Away at War?

Q: My high school boyfriend is still in love with me, even though we broke up five years ago, a few months after he returned from Marines basic training. Within six months of dumping me he wanted to get back together; I was dating another guy and completely over my ex. He kept calling, sending me flowers, and writing me love letters. I finally had to tell him not to contact me ever again. But every few months he resurfaces, saying he still loves me and that I am the only one for him; each time I have to tell him not to contact me again. He hasn't even had a girlfriend in the five years since me. Now he is being deployed to Iraq and is begging me to correspond with him. He says that my letters are the only thing that got him through basic training and he thinks it would help him to hear from me while at war. I don't want to write to him because I'm afraid it will give him false hope but at the same time I want to help him while he's our country overseas. I have no intention of taking him back, but should I write to him while he's at war? -- Elena, 22

Dr. Susan: I salute your generous impulse to support our men in uniform, but throwing common sense to the winds won't do anyone a favor. I have to ask you this: If you've told this guy not to contact you anymore, how come whenever he gets back in touch every few months, you're still responding? If he calls, you should be hanging up the phone the moment you know it's him. If he writes, you ought to delete or toss the letter, unanswered. Anything other than this total consistency is what's called "intermittent reinforcement." That means that he will keep having hope that your responses, as minimal as they may be, will eventually get longer and warmer. And sure enough, here you are, actually listening to and taking seriously his plea to correspond with him while he's overseas. Don't do it! (Would you provide him with sexual services if he told you it would make him a better Marine?!) He sounds like he's not as balanced in the head as we'd prefer our fighting men to be. If you've already made the mistake of telling him you'd consider writing to him, go back and tell him you insist that the two of you cut off all relations for the good of both of you (especially for your own good), and wish him luck overseas and in the rest of his life. Then never say another word to him. Not one. If he persists in pestering you, you might consider reporting him to the military.

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