I was rejected for a job because of my romantic history

A reader writes:

I work in a fairly insular field in a small geographic region, where people in the trade tend to know each other from the workplace and socially. Normally this is a dynamic that facilitates freer sharing of information and resources, which is great. However, sometimes it can get incestuous and go sour.

I recently applied for a job with a highly respected small company in the area, for which I was experienced, well qualified, and was specifically recommended to the manager by another member of the organization. I was also probably one of few people who applied for the position, which wound up going unfilled for several months.

So, you can imagine my surprise when the manager declined my request for an interview in a highly specific email. He wrote, “I understand that you were a past romantic partner of my current employee’s current romantic partner. That seems like it could be awkward and I think it would be inappropriate of me to hire you under those circumstances.”

My jaw dropped when I read this. First of all, I had no idea that my ex’s partner worked at this business. Secondly, even if I was aware of that, I wouldn’t have thought that it mattered. It would not have changed the fact that I knew I was a good fit for the job and could have been an asset to the team, had I been given the chance to prove it.

I felt like I was being unfairly discriminated against for my past romantic history, which is obviously outside of my control. If it matters at all, I’ve always been friendly with both my ex and his new partner, so it’s not as if anyone was concerned about violence or high drama. The whole situation left a bad taste in my mouth, and I felt as if the manager had acted unfairly, and possibly in a discriminatory manner. Now when I see him or his employee around, I can’t help but suspect that the way they present their company’s work in public is a mask for a morally bankrupt workplace. What do you think? Did he have the right to reject my application for such a specific, non-work-related reason? Is my indignation justified?

I can see why you’re annoyed, but I don’t think this is moral bankruptcy or that you should be this outraged.

This kind of thing actually happens all the time — what’s unusual here is that the manager told you that was his reason, rather than being vague or not giving you a reason at all.

It’s not uncommon for managers to take into account prior connections that a candidate might have with people already on their staff. A lot of managers would have qualms about hiring someone’s ex, for example. (And a lot of employees would have qualms about an ex potentially coming to work with them.)

But his email to you was weird. “Your past romantic partner” are words I could live without ever saying to a job candidate. And saying it would be “inappropriate” to hire you is strange, because the problem isn’t that it would be inappropriate.

The potentially legitimate concern here is that it would be awkward for one or both of you and that it could impact your ability to work together effectively, or otherwise cause drama or tension in the office. And who knows — maybe it would have been a problem for her, even if you were fine with it. Some people are really weird about their partners’ exes. Or maybe it would have been just fine; some people are perfectly mature about exes. But the manager doesn’t know, and I don’t think it’s an outrage for him to just not want to take the risk if he has other good candidates.

And actually, the fact that even he knows who your ex is probably means that employee who’s now dating your ex mentioned it. Maybe she mentioned it in the context of feeling odd about that, and he values the comfort of an existing employee over fairness to a job candidate he isn’t invested in, which isn’t unreasonable. Who knows.

I know it feels unfair to you — why should you miss out on a job just because there are people in the world who are immature about exes, etc.? But people miss out on jobs for all sorts of reasons that aren’t perfectly fair — the manager decides they won’t get along well with another employee, or misjudges that their personality would be the wrong fit for the team, or finds their personality grating, or gives preference to alumni from their own school, or all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with actual job qualifications. Hiring is full of judgments, some of them useful and necessary and some of them not.

Annoying, yes. Unfair, sometimes. But I’d chalk it up to Things That Happen, and mentally move on.

{ 300 comments… read them below }

  1. Mary Dempster*

    I would say that would be true if it was her ex-partner employed there, but the current partner of her ex-partner seems a bit of a stretch, and pretty dang petty to me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But we don’t have enough info to know. If the current partner told the manager she’d feel uncomfortable with it, it’s not necessarily petty to prioritize that over a stranger who the manager doesn’t know, especially if he has lots of other good candidates.

      Or, a thought experiment: What if the candidate had been abusive to the current employee’s ex? I think a lot of people would find it reasonable for her to object to working with the person in that case. (OP, I am in no way saying that’s the case here — I’m sure that it’s not — just trying to illustrate why this stuff is rarely black and white.)

      1. Mary Dempster*

        Sure, but barring those pretty specific circumstances, it still feels petty to me. Obviously if the current employee is uncomfortable, and are a good employee, then it makes sense, but I still am almost surprised as OP is. I guess I could never imagine going to (again, barring something like an abusive relationship) and saying “This is my partners ex and I am not able to work with him/her.”

        1. anonderella*

          I agree, especially with your last sentence.
          And, what other kinds of relationships are “appropriate” to consider when interviewing?
          And, if OP’s ex and their current partner aren’t monogamous, how many other places of business does this bar OP from obtaining work?

          1. OP*

            @Ask A Manager – I hear you on the thought experiment! It would definitely hold more water with me, though, if my relationship with his ex / his current partner were rocky in any way. In fact, it wasn’t – we’re all loosely connected to the same extended set of friends and coworkers. There’s not a ton of social privacy, and personal misconduct would be quickly outed. As it is, our relationship and breakup were quite amicable, we remain friendly acquaintances, and I’ve always had a perfectly nice relationship with the current partner, too. In some places, it’s really hard to stop running into your ex’s ex’s (etc) so I think we’ve all learned to live with it.

            @anonderella I had the same thought after I received the email, and feared that perhaps the new woman would wield power over my life by excluding me from other forthcoming potential opportunities by virtue of her professional credibility. Thankfully this hasn’t come to pass, but I guess it is a danger of small town life.

            1. Jesmlet*

              The only person’s thoughts you can truly know are your own. What I mean by that is, can you really be 100% confident that ex’s current partner would not have an issue working with you? There’s a difference between being cordial when you run into one another and having to spend 8 hours a day in the same office as one another. This situation does suck but it doesn’t strike me as particularly strange (beyond the fact that the manager outright told you).

              1. LBK*

                Yeah, I just keep coming back to the fact that the hiring manager obviously found this out somehow, and I have to assume it was because your ex’s new partner told him. I can’t imagine he’d draw this conclusion if the entirety of their conversation about it had been your ex’s partner saying “Oh, Jane Smith applied for the job? That’s funny, she used to date my partner.”

              2. Christine*

                Agree with you. It’s more comfortable to be nice to an ex’s x a few times a year, here and there. Every work day? forget it. I’ve also been in the situation of being involved with someone that is friends with all of his ex’s, bad enough I have to hear about it from him, at home. But see the person at work???

              3. Jessesgirl72*

                Yes, this.

                I can act politely and professionally in public about just about anyone- especially in those kind of incestuous small world circumstances.

                My politeness doesn’t mean I like them or would be comfortable spending so much time with my husband’s ex. For a role in a big company, sure, but the OP also hasn’t indicated- and probably doesn’t know, because she didn’t even know the new partner worked there!- how closely they’d be working together. The same team or a direct report? No thank you.

              4. Recruit-o-Rama*

                Yes, this so much! I spent years being nice to my ex-husband’s wife. She seemed like a nice person, seems to make him happy and is nice to my kids. I relatively recently found out that she absolutely loathes me and thinks I was being “fake” in what I felt were our very cordial interactions. I was gobsmacked to find this out, I thought we were cool. If I applied at her employer, I’m sure she would tell the hiring manager that it would make her uncomfortable to have me working there and I think it would be totally fair of the employer to take that into consideration. I also have a friendly (thank goodness for my kid’s sake) relationship with my ex…which may be why she is so uncomfortable with me.

                From a hiring process perspective, his overly explicit email is the problem, he should notified you in a more generic fashion….the email is oddly specific.

            2. snuck*

              Maybe the manager is aware of the small town-ness of this, that there’s few escapes socially for each of the three of you (you, ex, exes new partner) and not wanting to turn their workplace into a space that continues the ongoing interconnectedness?

              Maybe the manager doesn’t believe it’s all roses… either because of some comment made by some (random or involved party), or previous history, or their own previous history (a horrid ex) or whatever…?

              It’s a shame, but it might be for the best. Being that close to your exes partner in a town where everyone is always in each other’s faces already could be a bit much?

        2. Jamey*

          It may sound like a stretch in these circumstances, I think the biggest indicator of that is that OP didn’t even realize that ex’s partner worked there which to me is an indicator that she’s removed enough from the situation for there to not be hangups.

          But there are definitely other circumstances where it wouldn’t be a stretch, I think. I would never be able to work with my partner’s ex. She has slandered me to everyone she knows with wild and serious accusations such as child abuse. I am extremely afraid of her. Not only would I not be able to work with her, to the point where I would quit if she were hired, but even just the fact that she applied at my company would cause me a lot of anxiety. Based on her previous behavior, I’d have to assume that it was a power play to spite or harass me.

          Obviously my situation is nothing like the OP and I don’t want to imply that they’re similar. But abusive people are not uncommon in this world.

          1. LBK*

            By contrast, I think not knowing much about what’s going on with her now indicates there’s distance between them, and people who keep distance from each other probably shouldn’t be spending 40+ hours a week together.

            1. Jamey*

              I don’t know if that’s fair. I know a lot of people tangentially who I don’t know what’s going on in their lives all the time. There’s distance between us because we don’t know each other that well and I don’t care to keep abreast of what they’re up to. Not because we shouldn’t be around each other.

              1. LBK*

                My point was more that the dynamic can be read either way, and that kind of guessing game about how two people will relate to each other isn’t something a hiring manager usually wants to deal with.

                1. snuck*


                  Let me play devils advocate for a moment and create a work of pure fiction… this isn’t aimed at the OP, but from the outside looking in this could be an interpretation (or two).

                  The OP applies for the role, encouraged by a third party.
                  The manager sees the application, and immediately thinks “oh man, here we go. Does Jane not know that Lucy works here? If she does why is she applying? If she doesn’t, why not… because I thought they were friendly with each other?! What fresh drama might this bring. Nope. Nada. Is Jane playing games? I think I’ll just make it clear to her I’m not going to entertain this or any future applications, it’s not about her skillset, it’s about the risk of drama, and being a small town and small network for this role I’m going to be specific, I’m kinda clumsy with words, but she needs to know it’s not her skills, it’s just the situation.”

                  It’s a small company, in a small town, in a niche field… and the OP doesn’t know that her ex’s partner works there? When people from America say small town I wonder what this means… I live in a small town in Australia – it’s about 600 people. I mightn’t know where everyone works, but if I was applying somewhere I’d be able to find out pretty darn quick… and this sort of drama would either be welcome (run! Run very far from that job!) or not welcome, and if I applied then I’d be seen as the one who did the social misstep … trying to insert myself into drama. I’m not saying the OP did this here – it’s entirely possible she genuinely didn’t know the ex’s partner was there… but the email was surprisingly honest and fair… the manager isn’t saying she isn’t qualified, she’s saying that the OP can’t work there because they are happy with their other employee and want to retain that one. It’s a small company, not a lot of employees I assume… and thus there’s real potential for these two people to have to work together/along side and that’s a recipe for small petty quibbles, even if no direct action exists there’s pre history and potential.

                  In my experience people in small towns have to be nice to each other (and in small networks too), but it doesn’t mean they like each other. Or even if they do generally… it doesn’t mean they don’t maintain very careful and healthy boundaries to protect the positive relationship.

            2. Elsajeni*

              Wait a minute, I don’t know much about what’s going on with my husband’s ex-girlfriend or vice versa, and it doesn’t mean we keep a chilly distance from each other on purpose — we’re just not in each other’s orbit, and haven’t been in a long time. If anyone who has a tangential connection to me but couldn’t name my employer is my enemy, the family reunion is going to be rough this year.

          2. Jessesgirl72*

            She doesn’t know the person worked there- so she doesn’t know whether or not they would be a direct report or on the same team.

        3. Artemesia*

          Sounds like a small operation; I sure wouldn’t want to invite this drama into the workplace if that were the case. The fact that the employer KNOWS about the relationship suggests it is not a non factor — No one wants a soap opera at work and avoiding this sort of thing suggests not hiring people who might create them. Of course the OP probably would not be this kind of person, but the employer doesn’t know that and is operating with minimal information. The fact that he KNOWS about it suggest the employee said something to suggest she is uncomfortable about it. Fair enough.

      2. Student*

        At the same time, you:
        (1) Have no evidence of that from this letter, at all.
        (2) Can flip that random hypothetical around with damning results – what if the letter-writer were abused, and this was a machination of the abuser and his new partner to damage the professional reputation and job prospects of the letter-writer in a small community? How is a manager to know? If I were a manager, and somebody came to me with this, I’d be inclined to think the drama llama that I don’t want on my team was the one complaining about possibly having to work with a partner’s ex in the future.

        1. LBK*

          I think Alison’s point was just that when relationships and exes are involved, there’s a lot of stuff you just can’t know as the hiring manager, and it’s easier to not put yourself in the situation to ever have to find out.

          Plus, in your #2 hypothetical, does that really make it better/different? So the person should be hired onto the team with their abuser? Not to mention I’d generally take the word over someone who’s worked for me and with whom I have some kind of rapport and trust than a job candidate I just met. Not that you can perfectly judge someone’s character by working with them, but I’d certainly take their word over someone I barely knew.

        2. Roscoe*

          Eh, if its a good employee on my team, and even if they are the dramatic one, I’d still take that over a stranger I don’t know. I’m a pretty chill person, but there are a few people, that if I saw come in for an interview, I’d definitely share my thoughts with my boss. I don’t think that makes me over dramatic though

    2. bridget*

      Really? I feel like I would feel weirder working with an ex’s current partner than the ex himself (whom I know much better as a person, not just “that person who replaced me” or “that person my ex used to sleep with”). There are potential emotions of jealousy, comparison, or territoriality that aren’t there between me and the ex. Handling either dynamic badly would be petty, and I would endeavor to handle it maturely if I were in either situation, but I don’t think that the possibility of drama or tension between the OP and ex’s current partner is silly for the manager to consider.

      1. shep*

        @bridget – I think you summed up all the potential for weirdness really well. And while I think that most people would treat a work situation like this with a lot of maturity, I could also see it going badly for all the reasons you’ve outlined.

        So while I definitely feel for the OP and totally understand why this seems egregiously unfair, I also see why management factored this into their decision-making. (It is weird that they were so forthcoming about it, though. I’m a private person and to have my private life drawn into an employment discussion is horrifying to me.)

        1. Zombii*

          >It is weird that they were so forthcoming about it, though.

          This is why OP should consider the situation a bullet dodged!

          Regardless of whether Current Employee had a conversation with Boss about how she would be uncomfortable working with her current partner’s ex or if she just mentioned that she knew OP and how they knew each other, Boss has attempted to avoid drama at work by needlessly inserting drama into Current Employee and OP’s lives on a social level (OP now partially blames Current Employee for sabotaging her job prospects and Current Employee may or may not know why OP wasn’t considered for the role).

          A boss that wasn’t inept would have just said “We won’t be moving forward with your application. All the best luck in your job search.” or whatever instead of giving too much information that could potentially damage other people’s relationships, especially when the industry is as small and incestuous as OP indicated.

          1. mreasy*

            Yeah, the revelation of this information is the issue here. It seems like a drama-stirring power move by the hiring manager!

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        You have indeed hit the nail on the head. If I ever found out that my spouse’s ex worked somewhere that I was applying and that I would need to work with them, I would remove myself from consideration. There are simply too many things that can go wrong or potential for awkwardness. I agree that the manager was smart to consider this and say no to OP. I’d have made the same call.

      3. Bwmn*

        In addition to this, the nature of a field or a specific office could also have a manager be even more sensitive to any personal conflicts. For years I worked on a team where it was just myself and my manager where we were working in a pretty challenging institutional environment. Had our team ever been allowed to hire an additional member – had one of the candidates had that kind of a personal connection to me, I could see my manager just not wanting to bother going there if I gave any indication of discomfort.

        While I think the manager’s actual response is a bit over the top – because to assume that the OP would know that their ex’s current partner works there a bit of a stretch. I could see lots of environments where a manager strictly wanting to avoid that dynamic isn’t ridiculous. Frustrating – sure, but not ridiculous.

      4. Elizabeth H.*

        I’m not especially proud of this but I am a really jealous person and I think I wouldn’t be crazy about working with my current significant other’s ex. To say the least. This is just my 2 cents. I’m not sure I’d even want to work with my ex’s ex even though he and I are really good friends now, it’s kind of separate from my feelings about him. I 100% agree I’d rather work with an ex than with one of his current or former partners.

    3. seejay*

      Dunno, I’ve had some current partners of ex’s get really stroppy and petty at me, when I had nothing to do with the ex and was no threat to their relationship, all because I crossed paths with the ex that I was still on friendly/speaking terms with. They did more damage to their relationship with their partner than I could ever do just by existing and speaking to the person I had a past with.

      It’s entirely possible the current partner is the one that spoke up about it being an issue for whatever reason. It could be a valid reason or not.

    4. Sas*

      I kind of see this in some situations and this situation. We don’t have an indication that there is some sort of really horrible thing that exists between the ex and the Op. The ex’s current and Op aren’t ex best-friends? How many of these opportunities do you get to use before you are seen as the problem? (Excusing true abusive scenarios.) Is this what you would want to use it on? I wonder if these questions factor into this situation. Are the current and the Op going to work side-by-side each day? Your ex that some are so jealous of might have had many partners before you. Maybe Hr was allowing you into information that could be a help to you in the future. (So-and-so does not want to work around you. Get the position first!) In a response though, I do think you should let the hiring manager in a thought of yours about the comment to you. Lightly
      The issue I take with Aam’s response is while it might be good advice, it’s almost something you want to not say aloud to everyone in some effort to discourage not being petty. Being petty can damage people. Or, at least you’d want to pair Aam’s advice with a disclaimer about pettiness? Not saying that someone was, but we are supposed to take the Op at THEIR word.

  2. L.*

    “I felt like I was being unfairly discriminated against for my past romantic history.” That’s not what discrimination means. This stinks, I’ll grant you, as did their handling of it. OP, take it all as a sign you’re better off. Think of it this way – do you really want to work somewhere where they’d blow off an otherwise qualified candidate (which I assume OP is) for such a dumb (I agree it IS dumb) reason?

    1. Retail HR Guy*

      Well, it does fit the dictionary definition if not the legal one. We as a society do try to avoid unfair discrimination generally and not just with regards to the narrower illegal forms of discrimination. So I think it’s fair for OP to say she’s being “unfairly discriminated against” if she didn’t mean it in the legal sense.

      1. MK*

        I don’t know, it seems to me it doesn’t fit the common use of discrimination, even if it does fit the dictionary one (though I am not a native speaker, so maybe it does). I started reading expecting to hear a story about the OP losing a job for being thought promiscuous.

        I think most people think of discrimination as something that is about a class of persons, not a personal thing.

        1. Elfie*

          No, the dictionary definition of discrimination can also be “recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another”, e.g. I have discriminating tastes in food doesn’t mean I am making judgement calls about classes of food, it means I recognise the food that I do and don’t like. Discrimination as a word doesn’t necessarily have to have negative connotations, it just does in most popular parlance. I shall stop dictionary-geeking now!

  3. Stop That Goat*

    Barring any sort of crazy ex behavior, it does seem like a stretch but there’s really nothing you can do.

    Calling it moral bankruptcy is even more of a stretch.

  4. kristinyc*

    I feel like we’ve seen letters here from the other side of that – “my ex/ my partner’s ex is interviewing at my company and I don’t want to work with him/her”. I could totally see the company wanting to not make things difficult/awkward for their current employees, especially if they have a strong applicant pool to hire from. Totally sucks for the people applying, but I agree with Alison on all of this.

    1. CDL*

      I’ve been the current employee on this side of it – when I was in college, I worked in a small law office and dated a colleague who was a temporary employee (never again….). We acted professionally during working hours, but I know that it bothered the partners and they were not sad when his assignment ended. It was a very short-lived relationship, but we remained friendly after splitting up. He asked to come back to the firm and the partners told him no – his performance had been poor and his teammates didn’t like working with him, but instead of just telling him that, the partners blamed it on our relationship. And to be fair, I can totally see why they didn’t want any sort of drama in the workplace, and they were well within their rights to do so. He was angry at them, as well as me, but sometimes other factors play a part in hiring – no matter how inappropriate they may be.

      1. Jamie*

        You may not know this but did the partners also mention his poor performance or basically just lead him to believe they were rejecting him due to your past relationship? I can understand not hiring someone based on potential office drama even if the candidate in question is superb. However it seems odd to me to even bring that up if there’s legitimate work-related reasons not to hire someone.

        I may be way off but it sounds like the partners were trying to shift the “blame” for him not being hired away from them and onto you.

    2. KarenD*

      I’m seeing a potential for “strong applicant pool” to be a big factor here. I’ve been on hiring committees in the past, and I remember times when we got in upwards of 40-50 good resumes for one or two positions. We were weeding people out of the pool for reasons that seemed pretty petty or even downright sketchy. One memorable applicant was put to the side because his name was long and virtually unpronounceable, but he was drawn back after someone pointed out that that was really discrimination on grounds of national origin. (He ended up being one of two hired.) Another was tossed because her application material included an essay about how much she loved the city she’d be leaving, and several people felt she wouldn’t be happy in our backwater ‘burbs.

      I could see a hiring manager in this instance being totally overwhelming and trying (clumsily) to reassure OP that she would have been a strong candidate but they had to narrow the pool somehow…. especially in the age range we’re talking about.

      I have that same kind of friendly relationship with nearly all my exes (heavens, that makes them sound so numerous!) and frankly, if this dynamic were in play in my larger industry and my community, a lot of people would be out of work.

    3. mreasy*

      Right but – you don’t tell the candidate! That is what is insane about this whole thing.

      1. PleasedAnon*

        Thank you for pointing out that excluding someone on the basis of their name is discriminatory. Whether people believe it or not “normal” names in our society are names that are typically of Western European origin.

  5. Brett*

    “I don’t think it’s an outrage for him to just not want to take the risk if he has other good candidates.”

    The part about the position going unfilled for several months makes it sound as if the manager had no other good candidates, though. Seems that contributes to the OP’s indignation about this.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But that rests on the premise that the OP is better equipped than the manager to judge what does and doesn’t make sense for his team, which no outside candidate can be.

    2. SystemsLady*

      This is a valid point, though not to the OP. It doesn’t really matter at this point.

      And I say this as somebody whose company rejected a very good candidate for a position we are hurting for because “it didn’t seem like she’d want to stay in this area”. It’s a bad reason and the fact is she’d almost immediately be a valuable hire, but *her* best move is still not to get hung up on our company rejecting her.

    3. Recruit-o-Rama*

      Positions can go unfilled for months for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the candidate pool though so I don’t think the timeframe necessarily indicates anything.

      1. Hope*

        To me, with all the people who are unemployed and/or those looking for jobs, I do not see how a position can go unfilled for a long time.

    4. Jamie*

      Not necessarily. Maybe the manager just takes a hard stance against any potential drama thus eliminating dozens (possibly hundreds) of great applicants. In a week Alison’s going to get a letter from another candidate who received an email from this manager that will go something like this:

      A reader writes:

      I recently applied for a job in a small company for a job in a fairly insular field. I had my first of three interviews that I thought went pretty well. A few days later I received an email from the hiring manager that said “I understand that in 2004 you borrowed a quarter from my current employee Billy J. (not the Billy J who’s wife just got a haircut. The Billy who’s single and has an adorable Beagle puppy) that you never repaid. That seems like it could be awkward and I think it would be inappropriate of me to hire you under those circumstances.”

      This seems outrageous to me but I’m not sure how to respond or if I should respond at all.


      Billy Ain’t Getting That Quarter Back

      1. LBK*

        Oh come on, a presumably long-term romantic relationship isn’t some minor, throwaway personal dispute from the past. This isn’t remotely comparable.

  6. Erin*

    I see why the hiring manager didn’t hire OP. Too much drama.
    But I feel like a situation like this is the time to be vague to a candidate. “Thank you for your interest but, We’ve decided to pursue other options.”
    And if the manager had another issue such as didn’t have enough experience or was missing a qualification that would be something the candidate should know.

    1. KellyK*

      Yeah, I agree. The only real reason to give a reason for not hiring someone is to give them useful feedback. Since there’s no way for the LW to stop being so-and-so’s ex, telling them doesn’t really serve a useful purpose.

      1. Em too*

        I guess at least they know not to apply for future jobs there until New Partner has moved on? I would have been tempted to go vague but not sure I’d be right.

    2. Mike C.*

      This is an odd conclusion to reach. Where I work, there are tons of couples (dating, married AND divorced!) and folks seem to handle things just fine. I feel like if folks otherwise have great reputations and do well in the hiring process folks should presume they will can like adults until proven otherwise.

      1. LBK*

        How many of those got together/got divorced while already working together vs being hired with a pre-existing relationship, though? I think the former is something you just kind of have to deal with and navigate as it happens because at that point you’re already invested in the employee, but if you have a chance to avoid the potential for interpersonal issues before you even hire someone, I don’t see why that wouldn’t be a perfectly valid concern.

        1. Anna*

          I think trying to hedge against drama is one thing; Erin’s post, though, assumes drama with no indication of it.

          1. Erin*

            In that position I wouldn’t hire someone if I thought they may potentially cause problems that were personal with another staff member. What if the 1st staff decides they don’t want to work with the ex, and quits? then you’re back in the same boat with someone less trained.
            It’s kinda like a seatbelt you don’t plan on getting in a car wreck but you still buckle up.

      2. Zombii*

        >I feel like if folks otherwise have great reputations and do well in the hiring process folks should presume they will act like adults until proven otherwise.

        I agree. The OP’s situation reads like this: 1) Current Employee had a conversation with Boss where she made it clear she won’t be able to act like an adult if OP was hired or 2) Boss would not be able to act like an adult if expected to work with a current partner’s ex/new partner, and extrapolated on that assumption.

        Anywhere that assumes couples = drama is somewhere I avoid working because they tend to treat employees like children and are exceptionally good at hiring the people who can act accordingly.

        1. LBK*

          It’s not about “acting like adults,” it’s purposely putting your employees in a situation where they have to do that. Why force people to swallow the potential awkwardness of a situation when you could just flat-out avoid it?

          I have the capacity to suck it up and work with someone with whom I have a personal issue, but I would obviously prefer not to if I don’t need to.

  7. A*

    It could be an overreaction to a previous employment situation involving exes on the part of the hiring manager. It sucks, OP, but it sounds like it’s more about the manager’s preferences and/or past experiences than about you personally.

    1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

      Possibly even involving this particular woman. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out she’s the missing stair in this office.

  8. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Wow, that’s so…I don’t know why, but that emails feels creepy to me? I’m very sorry, OP, and hope you find a far better job that allows you to fling money around and go out on the town with the gorgeous person of your choice hanging off your arm.

    (I’ve found that people can be really, really weird about those who are friendly with their ex partners. They’re far more understanding if you’re enemies. One of my exes is one of my closest friends. But people get visibly uncomfortable when they hear that, or see us being friendly. )

    It just clicked for me that his response reads like something you’d write in primary school: “I can’t invite you to my slumber party because you’re friends with Enid and Jessica will be there and she hates Enid.” I mean, really. What’s wrong with, “Thanks for applying, we’ve almost completed our selection process but will keep your file in case a suitable position ever opens up”?

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        I think you mean cheerLEADERS!

        *\o/* *\o/* *\o/*

        Now I want to submit SVH scenarios to Alison for the fiction posts. Let’s see, we’ve got Ned Wakefield practising different kinds of law, the Tofu Glo debacle, the cheating on the tour guide test switcheroo, the candy striper kidnapping scenario… and that’s just off the top of my head.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          I have a good one:

          Dear AAM,

          My sister Liz and I have started a letter writing business. One day, our classmate Shelley wrote to us asking for a love letter…to Liz’s boyfriend Todd. I know I should have told Liz, and I tried to hide the letter, but I made the mistake of telling her how many we had that day and she asked about it, so I changed the letter, let her think it was from someone called Blythe from another school.

          She wrote the letter and didn’t notice anything. Now Todd’s written to us, asking for a letter to Liz asking if they can cool it for a while, and one to Shelley to ask her out! How do I get out of this one?

          Yours sincerely, Jessica Wakefield

    1. OP*

      The cliqueyness of the email is I think what irritated me most – not being passed over for an interview, which I understand can happen for any number of reasons.

      It is compounded by the employee and the manager being very friendly to me recently in shared professional spaces where we have to, as a function of the smallness of our world, get along. I get this odd feeling that they expect me to play nice and not mention the whole exchange, which, to keep the peace, are terms that I abide by.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Wow, that makes it even creepier to me, to be honest. It sounds like some kind of mind game – insulting you in private and being nice in public. Ugh. You’re definitely better off away from these people. Even if your ex’s current partner said something, the manager shouldn’t have even hinted at it. I’m very sorry this happened, it’s really unfair.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But I don’t see anything indicating she’s being insulted in private. The manager could feel legitimately warmly toward her and still not want to risk drama or tension on his team.

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            Yes, that’s poor word choice on my part. Except now I’m blanking on a better word! Perhaps ‘behaving less than professionally in private’?

            It’s true we don’t know how he feels. I’m just stunned that someone would include such a personal reason in a rejection letter (although I shouldn’t be, after reading some of the antics that get posted!).

            1. Anna*

              It feels gossipy. As if they’re being professional to her face, but behind her back ex’s new partner and manager are talking all about the ins and outs of OP’s past relationship. It think that’s what feels gross about it.

              1. LBK*

                An employee raising a completely valid concern about an interpersonal dynamic with a potential new hire isn’t gossip, and suggesting they discussed the “ins and outs of the OP’s past relationship” is pure speculation. We don’t know that the conversation was any more extensive than “Jane Smith dated my current partner and I’d feel uncomfortable working with her because of that.”

                1. Anna*

                  There’s a lot of things here that are pure speculation. Even if it were speculation, I know that it would feel like to me if someone told me to my face (via email) that the reason I wasn’t granted an interview is because of who I had a relationship with. If the manager were concerned about it being professional, the manager shouldn’t have brought the OP’s personal romantic history into the conversation.

                2. LBK*

                  But it’s relevant. The manager didn’t just bring it up to be petty or nasty or personal or whatever you’re asserting here. The relationship was the basis of the manager’s concern about hiring the OP.

                  If you disagree that the manager should be allowed to evaluate the OP’s relationships with his employees as part of deciding to hire her or not, then we just have to agree to disagree there.

              2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                Yes, I think that’s it. If the manager had never put it in the email, OP would never have known. Telling her the details makes it gossipy and unprofessional.

                I should stress that I’m not saying his decision not to hire her was wrong. It’s the putting it in an email that’s really crossing a line for me.

      2. anoning*

        Or they could just be acting polite and professional in the same way they would have acted if they rejected you for the job without mentioning your ex’s partner. It’s a professional space. What did you expect them to do? Ignore you and act cold just because they didn’t offer you a job?

        It’s not unusual that they expect you ignore not receiving a job. When I’m in a professional space with someone who hasn’t given me a job offer after an interview, it’d be weird for me or them to bring it up in conversation. I think you may be reading into this a bit too much.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, they’re just acting professionally…I’m confused why this somehow makes it worse. Frankly, the fact that you’re so miffed that they kept it polite kinda proves the manager’s point about keeping you out of the office. Look how personally you’re taking this whole situation and feeling affronted by something as simple as professional courtesy at an industry event – you think he wants to invite that kind of emotional response to take place in his office every day?

          1. Artemesia*

            This comes across to me too. PLus ‘morally bankrupt’ — overreaction much? I would probably have reacted with the same ire, so I don’t fault the OP for that. And the employer is an idiot for telling her the real reason she didn’t get interviewed. But the potential for drama is very evident in each of the OP’s missives here including being offended that they behaved professionally at a professional event.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              That’s exactly what I was thinking. OP, you are taking this much too personally, as though there’s the conspiracy against you. You just don’t have evidence of that. The manager made a decision that he didn’t want risk drama by hiring you but has continued to treat you professionally, and that is offensive to you? If so, it’s obvious that you aren’t a good fit there, so you should be glad you weren’t hired.

              If a current employee has concerns about how well they’ll work with a potential new employee, they should bring that to their manager’s attention. And the manager should weigh that in making their decision. And there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to take a chance on a person you don’t know and their ability to interest well in a situation where many, many people who are otherwise perfectly mature do not. There’s nothing wrong with what the employee or manager did here. There’s nothing wrong with them continuing to act professional to you. That you are taking this as a huge slight against you by a “morally bankrupt” company is a sign that you should step back and try to be more objective about this.

          2. anoning*

            Yeah. OP saying she’s keeping the peace by not bringing up the hiring decision is…concerning. The manager was in the wrong for the way they handled the decision not to interview the OP, but I can’t see any fault in how they’re behaving in the shared space. In fact, it’d be way more unprofessional to bring up the interview issue than ignoring it completely.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          yeah, this confuses me, too. OP, I know you feel like the manager did you dirty, but would you be this mad if they were polite after declining to hire you b/c of “fit”? I know that bringing up one’s personal life makes it feel, well, personal, but I think they’re behaving really normally. They’re not hiding anything—it sounds like they liked you but for this issue. It sounds like it wasn’t personal for them, but rather, a business decision. The email is weirdly worded, but the rationale for not moving forward isn’t morally wrong.

          1. Anna*

            It doesn’t *feel* personal; it is personal. There’s no getting around that. The manager made a business decision, but instead of keeping it to business terms in their rejection, they specifically brought up a romantic relationship.

            1. LBK*

              …but that romantic relationship was the basis of the business decision. The two are intertwined; are you suggesting there was another reason for the rejection and the relationship was just an excuse?

              1. Anna*

                I’m not sure how you could have gotten that from my post…? It is personal, so the OP feeling like it’s personal is actually valid. It’s no different than a manager saying “I think you’re an asshole” when writing a rejection email. Why bring it up at all?

                1. LBK*

                  Are you saying he should’ve just left the rejection vague instead of stating why? I guess I don’t understand what’s wrong about bringing up the relationship when the relationship is what led to the rejection.

                2. Zombii*

                  @LBK | Yes, he should have left the rejection vague.

                  This isn’t actionable feedback: there’s nothing OP can do to change the reason he’s rejecting her, so it’s just inserting unnecessary drama to reference it—and probably an attempt to make himself feel justified for passing over a qualified candidate (it feels like OP was supposed to agree with him, that obviously this situation would be terrible for everyone involved and he was doing her a kindness by pointing that out).

                  There are no bonus points in life for being overly honest if that honesty doesn’t help anyone.

                3. Beezus*

                  The OP can know not to bother applying to other jobs with that particular hiring manager while her ex’s current partner works there. If OP thinks the ex’s current partner advocated against hiring her because of the past relationship, OP also knows that might be a factor if the ex’s current partner moves to another company in the future and OP is considering applying there. There isn’t a lot the OP can do to change the situation, but knowing the situation can help her manage her expectations and make better informed decisions about her job search efforts. In a small field, that is really useful information.

                4. LBK*

                  Totally agreed with Beezus. I can see why it’s uncomfortable to learn this information, but I still think it’s better to know, especially since there’s the tight-knit industry/location aspect that’s been heavily emphasized here. I think that element also makes it less weird to provide this feedback, because interpersonal relationships play an even bigger role when you’re likely to know everyone in the industry.

            2. anoning*

              The decision might have been personal, but that doesn’t mean they’re playing mind games or being unprofessional by acting polite in a shared professional space. They’re keeping it to business terms in a non-interview related space, but OP is upset that they are. That’s what’s mind-boggling to me because as weird as the manager was to invoke personal reasons for not hiring the OP, it’s also weird for OP to be upset that the manager is being friendly and not mentioning the hiring decision in a shared professional space.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Exactly this. The other thing is that there are legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons for employers to decline to advance someone’s application based on issues related to a candidate’s personal life. I think the email is weird, but I don’t think the hiring manager or the ex’s partner are playing mind-games or being shady when they’re behaving in a polite and professional manner with OP in public. This isn’t some kind of weird “cover up” of some grave crime committed against OP.

                1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                  I’ve been considering your response and the other comments because my reaction to this situation was so strong. It is true that we don’t know exactly what’s going through the manager’s/company’s mind. It’s entirely possible that this was simply handled poorly and awkwardly. (I really mean that, not being sarcastic.)

                  I do feel that it is cruel, however, to state the rejection reasons in an email and then pretend the whole thing never happened. It could be the manager simply doesn’t know what to do and has decided pretending it never happened is the easiest way to deal with it. But it’s still cruel to me. A simple, ‘Hey, sorry we couldn’t hire you, hope you understand and that you find something soon,’ would go a long way to making it clear that the situation wasn’t personal. Ignoring it would make me think something was definitely up.

                  I agree completely that the reasons for decling the application are fine. My issue is purely with listing the reason, which is unusual, and then acting like there’s no issue.

                  I think the reason this resonates strongly with me (and maybe for the OP as well?) is that the response feels like a comment on a person’s integrity. An employer rejecting an application because of lack of experience is one thing, because it’s based on factual evidence. But an employer rejecting my application with a comment on my integrity? Damn, that would set me off (as evidenced in this post!). I’d be polite in public but I’d be thinking the worst about them in private.

                  I really appreciate the comments on this site because they get me thinking about other perspectives I might not have considered.

                2. LBK*

                  I was kind of following you up until you brought up integrity – how is the OP’s integrity being questioned here?

                  I also totally disagree that acting professional at a professional event is somehow cruel. Ironic as this may be given the circumstances, interviewing is not dating, and you shouldn’t have to coddle hurt feelings for a rejected job candidate. It’s just a part of life and part of having a career, and expecting to receive emotional apologies is part of the whole damn reason the manager didn’t want to introduce this dynamic into his workplace. This isn’t personal, it’s business, and personal stuff shouldn’t overlap that.

                3. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                  Re: integrity – to get a response that basically questions your ability (general you) to act professionally based on no evidence would, to me, be a comment on a person’s integrity. Others may feel differently, but that’s how it feels to me.

                  The manager was unprofessional in their response in the first place. The real reason should never have been stated in an email. But since it was, to pretend it never happened is cruel. It might not be to you, but it is to me.

                  As I said earlier, I don’t have an issue with a reason for the rejection. I have a huge issue with it being put in writing and telling the OP about it.

  9. Sybil Fawlty*

    I heard of this happening, many years ago, so no chance it was this situation. The current employee was highly valued, and she sat down with the bosses and told them that if they hired her husband’s ex-girlfriend, she would quit on the spot. They didn’t want to lose the current employee, and so that was that.

    I didn’t hear any of this first hand, so I couldn’t swear to it, but that was the story I heard. It sounded plausible to me. These things happen, we’re all people, not robots, so feelings and relationships come into play.

    I’m sorry this happened to you, OP, and hope you will find another position soon.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I feel like this is exactly what happened. And they value their current employee more than filling that position.

      I’m sorry OP, that does suck. For what it’s worth, there was no reason for the hiring manager to be quite that explicit in his email. That he even mentioned it makes me think he is a but of a drama llama himself.

    2. Anon Government Lawyer*

      I would totally do that. Not all exes, but if my husband’s first wife, or my ex husband’s now-wife showed up, I would absolutely quit my wonderful job. I am a reasonable person in most ways, and if he wants to be friends with his exes (some he is) whatever, his decision. But if I had to look at them every day I would be consumed with some combination of distraction/irritation/jealousy/whatever that my once-lovely job would suck. I have to see/talk to them/think about them every day? Ugh!

      This seem like a 150% reasonable decision to make- keep current employee happy/at her job rather than hire someone we know could be an issue (even if totally not that candidates fault!). I am having a hard time being sympathetic to the author here- lots of us haven’t gotten jobs for all sorts of stupid reasons, and that sucks, but to go from “ugh, bummer” to “discrimination! I deserved this job!” makes me think it wasn’t the wrong call. It strikes me as a little tone deaf to not realize why someone might be upset about this, which makes me think LW is not the most attuned to how the current employee might actually feel about this/about LW.

      1. Caro in the UK*

        I agree to a point. However I reacted differently to OP’s comment of “discrimination, I deserved this job!”. I think perhaps because I work in a very niche field in a small town which only has a handful of employers in that field, so there are literally only about 4-5 jobs (max) in my town which I’m qualified for and actually related to my skills and experience. It’s also very competitive.

        I’m very, very lucky to have a job in my field where I live. But if I was applying and desperate to get a job in my field and was told that I wouldn’t even be interviewed, regardless of my skills and experience, because someone else already employed there felt that they couldn’t be professional around me, then I would be heartbroken. My reaction to the perceived unfairness of it would be magnified exponentially by the fact that another job in my field might not open up for maybe five years.

        Obviously I’m reading OP’s question through the lens of my own experiences, but emotional responses to unfairness are difficult to control, especially when they come from a place of deep disappointment. It’s not like she’s actually said any of this to the employer either, so I’d be willing to cut her some slack.

        1. Anon Government Lawyer*

          Fair point. I come at this from having job-searched in a small subset of my industry in the worst hiring environment in decades (better now, whew), where I was passed over or #2 many, many times, and the only one I had any inside knowledge of why was because the hiring person bonded with the person who got the job over a hobby. It totally sucks to be on the outside when you cannot control it, especially in a tight market, and “arg this is crap!!” is understandable. But to go from there to moral bankruptcy and discrimination takes you to a level of what seems like entitlement to me that I cringed (my examples of moral bankruptcy and discrimination aren’t going to look anything like this). But, I am a bit of an old, and jaded, so maybe some slack for the fiery confidence of this LW is warranted.

  10. SexKeepsMeUnemployed*

    Is there any kind of generational divide on this? I’m a millennial and this whole situation seems bananas to me. I’ve had a lot of casual “Frolics” with lots of men, and the fact that my sexual agency is tied into my ability to get a job seems really old-school and silly to me. And, yes, a little morally bankrupt.

    OP, I think you dodged a bullet. Who’d want to work there? With that manager?

    1. Brett*

      The phrasing implies long term romantic relationships rather than anything specifically about sexual partners.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I think that makes a real difference. I would be far less inclined to entertain a “I slept with this person once and feel awkward about working with them” concern from an employee than “this candidate is my ex.”

      2. Mints*

        Yeah, if I had to choose between working with my current boyfriend’s (hypothetical) ex wife or a one night stand, I would choose the one night stand easily, would barely care, if at all.

    2. OP*

      OP here!

      I think you’re right about the generational divide. I’m in my late 20’s – as is my ex, and the current employee/current partner of my ex. The manager in question is about 10 years older. I definitely felt like I was being sucked into something old-school and a bit nepotistic…though I do understand that in the end it’s not the hugest deal in the world.

      And yes, where I wound up finding a job turned out to be a wonderful situation with managers who supported the development of my career, to great effect, with no bearing on my personal life :)

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Hey now. 10 years older than late 20s does not equal old school.

        If anything the response feels like it’s from someone who’s not experienced with hiring, because that’s just TMI for a rejection email.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          In fact, being 10 years older than late 20s might still be another millennial. ;)

      2. Bonky*

        That’s not nepotism, and it’s not a generation gap either.

        When I’m hiring, drama’s one of the things I’m most looking to avoid. I wonder if that’s what was going on in this hiring manager’s mind too. It was pretty woefully expressed, and I’m not surprised you were a *bit* ticked off, but nepotism/moral bankruptcy seem to be a reaction too far.

      3. MicroManagered*

        I would not consider 10 years “generational.” I think of generational as in, the person you’re speaking to is old enough to be your parent.

        I think one factor that’s not being given enough consideration here is HOW did the hiring manager KNOW? I get that it’s a small world, but I would not be one bit surprised if the new-partner mentioned it. I know that I’ve given my manager a hard-no on certain job candidates when we were hiring (for different reasons). It’s important for a hiring manager to consider how a candidate will fit in with a team. It’s quite possible that this situation would not have bothered YOU, but quite likely that it bothered new-partner enough to make that known–even if she is able to get along with you in social/professional settings.

        1. mreasy*

          I’m wondering if ex’s partner know that boss explained the full reasoning behind the rejection to OP. Because I certainly wouldn’t want that, were I in her shoes, for reasons of social accountability.

    3. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Can we not go down this road, please? We are asked not to make generalizations about millenials here, so how about we don’t go all “LOL, olds”?

    4. Badmin/ fellow millennial*

      I kind of agree. First of all I think the hiring manager should never have told OP the reason.

      I think if you’re going to be rejected for a job at all you’d want it to be because you’re not qualified, experience, stronger candidate. Not your romantic history or sexual history. If I were OP I would be associating that part of my life that is now something I did wrong or should be ashamed of that has now had a negative consequence.

      It would really bug me too. I would rather have had them say there are stronger candidates rather than romantic history, even if it was a lie.

      1. RVA Cat*

        I think the fact the hiring manager (over)shared this means that the OP dodged a bullet. What other boundary violations and weirdness goes on when a boss thinks this is an okay thing to tell you (on the record in an email, no less!).

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        The email is weird as hell, but I don’t think the reason is problematic. Particularly if this approach is applied consistently across all gender groups (which sounds like the case, here).

        1. SadPanda*

          But, how do we know that it applies to all genders and orientations?

          I just think this over-disclosure could rise to the level of discrimination.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            How? There’s nothing in the letter that indicates discrimination on any basis protected by law. Folks are just speculating there’s a gender bias, which isn’t in any way helpful to OP.

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, there isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest gender or orientation played a role here. Least of all because the current coworker is presumably the same gender/orientation as the OP (unless the ex is bisexual) so that’s pretty solid evidence that the hiring manager has no problem hiring people of that gender/orientation.

    5. Retail HR Guy*

      But all kinds of unimportant details are already tied to your ability to get the job (who you know at the company and how you know them is a big one but not the only one), and it isn’t the role of the employer to care about that. The employer is not a referee handing out the position as a reward for the most qualified candidate in a fair competition, and they are not morally bankrupt if they fail to keep things fair for you. They are simply hiring with their best business interests in mind. Fairness doesn’t (and shouldn’t) enter into it.

    6. Emi.*

      I’m a millennial, too, and I think you’re off-base here. It’s not about “sexual agency” and “ability to get a job”; it’s about the potential for uncomfortable tension between exes and their partners in a specific job. That’s a reasonable concern, and in fact, it’s still a concern even if none of the relationships in question were sexual. (It’s also kind of sketchy that you seem to be implying that people who don’t have casual sex don’t have agency–?)

      1. Myrin*

        A big yes to your second point. I don’t have any ex-partners but I do have an incredibly toxic mess of an ex-best friend who was, as I realised in hindsight, quite abusive towards me. I actually already felt “uncomfortable tension”, as you so aptly put it, when I socially met someone who I know is her good friend nowadays; I actually like this friend-of-ex-friend fine on her own so that I can ignore my inner discomfort when in a group at an event or something but I know that I couldn’t ever work with her.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, sexual partner and ex-partner are tooootally different. Let’s not equate your dating history with your sexual history or any other overlaps of those two things.

    7. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

      I’m a millennial as well (though I’m 34, so I’m on the far end). This situation seems bananas to me as well, even for a longer term relationship. I was utterly shocked at AAM’s response.

      1. Badmin*

        I was surprised too I’m also a very pro boundaries at work thing. I don’t really even like telling people about my weekend (I also sit in reception position so I get asked 20 times on a monday) but I would be mortified if the hiring said, sorry, your ex’s current partner works here we can’t consider you.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        But it’s not bananas! If you are a hiring manager, and you have a valued employee who comes to you and says “I cannot work with this applicant,” are you really going to let the employee you already know and value leave so you can take a chance on an applicant you don’t know that well as an employee? Or even if the employee didn’t say anything, knowing how often this can lead kind of situation can lead to workplace drama, are you going to take a chance if you have other equally qualified candidates? It may be distasteful to you, but from the perspective of a manager, who wants to retain good employees and have a harmonious work environment, it’s not bananas.

        1. LBK*

          Agreed, and I’m surprised that people are so taken aback by this and/or want to give the OP’s role in the situation equal weight. If a current employee raises concerns about a potential new hire, they get dibs on staying in the department, and I can’t even believe that’s a topic of debate – you don’t say “Well, Jane said she’s okay with it, so I’m just going to hire her and you can kick rocks if you don’t like her.”

          Setting aside people’s personal opinions about whether it’s awkward to work with your current SO’s ex, because that’s going to vary wildly for everyone and depend a lot on the nature of the relationship/breakup: imagine you heard that your manager was interviewing someone you didn’t feel working with, for whatever reason. Would you really not say anything and/or not expect your manager to take that into consideration? That would feel like a total betrayal to me if a manager I’d done good work for and had built a rapport with basically told me they don’t give a shit about my opinion on someone I’d potentially be working with every day for years to come.

          1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

            Actually, I’d want the employee who can act like a professional adult at work. I think that manager did OP s favor by not hiring her into Romper Room.

      3. SadPanda*

        I agree. People here are always “business is business” but suddenly former romantic relationships are totally legit thing to base hiring decisions on? The almost least “businesslike” thing you could point to? You can’t have it both ways.

        This whole thing is banana sandwich crazy to me, and it just *feels* wrong. It’s hard to pinpoint but it doesn’t pass the smell test, to me.

        And yes, “business” decisions are based on all kinds of things, but the hiring person here really did no one any favors by this overdisclosure to OP.

  11. Brett*

    As a side note, at last job it was very common practice for managers to give hiring, promotion, and especially starting salary preference to alumni from their high school.

    It seemed innocuous enough, except that all the managers went to the same two high tuition all-boys Catholic high schools that were 95%+ white through the mid-90s. (Even today, they are 86% and 84% white male). The outcome of strong preference for alumni was some pretty severe disparate impact on race, gender, and religion.

    1. Badmin*

      +1 there’s a lot of discussion on why faculty at universities aren’t more diverse. The hiring process leads to those in power wanting to help those who remind them of themselves, relatability, those shared connections.

  12. Fiennes*

    This is another big-city answer to a small-town problem. In an area/field as insular as OP suggests, no, current partner doesn’t have to have mentioned it for the boss to know who dated who. Everybody can know EVERYTHING to a degree that would stagger most residents of a major metropolis. And while the objection may be valid, it may feel more arbitrary/unfair in a setting where personal conflicts are routinely run into and dealt with.

    That said, I still wouldn’t consider this “moral bankruptcy” by any means, and although this may be the reason given in the letter, it may not be the only or primary reason OP didn’t get the job. But I understand the irritation OP feels, and given the environment described, it does feel like an overreach on the part of the hiring party.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I thought about that small-town vs big-town dynamic, it’s something I’ve seen come up before when discussing relationships with someone who was from a small town and he basically said “this is not as big a deal when the pool is smaller to begin with. At some point, one or more of your friends is going to date your ex.”

      That said, some of the way it’s dealt with is with keeping boundaries like “don’t be the next person to date the ex unless friend is okay with it” or “don’t hire the ex into the same department/company if it’s that small”, etc.

    2. Allypopx*

      I definitely agree that the small-town insular community part of this adds a very different dynamic to the whole thing.

      1. Ruby*

        Yup, I work for the major employer of people in my small town. If my boss eliminated employing people based on their (past or current) relationships with other people then there would probably be about five or six members of staff out of about a hundred who would be employed.

        Hell, I don’t date coworkers or within the industry (because my industry is pretty small, gossipy and my extended family would find out way more than they need to) but since I started two guys (who became involved in my industry after we dated) I’ve had relationships with are now also my coworkers. And my closest work friend is dating one of them.

        I kind of get why the OP is kind of annoyed by it. If they have been used to the whole “everyone is connected by past relationships/current relationships” dynamic that comes with being in a small town/only employer/ insular industry, then being rejected because of that would leave a bitter taste in ones mouth.

    3. kb*

      I agree with everything you said, but would like to add that it may create an additional frustration for OP because they now feel like to get a new job in their industry they’ve gotta leave town. I’m from a small town originally, and that’s something I really disliked.

    4. paul*

      Yeah. It isn’t an issue where I am now (not a huge city but well north of 100k)…but I went to high school in a town of about 1200 (and it was the biggest city in the county by far) and college in a town of about 13,000. You run into exes and exes partners all over in that sort of place.

    5. LBK*

      That seems to contradict the OP’s statement that she didn’t know the new partner was working at this company, though; I’m not sure you can have it both ways, with asserting the town/industry is so small that everyone knows everyone’s business, but that the OP was also completely unaware that this person was working there prior to receiving the boss’s email.

      1. Fiennes*

        Not necessarily. Boss may pay more attention to these things, and/or the current partner may not have been there all that long. It would be easy for the boss to have learned this in a very casual way, is what I’m saying; it would not mean that current partner ever expressed concern about it, or even directly mentioned it. So I feel like that negates the part of the answer that assumes the current partner *must* have brought up the past connection as a potential problem.

      2. Zombii*

        Oh no, that’s not how small towns work at all. :) In the small town where I live, you’re going to be much more familiar with any given person’s sexual history and romantic connections than with their employment and educational background. Interpersonal drama makes for fast-traveling rumors, and boring information does not spread.

        Example: I worked with a woman for 3 and a half years, she and I were work-wives but we didn’t spend any time together outside of work. I was constantly being updated on who she had sex with, what her weekend had been like, etc. She borrowed money from another coworker to buy a pregnancy test and took the test at work and found out she was pregnant at work and everyone new within the week. I have no idea where she went to school and I could name maybe one prior employer of hers. I quit last year and I’m not even sure whether she still works there or not.

  13. animaniactoo*

    Seeing somebody socially now and then and being friendly and getting along well is a very very different animal than working in close proximity day in and day out. This is even more true in a small company where it is harder to keep a distance from each other that might be deeply desired by one or both people.

    You might want to think about the idea that being so oddly specific with you was a way of showing you respect “These dynamics are not something we want to deal with, but it’s the dynamics, not you, and we want you to know that.” Or that they were so specific because of the recommendation that you came with, and wanted to be clear for that person too and didn’t want you hearing it on the backend from them – only to be annoyed and outraged again, etc.

    Fwiw, the fact that the company recognizes these kinds of dynamics and takes it into consideration might be a part of the reason they are highly respected. Far from being morally bankrupt, it might make them morally rich – the idea that they would not expect people to have to deal with working with someone they were uncomfortable with just because the newer person would be an asset to the company in other ways. And really, they don’t owe you the job or an opportunity at it, so they haven’t taken anything “away” from you from that standpoint – dig in hard to that, because it’s true. This is not a place where “equal consideration” comes in to play, so they haven’t done something wrong by saying “eek, I don’t want to risk that” based on *actions* of people involved, rather than general biases about the group of people they “belong” to.

    You were simply unfortunate in this situation to be the “newer” person on the scene. They might have made the exact same evaluation about your ex’ current partner if you were the one working there and they applied and even if you had said you were fine with it. It sucks, but it’s time to move on.

    1. bridget*

      I think it was an overshare on the manager’s part, but agree he might have mentioned it so the OP could rest assured it wasn’t because they thought she was a poor candidate or anything like that, it’s due to circumstances unrelated to her merits. Better left unsaid for reasons discussed by others (primarily because it’s not actionable at all), but it could have come from a good motivation.

      1. Allison*

        Right, sometimes people get rejected for jobs they felt they were perfect for, and then go “WTF” when they’re rejected, assuming there must be some reason not relating to their background. OP, how would you have felt if you hadn’t been given a reason, or had gotten a vague e-mail about not being a fit for the role? Were you qualified enough to wonder what could have played into the decision? Or would you have brushed it off?

        1. A*

          I don’t know about anyone else, but I have now decided that my most recent job rejection (despite having perfect qualifications) must be related to my husband’s ex somehow.

          I suppose there are worse reasons, but I do question the judgement of a manager who would actually say that to a candidate.

    2. anonderella*

      I do agree with a lot of your points, but –
      I’m not sure what you mean by
      “so they haven’t done something wrong by saying “eek, I don’t want to risk that” based on *actions* of people involved”
      It doesn’t sounds like OP has *done* anything to warrant not getting at least an interview. Maybe I’m misunderstanding your point, but as the OP, I’d be pretty miffed to not even be considered (what if OP is better at the position she wanted to interview for than the Current Partner is at their current position?) – especially since the role then went unfilled for so long, though I know that can have it’s own considerations outside of this situation.
      Could you please explain more (goodness, trying so hard to write that without Snarkiness! Tone is so difficult on the internet) of what you meant by the “actions” part of your point?

      1. animaniactoo*

        Actions meaning that these are people who have interacted in this specific way. They themselves were actually the people who were/are in these relationships regardless of how well behaved anyone was or how good or bad a breakup it was. Just the fact of the existence of the relationships (as opposed to belonging to a “class” of people who *might* have had such relationships/biases/opinions/experiences).

        Even if OP would be better in the role they were applying for than the currently employed person is in their role – they currently have it, they’re good *enough* at it, and if the company is concerned about interpersonal dynamics it would be extremely unfair to the current employee both as an employee and a human being to let them go in favor of being able to hire the OP in order to work around that. Rather than just allowing this opportunity for them to have OP on their team slip away to their greater benefit of having employees who feel secure in their jobs and whose general emotional well-being and morale is not ignored.

        It sucks to be the person who missed out, yes. But it’s just unfortunate — not unfair — when you look at the bigger picture of all of this.

    3. Another Lawyer*

      “Seeing somebody socially now and then and being friendly and getting along well is a very very different animal than working in close proximity day in and day out.”

      Absolutely — I’ve often worked on small, close knit teams and while I would absolutely have brunch with an ex and their new partner (heck, I’ve even given a toast/reading at an ex’s wedding), I wouldn’t want to work with any of them. The potential for things to sour is too great for my comfort level.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I love my parents. My parents love me. We can never ever live together again for a period of longer than two weeks.* We’d drive each other crazy under those circumstances…

        *Unless, of course, there was no other option. Then we’d grit our teeth and work harder to find a way to make it work.

        1. Another Lawyer*

          Hahaha, yup! Similarly, there are tons of friends I love to pieces and I wouldn’t want to work with them either. Even if my social and professional lives have some overlap, I really do like them to be distinct, and I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  14. Lora*

    Oh boy. From the employer’s side, although I would never actually say “I’m not hiring you because your college roommate said you didn’t pick up your socks” to a candidate:

    When I get your resume in response to a job posting, the first thing I do in my small world is rack my brain to remember if I’ve ever met you, or if I know anyone who would know you. Then I contact that person and ask them if you are good. If the person I am asking is someone whom I currently work with, and they even whisper that you are less than 100% awesome or that it’s kinda funny I should ask, then it’s a hard no from me. Romantic involvement, beer buddies, you guys were once in the same fantasy football league, don’t care. I usually have a mountain of other resumes on my desk and it’s easier to pick one everyone liked.

    I’m trying to staff some positions now, and already two resumes that HR screened as pretty OK turned out to be people I have previously met and wasn’t impressed with. They probably never thought they’d bump into me again and didn’t care to do their best work for a consultant/design engineer. This is just a byproduct of working in a small professional community, and there isn’t a blessed thing you can do about it, I’m sorry. The first thing I tell people new in their career in my field is, make sure you do your best work always and try to get along professionally and courteously with everyone as much as possible, because you WILL run into them again. It’s a small world and your reputation will travel quickly.

    It’s hard for people to appreciate that if they’ve only worked for one or two companies in their field, even if they have many years of experience, I think; have also run into a handful of people who spent all 18+ years of their career at one or two places and are shocked, shocked! that people from other companies know who they are and have already formed an opinion about them.

    1. Czhorat*

      I get that and it makes sense; it’s another reason we should treat all of our professional contacts well. That said, there is absolutely nothing to gain by saying “I’m not interviewing you because Fergus said you’re a jerk” or “We met four years ago on a job and you were rude and dismissive”. You’d just set the resume aside and move to the next one.

      Giving more information is odd and, in this case, not all that appropriate.

      1. Lora*

        Oh, totally agree that the hiring manager was being a ding-dong. The correct response to send in this event was, “thank you for your application, unfortunately we have decided to move forward with other candidates, best of luck in your future endeavors”. It’s not even something that could be construed as helpful feedback, because much as we would ALL like to un-date people we have dated, it isn’t possible. I have no idea what the hiring manager was thinking.

      2. Newby*

        I agree that the information was odd. I think it would have been fine if the manager had just rejected the applicant and been vague. Instead, they added drama to the situation.

      3. Kathleen Adams*

        Eh, it sounds a bit naive, but not that bad too me. There are people who’d prefer the real reason rather than a generic one (just as there are people who’d much prefer “I’m sorry but we found someone who’s a better fit for our organization), and perhaps the manager figured the OP is one of these. OK, he was apparently wrong, but still, it doesn’t sound that bad to me.

    2. animaniactoo*

      I’ve been here – as the person who was shocked that our [Household Name] licensor knew who I was even though I’d never communicated with them directly in the 5 years I’d been working on their stuff (under somebody else). Fortunately they had a pretty high opinion of me.

    3. Sas*

      Sort of see your point, but things happen. People can change a lot in their professional arenas in five years or whatever..help the poor soul that is judged for who they were years ago starting out in their career and only by people who wouldn’t have a kind or thoughtful word to say about them. Some people can be honest about anyone besides themselves if you get that. I had friends that have never looked inward to the demise of the friendship we had, HAD. Ps Don’t ask them what their thoughts on me were. And how far back are you talking? “We shared a fantasy football team 15 years ago. Here’s the scoop according to me on Sally.”???? Seems like a problem.??

      1. Lora*

        The honest answer is, “it depends”. If they didn’t like your taste in beer 5 years ago, doesn’t matter. If they filed stalker charges against you 20 years ago, it matters a LOT and I’ll dig into the interwebs to see if anything more recent has occurred. And what you’ve done since that time makes a big difference: if, for example, the one guy who I didn’t like very much when I had to vet his technical reports as a consultant had done a lot of very good work in the past few years and had clearly grown in his role and gone on to bigger/better things, I’d be willing to give him a shot. But he hasn’t. If there’s someone I’m on the fence about but they would probably do the job without screwing up too badly, then hearing “oh….THAT guy…” is going to file it in the circular file.

        The other part of that is, if I have a group who has good working relationships, I am loath to disturb that in any way regardless of who was actually right. If Sally was a total a-hole to you but is doing good work in her role and gets along with the rest of the group, I’m not going to fix what ain’t broken. I know exactly what you mean, I have my share of Sallys, but I don’t actually want to work with them either so consider it a bullet dodged if someone says “well we thought your resume looked good but then Sally said you were a jerk” because I don’t want to work with Sally either.

  15. Czhorat*

    What I find bizarre is that they sent the letter at all; I rarely if ever have gotten an explanation for not being given an interview. The question I’m asking myself is: what did they have to gain by giving you this oddly specific reason rather than simply send a generic “no thanks”?

    1. Allypopx*

      I think this is also more common in the small, insular community dynamic. I know my professional emails and conversations with people from the small town I grew up in were a lot more casual and familiar than those in my current big city. The communication plays out differently, for better or for worse – I’d argue here for worse.

    2. kb*

      They were probably trying to be upfront and honest so OP didn’t take the rejection as a reflection of their qualifications… but then they made it more personal and therefore weirder for OP.

    3. Erin*

      That is very strange. On the one hand, I’d appreciate the honesty and would know not to take the rejection personally.

      But on the other hand. I would never take a rejection personally anyway, because (as we all know from Alison’s wisdom) there could be any number of reasons you’re not hired/interviewed that have nothing to do with your skills and how qualified you are – an internal candidate emerging, pressure from the hiring manager’s boss to hire their nephew, or any number of things. So, when you look at it that way, it was really rather unnecessary to let her know the reason.

      1. kb*

        I find it unusual they chose to be so forthcoming in this case, but maybe the field is so insular and small that the hiring manager knew OP would be aware that the post just remained unfilled. I could see someone taking it more personally to know a manager preferred the position remain unfilled than hire them. Or perhaps it was to prevent OP from reapplying if the position remained unfilled for much longer. I can see why someone may think full disclosure would be best, but I also would personally be a little weirded out to know my dating history is preventing me from getting jobs.

      2. UnsexySecretary*

        But we know from the letters AAM gets that some (many?) people DO take it personally, and do not have the perspective that a long-term reader of this site has. So while it may seem unnecessary to you, it’s entirely possible that this hiring manager has received countless questions/demans/complaints asking why they were not hired, and was trying to forestall such a situation in this case.

        1. Erin*

          Hm, I think that would be out of the norm though for a company to vividly explain why they weren’t interviewing/hiring someone, even if they received a lot of inquiries from potential candidates about that in the past.

    4. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Yes, that’s what’s really bizarre. If he feels it would be inappropriate to hire OP, then wouldn’t telling her also be inappropriate (and potentially cause conflict)?

      I see from other comments that people think he may have been trying to let OP know it had nothing to do with her qualifications, which is genuinely interesting to me. Like you, I either get no response or a generic one. If a company sent something like this to me, I’d be livid and find it hard to ascribe any kind of positive motivation to the action.

  16. LiveandLetDie*

    To me, it kind of seems like the current employee (the ex’s new partner) said something, and if anything, THAT person might be the problem. If it came up during the interview process and it bothered the ex’s new partner enough that they said something to the hiring manager, I feel like it’s an indication that they would be difficult to work with. Not because of anything you did, OP, but because of how they feel about their partner’s ex working there.

    1. Dang*

      Yeah, I had the same thought. It came out SOMEHOW and the discussion wasn’t pretty.

      I think putting the whole thing in writing was kind of wacky on the manager’s part, though.

    2. Kate*

      I don’t think we can say that either though. If my manager was hiring and asked me about a candidate who happened to be my ex’s current partner, I would want to be upfront about that relationship, especially if I had anything critical to say (along the lines of “She excels in this area, but isn’t as strong in this”) or more likely, I’d say, “I’m not the best person to ask because we have this personal connection.” Even if OP is friendly with her ex and ex’s new partner, a lot of ex’s aren’t friendly, so most people will assume you can’t be impartial. I wouldn’t want any critical feedback I provided to be interpreted as spite later on because I didn’t disclose this aspect of our relationship.

      TL;DR The current employee didn’t have to say anything negative to make the manager make this judgement call. They may have just disclosed the relationship.

    3. Kathleen Adams*

      My ex and I live several states apart – and I wouldn’t know his current wife if I ran into her on the street – but I wouldn’t want to work with either of them. Ever.

      I am about as close to neutral as you can get about an ex-husband, and he’s not a bad guy, and presumably his wife is OK too. But work with either one? No. At all. It’s just too…weird. And icky. If I found out one of them had applied to my current employer, I’m not sure I’d actually say anything (because I’d say to myself, “That’s not faaaaaaaair!”), but I’d definitely want to.

  17. B*

    The way the OP has described being so outraged in her letter to Alison, then in the comment about it being a generational divide and how her current place is so much better anyway – perhaps OP you are inadvertently giving off the aura of drama especially if the community and field are so tight knit. If the manager is aware of that and then you had in the ex’s partner, that’s extra drama a business does not need. Sure it stinks but to me these are all things to take into account. It could also be the manager used that as an excuse rather than to say another reason.

    1. anoning*

      Yeah, I didn’t want to say it, but the tone of the OP’s letter was….just as off-putting as the email the OP received about not getting an interview.

      I work in a small industry in a big city, and not hiring someone because of potential drama for past relationships isn’t unusual, but nothing to have a jaw-dropping outraged moment over. Sometimes you don’t want to take the chance of drama erupting and someone can say that they’d never cause drama or are on good terms, but who knows how that will change down the road.

    2. anonderella*

      But at the same time, this is kind of the place to vent that sort of frustration, and that could be what you’re seeing as well. : )
      (though, for the record, I abhor the ‘millenial’-talk, so any mention of it makes me cringe and feel incredibly displaced age-wise)

      Also, I see more drama in the Current Partner/Manager making it known that there is at least enough of a problem to signal that the OP shouldn’t even be considered for the position (again, taking OP at their word that the outside-work-relationship *shouldn’t* be a problem with an inside-work-relationship).
      It’s possible there are more factors we don’t know about with OP’s past relationship (or, more likely, issues within the OP’s ex’s current one) but the business’ reaction does not seem proportionate to the amount of people who realistically date around in this world, and to shut it down without consideration of the current status of the relationship (unless that’s what occurred, and OP is somehow off on their perspective) seems like a policy borne of paranoia, jealousy, and territoriality.
      I’m with OP that they might have dodged a bullet on working at that place anyway; sounds like OP’s values were not in line with those of that business.

    3. paul*

      That’s a strong possibility. Not a certaintiy of course but…or maybe they have a reputation of being a bit of a drama llama in their community. Say if you’ve gotten a reputation of being hard to work with if you feel someone wronged you or you didn’t mesh? WHo knows

      Like, the email from the manager is weird as hell, but so’s the OP’s reaction, at least to me.

    4. Chinook*

      I am glad I am not the only one thinking this. While I understand the OP’s perspective that it doesn’t feel fair, the reality is that she is reacting (in albeit anonymous, away from her workplace) in dramatic fashion. If there have ever been a whiff of this drama in her work reputation, the interviewer may not have wanted to risk such drama arising in a small office.

      And, as others have already pointed out, ex’s partner is already there and a known quantity (and the boss already knows how dramatic they are), so they are choosing to not risk the potential. And, as much as it sucks for the OP, I respect the boss for the intent. A good work environment is worth a lot of money to me (as in I have taken a pay cut to work in one) and getting the right mix of people is vital.

  18. Erin*

    I can’t argue with Alison’s reasoning here, but man, I would be really angry about this too.

    I agree with the commenter that you may have dodged a bullet. It sounds like your ex’s partner may have made work life difficult for you if you’d gotten hired. (I say this under the assumption they mentioned their connection to you to the hiring manager in hopes of not getting you hired.) There could have been all kinds of drama that you now don’t have to deal with. Just because you’re ready to be professional and act like an adult doesn’t mean others are as well.

    So yeah, this sucks, but I’d concentrate on the positive here which is that now this past relationship crap isn’t going to be A Thing you have to deal with at a new job.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      “It sounds like your ex’s partner may have made work life difficult for you if you’d gotten hired.”

      That’s a stretch. If I knew my boss was considering hiring someone who is the ex of my current partner, I’d mention it. Not in the hopes of keeping her from being hiring but because it’s information he might want to know for legitimate reasons, and it would be weird to keep it to myself when it would surely come out later.

      1. Erin*

        Really? I wouldn’t mention it at all if I had no issue with it. Or if I did, I’d convey with my tone that I didn’t have an issue. “You know what’s funny? Brad used to date her years ago!”

        I’d find it hard to believe that the employee didn’t tell their manager this without implying the OP shouldn’t get hired.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I said that I would do it, so now you know at least one person who would say something without the motive you’re attributing to the employee. But because *you* wouldn’t say something without a bad motive, the employee must be just like you? There’s no reason to ascribe a bad motive to the employee when you have nothing to go on and it’s equally likely that she did not have a bad motive.

    2. Troutwaxer*

      I would wonder whether the manager was trying to give the OP a head’s up about something not-entirely-related to the hiring situation… don’t know what exactly, but I definitely heard a dropped hint hit the floor and I’m not sure the hint was as obvious as it looked.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        My thought was that the manager was trying to communicate to the OP that it’s unlikely they will consider her for other positions while the partner works there. It’s possible the manager is just inexperienced and offered too much detail, but my sense is that the message was deliberately specific to let the OP know that she won’t be considered for any other vacancies during the other employee’s tenure so she doesn’t waste her time applying.

  19. Delta Delta*

    I want to make sure I follow: OP dated Wakeen some years ago. Now Wakeen dates Lucinda, and Lucinda works at the company where OP applied, and that’s what the company thinks would be awkward?

  20. Lark*

    Anyone else get the feeling that the manager in question is a leeeeeetle to involved in the relationship of the ex/current partner in question? My first two impulses were: 1) Manager is having affair with one of them; 2) manager has an inappropriate pseudo-parent relationship with the ex. Because coming right out and emailing the OP the reason like that is exceptionally weird.

    1. Malibu Stacey*

      I thought maybe the manager had previously supervised two employees who had dated the same person who weren’t adult about it & was like, “Never Again”.

      1. Artemesia*

        This happens all the time. e.g. An overqualified candidate is miffed not to be considered because it is ‘unfair’ that the boss thinks s/he might not stick and be a problem because of the advanced experience/degree. But odds are good the boss has hired at least one person before who assured him it would be no problem and then left after 3 mos or began jockeying for a promotion immediately because they were overqualified for the worked, or whined about the pay. And the boss said — never again will I hire someone with a masters degree for this sort of job. It is easier to avoid drama llamas or flighty workers than to deal with them once they are on the payroll.

        1. Malibu Stacey*

          Yeah, I had a boss who was like this about candidates who would have a long commute because he hired someone who lived about an hour away who swore up and down the commute wasn’t a big deal, but after a couple months he was looking for any reason to WFH (not really conducive to the job) and when it snowed he was really late to work and then wanted to leave early.

      2. Kathleen Adams*

        That’s what I thought, too. He sounds like a guy who’s been burned or otherwise has a strong feeling that he will be burned.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Nope; I didn’t assume either because horses, not zebras.

      Good managers are aware of their employees’ non-work lives. They shouldn’t pry, but aside from the weird word choices in the email, I don’t think it’s fair to assume the manager is overinvolved in his employee’s personal life.

    3. Erin*

      I think it’s more likely hiring manager has worked with a couple that broke up while hired with him before, things went really bad and said I’m never doing that again.
      In high school my then boyfriend applied to the job I had at the time. After I asked him not too, my boss hired him, after I gave my boss a very honest reference (which was not great but true) and said I don’t want to work with my boyfriend, I was also thinking about breaking up with him. He worked there for a month, we only had one fight while on shift together, he burned me while cluelessly walking around with a hot pizza pan. I was so relieved when he was fired, he was a worse coworker than boyfriend. Which is saying a lot because he was terrible and dishonest, and very stupid. Like walking around a busy kitchen with a hot pan to look for something instead of setting pan down first. I broke up with him shortly after that, because he drove me crazy. I worked there for 2 more years. Based on my personal experience I will never hire a couple, exes or close family members, I will also discourage any other managers from doing the same.

  21. Scarlott*

    Well you should have thought of that before you decided to date anyone in this world. Seriously, that sucks, but what were you supposed to do? Not date? Anyways, I don’t think the employer’s in the wrong here, because like Allison said, it’s not worth it to risk current employees for someone that isn’t even there yet.

  22. Allison*

    I’m torn on this, because on the one hand I’m usually able to interact with partners’ exes, and partners of exes, fairly well. My ex and his (now live-in) girlfriend are regulars in my local dance scene, sometimes we dance socially and sometimes we have to dance together in class. We deal with it! But if we had to work together . . . who knows? As at least one person has said so far, working with someone is different from seeing them socially.

    I have also sometimes had problems interacting with a partner’s ex. Sometimes it’s because I get the sense she’s not quite done with him and either wants to get between us or resents me for being in her way. Sometimes it’s because I get the sense my partner still has feelings for her, or might go back to her if he wanted. There’s one woman now who’s not really my boyfriend’s ex, but has feelings for him, and used to be my friend, but now holds a serious grudge because I’m dating him (I didn’t even know they knew each other!). We couldn’t work together, she wouldn’t want to work where I work, and while I want to repair our friendship, I’d feel weird working with her. Even if I was on very neutral terms with a boyfriend’s ex, or current girlfriend of an ex, what if we just didn’t quite click at work? What if we ran into a totally work-related conflict? The fact that one of us is dating the other’s ex might exacerbate the issue. Or, depending on who has lingering feelings or what the guy said about one of us to the other, it might cause tension. There’s just so much room for drama and weirdness that it’s usually not worth it, even if the truth is you’re both super chill people.

    1. mamabear*

      I’m exhausted just reading this, but your point is well taken. Who wants to open that potential in the workplace? (That said, I think the hiring manager was a dingdong for putting it in writing.)

        1. SuperSub*

          I didn’t read it as a dig at all, just a reflection on how exhausting this sort of emotional drama is.

  23. whichsister*

    I can see WHY a hiring manager would consider this factor. You need your team to be able to work together, and if your ex’s current can’t work with you (which granted seems rather immature, but honest) then why bring in someone you know may upset the team balance.

    But I can’t fathom why they would tell you this was the factor. Maybe to prevent you from continuing to apply for other jobs? What’s wrong with the generic “lots of qualified applicants unfortunately you did not make the cut.”

    I do agree with another poster in regards to maybe you should look internally on the drama thing. Morally bankrupt might be over the top. I would go with unprofessional communication style.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      I wish my current workplace would at least consider the rest of the team’s impressions on new hires… We’ve had 3 hires who have different but awful traits that makes no one want to work with them.

  24. Zahra*

    This kind of awkwardness is one that I would attribute to women more than men (as far as stereotypes go). Just another microagression.

    BUT, just because I can’t imagine a man bringing up that kind of relationship (“that candidate is my partner’s ex”) AND/OR it having an impact on hiring practices doesn’t mean it doesn’t. So it might not be uncounsciously sexist at all.

    1. Emi.*

      I don’t think there’s any reason to think the ex’s current SO brought it up in the hiring process, though. We know it’s a small-town type situation, so they might have known already or have heard it from someone else.

    2. N.J.*

      Your comment is …problematic. Are you indicating that the hiring manager may be attributing pettiness or drama to female exes or are you saying you, yourself, believe that? I can’t tell f on your comment.

      1. Zahra*

        I know it’s problematic. I’m indicating that the hiring manager maybe attributing pettiness or drama to females of current and past partnerships, not that I would attribute such potential conflicts to women.

        If it was brought to my attention by either party, barring extenuating circumstances, I would be more of a “That was then, this is now. You’re with Current Partner, they’re not. Can you deal with that?” person. I would absolutely not proactively reject a candidate based on that.

        1. N.J.*

          That’s why I asked. Your opening statement said “This kind of awkwardness is one that I would attribute to women more than men (as far as stereotypes go)” and I didn’t want to assume that you were saying you believed that. But since it wasn’t clear, I thought it helpful to point out as a possible impression of your statement, since the construction didn’t make it clear, given that it uses the phrase “that I would attribute..”. The language “as far as stereotypes go m” is what suggested you may have been referring to the manager’s potential belief, not your own.

          I agree that there is always a possibility the hiring manager could be thinking that, assuming that the OP and the current significant other are female or female presenting.

      1. Zahra*

        I saw the HM as male (that one is self-evident from OP’s letter), OP and ex’s current partner as female.

      2. LBK*

        I read it that way too, mostly because of the use of the gender-neutral “partner” to describe the significant others.

  25. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    I feel like the ship has sailed on the manager wanting to avoid drama on his team once that email was sent. It seems that it just created unnecessary drama. I’d be thankful that I’d dodged a bullet and that I wasn’t stuck working for the guy who thought that this was an appropriate way to reject a candidate.

  26. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

    I don’t know. I rarely disagree with Alison, but this really feels inappropriate on the company’s side. Maybe not quite “morally-bankrupt”, but I would be pretty angry too.

    I just can not wrap my mind around being unable to work with a partner’s ex (aside from a situation involving abuse or some sort inappropriate behavior directed at me). Being unable to coexist professionally with someone, just because we’ve seen the same person without clothes (or held hands with the same person, shared hopes/dreams with the same person, or whatever it is that you value within a relationship) – is incomprehensible to me. Maybe its a generational thing, maybe its just my specific personality, but I just can’t comprehend feeling anything more than a fleeting minor discomfort. Again – barring any sort of abuse or any inappropriate behavior directed at me.

    After the initial anger subsided I would probably decide that I had dodged a bullet. There’s number of different ways this could have gone down (maybe new partner of ex actively went to management to “blacklist” the OP, maybe new partner of ex just mentioned the connection casually and boss took it upon himself to avoid the perceived drama). Either the way this says a lot and it very clearly tells me that it is not an environment I’d want to work in.

    1. LawBee*

      Oh, I can very easily imagine not wanting to work with an ex’s new partner, no matter how well we get along. I’ve had relationships end where everything was fine and dandy, as long as I wasn’t spending a ton of time around the new person – even when I was the one who ended things. That part of my life was over. And on the occasions where I *was* the new person, I didn’t necessarily want my gf’s ex in my space 8 hours a day. I could do it, I am a professional, but ugh.

      (And I don’t think generational differences have anything to do with this particular situation; it’s pretty specific to a person’s personality, the manner of the breakup, all the history involved, all the future involved, etc.)

      The manager made a misstep here. Maybe everything would have been fine, maybe not, but he didn’t NEED to say the exact reason why OP wasn’t being invited for an interview.

      1. Artemesia*

        Exactly. It makes the same kind of sense as not hiring people who are related. I have seen the kind of mess and drama that occurs when two sisters in law work in the same office and then one divorces the other’s brother.

        1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          But I do get not hiring family members – there’s a history between the two parties there.

          I don’t get why I’m apparently supposed to (or why it is expected that I will) have some sort of issue/discomfort/awkardness with the woman that my current partner dated before me. She has nothing to do with me. She’s just a random human being that happens to have spent some naked time with my current partner in the past. I don’t get why that is necessarily issue.

          *Again, aside from the situations of abuse or if the ex has actively treated me inappropriately (in that case the discomfort would stem from their behavior, not their ex-ness)

          1. LawBee*

            well, you specifically may be able to shrug off the potential complications, but not everyone can. You’re not “supposed” to feel anything, but surely you can understand that other people react differently?

            For me (and only me, I can’t speak for anyone else), I don’t want to work with New GF because honestly, I don’t want to hear about what Ex and New GF did over the weekend, or how they’re getting married, or not getting married, or the fertility treatments (because maybe New GF is an oversharer) or anything at all. I don’t want to hear it. Period. I personally wouldn’t be able to shrug it off, because at some point those were things that I was contemplating with Ex and – I just don’t want to be reminded of that for 40 hours out of my week. I don’t care that Ex and I split amicably, I don’t care that New GF is an utter delight, I don’t care about any of that. I wouldn’t be awkward, because again I am a professional, but you bet your boots I would let my boss know that I wouldn’t be happy about the hire. And you can bet your dancing shoes that he would take that into account.

            1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

              So you would feel completely comfortable torpedoing some person’s chance at gainful employment because of your personal hang ups? I don’t mean that as snarkily as it comes out – I mean it as genuine thought experiment.

              What if someone blacklisted you after an initial interview over something you have no control over – say the fact that you wore orange and their high performer hates the color orange. Then the hiring manager emailed you to tell you that’s why they didn’t hire you. They have every right to do that. Its not illegal by any means. I think we’d all agree that its not reasonable though and you’d have every right to feel angry and frustrated by the situation.

              I know the situation above is exaggerated and silly – but its not all that different. The OP was summarily rejected over a current employee’s discomfort regarding something the OP has absolutely no control over. Not over any action they took or any behavior they displayed. Simply for existing after breaking up with someone. Again – not illegal by any means, but I reject the notion that this was a completely reasonable thing to eliminate the OP over.

              1. LBK*

                This is a total false equivalence, interpersonal dynamics between team members are a legitimate part of the success of a team and something a manager should be expected to take into consideration when managing. You can’t compare it to something arbitrary that has no potential for impact on performance.

                And as I said above, most managers set the bar for cultural fit higher than “can get over their personal hangups and be pleasant to each other”.

              2. LawBee*

                Yes. If I know I am going to be uncomfortable being around a potential coworker, then I 100% feel in the right to give my boss that information. What my boss chooses to do with it is up to her.

                Your color orange example is frankly ridiculous and a logical fallacy. No reasonable manager would even listen to that.

          2. LBK*

            What is up with people reducing relationships to “getting naked together” in the comments today? Are people getting thrown off by the word “partner” and thinking that just means a sex friend? I’m so confused.

            1. bridget*

              I think it’s because for many people, the whole reason they are uncomfortable spending time with a partner’s ex or vice versa is because it they really don’t like thinking about the fact their partner had sex with someone else. It’s a lot easier to pretend not to know that or not think about that if a previous sex partner isn’t in your immediate space on a regular basis. It’s the sexual nature of the previous relationship that’s often the epicenter of the jealousy or insecurity or tension (which is why it’s pretty unlikely this situation would crop up if it were just say, an ex platonic friend the partner doesn’t see much anymore).

              1. LBK*

                Interesting. For me, having loved and been loved by someone who now loves the person sitting at the cube next to you would be the weird part, no matter the amicable nature of the breakup or your relationship with the new person. That seems like a much more intimate and rare connection than having had sex; people have random sex with one-night stands they never see again, but most people don’t have fleeting, transitory romantic relationships.

                1. Jo*

                  Yes, this. The having-had-sex-with-the-same-person part is awkward but the worst part is the abrupt cut-off of feelings, or transfer of feelings that used to be solely reserved for me to this new person. That’s what I find hardest about breakups. It’s the transfer of intimacy (both physical and emotional) from you to this new random person, while suddenly you’re being treated like a complete stranger again by this person you used to be intimate with and probably still miss. If you then had to work with this person whom you probably resent? Not likely to end well.

          3. Tuxedo Cat*

            While I can’t see myself saying anything unless it was really bad, I’ve had exes of my partner (from over a decade ago in high school and not that serious) behave really strangely to me in social situations. Making digs at me, reminiscing about what ifs with him, being “playfully” argumentative over little things. I grin and bear it because he’s not interested in them. He shuts it down.

            I’m not sure if I’d want to deal with it on a daily basis in my workplace. While it’s not something I love about my workplace, our culture borders people being more like friends than workplace colleagues. Having to be spending a lot of time being more like friends with someone who behaves in the way I describe- I’ll tolerate it because I need my salary but it would be harder for me to want to stick around.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        And it can vary hugely as relates to specific exes, too. I could happily work with all of my partner’s exes–except one, who gaslighted him extensively (and used his psychiatrically-diagnosed poor short term memory to do it, no less). If she applied for work in my department, I’d absolutely tell my boss that I could not work with her, because I genuinely couldn’t have a decent working relationship with someone who had deliberately and maliciously manipulated my partner’s sense of reality.

        I don’t think the LW did anything like that, of course, but it’s a situation that is more complicated than “adults can handle the fact that their partners may have a history separate from them.”

        1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

          Well, that’s why most people have added caveats like “barring past abuse etc.” because that is reasonable.

    2. LBK*

      But I don’t think most managers aspire to the dynamic between their employees being “able to act professional and put aside personal awkwardness in order to get work done”. Generally managers prefer their employees to have better relationships than “slightly more friendly that tolerating each other’s presence”.

      1. Mints*

        Yeah seriously I see my coworkers more than I see my roommates. I can tolerate being friendly and polite to almost anyone in a “ran into them and went through ‘Hey how’s it going'” but working with somebody is a way higher bar. Especially if it’s actually “working with” like being on the same team.

        I also wanted to add like even in a best case scenario where everyone was very amicable and loving throughout, if the ex still has any pining or “She broke my heart and I’ll never know why” the current girlfriend might have jealousy without any actual negative interactions at all. Like I wouldn’t want to be Tom’s current girlfriend working with Summer from 500 Days of Summer.

        1. LBK*

          And if I have an issue with my roommate, I can just close the door to my bedroom and not talk to them!

          Also agreed that amicable conversation during an occasional brief meeting isn’t a great gauge on your relationship.

    3. Myrin*

      I mean, to be fair, just because something is incrompehensible to you specifically or even to a big group of people doesn’t mean it’s impossible or even unreasonable of others to feel the exact opposite (or somewhere inbetween). As a probably broadly-applying example, I’m asexual and can’t comprehend why someone would want to be sexually active but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t very many people for whom it’s just the way they feel.

      On the other end of that spectrum, of course, the hiring manager shouldn’t presume that just because he feels it would be awkward to have OP and OP’s ex’s current partner working together, it would actually be awkward or feel that way to everyone else involved. But from his email, it isn’t really clear if this is his personal belief or if maybe the ex’s partner expressed concern to him so I feel like we can’t really say either way.

      1. LBK*

        I mean, the manager’s involvement in the situation matters too. It’s not just about trying to protect his current employee from having to deal with awkwardness but also not introducing a dynamic to his team that may make his job harder in the future. For instance, if there ends up being a conflict between the two, how is the manager supposed to parse out what’s genuinely work-related and what’s being influenced by their past? It just invites messiness, like any other kind of personal relationship in the office, which is why they’re discouraged in general beyond being platonic work friends.

        1. Myrin*

          Agreed. I’m feeling somewhat reminded of the letter by the hiring manager who got two job candidates who basically said the same things during their interviews and who wrote in wondering whether she was right to reject both of them after one of the two showed alarming behaviour. There as well, it might have been that the not-troublesome candidate would have been a completely normal employee but he had already been involved by association with a volatile person and how was OP to know if that wasn’t something that would actually extend to her workplace once he was hired? So it was in her own best interest as well to just not introduce this dynamic in the first place.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah, it’s kind of like the letters we get complaining that companies don’t hire on potential. Sure, sometimes someone who’s coachable and has transferrable skills could turn out to be a great hire who excels in the role. But if you’re comparing them to a candidate who’s already been doing the role for 5 years, it’s just safer to pick the second person.

            Same logic applies here: it may very well be that the OP and the current employee could work together for decades and never have a single problem, but if the hiring manager has the opportunity to never have to find out, I don’t blame him for taking that opportunity.

          2. Anna*

            My problem is that I’m not sure I’m comfortable about anyone being rejected for a job over something they have absolutely no control over. You can’t control who you’ve had in your past. It harkens back to a time when the whiff of scandal was enough to get you ostracized by a certain social class.

            OP, to be honest, I think you may have dodged something here yourself.

            1. LBK*

              But it happens all the time. Whether it’s exes or current spouses or a parent and child, employers make decisions to keep people with existing personal relationships apart, and for good reason. It’s not about a “whiff of scandal,” it’s about the way that having a relationship with someone (romantic or otherwise) can influence the dynamic of a workplace relationship that you need to stay more pure and objective so that the work can get done.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Right, or things like work visas. It’s not a given person’s fault that they aren’t a US citizen, but work visas are sufficiently expensive that many smaller businesses can’t afford to sponsor them. It’s no ones fault, but it dramatically alters who can be considered for a job based on criteria entirely outside the applicant’s control.

      2. Jo*

        This is a good point. Also, keep in mind that just because OP thinks she would be totally fine working with her ex’s new SO, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the new SO would be equally as comfortable with it. Her feelings are valid, too. And much more relevant to the hiring manager as she is a known quantity.

    4. Hrovitnir*

      Yeah. Given the amount of people who say they would be uncomfortable here I guess it’s not baseless? But I was just straight up bemused at the idea this could be an issue on first pass. I suppose if you otherwise didn’t get on the preexisting relationship could exacerbate it but it would never occur to me.

      But then I’m the kind of person whose insecurities along these lines are best ameliorated by getting to know the person, so *shrug*. So long as you respect me I give zero f–ks how close you’ve been with my partner.

  27. Newby*

    Sometimes it is not what is done so much as how it’s done that makes it hard to take. A letter like that basically only serves to increase bad feelings and drama. A simple no would have been fine. I recently was in a situation that made my hackles rise and had to take a step back to realize that I actually didn’t care about what was happening, but the way I was told was needlessly upsetting. Realizing that didn’t make me any less angry, but it did make me realize that acting on that anger would probably just make me look bad.

  28. Barney Stinson*

    I get along pretty well with my ex and his wife, but I would not want to work with her.

    Maybe the ex’s new partner just mentioned that candidate was her current partner’s ex, and the manager just filled in ‘awkward’ on his own.

  29. Marcy*

    I suspect the hiring manager felt he had to go the extra mile because it’s a small town, OP was qualified, and OP was specifically recommended by someone inside the organization, so perhaps she had some reason for expectations that this would be a shoo-in. I had a similar experience years ago. Qualified for the job, fantastic interview, recommended by people both inside and outside the org. When the hiring manager called my cell at 7 PM, I thought for sure I’d gotten the job. Nope, he called me to tell me they’d gone with an internal candidate. Worst feeling ever. But the hiring manager is one of the nicest person I’ve ever met, and I’m sure he thought he was doing me a kindness.

  30. LawBee*

    Small town, small field, small office – honestly, I’d probably have made the same call. I wouldn’t have TOLD the OP my thinking, but the end result would have been the same. And for all the manager knows, what seems easy and fine for the OP may be awkward and fraught for the ex’s new partner. It’s kind of ironic that we’re usually wishing for more information from hiring managers, but in this case, got a little too much.

  31. LBK*

    I guess my concern as a manager is that no matter how much you can promise me up and down that you have a good relationship, this is one of those things that isn’t a problem until it is, and then you’re stuck having to sort out messy personal drama that no one wants to deal with in the office.

    Unless the OP was the most flawless candidate in the history of the company, I don’t blame the manager for not wanting to take the risk. Why open yourself up to the possibility, remote as it may be, when you could very well hire someone else without having to take that chance?

  32. Winger*

    I understand that this is a complicated issue but I don’t think the OP’s outrage is unwarranted. I am in a similar career – insular field, not a lot of jobs, etc – and I was recently rejected for a GREAT job that I was highly qualified for because the search firm gave me a crazy personality test half way through the interview process and then decided I wasn’t a good fit. This kind of nonsense happens all the time, and there are always “reasons,” but it doesn’t mean you can just say “oh don’t be so outraged.” Sometimes outrage is an appropriate response, even if it doesn’t fix the problem.

    1. LBK*

      I think there’s a difference between trying to control someone’s reaction and helping them gauge whether it’s proportionate. People’s reactions often influence their actions, so it’s good to have someone say “Whoa, getting pissed off in the moment is totally fine, but maybe consider this perspective.” That helps keep the OP from acting on that anger and potentially getting into a battle she doesn’t have the standing to win if she tried to take this further than just emailing AAM.

      1. ContractLaborIsn'tTheSameButIt'sKindOfSimilarMaybe*

        What battle would that be?

        Because I know in the field in which I work, I’m pretty good and very much in demand as there are so few locals who do my work. I do frequent short term contracts for various companies, and I have to turn some down because I’m already working so much elsewhere.

        And if any one of these places EVER turned me or somebody down for a job because they wanted to avoid drama because somebody I had been romantically involved with worked there in some way, I would never work for them again, and would let other people in my field know what happened. Other people in my field could make their own decisions, of course, and some might find it perfectly reasonable. But, yeah. I think it’s information that would keep other highly skilled employees from wasting their time at that company.

        Is that the sort of battle that prospective employees don’t have the standing to “win?”

  33. Bea*

    Ouch! I see why this is bothersome but agree it’s frequently an issue that I’ve learned personally to take into consideration.

    We once hired a guy and at lunch our crew lead walked into the office and shouted “Hey guys, thanks for hiring the guy who slept with my wife.” And oh the tension was thick until the guy turned out to be a total flake. He did try to come back and we had to tell him no, he abandoned his job once and created drama because of who the lead was. I’m sure that you wouldn’t have caused a scene but it’s hard to know that in the first stage of hiring and a huge risk to take when you see it coming around the corner.

  34. Boop*


    Looking at this from the employment side, I’m really surprised the manager cited this as the reason to decline an interview. First, it’s a little silly. Second, it leaves the door open for possible claims of discrimination.

    What if the candidate were HIV positive (to be clear, I’m not suggesting this is the case, I’m just pointing out possible pitfalls of using this as a reason not to interview a candidate)? It’s not far to leap to imagine that the ex-lover’s current lover shared this tidbit with the hiring manager, who is now discriminating against a candidate for health reasons, possibly in violation of ADAAA. What if the candidate enjoyed a non-vanilla sex life which current lover is uncomfortable with, and therefore has slandered the candidate to the manager?

    Poor decision on the manager’s part.

    1. LBK*

      I’m not sure that a wildly unlikely hypothetical has much relevance to providing advice here or suggesting how the manager should conduct their hiring. Making hiring decisions based on avoiding the possibility of frivolous discrimination lawsuits from litigious candidates isn’t generally a good business practice.

    2. Artemesia*

      There is no law against discriminating against people for their relationships with other employees or for that matter because they are dildo fetishists or whatever. Yeah inept to disclose the reason here but illegal discrimination is rather narrow and hard to prove; it is the job of a hiring manager to discriminate between those who will contribute to the workplace and those who won’t. As long as s/he isn’t discriminating based on gender, disability, ethnicity etc it is not illegal and often not inappropriate.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        About half the states do treat marital status as a protected class, but as best I know, that still wouldn’t come into play here.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          But even those states don’t prohibit discrimination on the basis of a past romantic partner or status—they’re worried about people discriminating against unwed couples and against married people (including those of the same gender).

          I can’t see how this letter triggers any concerns re: employment discrimination.

  35. Myrin*

    OP, I can’t quite gauge from your letter whether you’re irritated because of the subject of the email – what was said – or because of its content – how it was said. I’d like to offer a perspective for both if these situations and you can choose what applies to you if you so wish.

    If it’s the rejection itself that makes you angry, be angry. Be as angry and sad and hurt about it as you want. Maybe shout into your pillow or rage to a trusted friend or family member. Bemoan how it’s unfair, curse the timing and the unfortunate combination of people which led to this situation. But accept that the decision is final, that you can’t make them un-reject you, and that they are in their absolute right to not want to hire you, no matter the reason and no matter how qualified you are.

    If it’s the way the email was worded, what it contained, that infuriates you, I’d like to share my own experience. I find that I have a much easier time going through my life in general if, absent any additional information to the contrary, I try to assume the best of people or give them the benefit of the doubt. This manager’s email was quite unprofessional in its phrasing – a standard “we’ve decided to go with someone else” would’ve sufficed. It’s weird that he felt the need to state what he did and you’re well within your rights to wonder about that. However, you might want to also think of this as his attempt to basically give you the “it’s not you, it’s us” talk; there was nothing wrong with your qualifications or behaviour, there was something on their end that made it a bad idea for them to hire you. Think of him as inexperienced in hiring or maybe awkward or bad at communicating in writing. It doesn’t really matter in the end if that is actually true but it might definitely give you your peace of mind if you just try to reframe it that way in your head.

    1. Student*

      I’d go completely the opposite in how I’d recommend moving on. OP, I’d say you dodged a bullet here. You don’t want to work for a manager who thinks this is a great way to pick his team, manage interpersonal issues, or treat outsiders. He was basically waving your sexual history in your face and slut-shaming, saying “I know who you’ve slept with, and I don’t want you on my team because of it.” How middle-school. How pathetic and paternalistic of him.

      Find someone to work for who’ll treat you with the respect you deserve, someone who values work and professionalism above gossip and pettiness.

      1. LBK*

        He was basically waving your sexual history in your face and slut-shaming, saying “I know who you’ve slept with, and I don’t want you on my team because of it.”

        Uh, what? Where the hell did you get that? Concerns about former romantic relationship have nothing to do with sexual history…

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        What?! This isn’t slut shaming. This is concerns about interpersonal relationships and dynamics. It has nothing to do with sex. The relationship could have been fully sex-free and it wouldn’t change anything.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Uh, no. That’s not what slut-shaming means. Are we reading the same letter?

  36. Newlywed*

    I was once in a relationship that I have tried very hard to forget and leave in the past, and I live with a persistent fear in the back of my mind that one day that person is going to get a job where I work and I will have to tell my employer to either fire them or I will have to walk out on the job. Hopefully I never have to live out that scenario, but imagine how awkward and uncomfortable that would be for a victim to have to approach their boss and say “please don’t hire this person.” I would hope that management would trust my otherwise excellent record and take my word for it, instead of pressing me for intimate details that would dredge up the buried past. I 100% support the manager for prioritizing his/her own employees sense of comfort and trust rather than introducing a situation that would be uncomfortable to them. He/she SHOULD make it clear to their own employees that they are valued above external applicants. Yes it sucks that you can’t get a job there, but it’s not the only company that can employ you, and if the shoe was on the other foot and you were the employee that had a previous partner (or your partner had a previous partner) that you wanted to avoid, you’d definitely want your employer to back you up and not make your life more difficult. (I have no comment on the EMAIL that the hiring manager wrote back; my point was more about backing up the decision that was made.)

    1. HikingInHeels*

      Most people have at least one ex that thinks everything ended fine and has rosy memories of the relationship, which is completely different from how the other person views it.

      I’m surprised there’s not more support for a boss who values their team members’ comfort. know at our workplace, we prioritize current employees and have an open door policy. We would absolutely remove an ex from the running (assuming we had other qualified applicants) if the current partner even frowned uncomfortably. We spend a lot of time in the backcountry as a team, or working on stressful campaigns. Our mental and emotional health is already taxed, why add to it?

  37. Sierra*

    Honestly I feel for you OP, but I’m imagining a situation wher my ex would interview at my current partner’s workplace…and my current partner saying “ehhh…maybe not.” Same with his ex’s. And I’ve had an amicable split with my partner a LONG time ago and am friendly when I run into him with mutual friends.

    My partner works at a smallish start-up and there is a fair amount of after work socializing that happens, happy hour, birthday drinks, holiday party..and I would be kind of irritated to have to see and socialize with my ex. Not to mention talking about your partner at work..would I want him to have info about my life, what I did that weekend, my new favorite restaurant etc? Even though we are amicable it would still bother me not to be able to control that information! And I live in a big enough city that it’s easily avoidable which I know is not always the case.

  38. Noah*

    It would be illegal to fire her for this reason, right? Why isn’t it also illegal to not hire for this reason?

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      No, it wouldn’t be illegal to fire her for this reason. And it’s not illegal to decline to hire her, either.

  39. Wrench Turner*

    Maybe it’s just me, but my reply would have been:
    “Really? Thanks for saving everyone from something potentially awkward. Please keep me in mind if things change.”

  40. No longer new commenter*

    I wouldn’t want to work with an ex of my husband, and I would expect that my ex boyfriend’s current partner, if he has one, probably would rather not work with me. I could definitely see how it could create tension in a workplace, so I get why the OP was rejected. The rejection email, however, was weird.

  41. Jamie*

    Growing up in a small town where everyone in town would know within 2 minutes if you so much as sneezed, my first thought is to wonder if OP’s ex’s girlfriend said anything at all. Depending on how small a town it is (and how nosy the residents are) it’s possible the manager may know about the connection between OP and a current employee just by virtue of being a part of the community.

    If that were the case it seems odd to me to disqualify OP but the manager may just want to preemptively avoid any chances of drama in the office.

  42. Anon for this*

    This happened at a previous job. Former Coworker mentioned that one of the candidates was her boyfriend’s ex, and we all thought, “ooh, it’d be awkward if she joined our team,” but she was mortified when word got back to her that our boss had written back to the candidate with, essentially, “Hey, *I* like you and think you’d be great, but it’d just be too awkward with you having dated Former Coworker’s boyfriend. Too bad!”

    My boss at that job was one of those people who hates being the bad guy and would sell out anyone else to keep people “liking” him, so it actually was interesting for me to read the replies that were attributing the hiring manager’s decision to share with OP as communication of useful information.

  43. Jo*

    I’m finding this whole discussion fascinating because it relates so well to my current working environment, which could best be described as “incestuous.” Granted, that is not uncommon in my field due to the nature of the work (often working in locations that are remote and insecure, either from natural disasters or conflict, leading to small insular communities).

    The largest factors playing a role in this crazy dynamic are: location (conflict zone in a third country where the international community comes together from all over the world), extremely stressful jobs and living situations including long, long work hours, security restrictions making it very difficult to escape that “expat bubble,” and the fact that we all live together, work together, and socialize together within our small community, which is then further divided by certain cliques: the NGO crowd, the journalists, the embassy people, and so on.

    Add that to the fact that it’s typically young late-twenty- and early-thirties-somethings working here, a culture of drinking and partying, and you get lots of hookups, one night stands, slightly longer-term relationships, and the occasional miracle permanent relationship. Adding to the confusion is that due to security restrictions, most larger organisations require all staff to live together in a shared guesthouse. One well-known organisation has struggled over the last couple of years with numerous relationship dramas leading to people quitting or being fired/transferred. Oh, the stories I could tell…

    So yes, as people tend to jump around a lot from contract to contract (short-term is the norm), relationships and romantic histories are valid factors taken into consideration when hiring. Maybe not officially, but most definitely unofficially.

    IMO, I agree with other commenters that the fact that the hiring manager disclosed that as the official reason for rejecting her to be strange. That’s the kind of thing that would quickly make the rounds here; everyone would know it but no one would think it terribly unusual. The manager might even tell her that verbally/informally. But. But it would not be the official reason, and it certainly would not be documented in writing.

    When I started dating my ex (the one and only time I will make the mistake of dating here – and that was only because I was about to leave and not sure if I would be back), there was some fluidity about my job situation and since he runs his own company, he mentioned he might be able to hire me. I IMMEDIATELY vetoed that, as I knew working together and dating would be problematic, and if he broke up, as we ultimately did? That would not end well.

    As it is I’ve been extremely lucky in that we don’t have to work together at all (we work in different sectors so there’s very little overlap between our organisations and none directly), much less on a regular basis, as many other ex-couples here do, because I just couldn’t handle that. He had a brief fling with another woman shortly after we broke up (yes, I know her and of course I heard about it almost immediately because there are no secrets here), so I made an effort to avoid her and fortunately don’t have to work with her either. I do know other couples who’ve been in absolute misery working with each other or their ex’s new SO after the breakup, and it’s just not worth it. I can handle short encounters with them in public and/or on a social or professional basis but if I had to work with one of them day in and day out? That’s a recipe for disaster, even if you think you would be okay with it.

    With that kind of drama and relationship intrigue, I do think it’s best to simply nip it in the bud and make sure it never happens. It makes everyone’s life much simpler and easier.

    Sorry for the novel – this place is complicated and usually requires a lot of explaining. And there is SO. MUCH. DRAMA I can’t even tell you :P

    1. Jo*

      Oh, and I should also mention that I’m not the jealous type, either, but I would still have trouble with this – despite the fact that I actually met my ex’s previous ex while we were still together because the two of them stayed friends, she and I ended up becoming friends and still are, even though my relationship with my ex is over. Yeah, this place is complicated.

  44. dappertea*

    If this is our debate on here, can you imagine what the discussion would be like in the office if the OP were considered and everyone else found out about their background? Even if the OP and the current partner were on good terms, just general office gossip could make things really weird, especially depending on the environment. I’ve been in offices where, if this had happened, people would be taking sides without even being asked and would just be watching for an incident to happen between them. These are not good offices.

  45. emma2*

    Eh, this does seem like a really petty reason not to hire someone – but I guess it is reality that hiring decisions will be dependent the whims of hiring managers, as they are the decision-makers (unfortunately.) But seriously, there is a world out there where mature breakups happen, and people move on in a very drama-free manner.

  46. Sabrina the Teenage Witch*

    My question is how does the hiring manager know all of this information? Is there a giant whiteboard where everyone lists out their past romantic partners like Dana did in the L Word? Or is it common practice for the hiring manager to ask current employees if they’re familiar with an applicant?

    1. emma2*

      The LW mentioned that they live in a small town-y environment as well as work in a small industry where everyone seems to know stuff about one another. It is also possible that the employer divulged information about who they were interviewing, even though that is generally not common as far as I’m aware (but this employer seems a little unusual.)

  47. Blue*

    There are now about a dozen states that ban employers from doing credit checks on certain types of jobs and more states are going in that direction. I mean call centers where people on the phones never handle money and are not finance department employees were losing jobs with a bad credit score. The OP is a recent grad and is either entry level or not even in a field where this should be an issue — if OP were going into commodities trading, she wouldn’t have been caught off guard. I do think the credit checks have been borderline absuive and used disproportionately against low-level workers as opposed to the white collar high finance types with actual access to the money.

  48. Hanna*

    I know someone who didn’t get along with their neighbor and when the neighbor applied at their place of business they nicely let the boss know that they did not get along well with the neighbor and it would be uncomfortable to work together. The boss took the current employee’s concerns seriously and did not hire the neighbor. The employee had been a valuable employee at the company for years.

  49. Hope*

    It does not sound very adult to me. Like someone posted earlier, business is business. There are many kinds of unprofessional happenings in tbe work place that have to be dealt with professionally. I know we are only human and feelings are what they are and understandable but barring abusive or malicious treatment of an ex or by an ex, be an adult.

  50. Ashlee*

    It sucks to be turned down for a position you think you’re great for. Maybe the OP would have felt better if the manager gave a vague, generic excuse for not giving an interview? Or would that have left another set of questions and a different kind of bad taste in the mouth?

    Morally bankrupt? Cliqueyness? These are very dramatic words to apply to people you’re supposed to be maintaining professional relationships with. That is going to happen with personal relationships, but it’s not ideal in the workplace. Maybe the hiring manager was trying to avoid exactly this kind of personal drama in the office?

  51. HikingInHeels*

    Maybe the manager has had a crazy ex in the workplace situation before – it could have nothing to do with you or the other woman. The whole situation could’ve given the manager flashbacks to a totally different but hellish experience.

  52. Emma*

    Really late comment, but followed a link from a newer post. I’m assuming the writer’s name in the original email identified her as a woman? Given the use of “partner” and the mention of possible discrimination, I was assuming this was a man referring to an ex-boyfriend until I got to “her” in the response, which threw me for a loop, but I guess I misinterpreted!

Comments are closed.