Red Flags Your Ex Is Stringing You Along And Using You

What’s in it for them? Objectively assessing the nature of any contact is notoriously hard to do, as well as often being quite dispiriting, but it nevertheless remains of the best ways to understand where communication is leading. In short, what is their intent? What do they stand to gain by talking/messaging with you?

No matter how the breakup panned out, communicating with an ex always carries a cost (usually the fear of further pain or confusion), and thus the benefit of communication must logically carry a stronger reward than whatever it is they stand to lose.

If the fear of confusion or the guilt of leading you on weighed more than the benefits associated with talking to you, they would avoid doing so. So, if communication remains, it begs the question. What are they getting out of it?

Are they:

Attempting to keep their options open

An ex who is attempting to keep their options open will attempt to stall and waste time in an effort to decide which grass is greener, yours or the rosy new dawn they envisioned (but hasn’t quite panned out they way they wanted).

While communication may be somewhat constant, it is usually a frustrating much a-do about nothing where the ex in question will attempt to offer an emotional lifeline, but shy away from any form of real, tangible commitment.

Attempting to alleviate guilt

Sometimes the line between altruism and egotism can blur. No matter how self-centered the guilt is, and it can vary from genuinely caring about your pain, to attempting to coax lingering feelings of self-centered guilt (and occasionally both at once).

Either way, the discrepancy in intent will lead to resentment, because pandering to guilt will only materialize false hope in the mind of the dumpee. I would personally prefer being given the silent treatment because at the very least it is an answer, rather than drown in waves of over-analysis.

Exes attempting to alleviate guilt will often engage in sporadic heartfelt contact, but as is the case with the aforementioned point on keeping their options open, they will flip-flop or fully retreat at any mention of constancy or commitment.

Attempting to reconcile

This is the least common end-result of post-breakup communication, but the world all around is proof that it happens alarmingly frequently (I say alarmingly because research suggests that giving it another shot is almost always a short-term fiasco).

My probably misplaced pessimism aside, deciphering intent here is a little easier than the other two examples, if only because relationship building is all about consistency, which should be reflected in both the tone, and the nature of communication. If communication slowly escalates, and small consistent steps are mutually taken to water the budding flower of romance, things are looking up with regards to reconciliation.

I would nevertheless urge caution, because separation will often catalyze insecurity and have exes who made the decision to breakup temporarily forget why they did so. Unless steps are taken to address the issues that led to a parting of ways, it will all be a case of history repeating.

Who’s Doing The Initiating?

Another indicator of intent to consider is the degree to which an ex is willing to initiate contact. If all they are realistically doing is politely replying to your attempts at contact, I believe it is fair to say you are positioning yourself on an emotional precipice. Unless, of course, that is a character trait they have always had (even when you were dating).

If their attempts at contact are sporadic at best, try to match their rate of contact and see where it leads. If contact dwindles to nothing, or ends entirely, it might not be a case of them leading you on, but the all too common case of our own minds leading ourselves on (and it pains me to lay this point out this brutally, but nevertheless I feel it has to be said).

While swift replies to your attempts are contact are a sign that they continue to respect you. They are not by themselves signs that reconciliation is at hand. If reconciliation, rather than friendship, is what you are after, I would personally urge you to let the contact hammer fall and witness where it lands. Give them the space to initiate at their own rate of comfort, and que sera, sera.

About the author

James Nelmondo

James "the Unknown" Nelmondo is a self-styled relationship enthusiast, former infant, part-time dumper and full-time dumpee.


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  • Hi! It’s great to see you back. Just a quick question. I know it’s hard to tell without having all the details but if a guy I went out with says “I’m happy you’re happy”….is he really? Or is that just something you say, or is he trying to get me to say it back?? Because I won’t. He’s now with a girl only because he got her pregnant, so all I told him was “good luck”. I think he said it only to save his ego because he knows he hurt me. I still have feelings for him & told him we can’t be friends. Thanks

    • Hey Missie, long time no see!

      I’m assuming he said that after telling him you’re doing well? If so, my guess is that it’s just something you say, and most probably mean (unless his attitude was artificially laconic or noticeably spiteful).

      P.S: No matter what his intention was, he won’t have missed the fact that you didn’t answer with the same.

  • Hi There, I broke up with my boyfriend of 5 years in 2013, as I felt I had nothing left to offer and I wanted my space without feeling guilty and encouraged to see other people. However he wanted another chance. I offered friendship and we stayed in close contact and hung out often, this started two weeks after the break up. I saw him as a best friend and deep down didn’t want to lose him, but I no longer wanted a relationship but he felt opposite. Eventually I got involved in other activities, and met new people and my ex and I did not meet up as much as we did during the first couple of months. Although we chatted very often on Whatsapp, I could sense his disappointment during our chats, but it took alot of coaxing to get him to tell me what was wrong. I always noted that I needed the space and it was nothing against him. I think it was my fault for leading him on, as he always asked if we had a chance and I never gave him a straight answer and always encouraged him to se other people. Deep down I did have feelings for him and even considered rekindling the relationship.

    Over time, my communication with him slowed a little as I was busy with work and activities, but we met in some events to hang. So I never thought much about it. Until the end of 2014 , he started talking about how he was upset that I did not give him my time, and how I never prioritzed my time around him and how I was always busy and no longer mattered to him. I really did care for him and did not mean to make him feel left out or hurt. Either way, the argument continued for a few days and I tried to rectify over the next few days but his response was getting colder until he eventually stopped responding to me entirely. No explanation.

    I recall asking him if he had found someone else? or what he wanted now? his answers were always no and he cannot decide and I was to decide. Either way, when he stopped talking to me , I stopped writing to him as he has a tendency of ignoring calls until he calms down. But this time he had cut me off completely, which was heartbreaking. I managed to get on with life then but the reality hit me months later when I realised that he had moved on with someone else and I started to blame myself for the break up and fall out and the guilt is eating me up and I have been beating myself up over what he last said to me, this lasted almost 3 months. The guilt still lingers but I’m trying to accept the fact now. Is this normal? should I stop blaming myself?

    • Hi CM,

      I can identify with him because I’ve had to do the same (It isn’t about right or wrong here). Sometimes hanging on hoping that the person we love will turn around and want a relationship is simply exhausting. It sounds to me that his breaking off is more of an attempt to move on, than it is about actually having moved on. Because remaining in contact with you would only continue to confuse and delay his healing. Likewise, if he has found someone new it is likely also an attempt to move on, rather than a sign he has moved on. Chances are that the silence are a direct consequence of the fact that he does have feelings, rather than the symptom of a complete loss of feeling. Does that make sense?

      What I’m saying is that if he didn’t care about you romantically, he would not need to cut off contact completely because it wouldn’t hurt anymore.

      However, on your end I would absolutely not feel guilty. If you broke it off then deep down he knows that you are not compelled to prioritize in his favor. Nor are his feelings about reconciliation, and the hurt that stems from being denied your responsibility. Sure, you remained friends, but unless you feel that you really led him on, it sounds more of a case of him leading himself on.

      This is typical of what happens when dumper and dumpee remain friends, and they do so for different reasons. For him, friendship was merely a comfort blanket that meant an avenue towards reconciliation. When he realized the discrepancy between your intentions he decided to cut contact in order to heal (at least in my opinion/experience).

      Feeling guilty is a waste because you are only hurting yourself. It certainly isn’t helping either of you, and thus is needless. It may have been a little selfish to continue being “friends” because you didn’t want to lose him, particularly because you knew that friendship was conditional for him (and here is the result), but then again it is something you both did. You may have derived comfort from knowing he was there, but so did he — for entirely different reasons. So, in short, there’s no need to feel guilt.

  • I came home to my partner packing up his belongings & leaving. He snapped because I went out & had locked the house up and he didn’t have house keys on him.
    At first he was very angry with me for the first two weeks & I gave him his space. About the third week we spoke & he called me. We ended up speaking for over an hour. From there we would send a couple of messages here & there. At first it was me who was always initiating the contact & he would reply straight away and then he would stop replying. Then he started initiating the contact by sending me messages about something important in his life (getting his license back). I would ask how he went & he would call to tell me what happened.
    Since the break up, all his friends still keep in contact with me & invite me to events & social gatherings even if he is going to be there.
    I went over to his house the other night & saw him. We just talked & caught up on things. I ended up leaving my phone at his house & he wrote to me saying it was good seeing me & then said I seemed a bit upset at the end. As I didn’t have my phone on me he thought I was ignoring him. So over the next day he called & sent a total of 9 text messages, ranging from all sorts of emotions. It wasn’t until I sent him a message through face book asking if he had seen my phone did he calm down. He told me he thought I was ignoring him & he was glad I wasn’t. I went and collected my phone the next night & he was happy but as I left I said something to him that made him angry, so I ended up leaving. As soon as I drove down the street he sent me a text apologising for getting angry & that he doesn’t want us to not talk. He said he has a lot going on & to give him time because he struggles with these things. We ended up talking & somehow got onto a birthday card I gave him for his birthday last year, he said how he still had it & would never throw it out. I replied saying I probably wrote something lame in it. He sent me a text back saying that I wrote “I hoped all his dreams came true”, then he felt this was complicating things & ended the conversation. The next morning he sent me a text saying “you’re a good person, and I don’t want you to feel like everything’s your fault. You need to care of yourself, have a good day”. He said to me in person that our relationship was different & that it was his favourite.
    I asked him if he wanted to get pizza & he said he already had plans with one of his friends. So I left it & did my own thing but then I received text message later in the evening from him saying how his friend cancelled & that was another friend to add to the list of not worth the time, as if he wanted me to stroke his ego & make him feel better.
    I get so confused, I don’t know why I keep holding onto hope. He says he wants me in his life but then goes hot & cold. He tells friends that he saw me & that we are talking again.
    He gets angry at me if I say the wrong thing to him. I just don’t know if I should just walk away or continue in the hopes it will work out?

    • Hey Maddi, he does seem emotionally rattled and thus it is clear that the fire hasn’t turned to ash quite yet. Despite that though, he clearly feels he’s entitled to having it all go his way, which is the problem. If he’s willing to string your hopes along, he can’t then get angry if you increase the distance or decide to ignore a call. My only advice here (you seem pretty level-headed about the risk of holding onto hope) would be to break his tendency to take you for granted, unless that happens he has no incentive to make any kind of commitment.

  • My ex broke up with me in February and said he never saw us getting back together and we argued and had a bad falling out then we cooled down a little and I went on a date with another boy and when my ex found out he flipped out and got butt hurt and said he was easily replaceable and i was confused on why he was acting this way since he kept repeating to me and his friends we were never getting back together. Then at the beginning of april he called and said he wanted to fix things between us so that we could try again except i was the one trying while he did nothing and at the end of april he called saying he couldnt do it anymore his feelings had changed and he didnt feel the same way about me so we barely talked and then last week we attempted to come to a compromise where we would fix our problems and then date again and then a week later he said he couldnt do it anymore he couldnt give me what i wanted and he didnt feel the same , so now im in no contact with him on day 3. He says i was his first love and he loves the bond we have , and when I asked did he ever see us getting back together he didnt say no like he usually does he said he doesn’t know the future or how he’ll feel in the future . What do you think he feels towards me and what do you think might happen in the future ?

    • Hey Taylor,

      Three days of no contact isn’t really long enough for anything substantial to emerge from the silence. Emotions are clearly still running high and this is causing confusion.

      It sounds to me like he may a little burnt out, but at the same time he still cares. Which means that moving on will be difficult, and watching you move on will cause him pain, despite not having the energy or drive needed to commit to a relationship with you.

      I’d say time apart might help him find his feet emotionally, but strict no contact might not be the best option if you want to reconcile because he has shown that he is quick to feel insecure. No contact will aggravate this. I’d go for limit contact instead. Take your space apart but make sure you both are both welcome to contact each other should something important need to be said.