responding with vitriol. It might be cathartic to give them the business — and they might really deserve it — but it’s not good to embrace negativity or let them know they got to you. You also might not want screenshots of your screed circulating among your friend group. Don’t give them the chance to embarrass you, even though it would probably feel great to tell them they’re a piece of shit. You don’t need to respond nastily to make them think you’re doing so much better than they are; they clearly already know you’re doing well.

If it seems like they’re offering up a chance to talk things out and you think you need that closure, go with your gut. Sometimes, closure is great. Other times, a meet-up can just hurt you again. Only you know if you’re ready or willing to do that, so use your best judgement. Ask clearly, “What made you reach out and what are you hoping to get from this? I’m doing really well and hope you are too. I don’t think we need any additional discussion, but am I missing something?”

You don’t even have to reply right away. You can give yourself some time to get over the initial shock of seeing their name pop up and really think about what you want to do. Your first reaction, whether it’s to curse them out or run to them, might not always be your best bet in the end. You don’t owe them an instantaneous response, but you do owe yourself the opportunity to do what’s best for you.

Wait until you’ve had a chance to think, to journal, to talk it out with friends who have a clearer memory of what your life was like when you were with that person, or even consult your therapist. If you want to, send a text that says something like, “Hey. I got your message and I’m deciding how to respond. You really hurt me before and I want to make sure I’m protecting my peace, but if I feel like I can do that and communicate with you, I’ll reach back out. I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for your patience.”

Your ex should understand you need time to process this re-emergence into your life — or at least onto your phone — but if they don’t and they start double- or triple-texting you demanding that you communicate with them…

Block them, if needed

You can block them. You can and you should, if you feel that’s right for you.

If this person was awful to you, block them when they text you. If they’re bothering you now that you’ve had some time apart and you’re doing better without them, block them. If they haven’t even texted you yet but the thought that they will fills you with dread, block them. Don’t forget social media, too. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn — block them across all of those.

No one has the right to intrude on your peace. After a breakup, you work hard to rebuild your life and come out stronger on the other side. If a sudden text from someone threatens everything you’ve built, you have more than the power to stop it — you have the right to. Protect yourself, especially after this person has already shown that they won’t.

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