Have you lived, loved and learned, and reached the step where you want your ex, or maybe your ex's new partner, to know about it? Would you like complete strangers to know about it, too? Then the only next step is to publish an open letter to them on the Internet for millions to read detailing your humility. Here's how to go about this great idea: Don't.
But people are doing it anyway, and I'm not sure exactly what tipped the scales toward this trend of open letter writing to old loves. They could just… write the letter to the actual person and accomplish the same thing? I understand the impulse to clear things up or resolve wrongs or apologize after the fact, but publishing these direct, heartfelt, nutso-generous narratives for public consumption is a thing now—HuffPo even recently solicited these letters with the question, "What's the one thing you wish you could tell your ex?" Lately it seems I can't get through a day on the internet without another broken heart picking itself up, dusting itself off, and letting everyone with wifi know what they've been through via a letter addressed to a real person, like so:
On the surface, these letters seem like courageous acts of humble pie, admitting wrongdoing, wishing the ex well, or even welcoming the new partner into the fold, particularly when there were children involved. In the age of talking it out, telling the story, spreading the word, maybe it seems like a really cathartic and healthy thing to do. As long as divorce and breakups exist, there will be millions of stories of love that didn't work out, and feasibly all voices in the matter can impart something of use.
And yet, closer reads of these letters reveal all sorts of little hidden agendas, most annoying of all is the tendency of the letter writer to lionize him or herself to the point of sainthood. The saccharine language, the over-the-top acceptance, the ridiculous well-wishing—are these people or saints? Can they mean what they're writing? And why do they always leave out the reason for the split, ostensibly the one detail that might best help the average reader understand the relationship's trajectory for context? This is about giving us all something to learn from, isn't it?
I can't decide which version of these things is more annoying: The open letters to ex-wives that seem so gracious, so humble, and so magnanimous that they actually read weirdly narcissistic, condescending, and self-obsessed, or the ones from ex-wives to the ex husband's new girlfriend, which sound so gracious, so humble, and so magnanimous as to not even seem REAL. Or there's the more honest approach, which I weirdly appreciate more for its can't-look-away thrill: Some ex-wives ask outright if the new woman is any good in bed.
People love 'em though, make no mistake, even the ones that come with backlash and accusations of selfishness, as Anthony D'Ambrosio learned after publishing an open letter to his ex in which he compared the relationship to Disney World, outlined the entire history, and said he wished he'd held his ex tighter.
People call these letters "emotionally honest," but are they? It's one account, and so throw-yourself-on-your-sword noble that it's hard to detect an actual human behind them. Hindsight's 20/20, and apparently so is sainthood.
I have questions:
- Is this sort of thing modeling a healthier way to talk about splitting up?
- Can spilling the details of your emotional pain online ever truly be considered taking the high road (asking for a friend)?
- Or is this just a roundabout way to indulge in pathetic narcissism? You decide!
But more importantly, I have a guide. If you've got a letter to an ex to write, follow these steps:
That's what 39-year-old Tina Plantamura of Ocean Grove did when addressing the new woman in her ex-husband's life. Plantamura wrote:
You must be cringing as you read this. You must be thinking I'm going to school you on how to treat your new boyfriend. You must be thinking I'm going to lay down some laws about how to treat my children.
That is not at all what this letter is about.
I would like to welcome you.
Use a tone of aw-shucks, folksy self-deprecation.
Michael Cheshire did just that when he posted a letter to his ex of 20 years, writing:
You deserve an award for making it 20 years with a man like me. We both know I'm not easy to love. I'm beyond driven, don't sleep much, make jokes in every situation, and you could always count on me to misbehave.
Be super humble.
Candice Curry has us all beat on the humility game with her off-the-charts gratitude and goodwill toward her children's new stepmom.
I never wanted you here. You simply were never part of the plan. Growing up and dreaming of my family I never included you. I didn't want help from another woman to raise my child. The plan was for my family to include me, daddy and our children, not you. I doubt you ever wanted me in your life. I doubt you planned to mother a child that you didn't give birth to. I can bet that your plan for your family included you, daddy and your children together, not me or my daughter. I can almost bet that when you dreamed of becoming a mother it would be the day you gave birth and not the day you married your husband. I'm pretty sure you never planned on me being here.
Make a weird gay joke.
P.S. Cheshire is really sorry he didn't give a shit how he looked while you two were together but mostly wondering how easy it will be for him to get laid again. Oh, and there are gay people. HA:
If our divorce has taught me one thing it's this: if I had known it was going to end after 20 years, I would have absolutely done more sit-ups. Dating again is going to be interesting. But my friend signed me up for something called Grindr so I'm sure I'll have a lot of dates soon.
Consider the timing.
Cheshire posted his letter to his ex right after the court date finalizing the divorce. Andrew Cohen sent his letter to his ex on her actual wedding day, when he wrote:
The present I humbly send her today is this column; this public note, this irrevocable display of affection and support and gratitude; this worldly absolution from any guilt or sadness she felt between the time she said no to me and the time she said yes to him. No one ought to have to carry that with them into a marriage. I showered her with as much love as I could muster when we were together. I still love her and always will. So I am only too happy to offer my toast to her now, one more time, before she takes her vows.
Don't forget to add a passive-aggressive jab or two that sounds humble but actually points to how passionate and driven you are.
That's the problem with being married to a person who pursues dreams. You get dragged into adventures you never signed up for.
Say the sort of stuff that is only possible in hindsight.
I'm not stupid. I know a woman like you will not be alone long. You are too easy to love. And I want you to know that I will be a fan of whomever you choose to love again. I will, no doubt, share embarrassing stories about you with them whenever I can. But that's to be expected because I can be a real tool!
Invoke God as the reason for your split.
But God has plans that far exceed our own and when my little family dissolved to form two families I knew you would be coming.
Feel free to gloss over or positively reframe aspects of the relationship that probably actually led to its demise.
Cheshire, the dream-pursuer, who can now love that his ex is going to school, since she probably couldn't while he was being so passionate:
I love that you're going to school and exploring new avenues for your journey through life.
Downplay your jealousy with humor.
When I first met you I'll admit you weren't what I had in mind and a twinge of jealousy shot through my body. You were supposed to be hideous, remember? But you weren't, you were stunningly beautiful. You were supposed to be a mean old hag, remember? But you weren't, you were a young, sweet woman.
My plans were foiled.
Give unsolicited advice.
You need to stay off WebMD. Headaches are rarely brain cancer. I mean it. It's SUPER rare! You can be stubborn and ornery. People like you live longer than everyone you know. Let death be a surprise when it arrives. Enjoy the many years you have in front of you.
Be vague about what went wrong. Why drudge all that up when you're busy drudging up literally ever other related feeling?
Unfortunately, I fell short.
Say things that in a certain light, read as extremely creepy.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have held you tighter during our first dance and picked a song that never ended.
Set an impossible standard for others with your goodness.
I don't see you as a fill in for when I'm not there. You are her mother when she's with you and when she's with me. She's excited to call you and tell you her stories when she's at my house and that makes my heart want to jump from my chest with joy. I fill with pride when you wrap your arms around me and squeeze for a genuine and loving hug each time we see each other.
Throw out a lot of trust, the kind that was probably in short supply when you were together.
You may find yourself sitting through conversations between him and me. Please understand that we need to communicate in order to run our successful "business" of raising amazing humans. Sometimes we need to do it often. And along with the trust I mentioned in the former paragraph, there is trust that you will know when it's appropriate to chime in. Should you ever feel uncomfortable or insignificant during times like this, I ask that you look at the bigger picture and keep in mind that our communication outside the subject of our children is almost non-existent.
Ask them to still do you a favor, after all this:
I lost a piece of me that I will never get back.
Take good care of it.
And finally, publish.
Sit back and let the accolades flow. You may not have been the best partner, but you're the best letter-writing ex you could be. That's gotta count for something—right?
Illustration by Tara Jacoby