My ex needs help

There are two Love Letters events this week.

On Monday (Feb. 25), film critic Ty Burr and I will host a screening of "Casablanca," which won this year's Romance Rumble. The screening is free and in a fun, fancy theater. RSVP to join us here. Ty will give a quick talk about the film before it begins.

On Friday (Feb. 22), Love Letters and RadioBDC will host a performance by singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich. The show is free and at a nice club in Central Square. You can RSVP for that event here. Put "LOVE" in the code area to guarantee your entrance.

Also, we chat today at 1.

Hi there,

I'm a (very) single gal in her late 20s and I need some help dealing with an old flame who suddenly resurfaced in my life an "interesting" way.

Years ago, when I was in college, I studied abroad. I had a blast, made friends that I'll have for a lifetime, and learned a lot about myself in between a lot of sightseeing, partying, and flirting (I'm a sucker for accents). Early into my trip, I met "Hugh," and I fell hard. Coming from a US college scene rife with hooking up and casual encounters, he took me on my first "real date," and I'll admit that I got attached way too quickly. He didn't treat me very well, always flirting but never taking steps forward, which I realized after a few weeks. I dated others while I was studying there, but not anyone that I had liked as much as him. After my study ended, we kept in touch very sporadically, and I did wind up seeing him in passing once or twice when I flew back to visit on a few occasions. However, I haven't seen him at least 6 years.

A few days ago, he made comment on one my Facebook statuses, which admittedly intrigued me, but I dismissed it quickly enough ... until I got quite the e-mail. I guess you could call it a "cry for help." He said he'd called in sick from work the last 3 weeks and had just had "a serious mental breakdown." He claimed to need changes and a break from his current situation, without an explanation of the details. He then said he was looking into a trip stateside and perhaps even a job here ... in my city!

It took me a while to process it (I'm admittedly bad with surprises). I think he's expecting a response soon on my thoughts, but I'm not sure how to respond. I'm obviously worried for him and plan to ask him if he's sought help from friends or a professional. I also don't know what he wants from me. Sure, the idea of an old flame who I was infatuated with returning into my life is intriguing, especially to that naive, romantic part of my nature that fell for him in the first place, but not in this context. Plus, it's been 6 years. I've grown up a lot. I know now how much better I deserve.
So I need some help with how to respond. I'm worried about him, so I don't want to ignore him. I wouldn't mind meeting up with him if he visited, but very casually and without any pretense. However, I don't want to give either of us a false impression of some great transatlantic romance growing out of this either. Help?

– Confusing Foreign Relations, Mass.

You have the right instincts about Hugh, at least when it comes to your response, CFR. You can tell him that you hope that he reaches out to a professional. You can advise him to stay close to friends and family. You can assure him that you wish him the best.

As for the rest of it, keep silent. There's no need to chat him up about a possible move to your area. Don't offer to host him. If he shows up and wants to see you, you can be busy. Or you can bring a friend. Or you can meet in a very public place for 25 minutes. You should maintain the tone of a kind, unavailable acquaintance, which is exactly what you are.

My assumption is that when he doesn't get the kind of attention he wants from you, he'll look elsewhere. But if he does continue to engage, please keep him in perspective and maintain boundaries. You mention in your first paragraph that you're "(very) single" and that Hugh has confused you in the past. You went out of your way to see him during visits abroad, despite the fact that he never treated you very well. Perhaps we should stop calling him Hugh, which makes me picture a floppy-haired charmer. Instead, let's call him Mr. Didn't Treat Me Very Well. That's who he is. Please don't forget it.

Readers? Should she reach out at all? Should she contact his friends on his behalf if she's that worried about him? Do you think that Hugh might confuse her if he writes back? Should she see him if he comes to the area? How can she maintain boundaries? Help.

– Meredith