“Is it okay to reach out to an ex out of the blue to apologize for less-than-cool things I did while we were dating? Are you supposed to just let the past be the past and not bring it up or does owning up to your mistakes help the friendship?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
The short answer here is: yes, you can and should absolutely reach out to apologize to any person who you feel you may have hurt in the past. The short answer isn’t always the answer, though, so LET’S DIG IN A LITTLE BIT MORE, ANON. **shovel emoji**
The longer answer gets a bit more complicated, and it has everything to do with the dynamic of your past relationship and your current relationship. Even if you and your ex aren’t speaking to each other right now, you still have a relationship with this person, and taking care of that relationship does notalways mean following the short-answer rules.
If you and your ex broke up a few weeks or even a few months ago, and you know that they were incredibly heart-broken and also very hurt by some less-than-cool things that you did, there is a (good) chance that they may just be beginning to heal those wounds. They may just be beginning to move on and take the first few incredibly important steps toward their without-you future! That is so important and so it should always be treated with the utmost care and compassion.
That doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) ever get back in touch to bring up those old things, but it might mean that NOW isn’t the best time. Think about what you want to say, and why you want to say it. Will you be able to say the things you need to say and then still allow your ex to move forward, even if they aren’t able to forgive you right now? Are you wanting to apologize because you know that this apology will help out your ex, or does it have more to do with you wanting to heal your own heart? Do you think that there is any chance that this apology might confuse your ex, and make them think that you are trying to rekindle anything?
Take those questions and thoughts and turn them over and over again in your hands. Think about your ex, think about what you’ve both been through, try to tune into what they might be doing on their own right now to help heal their heart, and see if that helps you inform your decision.
If you do decide, after all of that thinking, that an apology might really, truly help, then my advice is to write your apology in a letter or any email. Don’t ask questions (don’t ask for anything as a matter of fact) and be incredibly clear about your intentions. Your intentions are to apologize. Your intentions are to only help and not to confuse anything. Tell them they don’t have to respond. Be clear, be compassionate, and ensure that every word in that note is written with your ex’s wellbeing in mind. A letter gives your ex the space that they may need right now, it doesn’t put pressure on an immediate response, and it keeps physical space (which is often very important to moving past a breakup) between the two of you.
The most important thing to becoming friends with someone who you’ve dated is caring for the relationship through all of its many stages, and closely listening to what it (and your ex) needs. <3