EX ETIQUETTE: Birthday greetings to ex get sticky

Q: For the past couple of years since a relationship ended, I've sent e-mail birthday greetings. We parted with the intention of remaining friends and did occasionally talk for a while.

We haven't talked since last year's birthday wishes and now the birthday time is approaching again. So, for how long after a relationship ends is it appropriate to send birthday greetings? I genuinely like this person and look forward to sending him a card, but since his birthday comes first, I would have to take the initiative. Is continuing to send wishes just forcing him to send them to me in return when he might prefer to just have the contact die away?

A: If you are putting this much energy into whether or not to send a birthday card, there's a problem. Sending cards of any kind is usually regarded as good manners, but this time it sounds like you're fishing. We're thinking there may be no one special in your life and so your mind is traveling to the past. If that's what's going on, be careful. More than likely you're just plain lonely and it's time for a different type of distraction -- a new hobby, therapy, even drinks with a few girlfriends -- anything that will start you looking forward instead of backward.

There is no definite answer to how long you may continue to be in contact with an ex. It depends on if you or he has met someone new and the commitment to that new person. New partners have a real problem with staying in touch with past lovers. So, if either of you is now committed, think long and hard before you make contact. It is bad ex-etiquette to consciously upset a thriving relationship. You could be opening a huge can of worms that is trouble for everyone concerned.

If you haven't spoken in a year, that's a good indicator that he has moved on. If you would like to stay in touch, however, one more birthday e-mail is in order. Make it cordial, but be prepared. If he replies with a simple "thanks" or doesn't reply at all, that's a sure sign he doesn't want to hear from you anymore. Of course, there's always the outside chance he may respond positively. It wouldn't be the first time that a note from a past love sparked things up again. But, don't be in denial: If you don't get the response you want, don't send him another card with the mental excuse that maybe he was in a bad mood or the e-mail address is old. Accept that he's not into you and move on.