Why I Strangely Feel Empathy For My Stalker

He was troubled, and then, he saw me.

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There are two kinds of stalkers: those who are creepy admirers from the beginning and those who started out as a friend or even a lover and become creepy. Mine was the latter, which is so much more heartbreaking.

We once had a relationship, but it turned into a betrayal of trust and boundaries.

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For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him JP. 

JP and I met while I was going to school in Boston.

We met in a class we had together which only consisted of six people.

I had previously thought it was a class of five, but JP showed up a third of the way through the semester. Our professor was a 94-year-old, former poet laureate — only the mega nerds took this class. The particular class that JP first came to was anomalous, our tiny room was packed with observers who were there to nerd out over the professor even though they weren't being graded for it.

I didn’t even know that JP was an official part of our class. The observers were boisterous compared to our quiet, cozy, usual five. When the discussion ran away with the fanatics’ excitement, JP and I exchanged glances across the room with a knowing discomfort. That is the best kind of flirting: solidarity in a strange situation.


A friend tried to warn me about his personality.

It turns out that JP and I had a mutual friend, Annie. He saw me in a picture with her on Facebook and recognized me from class. When he expressed his interest in me to her, Annie warned me “JP is an awesome friend, but he can be kind of intense.”

Ha! Intense? I can handle intense.

So our courtship began. 

JP came into my life at a difficult time.

I was unhappy in Boston and was coming to the conclusion that I needed to move home to Chicago at the end of the semester. I didn’t know how to tell this poor, sweet, enamored guy that I was leaving. We were on the train going from downtown to the North End when I finally spat it out.


I never could’ve guessed his response would be to confide in me that he has brain cancer. He was going to start another round of treatment after the holidays.

I guess we were both hiding things.

We never defined the relationship, but there was an unspoken agreement that we would have fun with each other while we still had time. Again, I had my own stuff going on that made me distant as my last couple of months there winded down.

In retrospect, I was also trying to emotionally distance myself so I wouldn’t get too attached. JP persisted through my flakiness. 

Eventually, the time came for me to leave Boston for good.

I thought that was going to be the last I’d see of him. We never really set a boundary about how much contact we'd have, but I didn't think that I would need to set one at this time.


Also, because of how much I pushed him away towards the end, I didn't expect him to continue to pursue me, though there was a pang in my chest whenever I thought about how I may never know if he would succumb to his cancer without my knowledge.

A few months later, however, I got a text from JP saying that he was thinking of moving to Chicago. 

This was odd because his family and friends mostly live in Boston. He had some more family in Israel and used to talk to me about moving there. He had ties in a few other New England locations, but why Chicago?

I told JP in my best attempt to not sound arrogant that he should explore and Chicago is awesome, but he shouldn’t do it for me. He denied that I was the reason, of course, but it still seemed fishy to me. 


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Sometime in March, JP planned a trip to Chicago to go on job interviews and scout places to live.

He wanted to see me and I hesitantly agreed.

Our reunion was awkward. Sure, we’d get into little flows of conversation, but there was something off.

He seemed to know things about me that I never told him. I dismissed it thinking that maybe Annie told him things, but it still kept me on guard.

As I tried to press him for why he chose to come here, it only solidified my impression that JP was only in Chicago for me. He didn't know anyone in the city and he didn't even seem to like Chicago very much. 


After traversing some of my favorite locals-only spots we went back to his Airbnb. 

I was shaking as we sat on his couch. I didn’t know what I should do. I was wondering when this would end. I’d think about excuses to leave, but when I turned to talk to him the bald spot shaved into his head from surgery would stare back at me. I eventually mustered up the courage to not only leave but be very clear with him.

Seeing him was surreal. He, at one point, meant something to me, but I just couldn’t do this weird, dark dance with him. I wasn’t leaving because of the cancer, I was staying because of it, and that wasn't fair to him either. We only saw each other sporadically for two months in Boston, it should be left at that. 

JP seemed to take it well — he seemed to understand.


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But I’d still hear from him and he kept tabs on me via social media. 

One day, I got a text from Annie that she got a weird text from JP. She hadn’t heard from him in months, then out of the blue, he sent her a list of all that he appreciates and all that he regrets. The appreciation list was pretty normal: ”my dog, my friends, my family, etc," even with the ominous bullet point about someone who could have been me: “that I got to spend time with her.” Nothing to worry about.

But the regrets list was entirely about me. He listed off all the things that he thought he messed up and all the things he should do to get me back into his life. Annie sent the list to me and said that I shouldn’t talk to JP anymore. 


But JP would not stop texting me and trying to see me. I had to tell him several times where I stood, that I didn’t think our paths should cross again. Then another text would come a few weeks later. So I started to make up phony excuses for not seeing him.

Despite the fear and frustration, I also felt for him.

I didn't want to cut him off completely because I knew he was all alone here and in a difficult situation. I was his crutch for whatever reason, so to totally ghost on him felt cruel.

It was also in the forefront of my mind that Annie warned me about his intensity from the beginning; in deciding to proceed anyway, I felt like it was my responsibility to follow through.


At some point in this madness, I met my current boyfriend.

When one of my reasons to dodge JP was that I was in a relationship, he said that it wouldn’t deter him, but then he left me alone.

I’ve never been followed across the country before, that was certainly strange and a little scary. But in all honesty, I don’t think that JP was a dangerous person. He was just lovesick in the midst of being fatally sick. I think his illness heightened the stakes for him causing JP to over-romanticize what we were and even who I am.

I only hope that he is alive and well and focusing more on himself.

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Colleen Fogarty is a writer who covers self-care, astrology, and relationship topics.