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Dear Dr. Saltzman--

Last night I met up with my old friends from high school for an impromptu reunion. This happens about once every two or three years.

I continue to go to the reunions, because I really like to catch up with everyone but there is one person I always dread seeing - my ex boyfriend.

We went out for a year and a half when we were 15 and he was my first lover. I broke up with him because as we became adults, it became clear we had nothing in common - background, values, ambition. I fell out of love with him, and did not find him attractive anymore. He took it very badly.

He makes my skin crawl, and it makes me angry the way he looks at me which I feel is a bit predatory (though this could be in my head). Now when I see him, he always tries to start a private conversation with me, as though we have this cosmic connection or bond when I simply don't feel like we do. Generally, I am fonder of the others (his friends) than him, because we have more in common now.

There is no reason why I should hate him--he's a nice guy and never treated me badly. He just makes me feel immensely uncomfortable and I cannot figure out why? I don't want to have to be mean and say I think that what we had means more to him than it does to me but I don't know how to handle he situation. I just want to enjoy these nights out with my friends, even if he has to be there.

Can you provide any insight on a) why I feel this strong irritation by him and b) how I can deal with the situation without being rude or without seeming petty.

I hope you can help.


ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman

Dear Hannah--

Judging from your letter, particularly the part about "predatory," and making your "skin crawl," you may be up against what I call a psychic vampire. This is a person who feeds his or her inner needs by sucking the goodness and energy out of another person while (sometimes) also injecting his or her badness into the victim. This process of vampirism is not always conscious on the part of the offender--in fact, usually it is not conscious. Nevertheless, it is a real phenomenon which does have the power to injure the victim of the vampire, as, for example, in your situation in which you seem to be feeling emotionally invaded--"psychically raped," if I can use that term--by this person to the extent that you are dreading the next reunion because you fear that the rape will recur.

Dealing with this properly requires that you stop worrying about seeming petty, or seeming anyway at all, for that is the attitude of a person who is more concerned with how she is seen than in living her life as she wishes to live it on her own terms according to her own needs and requirements--and it is a paralyzing attitude. As soon as you fully grasp what I have just written, the paralysis will end, and acting properly in this matter will seem simple and obvious: just tell the guy that you don't mean him any harm, but don't wish to continue the relationship on any basis at all, including standing around chatting about old times. If he asks why, just tell him that, although you imagine that he does not intend it, being around him makes you uncomfortable, and leave it at that.

Sooner or later, Hannah, each of us must find the courage to live by our own lights, honoring our own feelings and understandings, and standing firm against social pressures to go against those feelings and understandings. Until one arrives at that point, one really does not have an authentic adult life, no matter ones age or accomplishments. Perhaps you have arrived at that point now. How you handle this problem will be a good indication of that.

Although it is on another subject entirely, you may want to read my reply to a woman who feels obligated to give her boyfriend oral sex simply because he wants it.

Be well.

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page last modified February 5, 2007

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