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Obsession

Question:

I recently received a letter from a young man with a history of mental illness who has become obsessed with me. He fortunately does not know where I am living, but he has my parents’ phone number and address. Three years ago, I declined his marriage proposal given over the phone from 800 miles away. We had never dated and I had already told him I did not return his affections. I have since then ignored all contact from him. He has left numerous messages on my parents’ answering machine (including another marriage proposal), and although they used to be infrequent (about every 12-15 months), they have become more frequent and finally he sent a long letter requesting I give him some sense of closure. When he proposed to me 3 years ago, I thought I had made my feelings clear, but I don’t think I ever simply said “Don’t contact me again”. At that point, I didn’t realize the extent of his mental illness. I am concerned that any response from me after all this time will be perceived as a positive response, however I really want him to leave my parents alone and to stop trying to contact me. Would it be better to send him a short note requesting he stop calling and writing, or to simply continue to ignore him? Or is there another option?

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Answer:

You are clearly upset about this young man’s obsessive stalking-like behavior and I don’t blame you. Anyone in your situation would be uncomfortable. While his unwanted ‘affections’ may or may not be based in some mental illness, the basic problem is not a mental illness problem, but rather a potential legal/police one. You don’t mention any threat of violence (and there may not be one), but you are better off safe than sorry. You have a right to be safe (as do your parents). Take precautions:

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p>1) Find out the laws that govern stalking in your community/state/province. Some states now have laws against stalking, while some others treat such matters with less seriousness. Also find out how to lodge complaints with proper authorities if this man ever actually threatens you.

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p>2) Assume that other people (lawyers, judges and police) will need to be educated about how this man has behaved before they can help you. Keep detailed records of any and all contacts that this man makes towards you or your parents. Preserve all letters and keep them in a package to show others.

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p>3) Discuss with your local police how to get a restraining order put in place against this man in the event he tries to track you down.

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p>4) I agree that it is not a good thing to contact him. Communication on your part is likely to be reinforcing to him and may only aggravate the problem. If you do decide you need to talk with him – talk with him once only – state your message in the firmest possible terms (e.g., “I do not want to have any contact with you at all”) and then do not respond to further attempts at communication. A short note for this purpose would probably be (?) less reinforcing than an actual face-to-face so that might be the better way to go.

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