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How to keep the ex from bugging me?? How, how, how??? I swear I'm going to go insane if my ex(girlfriend, boyfriend, gay lover, roommate, husband, hairdresser, credit card company, long distance service, etc., etc., etc.) doesn't quit calling and trying to resume some sort of relationship that I don't want to have with them anymore! Honestly. Help me out, give me some kind of clue, I don't want to end up doing something stupid here. How can I get this person off my back?

Ah well, if you want to avoid doing something stupid, you've come to the wrong place. We are, in fact, at certain points during the answer, going to encourage you to do things that are very stupid, precisely because they might help mitigate your problems. Many of humanity's most common social problems grow and fester like open wounds, spilling pus and becoming infected with gigantic crawling maggots that...oh never mind. Briefly, our problems often fester precisely because we are all understandably reluctant to deal with them in exactly the kind of stupid way they really deserve.

And this business of ex-something or others bugging you is indeed one of humanity's common problems. You may be familiar with it in the popular ex-sexual partner format, but it shows up all kinds of places. The parent you'd dearly like to become estranged from. The junkie brother who keeps bugging you for money and a place to stash some stuff for 'like a really short time, I swear this time. Really I swear.' The newspaper that wants to reinstate your subscription for free, on a 'trial basis.' The goddamn phone company that wants your business back. The 'friend' who isn't really a friend but who keeps wanting to get together so they can try to make you feel bad about your life. And so on.

This happens. Sometimes you just don't want to have a relationship with someone any more, and irritatingly, they do. This can range from minor but pressing matters, such as the ex who bewilderingly keeps bugging you to 'sign the divorce papers' or 'pay that back child-support' to homicidal stalking ex-husbands who apparently would rather have a relationship with your murdered self than no relationship with your live self.

Now it's time for a brief list of problem-solving options! The part we've all been waiting for.

Option #1 - MOVE TO ANOTHER STATE. This may seem a little drastic but I've tried it and basically it works! Even with the phone company. If you live in a small European country, consider moving to a different small European country. If you live in a large Asian country, think 'different province.' If you are incredibly small-minded, you can settle for 'different city.' Different state is better though.

This is a surprisingly popular option, due to the twin motivators of desperation and efficacy. I've known plenty of people who've moved to get away from someone who was living where ever it was they used to be living. It helps with parents, lovers, debt collectors, and law enforcement officials. If things are really dire, you might consider your own personal version of the Witness Protection Program, which you can dub the 'Me Protection Program', in which you basically change not only your residence but everything else about yourself you can think of, too.

The advantage to moving out of state is that it will create a major change in your life which considering how bad it sucks right now, what with the ex-girlfriend or boyfriend calling you all the time, can only be good. The disadvantage is that it can ruin you financially. to weigh the scales and balance the factors. Since I know many of you haven't given this option the kind of serious consideration it deserves, I'll leave you to ponder while we examine...

Option #2 - GET A RESTRAINING ORDER. This never works. Forget about it. It does however, come in handy as evidence during a later court trial, so if things have gotten to that point, you may need to invest in a useless restraining order, just to prove that your nemesis was psychotic before they did whatever they did that has landed you in court.

Some people have tried getting court orders against the phone company or bill collectors or whoever it is that won't leave them alone, but in the US at least, courts seem to be biased in favor of 'commercial enterprise', so good luck getting any help there. Bottom line - restraining orders are useless.

Option #3 - CHANGE YOUR PHONE NUMBER. Or your address. Or your name. Or your social security number. Or whatever it is they're using to bug you. This is the poor man's version of moving to another state. If you are really fed up, you can just do this. This is a frustrated way of screaming into the howling void of the universe 'just leave me alone for chrissakes, just leave me alone!' This is a hassle and it will make you mad to have to do it, but if someone only contacts you by phone, or IM, or whatever, just changing your contact point in that arena can scooch some annoying pest out of your life. People do this all the time. They don't like having to do it, but they do it. You can too if you'd like.

Option #4 - STOP ANSWERING YOUR PHONE. The brilliance of this strategy lies in its conceptual simplicity. If someone is bugging you by phone, mail, IM, pager, or what you have - simply don't answer them. Never. Ever. Screen all your calls. Don't open their emails or letters, don't return their pages, block them from your IM, just don't ever ever ever respond.

This is the Extinguishment Theory of Reinforcement Withdrawal. Or something like that. Unfortunately, because it's so obvious and seems like it ought to work, it often doesn't really. The idea is that the offending behavior will be 'extinguished' if reinforcement is withheld. In other words, 'ignore them and they will go away.' This is more or less true in theory, but in reailty it can take a long, long time before they go away. Often, offending behaviors aren't extinguished so much by being starved of reinforcement as they are by having the crap beaten out of them. Which will be our next option.

But first, we'll briefly highlight the benefits and disadvantages of ignoring someone. The advantage is that with things like caller ID and so on, you stand a relatively decent chance of being able to screen someone out of your life - as long as they don't show up on your front porch banging on the door, as happened to me.

The thing is, with people who are bugging you when you've already 'made it clear' that you don't want to be bugged, is that if you ignore them, they'll often try harder. Or just keep trying. Because the reality is you haven't made it clear at all. You think you have, because anyone with even modest social skills should have been able to get the hint, but shockingly, you are dealing with someone who either doesn't have even modest social skills or who doesn't want to use them right now. The fact that you don't want to interact with them hasn't deterred them up to this point, and it's not automatically going to deter them now. Still, if you force yourself not to respond, you can often reduce an ex-something from a major hassle to a minor inconvenience. Yes, your cheating, lying, ex-girlfriend/boyfriend still calls every 3 weeks, but since you never ever pick up the phone and talk to them, it's no big deal really. Yes, AT&T still wants to talk you about 'important offers for enhanced services' but since you never answer the goddamn phone, that's their tough luck. If you can live with the occasional message you never respond to, eventually the problem will just die or fade away into insignificance. If, however, they leave scary or threatening messages on your answering machine, you may be a bit uncomfortable waiting for this method of supposed extinguishment to kick in. Which again will lead us to our next option, as soon as we point out...

If you're not already doing this and it hasn't worked, you are a stupid liar. If you tell your ex-girlfriend that you don't want to talk to her and yet you pick up the phone and you do...then obviously you are lying. If you really didn't want to talk to wouldn't talk to her. There is no other rational conclusion she can come to, no matter how fucked up personally she might be, than that you must want to talk to her--because you're doing it. If you don't want to talk to your ex - don't talk to them. Don't say things 'hey, it's a bad time, can I call you back later?' ?!!? Some of you actually do this. With mothers-in-law, exes, whoever. You say things like I'm not interested right now to AT&T, which presupposes that you might be interested later. If you're not...don't tell people you'll call them back or that you might be interested later. You're lying!

Now some of you get yourself into these situations because you don't want to deploy Option #5. Which is...

Option #5 - GET MEAN. If you're going to reject someone - reject them! This is hard, I'll admit it. Rejection is unpleasant. It's unpleasant enough that most of us kinda don't want to dish it out any more than we want to take it. So we twist ourselves around every which way, trying to offer the goddamn pest a way to get the hint, to back out of the situation without being rejected outright. We do this with telemarketers and ex-boyfriends and anyone else we kinda have to reject but it would be better if we could kinda pretend we're not really.

So we say things like 'I really don't think we should see each other anymore.' And then 'I really don't think we need to talk about this anymore.' And then 'Look, I really don't want to talk to you anymore'. And then...we get frustrated and feel helpless, because look - we're already not answering the goddamn phone and we already said "I don't want to talk to you anymore" and still they're fucking bugging us. How much meaner do we have to get?!

Meaner. That's how much meaner we have to get. Legitimately meaner. Twice I have used the very mean typewritten letter and both times it worked. A long accusatory letter that doesn't just make it clear 'I hate your guts and never want to talk to you again' but actually says 'I hate your guts! You cheated on me! You're a faithless, despicable person and I never want to have any contact with you again ever. You want a list of reasons why I never ever want to hear your voice again - okay you got it. Reason #1 - you're a liar. Case in point: blah, blah, blah. Reason #2 - you're psychotic. You want proof? How about this? Blah, blah, blah. Reason #3: You're a drag...." Blah, blah, blah.

Hurt their feelings. It is a real pain in the ass to have to do this, but sometimes it is exactly the thing that works. Once I did this with a company that wouldn't quit soliciting my business via phone and visit, and once with a human being who wouldn't stop leaving messages on my answering machine demanding that I pick up and talk to them whether I wanted to or not. In both cases, it worked. It was, unfortunately, a necessary way of proving that I wasn't kidding. You can hurt someone's feelings by phone or letter or email or even in person, but if you use this method, you actually have to hurt their feelings. You have to disabuse them of their personal delusion that you don't really mean it. Because the thing with these people is that somewhere in their twisted brains they think you want to have contact with them and for some crazy reason, just aren't admitting it right now. They need to be bumped out of their current plane of unreality into the real world where you don't like them anymore and aren't going to deal with them. You have to quit being nice. You have to completely quit being nice.

Let's go over this for a bit. You don't have to get revenge. You don't have to threaten dire action. In fact, you shouldn't. Which is confusing, because that's exactly what you're going to want to do. You're going to want to back up your not niceness with some sort of enforcing power, because being not nice is so disorienting that it makes us feel helpless, like we need to say we're going to call the police if they ever call again. Don't do this. Don't, don't, don't do this. It actually undercuts your power. The other person immediately thinks 'aha! they don't really mean it. they'll never call the police. look at them - they're helplessly upset. I have them right where I want them and can use my persuasive telephone powers to worm my way back into their graces and prove to them that they are wrong about not wanting me and i am right that they really do.' It only convinces them that they are right. People who really bug you, and are serious about it, or persistent, are very twisted in their reasoning. They cling to their delusions with admirable tenacity. The people who are most likely to be exes that bug you, are the ones that were all fucked up to begin with. They're good at it. They have practice. They can believe what they want to believe.

So what we want to do is blast them with a message of sufficient force that they have to reassess their version of reality. And so we punch them right in the delusion. I don't like you. I don't love you. I don't want your fucking products. And so, if it comes to this, we repeat our delusion-killing message until it gets through. Meanly. Rejectingly. I don't love you. I don't love you. I don't love you. I don't love you. We do not make it seem like we need the help of the police or anyone else to not love them. We just say it. Until we make it reality.

Somtimes there is a last gasp after the forceful blow. We send them our mean diatribe by email or letter plunging deep into how thoroughly we do not want this person in our life anymre and there is one last message from them. 'Hey Brad, this is whoever. So I got your email. I guess I didn't realize you have such a serious issues. You've got a lot of problems and I guess I just thought you know, you were a better person. I really think you've got an issue with women. So pick up if you're there, cuz I want to talk to you. Okay, so...I guess what you're saying is you don't want me in your life anymore. That's too bad because you know I thought we really had something and could work it out. But i guess you're just too fucked up. If you want to pick up the phone, we could talk. I guess this is it then. I feel sorry for you because you're really pathetic, you know. you're never going to hear from me again. Cuz I just can't deal with your hostility, you know. You're just a sad, small person and really..I feel totally sorry for you. Okay, well all right, goodbye then. I hope you rot in hell and everything. Bye.' YES!!! YES!!!! Thank God. Get down on your knees when this happens and praise the Lord. Because it's over. That person can no longer manipulate you and is out of your life forever. Sometimes good things do happen. And all you had to do was be really really mean.

Which brings us to our final option for those of us who aren't sure we have the stomach for straightforward meanness.

Option #6 - CREATIVITY. Here's where we leave practicalities for a moment and delve into the theoretical underpinnings of what's going on here. There are 2 principles working against you in this situation.

Principle #1: People will continue to do something as long as it works for them.

Principle #2: Reality is an agreement.

If someone is continuing to bug you, on some level it is working for them. May not be working for you, but it is working for them. We need to make that fundamental truth go away. If we are clever, we figure out what it is that is working for them and make it stop working. If they continue to call and you never pick up the phone, then the lack of response works for them because it allows them to feed the idea that you are not really rejecting them, you are 'just busy'. Or that they don't know how you really feel and maybe you feel like you are madly in love with them. Or that once they get ahold of you, they will be able to convince you that you really like them and want to be their friend. That's why we confronted them in Option #5. We took those things away from them so they wouldn't work anymore.

If they are calling you, and you're still talking to them, then what they get out of it is you. Maybe not a happy you, or a pleasant you, but you. So that's why we moved to not talking to them. We took away what worked for them.

But sometimes we don't really know what the hell they're getting out of their attempts to bug you. And since we don't know, we get creative and we change something, anything, about the dynamic. If what we're doing isn't working, we try something else. Common sense dictates this, although common sense frequently high-tails it out the door when we are all annoyed because someone is bugging us.

So what we do is make use of Principle #2. Right now, the two of you are unwittingly agreeing on a reality that you don't like. The current reality works for them, doesn't work for you. So we break the current agreement, and create a new reality. That's why we tried Option #5, if we were tough enough. We were enforcing a new reality. If we're not tough enough to straightforwardly pound the hell out of someone with unrelenting rejection, we pick a reality we can live with.

Let's say the current reality is that you are your normal self. Big mistake. Often in these situations, you will experience an overwhelming impulse to be sincere. This is a sure sign you are being sucked into someone else's reality and playing by their rules. You sincerely try to explain that you don't want to hear from them anymore. You sincerely want them to stop bugging you. You sincerely think it's a problem. You sincerely believe they are being a pest and you try to treat them like one. Okay - not working. So quit it.

Get insincere and illogical. Many many problems that refuse to budge when confronted by grim logic and earnest sincerity are absolutely thrilled to dissolve when confronted by illogic and insincerity.

For example, next time Shannon calls, pick up the phone say 'hey shannon, glad you called. OHMYGOD, THE MEDICATION'S WEARING OFF! THE BUGS ARE HUGE! CRAWLING OVER MY SKIN, BORING DEEPER, DEEPER! HELP ME PLEASE!!!!' And then hang up. When she calls again, don't answer. Let it ring and ring. Then call 20 minutes later and say 'hey shannon, what's up? Oh shit, the SWAT team's here again. Christ, duck! Jesus, gotta go.' Then when she calls again don't answer. But call her the next day and say 'you know what, I've finally heard your plea for help. I've got a list of certified psychiatrists right here that can help.' Then start reading from the yellow pages. 'Ravi Shaktur, M.D.' And so on. Interrupt yourself occasionally by saying 'oh wait, that one's an auto mechanic.' Then continue reading. Finish the list and say 'okay gotta go, hope that helps.' Later leave a message on her machine that says 'hey exciting news in the world of anti-depressants. Let me read you this article from Yahoo!' And read it into the phone.

You see what we're doing here - she used to be the pest. Now you are. She used to be the weird one. Now you are. Call her up and tell her you want to talk about the priesthood. Read her your grocery lists. Tell her you're glad she's there because you've got an excema problem you'd like to describe. Announce that you're starting a movement to legalize pedophilia. Not because you're into anything like that but because conceptually it ought to be legal, shouldn't it? I mean a three-year-old can give consent, right? And logically, why should they even have to. We don't get consent from kids to send them to school and yet they get shot there in the hallways. How much worse can pedophilia be than getting shot outside your high school locker? Call her at 2 a.m. because you 'just feel like talking.' And then talk about how you're raising pigs in your living room so that you can eventually teach them to vote. Explain that you're making progress because several of them have already volunteered for political campaigns. Get philosophical as you discourse on how hard it is to get the Bush pigs to play nicely with the Kerry pigs.

All right - very few of you have the verve to pull this off, although god bless the few of you that do. But we needed to get outlandish because that's what creativity is. It's looking at something in a different way. And it works in the oddest situations. A friend of mine was bugged by her mother calling her all the time to urge her to dump her drug-addicted boyfriend. She didn't want to dump her drug-addicted boyfriend. So we thought about it and decided her mom was trying to be friendly, in a pathetic mom-like way. My friend had complained about her boyfriend before, as people do, and her mom thought that disparaging about my friend's cokehead lover was a way to be both a friend and a mom at the same time. So we thought, well, let's let her be friendly some other way. Which worked. All my friend did was, next time the dump-your-addict-boyfriend call came, tell her mom, oh hey, let's not talk about that, let's talk about your trip to Europe. Which they did. They stopped talking about the boyfriend, and starting talking about Greece and eventually went there together. My friend had thought it was a 'my mom wants me to dump my boyfriend problem', when all she had to do was switch it to a 'how can my mom and i be friendly while ignoring the otherwise fascinating topic of cocaine abuse?' problem. Switch your problem. Look at it a different way.

Let's put our suggestion into action in your life! For example, your current problem as you understand it, is that you are annoyed because the obnoxious Shannon continues to leave messages which you fear your new girlfriend will hear and be upset about. Okay, so make it the opposite reality. You are thrilled and excited to be receiving messages from Shannon which you are anxious to share with your new girlfriend because it will give you an opportunity to solve your problem. And then - you and your girlfriend call Shannon up together. If you have not yet secured a new girlfriend, hire a fake one for the evening.

Explain the situation to your friend - and then call up your tormentor and start tormenting back. Put one person on one extension and another person on the other extension. 'Hey Shannon, this is Chad and my new girlfriend Bonnie.' Bonnie says 'Hi Shannon, pleased to meet you.' You say 'So what's up? I just wanted to talk to you and everything. How bout them hockey players? They really get into some gnarly fights on the ice, don't they?' Bonnie says 'do you like hockey, shannon?' It's creepy! Since what you are doing is fucking with Shannon's mind, you need a reasonably intelligent partner, who can fuck with people. If your new girlfriend is dumb as dirt, or excessively sincere, remember to hire a fake for the evening!

Keep asking Shannon questions, until she sounds really confused. Don't ever, ever let Shannon take control of the conversation. Keep talking and asking and ramrodding the conversation until it becomes obvious her reality is holding no sway. Don't respond to Shannon. Make Shannon respond to you. Ask her if she's a Scientologist, cause you know, she just really seems like one. If you can't be mean, be a really weird kind of nice. Have Bonnie ask if she can like call Shannon as a friend, you know, just to keep in touch and everything. You can do this. You can pull off one mind-fucking conversation, if you've got help. And frequently, this is the beauty part of creativity, just one is all it takes. You have destroyed Shannon's reality, we hope, if you never let her get control of the situation, on multiple levels. One of them hopefully worked. Maybe she believed you were normal, or nice, or that this message thing was just between the two of you, or that you'd never get another girlfriend. We don't know what she was thinking, but whatever it was, it's not the case anymore. Don't do this in a vengeful way, hah hah, Shannon, I've got a new girlfriend. That will make her think you care about her still. Do it in a 'welcome to an alternate reality' way. If she keeps bugging you, and believe me, she won't - have Bonnie call her and bore her with talk about curtains. This will get so frustrating for Shannon! We have switched the situation - in which you had to reject Shannon, to one in which Shannon wants to reject you.

This is The 'They Thought They Were Going To Be Muggers, But They Turned Out to Be Frightened Kids' Technique. Once I was walking home from the bus stop at sunset in a dangerous neighborhood. I was doing this because this is the kind of idiotic thing I've spent my whole life doing. I was accosted and surrounded by 4 teenagers, one of whom announced he had a gun. His reality was that they were going to commit some kind of crime. I didn't go along with it. Instinctively, I said real loud, 'OH DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH! I AM SO SURE! YOU GUYS ARE SO FUNNY!' Which switched their reality and forced them to reassess. While they were busy being confused, a neighbor came out with a baseball bat and said (deep voice) 'Trouble here?' They decided, no, fuck it, no trouble here and ran in 4 separate directions. Even when someone's intent is to cause you harm, if you don't buy into it, they have a much harder time pulling it off. In this case, Bonnie, or your rent-a-girlfriend, is your baseball bat.

Since reality is an agreement, it is much easier for an ex to get you to buy into theirs, when they have you by yourself. They usually instinctively shun situations in which their fucked up reality will be exposed to others, because it's harder to get 2 people to agree on an insane reality than just one. Use this to your advantage. Thwart what works for them. Create a new reality. And while I don't know whether you can convince Bonnie to help you in your quest to get rid of Shannon, I do know that you can think of your problem in a different way and make some progress. Yet if that fails....

Option #7 - CALL THE COPS. Or the Better Business Bureau. Or the landlord. Or whoever the authority with jurisdiction is. The police don't have a stellar record in these things, and it's often understandably one of their least favorite things to deal with, but if you gotta call 'em, call 'em. Once I called the Better Business Bureau - it worked. And once a friend of mine called the cops. This woman he knew kept calling him and saying she was going to commit suicide if he didn't come over. So he called the cops and said there's a woman threatening suicide at such and such address. They went over there. She never did that again. Ever. Sometimes it works.

All right, by the time you have gone through all these options - the problem is going to disappear. If it still doesn't, you can always try Option #8.

Option #8 - REMEMBER OPTION #1.


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