I ghosted my ex, and she’s about to be my new boss

A reader writes:

I was hoping you would be able to help me with a conundrum I got myself into.

I have been an expat since graduating and have been moving a lot. More than a decade ago, when I was still young, I was in a relationship with a woman, Sylvia, in a country where we both lived. Sylvia wanted to settle down but I was not ready to commit so young. We clearly had different expectations from the relationship. I did not know what to do and, well, I ghosted her. Over the Christmas break, while she was visiting her family, I simply moved out and left the country. I took advantage of the fact that I accepted a job in other country and did not tell her about it. I simply wanted to avoid being untangled in a break-up drama. Sylvia was rather emotional and became obsessed with the relationship, tracking me down, even causing various scenes with my parents and friends.

Anyhow, fast forward to now. I now work as a math teacher in an international school. I have been in other relationships since, so Sylvia is a sort of forgotten history. Sadly, till now. This week, I learnt that our fantastic school director suddenly resigned due to a serious family situation and had to move back to her home country over the summer. The school had to replace her. We are getting a new director. I read the bio of the new boss and googled her and was shocked to discover it is Sylvia. We have not been in touch and do not have any mutual friends anymore. I am not a big fan of social media and had no idea what she had been up to since the unpleasant situation a long time ago.

I have no idea what to do and how to deal with this mess. It is clear this will be not only embarassing but I will also be reporting to my ex. I am not in a position to find another job at present. There are no other international schools so finding another job in this country is not an option. Even finding a job elsewhere is not possible on such a short notice. These jobs usually open for school terms so I have to stay put for few months. But more importantly, I am happy and settled here so do not want to move. To make the situation worse, the expat community here is very small and tightly knit so teachers also socialize a lot.

Do you have any suggestions for me how to handle it and what should I do? I understand that this would not have happened if I did not ghost her back then, but I cannot do anything about it now. I gathered from the comments that readers usually have a go on people like me for “bad behavior” but I am really looking for constructive comments how to deal with the situation.

Ooof. I wrote back and asked, “How long were you in the relationship with her?”

We were together for three years and lived together for two of those years. I know that ghosting is not a way to end the relationship but I cannot do much about it now. I appreciate the trouble you are taking with getting back to me.

Double oof.

If you had ghosted her after a month of dating, it would have been rude but potentially salvageable. A month of dating more than a decade ago isn’t likely to loom very large for most people, emotionally. And ghosting after a short amount of time dating shouldn’t generally be devastating. Rude and frustrating, but not devastating.

But you were together for three years, and you lived together! And then you disappeared with no word? That’s some serious emotional destruction that you inflicted there. I’m not surprised that she contacted your family and friends; she was probably worried about whether you were alive or not! (Really, think about it. If you came home one day and your long-time partner was gone and had left no note, would you just shrug and go on with your life, or would you try to figure out if she were okay or not? Obviously I don’t know the details and maybe it moved into boundary-crossing inappropriateness, but you can’t expect to disappear on a long-term partner with no note or anything and not have them try to find out if you’re okay. Exceptions made for abuse, of course, but that doesn’t sound like the case here.)

I say all that to make the point that this is a pretty big deal. Normally I’m a fan of people putting aside personal emotions in order to conduct themselves professionally, but I don’t even know what that would look like for Sylvia in this situation. She’s most likely going to be shocked and horrified when she finds out that you work at her school, and that she’s supposed to manage you.

I don’t know that you can salvage this! It’s not reasonable to ask Sylvia to manage someone who she has this history with. You can try and see what her take on it is, but I’d be prepared to have to move on, whatever that might look like for you. I get that it’s going to be inconvenient — maybe even quite hard — but there may not be an alternative here.

Your best chances of an okay outcome are probably to contact Sylvia ahead of time to let her know you work there so that she’s not blindsided by it on her first day. Acknowledge that you made a terrible mistake when you disappeared, say that you’re very sorry for the hurt and alarm you must have caused her, and say that you realize that neither of you are in a great position to work together now. Ask her if she’d like to talk about what to do. (Beyond that, I’d avoid sounding like you’re presuming anything about how she’ll feel now, since who knows — best case scenario, if she actually can work with you now, she might be offended that you’d think she couldn’t.)

Be aware that apologies are going to sound pretty hollow and self-interested now, since you had 10 years to apologize and are only doing it now that she’s in a position of power over you. But acknowledging your behavior is better than not acknowledging it at all. (This is a theme with letters this year!)

I don’t know what will come of doing it. But you’re going to have to have the conversation with her eventually, so you might as well get it started and begin moving toward whatever the consequences here are going to be.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 1,845 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Poster*

    What an unenviable situation. First, kudos for recognizing what you did was not ok and being up front. Alison’s right that this is something you should attempt to head off before it becomes even worse and be up front about it. It’s the mature, professional thing, and sets you both up to figure out where to go from here in a calmer environment, and not in the hectic first few days of a new school year.

    It’s also highly likely that this is a situation where you will need to look for other employment, especially given the presumed depth of your relationship and how it ended.

    Good luck. I hope you’re able to land on your feet.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      In the international school system it might work out if the school can’t afford to be out a teacher.

      1. Adlib*

        I think this is pretty true. My sister works at an international school, and they are generally pretty flexible because they have to be. That said, I have no clue what they could work out in this situation.

      2. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        This honestly might be on the only saving grace here. But I am not sure OP has really thought through the consequences of staying.

        OP, not only will you have to find a way to work with Sylvia after the horrendous ordeal you put her through, WHEN your tight-knit community of coworkers finds out, it will reflect very poorly on you. Your relationships will likely suffer. If you speak about it to them they way you have here, you will make it even worse.

        You need to start adjusting the way you are thinking about what you did and the aftermath – pronto. You did not “ghost” her – you abandoned your live-in partner. She was (very likely) not obsessive by tracking you down and trying to get information from your friends and family – she was just trying to find out why her life had been inexplicably put into turmoil. (And if your friends and family gave her any grief about trying to find out and were 100% on your side, I have to wonder what story you spun them to make it so.)

        Though I don’t think you should talk to your coworkers about this anymore than to say “I made a huge mistake 10 years ago and it hurt Sylvia and for that I am deeply regretful, but I think it best I not discuss it further to prevent more damage. But what happened and her feelings about it are entirely on me.” – if you do decide to talk about it in the same terms as you have used here, you risk not only making yourself look bad, but also damaging this woman’s reputation right as she is starting a new position in an authoritative role. You have caused her enough harm – do not do more harm by continuing the narrative that she became obsessive.

        I urge you to do some deep soul searching and reflection, truly understand what you did and the pain you caused, and try and find some actual remorse about it (because I don’t get the sense here that you truly understand what you did, what the reaction was, nor that you feel even remotely sorry). After that, reach out to Sylvia and put the ball in her court. How does she want to proceed? If it means your leaving – well, unfortunately that is the price you are going to have to pay. It sucks. But so does what you did to her.

          1. caligirl*

            +100 Someone who ghosted me after 4 months over a year ago now works at my company and just moved into my program office and I get irked about 25% of the time. The other 75% I’m too busy to notice them. But still, unnecessarily irking me when all it would have taken is 1 minute of being a decent human being!

        1. Say what, now?*

          This is so on it. You don’t seem to understand that it was possibly the most painful way you could end things and with someone who gave you 3 years of their life. It’s so important for you to register than and then to apologize, apologize, apologize.

          I would do the best I could to make this workable for the duration of the school year and then pursue another post at another school. I know you were settled here and liked it, but you might consider giving up this place as the penance you have to do for your younger callousness.

        2. The Voice of Reason*

          While OP’s ending of his relationship may have been…impolitic, I don’t think commenting on domestic relationships is within the purview of a blog on management. It is not our place to judge OP’s personal life.

          1. Forrest*

            I think commenting on his personal life is appropriate since this is both a personal and work question. The OP portrays Sylvia in an unflattering light and not only does that seem to be untrue considering the situation, it’s not going to help him if he goes into the situation thinking that and maybe even sharing that with coworkers.

          2. designbot*

            On the other hand OP is talking about how he just doesn’t feel like changing jobs because he just likes it where he is. He’s all about his convenience and comfort, but what about her convenience and comfort when he up and left without a word? My guess is that even if he had to change jobs, that would be less painful than what he did to her. It’s worth a reminder that sometimes we deserve what we get.

            1. Anonymous Poster*

              Respectfully, your response comes across as unproductive and judgmental. The point of this request is to address any possible mitigating actions from a career perspective. It doesn’t matter how much you or I may disagree with his past actions, it is not constructive to idly speculate the entirety of his motivation and then shame him. A tit-for-tat ‘justice’ or ‘karma’ oriented view as you expressed in your comment convolves the professional relationship with the private relationship. While it is undeniable that the gravity of the situation could render the separation of those two relationships impossible, there definitely are things he can do in attempt to alleviate some of the impending pressure between them.

          3. Traffic_Spiral*

            It wasn’t “impolitic” it was cowardly and cruel. “Ghosting” is something you do after a few dates that didn’t work out. He disappeared out of the country without telling the person he’d lived with for two years. What, did she just come home to find all his shit gone or something? That’s beyond ghosting, and going into fucked-up Gone Girl territory.

        3. D.W.*

          Thank you for saying this clearly, succinctly, and without disparaging the letter writer.

          LW, this is spot on. Please take this advice to heart and do some introspection.

        4. Ego Chamber*

          “You did not “ghost” her – you abandoned your live-in partner.”

          Okay, you pin-pointed what bothered me about this letter: “ghosting” is for people you know online, someone you see very casually, or maybe someone you met on vacation. Once it crosses into “real life” and you have to physically move house to extricate that person from your life, leaving them can’t be called “ghosting.”

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Not just minimizing what he did, but disingenuously placing it in a lesser category of offense.

          2. EK*

            I don’t know how he could possibly have handled it worse. Perhaps faking his own death? Did he even leave a letter explaining he was leaving? Treating people this callously doesn’t just reflect poorly on your personal life, it speaks to a fundamental character flaw. One that is evidently still present.

          3. Gadget Hackwrench*

            I’d extend it even to say, someone you are dating as long as it’s the kind of dating where you are still making actual DATES to go to a movie or dinner or whatever, and you know… you don’t have so much as a toothbrush at their place. But srsly. You can’t ghost someone you live with. I mean… not only did this person end the relationship, but presumably also left Sylvia with a greater fiscal burden than they were expecting, possibly even more than they were capable of handling, considering most people who live together select their domicile based on COMBINED income, and split the bills….

        5. AJ*

          Karma in action.

          The letter writer clearly is selfish in many capacities, both personal and professional.
          Some major soul searching is needed but I suspect he is incapable of doing that.
          Sounds like it’s time for to look for another teaching job and allow Sylvia her rewards.

          1. Anonymous Poster*

            To be frank, positioning the possibility of him moving as “her rewards” is a false equivalency. To imply that her opportunity to take this position of leadership is somehow payment in return for the emotional damage sustained from their relationship 10 years ago makes zero professional sense. It only makes sense from a private, personal relationship perspective.

            I agree that the writer is painted in a very poor light, but just saying “karma” doesn’t solve anything. It is disparaging.

        6. Steph*

          I honestly enjoyed your response more than I did the original answer. Very helpful and 100% true. Very great advice

        7. Stephen Dimmick*

          I suggest growing a pair with ALL your relationships and showing up like a person of dignity and respect for others. This behaviour is neither professional or personable! Head it off at the pass immediately!

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Thanks for this. You don’t get kudos for recognizing bad behavior, especially when you’ve done nothing to rectify it until things got inconvenient.

        1. Anonymouse*


          Ghosting is normally defined as a gradual breakaway from a relationship as opposed to what happened.

          If you’d been dating and not living together and had gradually been not answering calls, missing dates or not arranging them to the point both of you stopped trying then I’d say “yeah, not great but still kinda workable.”

          That’s not what happened. From her perspective you straight up disappeared without a trace. Were you kidnapped? With another woman? Injured or dead?Cross dressing and joining an all female band after witnessing a mob hit?

          Of course she was going to be devastated and look for you. And more devastated that there was no note, no official breakup conversation – as far as she knew everything was fine until bam! Gone. No recourse or closure.

          I’d feel betrayed, hurt, angry and so much more.

          If I were her, even if I could take the emotions out of it, as your boss I’d have serious questions about your judgment and interpersonal relationships with staff and students based on what I know of you.

          That’s best case scenario.

          Midcase scenario is she decides you two can’t/shouldn’t work together and you leave to find another job. Not fair but not worse than what she went through all those years ago.

          Worst case scenario is like that letter about that woman who had an affair with someone she worked with and the cheated on wife became her boss.

          The wife decided to make that persons life hell and they had to leave their job with nothing else lined up and no references from their old work.

          Alison’s right. Your best chance for the top two outcomes is to make contact now and apologise. But I’d also be job searching if I were you.

          1. Gadfly*

            And besides the emotional fallout, if OP just walked away, what was the financial fallout of their joint expenses? She came home and suddenly was 100% responsible for the rent of their shared space, for example. There is a lot of material harm disappearing could have caused as well.

            1. Hc600*

              My thought as well. I had an ex semi-ghost me when his other gf moved from being a secret online gf to main gf, but I did make some effort to get paid money he owed me, which he tried to paint as me being “crazy.” Nope dude, you demanded I book those hotel rooms and flights for US. Never got my money, but I feel zero guilt about trying via email and three phone calls.

            2. Ego Chamber*

              Speaking of fallout… I have severe trust issues and will never sign a lease for something I can’t afford on my own if necessary. I am currently living with my s/o, who I love very much, and trust very much, but we’re living in a house that’s well below what we could afford because it’s always in the back of my head that I need to be able to pay all expenses myself in case she decides to fuck off and leave me on my own (we’re both on the lease, but that didn’t stop the last guy, so… lessons learned).

              This isn’t a great way to live, and I hope Sylvia is in a better place, emotionally and financially, that I am right now.

              Tl;dr: I don’t want to pile on the OP, but he definitely seems to have not considered the full impact of his actions, and it’s super interesting to me that his first reaction was to just up and bail on the school/his current job… except he’s settled and it would be kind of difficult to do. (Think about this OP, and think about what it says about how you respond to potential conflict.)

              1. Megan*

                I feel similarly, but it’s more generalized anxiety about the what ifs that could leave me to pay it on my own (so including my partner leaving, but also losing their job, getting seriously ill and having to take leave from their job, dying, etc). I would be horrified if I had to end up footing two people’s worth of rent on my own.

            3. Holly*

              This is such a good point. I was “ghosted” in my early 20s by my boyfriend of 2 years. He emptied my bank account and disappeared off the face of the Earth. If it weren’t for emptying my bank account I might have convinced myself he was dead.

              At the time I only had $2000 to my name but I had credit cards and other bills to pay that I suddenly couldn’t pay. I ended up behind on credit card payments and bills. I was hit with bounced check fees, late charges, and overdraft charges to my bank account, and was suddenly fully responsible for bills we split. I ended up being in such a huge hole I couldn’t get out of it for a very long time. It destroyed my credit and basically ruined my life for a while.

              The emotional aspect was also extremely difficult. But I don’t think many people think about the financial impact that goes with this sort of thing.

          2. Susana*

            Yes – except that this is much worse than the cheated-on wife situation. It was cheating husband who betrayed a commitment he made to his wife. The co-worker behaved badly but it’s not the same thing as what LW did in the current situation.
            There’s really nothing else to do here but reach out to her, apologize, say there is no excuse for what you did, that you hope you are a better person now, but that you really understand if she simply cannot deal with you every day – let alone trust you – and that you are ready to resign if she would prefer

            1. Not So NewReader*

              To me this is the best route to go. And, OP, don’t say it in the hopes that she will be a big person about it and say, “oh, you don’t have to do that.” Plan on leaving.

            2. Anonymouse*

              Oh I agree.

              I’m just saying there is a chance that Sylvia might become vindictive and make your work life hell.

              And it would not entirely be unwarranted.

              But here’s hoping Sylvia is a bigger woman than that.

                1. Gadfly*

                  It is very possible for a manager to legally make a subordinate’s work life hell and still remain exceedingly professional about it. In fact, being scrupulously professional about it is possibly the very best way to make a person’s life hell.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, they don’t seem to be sorry at all, just worried about how it will now impact them. To suggest that it’s “obsessive” for your live-in partner of three years to try to figure out wtf happened when you abandoned them and *moved out of the country* is ridiculous.

      2. michelenyc*

        +1 I have been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment from someone that supposedly cared for me 2 years ago. While I did not react as Sylvia it was still one of the most painful and devastating things to go through.

        1. Jesca*

          It really is. The anger and resentment takes so much longer to get over when someone chooses to act this way.

        2. phillykate*

          +1 you and me both. It has affected every relationship I have had to this day. I don’t think I can even adequately describe the emotional and mental damage it does to someone.

          1. Oryx*


            It happened almost a decade ago and I’m quite happily with another person, but it took me years before I could date again and still creeps up in unexpected ways even now.

            1. michelenyc*

              +1 Me too! I actually get really frustrated with myself that I am holding on to this. Even after therapy I still have some rough days!

            2. Cactus*

              Same. My college boyfriend of more than two years at the time did this almost a decade ago, and it crushed a lot of my trust for people. After him, I was even more of an anxious mess when dating. Even when my now-husband and I moved in together, for the first few months, every time I would come home from a grad school class, I would be afraid that he wouldn’t be there. It really messed with my self-worth, is what I’m saying.

        3. aebhel*


          And while I at least like to think that I’d be able to work civilly with my ex now, 12 years or so since it happened, I don’t know that I’d be able to adequately manage them. Unless there’s some way to ensure that OP reports to someone else, which it doesn’t sound like there is, I think they’re going to have to move on.

        4. LSP*

          I don’t want to jump on OP, because he knows full-well that this behavior is not ok. I had someone break up with me over the phone after three years together, and I thought that was cold. What OP did was beyond the pale.

          I think this stands as a lesson that makes the “Golden Rule” one for the ages.

          1. Mary*

            I’m not sure he does! He’s talking about it very much in terms of “I regret it now it’s made work awkward for me”, rather than recognising that he did something completely sociopathic and traumatic to Sylvia.

            (I don’t know if sociopathic is the right word here, and if anyone’s got a better one I’ll happily accept it. What I mean is that what he did and the way he talks about it years later suggests that he doesn’t really see other people as real: everything in this is about the impact that his actions have had on him, with only the most cursory suggestion that it might have been unpleasant for Sylvia.)

            1. Jessica*

              How about “cold-hearted” or “merciless”? All the implication with none of the armchair diagnosis.

            2. Tanya*

              Maybe it’s armchair diagnosis but sociopathic seems right especially after Mary clarifies why she used that word. Soooo maybe give her a break on being the word police.

              1. Policywank*

                If ever there were a case where an armchair diagnosis were warranted this is it. I was not prepared by the use of “ghosted” to learn that OP just dropped off the face of the earth with someone they’d been in a long term, live in relationship with.

                1. Marie*

                  This is off-topic, my apologies, so please delete if inappropriate, Alison.

                  Mental health professional here for a “The More You Know” moment!

                  Sociopath and psychopath are terms that have no clinical relevance; there are no mental health diagnoses called “sociopath” or “psychopath.” There are inventories that have been developed to assess “psychopathic traits,” but those are used as one piece of a comprehensive assessment to rule out or rule in possible diagnoses, the same way a high score on the SAT doesn’t get your diagnosed with anything but may rule out or in diagnoses relating to cognitive functioning. So, you aren’t actually armchair diagnosing, because these aren’t diagnoses at all (and if somebody with diagnosing authority uses those words in a clinical setting, find another therapist, they should know better).

                  “Sociopath” and “psychopath” are essentially lay person terms, like calling somebody “crazy.” And, similar to that, it can be considered an ableist slur, as people with certain personality disorders or those on the autism spectrum often find themselves on the receiving end of those terms. There is also a small mostly online movement of people who have adopted those terms for themselves, arguing that they are neurodivergent individuals who deserve a place in society as much as anybody, and that they often grow up with the same confusion about “what’s wrong with me?” that other neurodivergent people face.

                  There is a pretty deep fascination with sociopaths and psychopaths in our culture, and as such, those are terms that come with a lot of cultural and sociological baggage attached that is quite complex and ever-changing. Because they *are* terms that come with such weight and stigma attached, I highly recommend people dig into some of that cultural and sociological baggage to make an informed choice about where and when to use those words.

                  *cue The More You Know animation*

        5. mazzi*

          Same. Not quite as bad, but same sort of sudden move out, although at that point he was so awful and abusive, I was glad to see him go. We do actually work in the same industry, but unlikely we’ll ever be in this situation. I think if I were Sylvia, I would probably want an incredibly honest, incredibly overdue apology, making sure literally 0% of the blame gets put on me and he takes responsibility for all his wrongs and follows it up with an offer to do whatever he can to make this situation better.
          I don’t really see this situation ending without him leaving the job, and frankly it’s a great example that you reap what you sow in unexpected ways.

      3. Candy*

        Seriously. After 3 years together he moved out and left the country without so much as a note and still thinks her trying to track him down was her being “obsessed”?? Hell yeah she deserved to cause various scenes with his parents and friends. I don’t get the feeling he recognizes just how not okay what he did was.

        I don’t know how he can deal with this professionally, but I feel really bad for Sylvia having this overshadow the excitement of a new job.

          1. Jesca*

            Oh my goodness! That sounds wrong. I meant “creep” as in the action of creeping and not calling the OP a creep. I don’t know you personally, OP! Can’t say that!

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              That’s why Alison’s advice to contact her first is valuable–this is a surprise that everyone involved wants her to respond to in private.

            2. Tyrion*

              You don’t need to know someone personally to say whether they’re a creep. Case in point: Donald Trump.

              Ghosting (especially to this degree) is the behavior of a creep, and making no attempts to rectify it until it might inconvenience him only compounds it.

                1. SarahKay*

                  Surely, regardless of politics, some of Donald Trump’s tweets place him firmly in the category of creep.

                2. Ego Chamber*

                  @SarahKay Part of wanting to keep politics off this blog is the tendency of idiot fanbois to show up and defend their “cause,” whenever political topics or individuals get name-checked.

                  It’s usually just safer to not invoke mention Voldemort Topics, to keep unrelated threads from being derailed for now and always. :)

                3. SarahKay*

                  Ego Chamber, you make an excellent point. I had thought (indeed do think) that the comment wasn’t necessarily political, but I absolutely see your point that he’s just too big a bone of contention and any name check risks a total derail into a huge political row. Thank you :)

            3. Pomona Sprout*

              Well, he is a CREEP, based on what he wrote ti Allison all by his own little morally stunted self. If the shoe fits……….

        1. Gee Gee*

          Yes, I don’t understand this reaction of calling her obsessive. Is it desirable to have a significant other not GAF if you go missing? He seems totally unable to grasp that she didn’t KNOW why he was gone.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I’d suggest that the OP think about what they would do if their SO just vanished. Just look at the news on any given day of people who are just gone, no longer anywhere in sight. Danish police found a headless torso, oh yeah, arms and legs were gone, too, OP. Jeepers for all your SO knew something like that could be you.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            You could have been in a pit being fattened up for someone’s skin suit, and you wouldn’t like for someone to notice you’re gone and perhaps look for you?

          3. whingedrinking*

            For me it’s the whole “I didn’t want to deal with drama or feelings” thing that whacks me in the face. Because leaving a note, sending an email, hell, shooting off a text message – all of those would have been too much work. Nope, easier to just ~*vanish*~ and then call a woman crazy for not interpreting “boyfriend disappears with a trace” as “guess I’ve been dumped”.

      4. Anonymous Poster*

        Maybe my experience with people who instead would write in with a, “This person I used to date started working with me and is so weird about it! I didn’t do anything, they completely flew off the handle, and now I’m bearing the consequences for them being crazy!” is showing here. Some people are so self-unaware that they’d never recognize the event(s) that led to the bad feeling here, and that the letter writer at least recognizes their role in the whole uncomfortableness of the situation is where I want to give kudos. Looking back I can see where that would be misunderstood though… sorry about my ambiguity.

        I don’t know Sylvia well enough to say whether this is salvageable, though, and it’s better to eliminate the uncertainty of what will happen here by addressing it now instead of in the midst of the school year starting up (assuming that it hasn’t yet started).

        1. LSP*

          I agree. OP is doing better than a lot of people do in terms of owning his actions.

          I had an ex (mentioned in a comment above) who broke up with e during a phone call after 3 years together. After that: no contact for six years, until one day he reaches out on FB. He doesn’t apologize for how things ended, doesn’t even ask me how I’m doing. Instead, he tells me he misses talking to me, and would I like to meet him for coffee?

          Ummm…. no.

          OP understands (and likely understood at the time) that this was not the mature, adult way to end a relationship. He is owning it and just looking for a way to salvage the current situation. It may not be salvageable, and OP will have to carefully consider his next move.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            I don’t really feel like he’s owning it. I’d say he’s still trying to figure out how to answer as little as possible for it.

          2. Desdecardo*

            It was far from being just not mature or adult. It was psychologically cruel.

            He never owns up to what he did. He realizes, now, after potentially facing a show down, that he has to do something to save his job.

            In his letter he doesn’t mention the length of time they were together and he was cavalier about how it ended, placing blame on her not himself.

            The OP saw a convenient way out that would affect him the least. And only addressed it when it became an issue.

            He steam rolled Sylvia’s life. In most regions being together and living together for that long makes you common law.

            Also, ghosting is gradual. Abandonment is sudden. Sylvia didn’t go nuts. She had the genuine emotional desire to try to find if he was ok.

            The OP should NOT tell his co-workers this. Apologize to Sylvia and drop it. Let her sift through the reopened scars. Then do the responsible thing and work through your shame. The guilt for abandoning a committed relationship like you did is very high.

            You don’t want to tell anyone besides Sylvia, is because you let the cat out of the bag with hinting that something bad happened in the past and it always comes out.

            A knucklehead move, which is what the OP did, looses you all your possible respect. This will get out. You will loose friends. No one will acknowledge your presence. It’s better to keep any knowledge of this between the two parties involved.

            1. Sean*

              Actions have consequences. The OP clearly has lived a very happy life up until now not dealing with the consequences of his actions.

              He isn’t owning anything, he’s now aware that he has to face up to the reality of what he did. Until now he’s lived in ignorance, and it seems actually considered his ex as irrational for not just walking away coldly like he did.

              Had he, say five years ago, reached out to her with no response, maybe I’d have had some sympathy for him, but this is all in self interest. He risks losing his circle of friends and his job. Try to make amends when none of that is at stake and you are owning your actions, do it now and you are as much of a coward as always.

          3. Counter Voice*

            Yeah, no.

            ‘Owning’ is when you’ve taken the lids off and upended the salt, pepper, and sugar all over the table, acknowledged the behaviour and the mess, apologised, cleaned it up, and refilled the condiments, tipped the waiters above-&-beyond, and apologised again.

            He’s acknowledged he upended it. But he’d rather you didn’t focus too closely on the pile of seasonings and lack of reasoning, puts a napkin over it, and resents the waiters and their confounded questions.

            And now he wants advice on how to keep eating there.

            1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

              I agree with Counter Voice and many others. There is ZERO ownership here. What I see is the following:
              1. OP withheld information from the post that would put him in a bad light
              2. OP uses demeaning terms (e.g., obsessive) to describe the person he abandoned and describes actions in such a way as to make her look bad.
              3. OP never indicates that he wants to make amends because it’s the right thing to do.
              4. OP is simply trying to save his job so he doesn’t have to leave a situation he likes.

              This is not ownership. It’s selfishness. No sympathy here. If you do lose your job, you will not be the victim.

          4. IntoTheSarchasm*

            He isn’t owning it in any way, he is being forced to admit it by circumstances and is finding it very inconvenient to do so. His calling her “obsessive” is very telling and indicative that he has over time diminished his cruelty and the effect he had on her. His past actions and his past actions alone put him in this situation regardless of his youth, inexperience or sense of responsibility at the time and he is now paying for it.

      5. all aboard the anon train*

        Seriously. This is more than just ghosting. It’s abandonment and calling her reaction “emotional” is some serious gaslighting.

        1. Meg*

          100% agree! Ghosting is stopping replying to someone’s texts after 5 dates, it’s not moving to another country whilst they’re out of the house for a week…

          1. But you don't have an accent*

            Right, like I was a professional ghoster throughout college and early 20s. But literally, it was with people that I’d been seeing for less than 2 months, and usually only had 2 or less dates with.

            There was one person I ghosted after a longer period of time…a month and a half. And that’s because I had met his ex girlfriend out at a bar and it turned out he had an illicit drug problem (and he had lied to me about it). So I didn’t feel bad about that one.

        2. Yikes!*

          There’s a sliiiiight chance that she really did do something inappropriate but I get the sense that they think basically any response from her was emotional and you can bet I’d be freaking out if someone left me after 3 years together, 2 years living together just outta nowhere.

          Nothing about what they said makes me think they actually take ownership or feel bad about it and I’d laugh more about how hilarious it is that this woman they hurt is now in a position of power over them but unfortunately, the whole thing means she now has to deal with this terrible baggage while starting a new job.

        3. Sylvan (Sylvia)*


          P.S. – The (Sylvia) in my username is the handle I’ve used on here for a few months. No relation to the Sylvia in the story!!

      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah; I’m not going to congratulate OP on this. We can blame it on immaturity, but representing Sylvia as unwell, hysterical, or overly attached for (1) wondering what happened, (2) causing “scenes,” and (3) contacting friends and fam to inquire about OP indicates to me that OP does not understand how terrifying, devastating, and likely scarring this was for S.

        1. Jesca*

          I mean even my horrible ex from high school tried to apologize to me over the years since. I feel like OP never even bothering to reach really shows that they really lack a major understanding of what they did! And I think if I were in this *close knit* community of people, I would seriously question hiring a person who could do this and then be so caviler about it even now. I hope they have changed and I hope they have built a history of being reliable and rational since, because if this gets out, people may not look kindly on OP.

        2. Morning Glory*

          The OP also shows no sign of actual remorse. He acknowledges it’s wrong the way I acknowledge pushing past people who stand on the left of the escalator is wrong… like sure, it’s wrong but it’s also kind of their fault, right? That attitude is so horrifying and cold for a betrayal of this magnitude. It also seemed more designed to forestall a harsh comments section, like a disclaimer he put up there will an eye-roll. ‘yes it was wrong, but let’s not focus on that part. Back to helping me fix it with zero inconvenience to me…’

            1. RGB*

              Hahaha except when you’re from a country where you stand on the left (I think it’s to do with which side of the road you drive on)….was very confusing why I was annoying people when I moved to North America.

        3. High Score!*

          We don’t know, maybe Sylvia was toxic and OP didn’t know how to break it off due to immaturity. ? I once had a coworker in a relationship with an increasingly toxic female who became overbearing, then controlling, tried too separate him from family and friends, etc, yeah women do that too. When she finally went out of town, he called all his friends to help him move out and got a restraining order. He knew simply trying to have a let’s break up discussion would end up in at best screaming and destruction and possibly violence.
          We don’t know what OP was dealing with, so let’s give the benefit off the doubt.
          That being said if she tends to be dramatic or toxic and hasn’t grown up, then his chances of making this work are slim.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            That’s a pretty remarkable stretch to assume that she somehow deserved this treatment. There’s NO excuse for this that makes it ok to not even leave a note. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. Best he can do is try to mitigate the consequences.

            1. JoeStevens*

              Also, if she was abusive, OP would have said so. That would have actions a (tiny) bit more understandable.

            2. aebhel*

              I mean, there are excuses, but it doesn’t sound like any of them was the case here. This is how you treat a person when you’re legitimately afraid of them, not when you just want to avoid a messy breakup.

              1. aebhel*

                ETA: …and if he was legitimately afraid that Sylvia would become dangerous, that would be his concern about working with her, not that she might still be mad about this.

            3. KellyK*

              Absolutely. I think “I escaped my abusive ex by fleeing the country and now she’s my boss” would be a much different letter. We don’t have to guess and speculate about the reasons for the break-up, because the OP *tells* us. She got more serious than he was, and they didn’t want the same level of relationship. We also don’t have to guess why he left the way he did, because, again, he tells us he wanted to avoid drama.

              I’m all for benefit of the doubt, but the doubt needs to actually exist.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            Given the amount of detail in the letter and the amount to which the LW seems to think that what they did was an understandable gaffe, it would be incredibly weird for them not to mention that Sylvia was abusive.

          3. E.R*

            If this were the case, his worries in this scenario would be very different. It doesn’t seem like he has any problem with Sylvia other than the bad feelings he gets for what he did to her.

            1. Hc600*

              “Understandable gaffe” makes me imagine this scenario as written by Oscar Wilde with OP played by Hugh Grant.

          4. Guus*

            You say ‘give the benefit of the doubt’ without every giving her that. You assume her guilt and his innocence even though he has had years to say anything, even though he acknowledges that his actions are bad though he doesn’t show real remorse, and even though his saying that Sylvia’s actions became ’emotional’ only after he disappeared without a trace.

          5. Dr Pepper*

            “Sylvia wanted to settle down but I was not ready to commit so young. We clearly had different expectations from the relationship. I did not know what to do and, well, I ghosted her.”


            “I simply wanted to avoid being untangled in a break-up drama. ”

            A) It’s pretty clear what happened – in his own words, the OP jumped ship and abandoned her because he “was not ready to commit” and “simply wanted to avoid being untangled [sic] in a break-up drama”.

            B) Wanting to settle down with someone three years into a relationship – especially when you’ve been living together for two of them – isn’t really the same thing as “toxic” and your comment is really reaching in trying to suggest that it is.

            C) I’m side-eyeing you pretty hard right now for your use of “toxic female”. Literally the only people I know who use “female” instead of “woman” are emergency responders, law enforcement, military, and MRA/Red Pill men. Just saying.

            I agree that his chances of making this work are slim, but that’s a completely reasonable consequence given his prior actions and treatment of Sylvia.

            1. Knit Pixie*

              I appreciate in your experience “literally the only people I know who use “female” instead of “woman” are emergency responders, law enforcement, military, and MRA/Red Pill men.”

              I ask you however, is there anything this poster could have said in place of female that would have sounded any better? Toxic Woman? Honestly I can see people taking an issue with that too.

              While I absolutely agree the OP letter had a distinct tone of “Sorry, Not Sorry”, I also see 1,500 comments (and counting) taking him to task for this.

              So I find it unfortunate that a reader wishing to share their own personal experience and perspective, risks sharp criticism for appearing to differ from the overwhelming consensus.

              If 1,499 people are already saying OP is an Irredeemable Sod, I can handle High Score! suggesting there may be more to the story than OP shared with us. Especially since there is little OP could say at this point that wouldn’t make him look worse.

              1. Gadget Hackwrench*

                Yes. Toxic Woman or Toxic Girlfriend would both have been far less of a problem than Toxic FEMALE.

                1. Knit Pixie*

                  I really am not trying to be contrary when I say I don’t like those options either.

                  The word “Girlfriend” in this context, reads very diminishing to me
                  ie. “YOU and your big – a_ _ Girlfriend!” (Nikki fighting with Angelo in My Big Fat Greek Wedding)

                  “Woman” in this context, rubs me the wrong way too:
                  ie. “Always some drama with That Woman.” (Lois’s in laws Malcolm in the Middle)

                  Referring to a person as a Toxic Anything I dare say, isn’t very nice, and I can agree High Score! might have been better off making their point without using the word Toxic.

                  But the fact that I personally find the word “Girlfriend” grating and seldom use it, or don’t care to spell the plural of woman “Womyn” doesn’t mean others don’t (or shouldn’t) do these things.

                  My point is for as many synonyms as there are to refer to someone, there are as many objections to using them (some more than others). High Score’s entire premise should not be disregarded because of this.

                2. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  You asked if toxic woman would be better, I answered that I think it would be. You tell me it’s not. So… it wasn’t a honest question in the first place. Not really interested in belaboring the point anymore as a result, so I’m going to have to defer to Dr. Pepper further down at this point and continue considering “female” to be a side-eye inducing way of referring to women.

              2. Knit Pixie*

                By the way, I am not trying to deny that there are those who use the word “female” in the derogatory fashion, or that it feels clinical and cold even in legitimate circumstances; I have definitely heard the word “female” said in a nasty tone (and have been guilty of using worse for both men and women, in my least proud moments).

                Definitely your prerogative to give the side eye, Dr. Pepper, I just didn’t read the same ill manner of speaking from High Score! the way I might expect from someone deliberately trying to get a rise.

              3. Dr Pepper*

                Oh, for sure there’s better phrasing than “I once had a coworker in a relationship with an increasingly toxic female who became overbearing, then controlling, tried too separate him from family and friends, etc, yeah women do that too. When she finally went out of town, he called all his friends to help him move out and got a restraining order. He knew simply trying to have a let’s break up discussion would end up in at best screaming and destruction and possibly violence.”

                How about this:

                “One of my coworkers was in a toxic relationship with an abusive partner: among other things, she was controlling and tried to separate him from his family and friends. He knew that trying to just break things off or talk it through would result in screaming at best and violence at worst, so he took an opportunity when she was out of town to get a bunch of friends over and moved out, along with getting a restraining order against her.”

                See? It gets all the pertinent information across (abusive woman, abused man, toxic relationship resulting in a restraining order and stealth move out) but it’s not using language that’s heavily coded as misogynistic in our current society.

                And just for the record, it still would have been reaching to a massive degree with regards to the OP’s letter in order to excuse him of any wrongdoing and paint Sylvia in the role of victimizer rather than victim.

            2. Fiennes*

              The Ferengi on Star Trek also use “female” as a noun. I instantly envision anyone who uses it as Quark, at his vilest.

          6. Policywank*

            The fact that you even wrote the words “toxic female” about someone suggests…some awfully bad stuff that should disqualify you from giving advice on this topic.

            1. Quacktastic*

              Every time an MRA uses “female,” I think of them as Ferengi from Star Trek. Complete with Wallace Shawn’s voice.

              1. saffytaffy*

                Yeah, it’s very weird to me when people use ‘female’ as a noun in everyday conversation. As a Linguistics student I did a study on a particular group of people who tended to use ‘female’ and ‘male’ when their intelligence was being called into question. It was part of a pattern of trying to use bigger words to sound smart.

            2. Knit Pixie*

              Policywank, I dare say that there are those that would take issue with any word to describe the female sex/gender combined with the word Toxic – to the point of denial that such words in combination cannot possibly describe someone.

              I appreciate that you and Dr. Pepper above wanted this poster to be aware of what saying that, could sound like, but to dismiss this person’s experience and overall message as null simply because of it… feels to me like a dismissal of the idea that men could be abused by their female partner.

              Dangerous in itself.

              1. Dr Pepper*

                I stand by my statement that literally the only people I know who use “female” instead of “woman” are first responders, military personnel, and Red Pillers/MRA. As such, I will continue to side-eye the h*ck out of people I see or hear using that phrasing.

                I’m certainly not denying that women can be just as toxic as men can be in a relationship. I’m a queer woman and I’ve certainly had toxic relationships before. Nobody is dismissing that men can be abused by their female partners. HOWEVER, nothing in the OP’s letter even hints at that being the scenario. He clearly stated that Sylvia wanted to settle down (which, after 3 years together and 2 years of living together is a totally normal desire) and that he didn’t want that and in order to avoid dealing with a break up that would have been uncomfortable he literally packed his bags and ran away.

                In other words: you’re reaching.

          7. nutella fitzgerald*

            When I see “female” used as a noun I imagine the context over a crackly police radio, or sometimes in a coroner’s report. Maybe an Attenborough narration.

            1. Mike*

              Also, kinda sorta, in social science papers: “The study included 45 subjects (22 male, 23 female).” But even then it’s an adjective, not a noun. As a noun, yuck.

          8. Abby*

            Even if she were toxic he should’ve still told her!! And if she was that bad of an individual TRUST he would’ve given every detail to make readers sympathize with him more. Furthermore he used the excuse of finding another job to leave-which he didn’t even tell her about! He isn’t someone I’d want working for me personally or as a collegue. Very disgusting very selfish and he’s all about self. He deserves every big of KARMA coming his way

            1. Lady Phoenix*

              Actually that would be the case where leaving her with no word would be very advisible. Abusers make their damnest sure that there is no escape for their victim. If abusers ever catch a whiff of escaping, the will plead, b g, shame, and even forcibly trap them.

              But that does not sound like the LW’s cas. He just sounds like a cowardly asshat.

          9. Siaynoq*

            Try woman instead of female. Female is a descriptor, not a noun.
            Also a really dehumanizing term.

        4. Engineer Girl*

          This wasn’t immaturity. It exposed a severe character flaw. Sylvia would be right to wonder if this flaw was still there. Short of traumatic incidents, these types of things don’t change.

        5. Mishsmom*

          exactly. OP does not get it at all. to them it was a bit awkward. i bet Sylvia did not feel that way. someone leaving like that not only makes you have feelings about the breakup, it makes you question the entire time you were together, and by that thought, every single relationship you ever had. it brings things into the situation that didn’t need to be there. OP, what you did is cruel. plain and simple. and to not recognize that makes it almost worse.

        6. many bells down*

          I mean … were they sharing bills? They lived together, was his name on the lease/mortgage? Could she afford to pay for the place herself or did she also have to move unexpectedly? In addition to the emotional trauma of having someone you thought loved you vanish?

          There’s a lot more upheaval caused here than just “ghosting”.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yep. At one point several years ago my roommate had to move suddenly due to a health care crisis. It wasn’t her fault and she was as helpful as possible but it was still a nightmare to get her off the lease and utilities and whatnot without her being able to show up in person or help much. And that was with her still sending me checks! And without the additional complications of doing it as an expat!

      7. Aeryn Sun*

        Seriously. Him pretending her being “obsessed” and tracking him down is weird shows he hasn’t learned anything. He’s only sorry that this is coming back to bite him.

      8. Sadsack*

        Exactly my thought. Not only did this guy walk out on a romantic relationship, he basically abandoned a roommate with whatever bills they had living together with no word. And you really didn’t mention anywhere in here that you are apologetic about what you did. I think rather than Kudos, the right word here is karma.

      9. Managing to get by*

        Especially since his comments about her obsessive behaviour after his disappearance make it pretty obvious he does not understand the depth of the impact his actions would have on someone.
        A regular person, one with feelings and regard for others, would be extremely concerned about the disappearance of a partner they’d lived with for two years.

        1. Gadfly*

          Hell, I’d even be pretty worried about a roommate I could barely tolerate if they disappeared like that.

        2. Executive Assistant Barbie*

          I was never able to impress upon my ex-husband the importance of texting me if his plans changed from “be home at 9” to “out drinking with my coworkers until 2”. In the meantime I’d be at home with our baby wondering if his bike was run off the road by a rogue SUV and getting progressively more worried/angry.

          What OP did is that times a million, and considering how insane, concerned, and angry I felt every time he disregarded the feelings of the person he was sharing a life with, Sylvia sounds like she might have even maintained some restraint.

    2. Redundant Department of Redundancy*

      Yeah I think you’ll have to start looking for another job, but definitely approach Sylvia and see if there is a way this can work in the short term.

      Although people change, maybe this would be nothing to Sylvia, a long forgotten blip of ‘that jerk who left the freaking country rather than break up’. However, I’m not sure. I was blindsided by my ex of 4 years, one day he came home told me I had two weeks to move out. 6 years on I still have a fantasy about how I’d love to punch him in his goofy face. I’m married now but I still have a grudge against him. I know I wouldn’t be impartial if I had to manage *him*, and what he did pales in comparison to what you did to Sylvia.

        1. Jesca*

          Something similar recently just happened to me. Was there for him during his difficult times, but when I needed him and suddenly could not function as his emotional crutch anymore? Gone. Just like that! I am still struggling with my anger and resentment! And still that doesn’t compare to what OP did.

          Honestly though lol, I wouldn’t be able to manage my first high school boyfriend either, because even though over the past 13 years or so he has tried to apologize to me, I still refuse to speak to him. That shit runs deep. I wish him as much wellness as I can, but I would not be able to professional around him. Sorry, OP!

      1. Lora*

        I am a terrible person, so I would regale all my friends, family and anyone who tried to set me up on a blind date with their Nice Single Friend with the story of Ghost Partner, to the point that someone with no less than four degrees of separation would recognize OP as Ghost Partner, and his/her nickname would be forever remembered as Casper.

        Yeah, my first thought upon coming home to an empty house would be, “oh my god, we were robbed and they kidnapped Casper!” and promptly start calling the police, hospitals, etc. trying to find out what happened. It would be extremely memorable even many years later. I would be wondering all the time as OP’s manager, “hmmm maybe I shouldn’t give Casper this long-term project, just in case…” because literally three years of evidence wouldn’t be sufficient to demonstrate trustworthiness.

        I think you are SOL, whether you are in a position to find another job or not – the choice may shortly not be yours to make.

        1. Bess Marvin*

          “because literally three years of evidence wouldn’t be sufficient to demonstrate trustworthiness.”

          THIS, so this, OP. You’re in a situation where your supervisor will not be able to trust anything you say, because she has personal evidence that anything/everything you say could be a lie or subterfuge or something you say or do to serve yourself.

          If your ex were a COLLEAGUE and this story got around, I think you’d be pretty SOL. But as a supervisor? Might as well start packing.

        2. Geoffrey B*

          I had an ex who did something similar to me. I was literally phoning morgues trying to find out if she was on a slab somewhere, for days before I found out she was alive and well. That was… not the most enjoyable week of my life. She got in touch a few years later with a half-hearted apology, but I can’t say that I would want to work with her.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This happened to my best friend (they’d shopped for engagement rings), and to this day, if I see her ex I guarantee you I will cause a scene (I prob won’t punch him, but I did fantasize about violence). And it didn’t even happen to me!

        1. nani1978*

          It’s almost easier to immediately determine the course of action when it’s about someone else, isn’t it? You love your friend and would stick up for her needs without a second thought. This is where I wish I would more quickly heed the advice to treat oneself as you would treat a friend. I take *soooooo* much less crap on behalf of other people.

          Relatedly, and to tie this back to the letter/site in general, this is where Alison’s advice really pays dividends for me. When I deal with the difficult conversations at work, the earlier the better, that confidence and ability bleeds into my personal life and I am able to have more direct conversations about personal issues. I hardly ‘have it all figured out’ but it’s been a real wake-up call to me that life is made up of conversations and difficult situations. You can soothe them or inflame them, but you can’t avoid them.

          1. TootsNYC*

            ” This is where I wish I would more quickly heed the advice to treat oneself as you would treat a friend.”

            I call this the converse of the Golden Rule, and I agree with you.

            The Golden Rule is, of course, treat others the way you want them to treat you.

            But really, we need to treat ourselves the way we would treat other people (especially other people we care about).

        2. CMF*

          Just like Charlotte in SATC. She let Big have it!

          I kind of hope Sylvia lets you have it, but then again I also hope that she realizes the bullet she dodged here and doesn’t even acknowledge your existence or your terrible, terrible behavior. I hope she’s married to a wonderful man with as many adorable children as she wants. Please be sure to let us know.

            1. constablestark*

              If Sylvia knows that OP is at the school and will be her junior, I think her knowing he’ll report to her is good enough, indeed.

              OP, I hope you read the comments from those who had the same experience as Sylvia and I hope you recognize that you did a shitty, shitty thing.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                If I was Sylvia I’d be like, well, we should get ready because if things get tough at this job OP will just vanish without a trace and move to another country…

      3. Kitty McFurball*

        I was in a 2 1/2 year relationship with someone who essentially ghosted me — failed to show up at the airport for a trip we were supposed to be taking together to visit my family (a ticket my FAMILY had paid for), left me a voicemail saying “I can’t do this”, and then ducked my calls for weeks until he finally answered and told me he had met someone else(!). That was 9 years ago, and I still think that if I saw him bleeding on the side of the road I would simply stop to say “karma’s a %*!@&” and walk away. (And call 911. But that’s it.) If I had to supervise him? Even if he apologized? I would avoid and ignore him as much as possible which would probably have adverse employment effects on him — and that’s the best case scenario.

        1. Allison*

          I’ve heard some men, when they want to leave their families, will take the family to Disneyland, then at some point say he’s going to the bathroom and just leave the park. This is a thing that happens.

          1. michelenyc*

            The evening we got home from Disneyland my Dad announced he was leaving us. It was awesome!

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              How terrible! I’m sure in their mind they think they’ve found the nicest way to break bad news, but it seems like all it would do is ruin Disneyland for you forever.

          2. Temperance*

            With some regularity, too. If you want to be selfish and shitty, you at least owe the people whose lives you are destroying a mildly uncomfortable conversation.

          3. Anna*

            I’m curious to know if this is something that is more common among men who are trying to get out of their family obligations or if women do it as commonly. Because I suspect it is a bright blinking indicator of how emotionally stunted these people are and how that seems to be an okay thing. And I also suspect that the narrative around these stories tends to be more forgiving of men than women. At least okay enough that it seems to be common.

            1. Jeff*

              Hard to say based on a sample size of one, but my wife just did it to me last month. Like the male cad who inspired this thread, she took off to another country while I was traveling on business and to this day hasn’t said where she went. I have heard somewhere that when men jilt it’s usually BEFORE the wedding, whereas when women do it some random time after. Perhaps its because men take wedding vows more seriously?

          4. Liz*

            I guess my father was old school; he found a job 300 miles away, then decided he didn’t want the rest of us to come along. He kept in touch and visited about once a month, so I can’t say he ghosted us, but I was never invited to his new home, even after Mom lost our home (no child support).

          5. nnn*

            In addition to all the other problems, what a waste of Disneyland tickets! Now the kids are at Disneyland but can’t do anything fun because they have to spend the day frantically trying to locate their missing father!

          6. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            This happened to my dad, but it was his mom that left. On his family trip to Disney World as a kid his mom just left and didn’t return, leaving his dad with my dad and his two brothers. Oddly, he never minded going back to Disney–I think I’d have been scarred for life.

      4. Purple snowdrop*

        F*k, don’t say that. I’m about to do that to my emotionally abusive husband. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t seem himself as abusive on any level so I think he’ll react badly… :(

        1. Lora*

          Abusers generally don’t see themselves as abusive even after they’ve put you in the hospital. I wish you the very best luck though – stay strong, this stuff isn’t easy.

        2. Perse's Mom*

          Abusive people rarely admit that what they’re doing is abuse.

          Take precautions for your safety on your way out, and good luck!

        3. Anon for this*

          Getting out of an abusive situation is different. We pulled together a team of people and packed up my sister and kids to move her during the 8 hour window her abusive ex was at work. It seemed extreme, but it was a matter of time before he put her or one of the kids in the hospital or worse.

        4. theletter*

          Do it! Life is too short to live with abusers.

          You can always send a letter with no return address after you go.

          1. Emmie*

            But watch the post-mark if you decide to do this.

            Abuse is an absolute exception to this rule. Good luck. And I am proud of you.

          2. Chinook*

            “You can always send a letter with no return address after you go.”

            Or let the cops know you left him. At least up here, the cops can and will close up a missing persons case by reporting back to the reporter that the person is confirmed as not missing without giving out more details as to where you are or what happened.

        5. oranges & lemons*

          If someone decides to be abusive, they bring this upon themselves. Regular relationship rules don’t apply because they’ve already destroyed them. Good luck!

        6. Jules the 3rd*

          Don’t ghost, leave a note. Like, a restraining order – that would make a good note.

          Good luck. What you’re doing is hard, we’re rooting for you!

        7. a different Vicki*

          As others have said, it’s different.

          You can take a couple of minutes and write a note that says something like “Fergus, I’m leaving you. Do not attempt to contact me. My lawyer will be in touch about a divorce. ” to leave on the kitchen table.

          That’s not just kinder, it may make things a little easier for you. That kind of note won’t tell him why you decided to leave, but it may mean fewer panicked calls to your family and friends.

        8. piny1*

          Abuse is different! It’s like an extreme version of, “If your employer treats people who quit like crap, you don’t have to give notice! Just walk! Protect yourself! The hell with professionalism!”

          Your husband is not trustworthy; that’s why you’re leaving. You owe him nothing, and you owe yourself conscientious awareness of your own emotional and physical safety.

        9. Lindsay J*

          One of the things I had to accept when I left my abusive ex was that, no matter how I handled it, I was going to be the bad guy in his story.

          I did the same thing described here – took all the things I cared about one day and left. I was worried he would get physically violent if I told him I was leaving. Or that I just would give in again to his promises that he would change and be better – he always did, but never for more than a few days before it was back to the status quo.

          I’m sure he thinks all kinds of negative things about me. I’m sure he told his family a bunch of negative things about me. I don’t care because I never have to see them again and I am so much happier.

        10. Not So NewReader*

          Your setting is not even remotely similar. No where near, not at all….. Did I mention you have a different setting?

          1. Jeff*

            Yup, you SHOULD jilt an abuser. I’ve helped women leave their abusive spouses the same way my heartless wife left me. It’s literally the difference between murder and self-defense.

        11. Purple snowdrop*

          Tbf I was replying to the ‘asked me to leave in two weeks’ bit which is pretty much what I’ll be asking/my solicitor will be telling him to do.

        12. TootsNYC*

          But with an abusive situation, once you’re out, there will probably be a “I’ve left you” communication of some sort.

          Our OP didn’t even write a letter to her while she was off visiting (“I’ve found it hard to tell you that I’m not committed anymore; I’m ending the relationship, and I’m sorry to do it so badly. I’ll have moved by the time you get back, and I’ll leave two months’ rent on the kitchen table).

    3. Snark*

      “First, kudos for recognizing what you did was not ok and being up front.”

      That’s worth one kudo, at most. It’s clearing a pretty low moral bar to realize that ghosting someone you’ve been with for three years is not okay, particularly when you think her frantic attempts to figure out if her partner of three years were alive strike you as “obsessed” and the whole situation struck you as “unpleasant” but basically forgettable. It gives the distinct impression that OP thinks this is something he can expect Sylvia to forgive and forget enough to work with him, not a life-defining act of cruelty.

      “It’s also highly likely that this is a situation where you will need to look for other employment, especially given the presumed depth of your relationship and how it ended.”

      I do, however, agree with this, and will take it further: OP, you cannot work at this job. This job is not tenable, and you cannot report to Sylvia under any circumstances. I realize that you value your happiness and settledness in this country, and I realize that it may be inconvenient and difficult to find another job, but you cannot possibly think there’s a way to paper this over and work with this person on a daily basis, do you? You can’t possibly think she can face you as her direct report. Insisting on doing so would compound an act of frankly unimaginable cruelty and selfishness with a great deal more of both.

      You have now an opportunity to take your share of the “drama” and emotional upheaval you inflicted on Sylvia years ago, to do the decent thing and not inflict a reopened wound and the difficulty of facing you daily on this woman. Please do it. Don’t continue to torture this person for your transient emotional convenience.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I’m not so sure about this. And I’m not so sure because staffing a school can be tricky, and you need people in place to do the job.

        If OP does the “decent thing” and leaves the job, OP is causing an upheaval that Sylvia will have to deal with. And is doing it by … leaving with little or no discussion, and without much warning (better than none?). That…seems likely to echo past events in a small key and be even more upsetting for Sylvia.

        OP: I agree with Snark that you do need to accept that this job may need to go, and that you should take your share of the drama/emotional upheaval.

        But I think that means reaching out to Sylvia, telling her what’s up, and asking her how she wants to proceed. Maybe she wants you *gone*. Maybe she thinks she can work professionally with you (although frankly, I would still look for another job next school year in your shoes, because I suspect it’s going to be very awkward and hard) and doesn’t want to have to replace you this close to the start of the year. Maybe she wants you to hang on while she finds a replacement and then go.

        Last time, you gave her no notice, no warning, no input, and no closure. This time, give her those things. Let her decide what works best for her, not just have you appear as a surprise on the first day…nor disappear into the sunset again, leaving her with a position to fill and probably a bad taste in her mouth.

        1. Snark*

          I think this is upheaval Sylvia can deal with. We’ve all filled a position vacated on short notice, and let’s face it: the world is not bereft of educated first-world bros “living the expat lifestyle” who can teach math for a semester or two.

            1. Durham Rose*

              Haha expat bros. So true. In all seriousness though, there are usually a group of ‘trailing spouses’ who are looking to put their skills to use – can’t imagine the position would be too hard to fill!

          1. Kyrielle*

            Anyone who has managed for any length of time has filled a vacant position, yes.

            OP ghosted on Sylvia badly many years ago. If OP resigns and ducks out either before Sylvia arrives, or as quickly as possible thereafter, and Sylvia has no input, I suspect it is going to feel like OP is running away from Sylvia again. Maybe she’s come to terms with what happened – maybe it won’t reopen that wound. But it very well might.

            Note that I’m not advocating just sticking around and slogging it out. I’m advocating letting it be *Sylvia’s* choice, and for Sylvia to know what is going on, because otherwise OP leaving is just repeating the pattern of running out. I still think the best final outcome involves OP leaving, but not suddenly, at a bad time, *and with no discussion*. Sylvia may well decide she’d rather have to fill a position, but I think she will have less drama/pain if there is a discussion rather than OP just bailing again in a different context.

            1. Anna*

              This is one of those times when the apology won’t be for Sylvia and will be for the OP and may cause more trauma. The OP is probably going to do more damage by sticking it around on the flimsy pretense of not leaving her in the lurch to hire.

              Sometimes the kindest thing for a person who has done the wronging is for them to make the choice instead. This isn’t that they broke up and it was a little rough. This is that in the last 10 years Sylvia has literally not seen or heard from this person with whom she spent 3 years of her life and now he’s about to make a very unpleasant reentry as a subordinate. Right now is not the time for the OP to decide to have a life-changing moment.

          2. Jesca*

            I agree with Snark, here. This is something that always has to be dealt with anywhere. Having to deal with, and having staff have to deal with, the fallout of this situation is much worse.

          3. Hills to Die on*

            I feel for Sylvia. How do you even handle this in her situation? Should she go to HR when she sees that her ghosting ex reports to her? If I were the HR person responsible for this department, I would want to know because it seems like it would take special care.

          4. Don't Be Rude*

            So much for being kind to letter writers. It’s nice of you to assume that anyone who’s owned up to an admittedly-awful mistake was/is/always will be an immature “first-world bro.”

            Why would anyone want to write in for help when even admitting fault isn’t enough to spare them these kinds of judgy comments and even accusations of being emotionally abusive(!) as I’m seeing elsewhere on this post?

            1. Desdecardo*

              There’s a difference between owning up to and just admitting to a grievous action against someone.

              The OP psychologically damaged Sylvia with that break up just because he didn’t want to go through break up drama and just moved on without caring.

              He showed no honest reguard about the situation except that he might have to quit to run away again. He’s not mature. He looks out for himself and enjoys the expat life. He is a bro.

              He may have grown up a bit since. He still needs to handle this like walking on eggshells shells.

              The truth will get out to his friends, girlfriend, etc. And no one is going to like him or want to be around him anymore.

              Not after watching out for number one and abandoning a committed relationship.

            2. The Voice of Reason*

              “So much for being kind to letter writers. It’s nice of you to assume that anyone who’s owned up to an admittedly-awful mistake was/is/always will be an immature “first-world bro.””

              Hypocrisy on the internet? Say it ain’t so.

              To all you people excoriating OP’s personal life: fair enough. But this is a blog about management and organizations. We’re talking about an international school in what seems to be something less than a global alpha city (I’m thinking somewhere like Phnom Penh).

              Saying that OP needs to resign out of fairness to Sylvia puts his personal history on a pedestal above the needs of the organization. If OP needs to resign, it’s because the organization can’t function with the two of them there, not out of some misplaced need to make Sylvia whole for events that happened years ago.

              What about the kids OP teaches? Particularly if this is pre-secondary school, their lives all get disrupted if a teacher resigns. What about filling the vacancy? That’s a tall order Phnom Penh or wherever, where a replacement teacher isn’t an easy recruit (and “trailing spouses” don’t automatically make great teachers).

              1. Anna*

                Are you new here? Alison frequently advises people to move on if their personal life is too much of a distraction to their work life, or vice a versa. This blog isn’t about the organization and what’s best for it; it’s about human people doing human things at work and how that might effect other humans and human things in their lives.

                1. Anon for this*

                  @anna – asking ‘are you new here’? yikes. I mean, way to set the boundaries for in-group/out-group. i don’t know who i agree with in this thread. but really, do you think that the fact you may have read the blog for a while privileges your opinion?

              2. Amy*

                I don’t think people are saying he needs to resign because it will somehow make Sylvia whole. (It won’t.) It’s because most of us can’t imagine functioning in a workplace with that kind of history with our direct manager. I’m all for falling back on professional behavior in most circumstances, but in a really extreme case like this, it’s very hard to imagine that their history won’t color their interactions. Since it’s so outlandish, it’s also easy to imagine it spreading via gossip and causing broader disruptions.

                The only part where fairness comes in is the part where if someone has to go, it should probably be him, because it’s his fault that history exists–and even that goes along with the sensible administrative perspective. A high-level administrator handpicked for this role is likely harder to replace than a lower-level teacher (not to say that teachers are easy to replace, but it sounds like the school had to work really hard to find Sylvia).

            3. Toby*

              He’s admitted what he did but doesn’t seem understand the implications of those actions to those around him. He’s more irritated that he’ll be inconvenienced by probably needing to find a job than remorse at the very real trauma he put this woman through. What he did WAS emotionally abusive, or at least emotionally damaging, and you seem perplexed that maybe that’s a bad thing. If someone punched in the face, they don’t lose the right to be upset about it just because the puncher admitted they did it.

            4. Traffic_Spiral*

              Bro, he hasn’t “owned up” to it. He’s acknowledged that it might inconvenience him – that’s not the same thing. Even then, note how he tries to use “ghosting” and omit the details of the relationship to make it look like this was a 5-date sort of situation as opposed to, yanno, disappearing on his live-in partner! Also, note how he talks about it: “I simply wanted to avoid being untangled in a break-up drama. Sylvia was rather emotional and became obsessed with the relationship, tracking me down, even causing various scenes with my parents and friends.” As if trying to find out why your live-in partner disappeared is “obsessed” as opposed to having a normal human reaction.

              I’d say people are being pretty kind by not calling him a flaming shitbucket – but when you do something that fucked up to someone and show no real remorse apart from worry about how it might affect you, you gotta expect a few “wow, that’s really messed up” comments.

            5. Jeff*

              His choice of words – “ghosting” vs. “jilting” – indicates to me he as NOT owned up to his actions. He was never truly sorry for what he’d done, he’s only sorry for himself that it has now come back to haunt him.

        2. 5 Leaf Clover*

          Yes. The ethicalal thing to do is ask Sylvia what SHE wants out of this situation and do it, even if it is inconvenient for the OP.

        3. Snark*

          Oh, and I do agree he should get in touch. I think that needs to take the form of,

          Dear Sylvia –

          This is OP, and I’m very sorry, but I am set to be one of your direct reports at the school this semester. I am so terribly sorry if my unexpected presence in your life reopens old wounds. I cannot ask for or expect your forgiveness for the hurt I caused you. At this point, my goal is to minimize the amount of pain I cause you now. Where would you like to go from here? I fully understand that you may not be able to work with me. I am willing to resign now if you would like, or to resign once you find a replacement for my position. If you would like to communicate through [third party,] that is also a possibility.

          1. TheOtherLiz*

            My only amendment to Snark’s suggested letter, as someone who’s been on the receiving end of some really dense correspondence from close people who wronged me: ditch the “I cannot ask for your forgiveness” – I once had a best friend ghost on me, and in messages years later they did not ever bother, over months of correspondence, to say the word “sorry.” They said that the past can’t be erased, they said we have a history, but they ever said the simplest two syllable word that doesn’t cover everything but is so necessary. Sylvia owes OP nothing, but OP owes Sylvia the word “sorry” and should take this opportunity to say it. Even if, like the breakup or the thought of uprooting their life now, it feels inconvenient or uncomfortable. It’s part of being a decent human being.

          2. Jesca*

            I don’t know. I am divided on this. One way gives her the option on how to proceed, but then in the same token it is kind of putting the onus on her to navigate this awful situation he had caused. Also, any level of apology and trying to show compassion for her current feelings may come across (as the OP does feel, anyway) as him again calling her crazy and obsessive. I mean wow. At the same time though, is there even a way to handle this? I dont think there is. I don’t know!!!!

            1. Anna*

              I agree. This makes Sylvia responsible (again) for a situation she hasn’t created and just happens to find herself in. In this instance, it’s absolutely okay for the OP to make a decision for himself that would put Sylvia at ease.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              She can chose to see it as cleaning up his mess again or she can chose to see that he is trying to grant her the upper hand in this situation. We can’t really predict/control how she reacts.

              We have no idea what she sees from where she is. It could be that she could shift OP over to another boss and just tell him “No contact with me, ever. Go to your New Boss.”

              I think OP should plan for worst case scenario. If something not as bad happens, then lucky him.

          3. DaddySocialWorker*

            I’m writing from the perspective of someone in the human services (mental health/social work field), and I do not agree that it’s incumbent upon the ghoster to offer to resign. Given that Sylvia is the power holder in the current professional relationship, it’s incumbent upon her not to engage in a dual relationship (ex and boss) without first engaging in an ethical decision-making process to assess whether she can do so equitably. So the OP reaching out in advance is helpful in so far as it will permit Sylvia the occasion to self-reflect on whether she is able to accept the position. Meaning that if she intends to keep the job, she must be able to assess the OP only on his merits as a teacher. If she cannot do so, or cannot come up with an alternative reporting structure, Sylvia must resign.
            Note that this is not a commentary on what the OP did 10 years ago. Rather, I’m providing a different professional take on the situation that is applicable in some fields.

            1. Snark*

              “If she cannot do so, or cannot come up with an alternative reporting structure, Sylvia must resign.”

              What the hell, no. Sylvia did not cause this. Sylvia should not be expected to accommodate him.

              1. The Voice of Reason*

                “What the hell, no. Sylvia did not cause this. Sylvia should not be expected to accommodate him.”

                In terms of personal relationships, no, she shouldn’t. But this isn’t a personal relationship. Sylvia *did* cause this by joining the international school. She needs to know the ghosting ex is on the faculty now and needs to determine whether she can manage him as an employee.

                1. Anna*

                  She applied for a job and was hired! She didn’t “cause” it anymore than she “caused” it by thinking she was in a committed relationship with a rational person. Wow. Blame the victim much?

            2. Turquoise Cow*

              Yeah, I was with you until you said that *Sylvia* needs to resign. Completely disagree there.

              If it was an ordinary ex relationship type thing, where they’d broken up by mutual (or mostly mutual) decision, that would be a good response. But the OP was clearly in the wrong, and Sylvia should not have to rearrange her life based on something the OP did wrong many years ago. Clearly she feels this job is a good choice, or she wouldn’t have accepted it. She shouldn’t be forced to turn it down or leave because her stupid ghosting ex who ditched her without notice and moved out of the country has showed up. The onus is on OP to decide to resign – for OP to be the mature one, because OP failed at that in the past.

            3. M Bananas*

              I wholeheartedly disagree. I’m not a professional in human services but I don’t belive the hierarchical power structure is the end-all and be-all of every scenario.
              If a POC/minotiry accepted a managerial position only to find out one of his direct reports is the racist that in the past abused/treated him horribley would you advocate that he/she should step down if they ‘can’t believe they can judge the [racist] report on his mertis alone?’
              What about a formerly abused person that finds out their abusive ex-partner is now one of their direct reports?
              This is not a reasonable expectation to make of someone.
              Syliva is human and can’t be expected to be absolutely impartial to someone who hurt her so badly, and at the same time what *someone else did to her* years ago should not close employment oppertunities for her today.

            4. Jadelyn*

              …what kind of weird “he was there first” thing is this? She shouldn’t have to miss out on an opportunity just because her awful ex got there first.

            5. MamaSocialWorker*

              Um. Not sure where you are getting these odd ideas. Perhaps if Sylvia was his therapist or his care provider the dual relationship ethical responsibility would come into play. Do both people have ethical responsibilities here? Yes. But not everything operates under these strict guidelines, and she isn’t his therapist or care provider, she’s his boss.

              While I DO think people are leaping down too quickly on OP to resign, I think you are looking about this in a pretty black and white way. If social work and the mental health field has taught me ANYTHING it’s that there is nothing black and white about human beings or about ethical scenarios like this. But OP doesn’t get an automatic write-off because he was there first and because she holds a position of power. Are you saying because OP is reporting to her, he automatically gets first dibs on a job?

              My recommendation from a person in human services/social work is that OP reach out to Sylvia and not explain away what happened, but offer a deep and sincere apology, perhaps with hopefulness that they can arrange to work together and congratulating her on the job. My other recommendation is that OP reach out internally to HR or whatever person would manage this and explain the potential conflict of interest stating that they had a relationship with this person that did not end well x years ago due to OP’s poor behavior at the time, that they have changed, and that they would like to continue working for the school and are hopeful that the situation can be worked out with Sylvia appropriately.

              Could this end up with someone resigning? Yes. But I think this could also potentially be mediated appropriately if OP is willing to do the work. I am willing to give benefit of the doubt to OP, but I’m going to give preference to Sylvia as the injured party here. Even though it’s well in the past, these things can have lasting effects on human behavior and ability to trust. As someone in the social work field I am so surprised at your lack of awareness around this.

              1. ElectricLady*

                I completely agree. This is the most equitable way for this scenario to play out. I really hope that the OP reads your comment and implements your suggestions.

            6. Jck*

              You can’t simply began a new position in management & expect to re-route chain of command and/or recuse yourself from managing an employee due to past personal history, short of past criminal victimization or current legal issues, like a restraining order or pending lawsuit. Professionalism, especially in management, dictates the high road and healthy boundaries. What the OP did in his personal life 10 years ago, in and of itself, has no bearing on how he does his job today or tomorrow.

            7. Red*

              See – I don’t know. I think Sylvia should be given the chance to resign if she wants to. I know I’d probably be running in the opposite direction if I found out OP was at my new job. But I don’t think she should be made to resign or the onus be on her to be the one who does it. She might not have another option.

              I do know that OP needs to contact her asap, in case she decides to not start working there. That way she’ll at least have time to make a decision.

            8. Sunshine*

              Except she has done nothing wrong. He is the one who did something wrong and displayed a fairly shocking lack of integrity and judegement. She shouldn’t lose out twice – emotionally and financially – due to his behaviour.

          4. The Voice of Reason*

            “At this point, my goal is to minimize the amount of pain I cause you now”

            OP’s goal needs to be to do what is best for his organization, not minimizing the amount of pain to Sylvia.

            1. Anna*

              I just gotta say. Sylvia is under no obligation to consider what’s best for this organization or any organization and really, if it’s on the OP to do that, the best thing for the organization is to resign and move on.

              What a bizarre world view.

              1. The Voice of Reason*

                “Sylvia is under no obligation to consider what’s best for this organization or any organization”

                Um, she’s a manager. She’s 100% obligated to act in the interests of her organization. If she can’t do that, she needs to recuse herself from managing this employee, regardless of who was in the right back when they were living together.

                1. Anna*

                  No, she isn’t if that means she puts herself at emotional and mental risk. Sorry, but no. Not at all. In no way, shape, or form.

                2. The Voice of Reason*

                  We’ll have to disagree, then. Were I on the board of trustees of this school and found my new director wasn’t acting in the interests of the organization, he’d be gone, regardless of how sympathetic his personal story.

                  This is exactly the same principle as the woman who wrote in because a coworker accused her of accounting fraud in an attempt to get some “alone time” with the police to report an abusive spouse. Personal trauma doesn’t obviate work responsibilities. If you can’t set the former aside, you need to recuse yourself from the latter.

            2. Sylvan*

              Interpersonal drama is generally not best for the office.

              I’m not saying that OP should or shouldn’t leave – I don’t know. But causing or not causing pain to Sylvia is relevant to what’s best for the organization.

      2. The Pedant Peasant*

        Kudos is singular — it’s Greek.

        So is the root of “hysterical”, from the word for “womb”. Women are hysterical because their wombs wander! Behind every female hysteric is a man using the term to gaslight her into behaving in a way convenient for him.

        If the OP had said controlling or emotionally manipulative or verbally abusive, that’s different. But “hysterical” sets off alarm bells for me.

        1. Will*

          I remember when we came across the word in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. “kudos” is the emanation that rises up around a god that inspires holy terror and awe. And I turned to the professor and said “wait, is that why people say ‘kudos to you’?” and she said “yes, I have never in my life understood what they are trying to accomplish.”

          We all had a good laugh that day, just like the goddess from the gift of Baubo.

          1. Snark*

            “Good job on the presentation for the TPS project, Bob. May numinous fire arise around you and inspire all those in your presence to fall to their knees in reverent, terrified ecstasy.”

            1. Jadelyn*

              I mean, I’d take that as a fantastic compliment, but then I’m kinda weird with stuff like that.

              1. Snark*

                Hell yeah, I’d be like, “Thanks for noticing my luminous aura of pants-shitting fearfulness! Anybody want to do a coffee run?”

            1. Snark*

              It really is, and given the widespread misuse of that phrase, I suspect I will treasure that nugget always and have cause to reflect upon it often.

        2. Gadfly*

          Hysterical is a word with enough baggage and history of misuse that I think we need to just stop using it. Even clinically. We’ve plenty of examples of words we’ve decided to stop using for similar reasons.

      3. MommyMD*

        No kudos. He’s only concerned with the situation because it’s affecting him now. Either sincerely apologize for being a coward or find another job.

      4. Mike*

        Actually, kudos is singular in Ancient Greek, so it would be “one kudos.” The plural was kudous. Just because I’ve been wanting to share that fact for ten years or more and never had the chance before. (I know, I shouldn’t have. Really, I shouldn’t have.)

    4. CMDRBNA*

      I don’t actually see the OP recognizing that what he did was not okay. He pretty much sidesteps any responsibility and calls Sylvia emotional and obsessed (for, uh, wondering where her boyfriend vanished to? Seems reasonable.) and his concern is not for her, but saving his job.

    5. KS*

      He hasn’t recognized bad behavior. He’s here trying to gaslight her for our benefit, for being concerned he might be DEAD.

    6. JMO*

      *First, kudos for recognizing what you did was not ok and being up front.*

      I must’ve missed that part.

        1. LawBee*

          OP. Good lord. You didn’t “ghost” on a girlfriend, you abandoned a long-term partner with no warning, no forwarding address, no agreement on how to pay the remaining bills – did she suddenly have to take over your half of the rent? The insurance? You didn’t even leave her a note? This was a terrible thing to do, which I don’t get the sense that you are appreciating.

          I suspect you did Sylvia a favor in the long run, because you sound like a terrible partner. Do her another one now. Talk to her before the school year starts, and yeah. You can’t work there. Time to ex-pat yourself to another school.

    7. Artemesia*

      The only hope is to throw yourself on her mercy and acknowledge that you were extremely immature then and have felt ashamed of yourself for years. If you were in fact young, in your 20s, hopefully early 20s, you might be able to play the young and stupid card, but there is no way out except acknowledging that you were a jerk and you know it will be awkward to work together. Maybe her life is great, she feels she dodged a bullet and you can muddle through for a term or two until you can figure out how to move on.

    8. Kelly*

      ” First, kudos for recognizing what you did was not ok and being up front”

      Ten years later? Pretty sure no one gets cookies for that.

    9. gail*

      Someone else probably already noted this, but in a brief scan of the comments I didn’t see it so I think it is worth noting in the age of the internet you are already probably one step behind. If I were Sylvia, I would absolutely look up the faculty at a school if I were under consideration for a job as the director. I would assume she already knows you are there. Most schools publicly list their faculty and that is usually the first stop for someone interested in a job.

    10. Excuse Me?*

      1) no kudos to this sociopath
      2) Objectively speaking: OP should find a new job for several reasons. Most importantly because if he stays and the story comes out, he will be painted in the wrong and reasonable people will automatically side with Sylvia on principle. Its a really bad situation, and the fact that OP shrugs of abandoning his long term partner as ghosting is unfathomable. He then takes a step forward to call her emotional and causing scenes when a reasonable person would do the same thing. Not because they are crazy, but because they’re worried and scared for your life. My main concern is what happened to her financial situation when OP left. Did she make enough to keep her place? Were their shared bills covered? Did OP pack up items she bought for both OP and her and items they bought together? Sylvia needs to take OP to court if thats the case. Karmas a you know what and he deserves this.

      1. Mike*

        “no kudos to this sociopath”

        No, no, I think it was a typo for Kodos, so yes, Kodos to this sociopath. Or Kang, whichever, it’s not like there’s a real choice offered there. Or better yet, both of them.

    11. Luisa V*

      Anyone gonna touch on the fact that he had a conversation about the relationship with literally the internet before uttering a sentence to her?

    12. KatyO*

      I guess I must be a heartless person because I’m thinking, if she hasn’t gotten over it in 10+ years, what is her problem? Yes, what he did was way out of line but I would hope that they’ve all matured enough in 10 years to talk it out and move on.

      1. saffytaffy*

        You may indeed be heartless, or just very inexperienced and naive. The event OP described is traumatic.

      2. brightstar*

        Sometimes people’s actions are so hurtful and scarring that they affect you for the rest of your life. It isn’t saying that Sylvia isn’t over the OP. It’s that his behavior was so extreme it likely has had long lasting effects.

      3. Gadget Hackwrench*

        Even taking into account the massive fiscal fallout? I mean… she could still be paying off debt from OP’s disappearing act.

        1. Mina*

          Yeah, emotional repercussions aside (which would be perfectly reasonable), she could still be cleaning up the mess OP left behind.

      4. Sunshine*

        The situation described would cause trauma, huge financial instability and trust problems. There’s no way most people would get over that in 20 years, let alone 10.

    13. Anne*

      Gotta love how little personal responsibility this guy is taking even now. Putting “bad behavior” in quotes? Seriously? You abandoned a partner of three years and then called her “obsessed” with you. I hope this dude gets fired, and I hope he finally recognizes that it’s his own damn fault.

    14. Trav45*

      Speaking as an international school teacher (who, of course, really, really wants to know what school this is !) I don’t think there’s any way this is going to work, unless she is a far, far bigger person than the writer. I’ve worked at schools in mega-cities (Beijing, for example), and the ex-pat world even here is a small, insular place where everybody at least knows somebody who knows the other person. And this guy is in a small place, indeed. Talk about chickens coming home to roost. Having said that, he absolutely has to email her beforehand and let her know, so she’s not ambushed once again.

    1. INeedANap*

      Honestly, I agree.

      I get that not working at this school will cause enormous difficulties for OP, but, well… those are the breaks.

      Honestly, I can’t really imagine the financial/practical toll of needing to move and get another job would be any worse than the financial/practical toll Sylvia had to go through when her live-in partner disappeared. And I can’t imagine the personal toll of leaving somewhere that you are happy and settled would be any worse than what Sylvia had to go through when her significant other disappeared.

      The only way one could professionally and morally justify not finding a new job would be if the consequences of finding that job were somehow worse than the consequences Sylvia faced when her partner literally disappeared one day. That sets the bar extremely high, OP.

      I get that this sucks for OP professionally and personally, but, well – these are the delayed consequences of what you did, and unfortunately I don’t see any way around them.

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      Yeah, exactly. The fact is, OP, that to Silvia, you are a pretty horrible person because you did a very horrible thing. I’ll take you at your word that you realize your error, and perhaps you are no longer a horrible person, but to Silvia, that’s what you are and probably what you will always be. Certainly if someone had ever done to me or to someone that I care about what you did to Silvia, I would forever think of you as horrible. I think that would be most people’s reaction, actually.

      So yes, by all means, talk to her and apologize as sincerely as you know how (it would help if you could attribute it to extreme youth or immaturity or something), but you’re going to need to get the heck out of there and start afresh elsewhere. She may, if she is a saintly person, forgive you, but she will never forget – and why should she?

      1. Blue*

        I think OP should be careful about how they attribute it to youth/immaturity, because it may just come across as an excuse or failure to take responsibility. If OP can truthfully say that they’ve grown since then, I’d focus on that, instead. Something more along the lines of, “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how cowardly and hurtfully I acted. My behavior then was inexcusable, and I have made an effort to leave behind the immature kid you knew and treat people with more respect.”

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          Oh, yeah – even immaturity wouldn’t be an excuse. Because there is no excuse. It could be presented (with care) as a contributing factor, but that’s the most you can say about it without sounding like a self-entitled, self-justifying whiner.

    3. Amy*

      Yeppp. OP, this is a case where you did a cruel thing and it’s coming back to bite you in the ass. It’s unfortunate for you, but it happens. You might be able to finish out the term, if you’re lucky; if jobs in your field do indeed go by term, presumably they’d have as much trouble finding a qualified replacement mid-term as you would finding another job. But you should plan on moving on next term. The odds that Sylvia will be comfortable with your presence and you guys will work well together are so low, given your history, that you should assume that it won’t happen.

      1. teclatrans*

        Yep, think it as a “natural consequence,” one that just got delayed for a decade.

        OP, you ran away so youbeouldnt gave to face the consequences of your choices, but it turns out you didn’t escape them after all. It’s hard and probably feels unfair to have to pay the price when you are older and don’t even feel like the same person, but, well, you are. Karma, indeed.

      2. The Voice of Reason*

        There are literally zillions of examples of people who were louses when it comes to personal relationships but who were nonetheless excellent leaders. (Bill Clinton, for one.) Similarly, there are people with lovely families who are utter failures professionally. (Infer your own example, so that we don’t get into contemporary politics.)

        You’ll get no argument from me that OP is one of the louses when it comes to relationships. That doesn’t mean he’s not an effective teacher, or that the school is better off without him, or that he *must* resign.

        Hells, on Star Trek, Riker ghosted Troi. The command structure of the Big-E worked out OK.

        1. Amy*

          It’s not that he can’t be a competent teacher. It’s that his past actions probably fucked up any possibility of an amicable relationship between them that putting them in the same workplace is almost definitely going to cause drama and derail productivity. And, it’s that he now has a manager who has good reason to be concerned about his integrity, reliability, etc.–that’s not good for anyone’s career, and even if he hadn’t caused their problems I’d advise him to get job hunting for that reason alone.

          1. The Voice of Reason*

            “It’s that his past actions probably fucked up any possibility of an amicable relationship between them that putting them in the same workplace is almost definitely going to cause drama and derail productivity”

            Perhaps; but I’d say that’s where it’s incumbent on a manager to separate the personal and the professional.

            1. Shini*

              The problem is part of the personal is the fact he *disappeared without warning because he no longer felt like it* – if I was her, I’d be worried that he might consider abandoning his job the moment he decided he’s tired of the responsibility – maybe decided not to show to class one day.

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              There’s a line when it comes to separating the personal and the professional…I mean, people are still humans.

            3. Amy*

              In many cases, I’d agree that professionalism demands not bringing personal issues to work. But this is such a huge, egregious, extreme thing for him to have done, I can’t see any reasonable way to expect it to not influence things. It’s not a failing on the manager’s part to be human.

              And I don’t think having that history means she needs to decline the job, either. Any reasonable person who knows he’s capable of this kind of behavior would question his reliability and integrity; he’s gotten away with people not knowing so far, but that’s luck on his part, not something she’s somehow bound to protect for him. It’s such an extreme thing to have done, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that it’s coming back to bite him in the butt.

        2. Dot Warner*

          Hells, on Star Trek, Riker ghosted Troi. The command structure of the Big-E worked out OK.

          Outing myself as a mega-nerd: that example doesn’t really work here since Riker outranked Troi. The ghostee wasn’t the supervisor, the ghoster was.

          1. Geoffrey B*

            Also, at the risk of stating the obvious: just because somebody made it work in a fictional setting doesn’t mean it’s going to work IRL.

            1. MsM*

              Also also, I’m assuming Sylvia can’t read OP’s mind and gauge just how sincerely sorry he is or not. Which may be a good thing for OP

  2. Cambridge Comma*

    I would write a letter, saying at length how much you regret what happened. It’s going to have to be a really good one.

    1. QAT Consultant*

      I disagree with the letter idea. The apologies already are going to sound hollow and self-serving (as Alison pointed out) and to do that in a letter now seems even more cowardly. I think an email offering to meet (phone or face to face) and have a chat is the better option. It would at least show a tiny bit more sincerity regardless of how hard it is going to be.

      1. Spooky*

        Agreed. Why are we telling him to say he’s sorry? He clearly isn’t. He’s sorry that his ghosts are coming back to haunt him. That’s all. He’s not sorry about what he did, and pretending otherwise is going to be a glaringly obvious lie.

        1. CMDRBNA*

          Yeah, this – if he was sorry, I assume at some point in the intervening ten-plus years he could have contacted Sylvia and apologized. He’s only ‘apologizing’ because the ghosts (hah! see what I did there??) of relationships past are coming back to haunt him.

          It’s pointless to talk about what the LW should have or could have done years ago, but yeah – three years? Living together for two? If I were Sylvia I would not be inclined to be forgiving.

          1. Jesca*

            Well to be honest, I would be forgiving but not forgetting. And even if I was so over this level of hurt and abandonment, I would have to be honest that it would color my perception of this person as his manager. How reliable is he going to be in this role? Is he going to take his position seriously? Is life going to get to stressful for him again to where to where he bails? I mean honestly, to go to that length is not something your direct manager (involved or not in it) should really know about you. That isn’t just oh i ghosted my ex. That is integrity. Ahg! But I get it. I have had some things I did when I was younger come back and bite me in the ass, but honestly hon that’s life and its time you move on from this situation. Sucks, but that’s what it is. And hope no one in that tight community decides to question your integrity if or when they find out about the circumstances. Hopefully though you have shown to be much more responsible and level headed since then.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              This is a good point. OP has already established himself with Sylvia as a totally unreliable person. The fact that it was a personal relationship won’t change the color of her perception. She has no other evidence to mitigate that perception regardless of what anyone else says. No matter what it’s going to be very hard for her to manage him and hard for him to dispel that impression, and rightfully so.

              OP, you really need to find a different job.

              1. Jesca*

                Sometimes, we are defined by one decision and the fall out of that decision will follow us the rest of our lives. It is character revealing, and will continue to define you as a person until you try to unselfishly make it right. That’s just a truth of being a human interacting with other humans, and hopefully OP one days understands that!

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Yep. It might seem unfair, but if you cause someone pain, their impression of you will be forever colored by that pain. It’s not always easy or possible to overcome it, and it doesn’t make the victim of the offense a bad person for not wanting to be around you.

                2. Lissa*

                  And sometimes, it doesn’t define you as a person and you may have truly changed, but it left such an indelible mark on someone else that Who You Are Now really just does not matter in the situation. OP may or may not regret deeply what they did and realize that impact, but that is independent of this situation. I think having done One Horrible Thing should not forever paint the person as awful in any future interactions – many of us have one thing, that if we were judged on it would be found wanting! But, with the person directly affected, yeah, it does paint the person as awful forever because the emotions around it were so brutal. And you just gotta move on.

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  When this stuff happens you have to go find new peeps or as in OP’s case a new job.
                  That is how the world turns.

            2. Temperance*

              I’m one of those people who doesn’t necessarily believe in forgiveness. You can move on without absolving someone of their bad acts.

              1. Jesca*

                That is not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is letting the negative feelings go towards that person. That is all.

        2. Kheldarson*

          Because even if he isn’t, it’s the socially appropriate thing to do here. Especially if he wants any hope to maintain his job long enough to find a new one.

          One would hope he’d be sincere in his apology and find some empathy for his ex, but he needs to at least follow the social norms here.

              1. Mike C.*

                Lying isn’t socially appropriate, but neither is not apologizing, so yes, I think we’ve found the limits of our model and require something new.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  Lying is frequently socially appropriate. Including not sharing any passing thoughts just before they occur to you, saying “it’s fine” about something that isn’t quite but also can’t be changed now, and that AAM favorite, when your manager says “I can’t believe Chris quit due to the toxic atmosphere here! Is anyone else in the room looking for a new job?”

            1. Kheldarson*

              Maybe, but this is still the bare minimum whenever you’ve done something that hurts someone.

        3. Emily S.*

          I think what he needs to do is genuinely WORK to realize that he acted in a way that was unconscionable.

          He needs to be truly sorry (honestly), then what I’d suggest, is apologize in person, and genuinely MEAN IT. Also, explain that’s he knows it’s too late to make amends of any meaningful sort — but, that he’ll try his best to behave as a kind, mature adult (a grown-up!), and do what needs to be done. Whatever is best for them both.

          If, in truth, he has NO remorse — then he would need to consider worst-case scenarios, depending on her reaction to his communication (and in that case, he’d need to be upfront about just wanting to avoid awkwardness, but not hide the fact that he’s not actually sorry).

          I speak as someone who has been ghosted multiple times, in past years, and it really does still hurt after all that time.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think a letter/email is ok as long as it includes the option of talking by phone or face-to-face. If I were Sylvia, I would not want to see OP, let alone talk to them.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          I like this because if I were in Sylvia’s shoes, I don’t know how I’d react to a phone call.

      3. Ted Mosby*

        I do too. Not only will it sound hollow, I think it might come across as almost condescending at this point. I had an x do a really terrible thing, similar but different, almost 1o years ago. I will always view him as a terrible, immature person; I just think it’s who he is at his core. But do I crave an apology from him all these years later? No, I could give a sh*t if he feels great, or terrible, or is enjoying a wonderful life, or fell down a well and died.

        Yes, OP should apologize, once, as sincerely as he can fake it (calling a partner you walk out on after three years emotional for causing a scene when you could have been, idk, dead? abducted? in the hospital? is a truly amazing way to continue shirking blame 10 years later). It only requires two sentences. I’m sorry for the terrible thing I did. It was wrong of me. A long letter with explanations and apologies or whatever else would only piss me off further.

        She knows it was all your fault. She knows you were immature. You don’t need to tell her those things. She’s unlikely to still give a flying potato about anything else you have to say. A longer explanation or apology to me just implies thinking that she still needs or wants to hear more, that she still cares how you think and feel about this, when likely she’s just dismissed you as a jerk she’ll never have to deal with again.

    2. Yellow Flowers*

      It might be worth writing a letter so that she has some time to process this without you. Hearing from you might be something she would want to deal with privately.

      1. QAT Consultant*

        The email would be enough to allow her to process how she feels before responding to the LW. But the email doesn’t really need to contain the apology or anything beyond generics of “you are my boss now, we have history that is not good, we should discuss this”.

        1. Jesca*

          Ya know, I kind of agree with you. Open the dialogue first. I mean, you are going to have to have this conversation.

        2. TheOtherLiz*

          Personally the absence of the word sorry would color my reception of the email. Sometimes just saying the word sorry is worthwhile, even if you don’t feel it, and as noted above, the OP has some work to do feeling empathy and not gaslighting this woman.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, that’s my thought too. I’d really prefer to be able to have my OMG WTF YOU TURNED UP AGAIN??? reaction in private.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I think a letter saying “I realize now what a horrible, horrible thing I did to you” might be appropriate, except for the fact that it doesn’t seem to be true. A more appropriate letter might be “I realize you will have a difficult time working with me, given the way I treated you, so rest assured that I’m looking for another job.” And that one should be true.

      1. QAT Consultant*

        “I realize you will have a difficult time working with me, given the way I treated you, so rest assured that I’m looking for another job.”

        No no no … ABSOLUTELY NOT the right letter. That puts all of the blame on the ex and takes no responsibility for the LW. There is no way to know whether the ex will have a hard time working with LW or not and to insinuate otherwise is a huge misstep in judgement. The ONLY way to sound sincere at all is to accept all responsibility for what happened and place zero blame on the ex.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed. I think it’s ok to talk about it being uncomfortable, but saying she’ll find it difficult will come off patronizing and narcissistic (and fits into the problematic “she’s obsessed” narrative).

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Not your intent, but clearly there: “you will have a difficult time working with me”: SHE will have a hard time. Implication: because she can’t separate personal from professional.

            I think it’s a words and intentions vs associations and omissions difference. Check out medium.com, author kmayes, article ‘Is It Sexist’ for one of the best analyses I’ve ever seen on this.

            1. Lissa*

              How would you rephrase it to get across the same intent but without appearing to place blame? I totally see where “you will have a difficult time” could be infuriating as Sylvia but I’m drawing a blank as to how else to phrase it…

              1. JanetM*

                I think someone else suggested, “I realize now that what I did was so awful, any reasonable human being would have trouble working with me.” (Or words to that effect; I’m not seeing that comment at the moment.)

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  LOL, I’m actually the one who said that, as a translation of my original suggestion.

              2. Misc*

                Just saying ‘it will be difficult to work with me’ might be best. It’s more neutral, a statement of fact that yes, it is a difficult situation, with no judgement on whether she can personally overcome that (and if she can, she’s a better/more capable person) or implying that the difficulty is entirely her issue (therefore is a lesser person for not getting over it on her own).

                It’s the difference between ‘I’m sorry you feel upset’, and ‘I’m sorry I did an upsetting thing’.

                1. Misc*

                  *”it might be difficult…” or “it is a difficult situation”. I got hung up on the ‘YOU’ vs ‘it’ bit, which is the main offender here :D ‘For us to work together’ shares the implied responsbility evenly, not ‘for you to work with me’, or just leave it as ‘this situation is going to be difficult to navigate’ without bringing either person into it specifically. Saying ‘it will’ should also probably be ‘it probably will’ or ‘it may’.

                  …the problem is that most of this stuff is really minor, but it adds up, especially if the email already has any kind of high handed/dismissive/manipulative tone to it.

              3. QAT Consultant*

                I understand it wasn’t your intent, Rusty, but as Jules pointed out, it’s still there. There are a large number of people who don’t actually understand how to apologize correctly (and I’m one of them in many cases but it’s something I try to work on).

                A better way of saying it could be:
                “I realize what I did to you 10 years ago was an immature and selfish action on my part and for that I am truly sorry. There is no excuse for it. I hope we can put it behind us so we can work together.”

                Even here I’m struggling with how to wrap it up. That last sentence still sounds selfish to me because it’s basically asking her to forgive the LW enough to get along at work, which she doesn’t really have to do, but would be the bigger person if she is able to.

      2. nonymous*

        ++ along with some language to indicate that OP will follow Sylvia’s professional directions to the utmost and without expectation of reward/acknowledgement. Even if OP isn’t sorry, he can still demonstrate that he understands the behavior was wrong and there are negative (professional) consequences to follow.

        1. New Poster*

          A better letter might be “First, congratulations on your new job. Second, I realize I will have a difficult time working with you, given the way I treated you, so rest assured that I’m looking for another job.”

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I guess I’m looking at this differently from some of you. To me, this letter sounds awfully condescending. Sylvia is the injured party, and Sylvia is the one who has the right to say “I can’t work with you.” I was just imagining the LW admitting that fact, i.e., “obviously what I did was so awful that any normal human being wouldn’t want to work with me.”

            1. Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude*

              I think it’s an odd nuance that to me has gendered mishmosh attached. I think “I know you will have a hard time working with me,” reads very differently from “Obviously what I did was so awful that any normal human being wouldn’t want to work with me.”

              I think it is a combination of (a) presuming I know what her reaction will be/what she needs, and (b) putting her emotional reaction (find it difficult) before my causative action (treated you terribly), which has an unintended rhetorical effect of making it seem like her emotions are a bigger deal than my terrible actions.

              Regardless, “Obviously what I did was so awful that any normal human being wouldn’t want to work with me,” is pretty much the perfect wording for this situation, professionalism be further damned.

      1. V*

        The letter is for her benefit, not OP’s. It will give her the chance to process the information before responding to it.

        1. Anna*

          Yeah. Showing up face-to-face takes the ball firmly out of Sylvia’s court and gives OP the advantage, which he shouldn’t have. If OP reaches out, it should be via a neutral communication method first to let Sylvia decide if and how she wants to move forward.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    My initial instinct was to say that you need to reach out to her ASAP and apologize for the way you treated her. Do not make excuses. Own the fact that you were a complete jerk in how you handled things. Tell her that you are not asking for forgiveness, but that you’d like to figure out a way you can make this situation work, at least in the short term.

    And please update us to let us know how it went!

    1. k.k*

      you’d like to figure out a way you can make this situation work, at least in the short term.

      I think that focusing on the short term is going to be key if there is any chance of this working out. Being that she works in the same field, she may be slightly sympathetic to the fact that it’s very hard to find on short notice. Don’t bother mentioning that you don’t want to leave because you’re happy and settled there, that could very much feel like salt in the wounds considering that she was, presumably, happy and settled when you pulled the rug out from under her. If you focus on the professional aspect of the situation, and keep the context short term, there is a slim chance you can make it through this school term.

      1. Snark*

        Why would she be sympathetic to his professional needs? If I were her, I’d be firing him as soon as I got moved into my office.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          She has professional needs too. It might be difficult for her to find another teacher at the last minute. But yeah, I wouldn’t expect or ask for any sympathy for the LW’s needs.

          1. motherofdragons*

            That difficulty might be worth it to her not to have to work with LW, though. That should be Sylvia’s call to make.

        2. k.k*

          When I said “slightly sympathetic”, I meant a very strong slightly. I don’t actually think she will or should be, but on the off chance she is going to find a reason to want to make this work I figure it’s going to be based on professional reasons and not personal.

        3. Eron*

          She wouldn’t be sympathetic in the emotional context (well she might if she is a much more forgiving and understanding person than I am) but in the professional context she could reasonably decide that working this out smoothly is in both of their interests.

          If she comes in and immediately fires a teacher, she now has to deal with staffing those classes, finding a replacement, and dealing with any parental fall-out (which is definitely a thing at private schools; especially the the teacher was popular or highly regarded). In addition, she is a newcomer to an expat community that the letter-writer tells us is close and socializes outside of work; it is not out of the possibility that he would have ‘prepped’ his friends with something along the lines of “We used to date and she was pretty upset when it ended. She tracked me down and made several scenes in front of my parents and friends. I sure hope she is over it by now…” (not that anyone who is writing into this blog would do such a thing, of course; but there are people like that out there) and since she is the outsider, he is more likely to be believed (at least initially) assuming he has built up some social clout in his time there. Overall, while it may feel very good for her to say “screw you jerk” it potentially sets her up for a much harder transition into her new role.

          I agree that if the OP focuses on the short term and keeping it professional, there is a chance she decides it is in both of their best interest to play nice; which gives him time to find a new job, and her time to find a new replacement and build a reputation among the community. Still, there are a lot of commentators here who seem fond of the “screw you-jerk!” and she may decide that is worth the turmoil it brings not to have to deal with the OP.

        4. The OG Anonsie*

          OTOH, it’s not just his professional needs– her being out a teacher on short notice is an overall problem for her and the school, so it’s in her specific interest to spackle this until something can be worked out. If it was just his, that would be a little different.

        5. Marmite*

          It reads like the OP is not in the US and in many countries you can’t just fire someone without a relevant (e.g. work related) reason and following a disciplinary procedure. Terrible as the OP’s behaviour was it may not (on it’s own) be a reason to fire him.

      2. Amy*

        Agreed. Most of us can figure out how to work with someone we despise and distrust, if we know it’s a short-term thing that will be over soon. I’m betting she has reasons to not want to fire him right off as well (I imagine finding a replacement mid-term wouldn’t be all that easy, for example, going by the description of the field). I wouldn’t bother hoping for sympathy, but treating it as a case of “the situation is awful, but it’s mutually beneficial to deal until the end of this term, so let’s make the most of it until then and I’ll be out of your hair after that” is probably the best way to manage professionally for now.

    2. Juxtapose is Just a Pose*

      I like the advice of focusing on the short term, as it’s probably in both their interests that the school not be short the OP as a teacher. Realistically, it might just let them both save a bit of trouble by letting him leave at the end of a term; best case scenario, that gives them time to discover that things are less awkward than they thought.

      1. mdv*

        I completely agree! OP has not expressed any real remorse that I can see, and does not deserve any consideration from Sylvia, not even terse professionalism. But I expect Sylvia is probably a much nicer person than OP, and in her position, she’ll probably at least give him the terse professionalism.

        OP, if I were Sylvia, the ONLY acceptable message I want from you is along the lines of

        I expect that it will come as a huge shock to you that I am one of the math teachers at [SCHOOL]. As soon as I discovered that you are [SCHOOL]’s new administrator, I knew that I should reach out to you before you arrive on campus.

        After the horrible experience that I put you through when I abandoned you without any notice ten years ago, of course, you cannot be expected to have to work with me now. It is my intention to begin a search for a new job immediately, but I do not want to leave [SCHOOL] in the lurch — I would like to think I have grown and learned from my mistakes since you last saw me.

        Please let me know if you prefer that I should tender my resignation immediately, or if I should plan to go ahead and work through the upcoming term.


        1. mdv*

          Does anyone else wonder if (or hope that!) Sylvia is also a reader of AAM, so now the cat is out of the bag, anyway? I am!

    3. Snark*

      I don’t think he has the right to ask for her forgiveness, particularly at this self-serving juncture, and I don’t think he has the right to ask her to do a frankly frightening level of emotional labor so he can keep his cushy job and expat lifestyle. The only appropriate thing he can do is leave. If that means leaving the country and starting anew, well, that’s an appropriate consequence, and he was willing to do it to avoid dealing with her emotions once before. He can crash on mom and dad’s sofa for a few months and start again.

        1. Shadow*

          There’s just no good solution to this, at least from the ops perspective. If ops not willing to leave before Sylvia arrives it’s almost going to be a contest of emotional strength. Somebody is going to eventually leave because there is no way this is going to work long term. its just going to unfortunately come down to who can endure the awkwardness longer.

          1. Snark*

            Honestly, I think OP needs to be focused on the dignified and compassionate solution, not the one that’s good for him.

            1. Solidad*

              Yes. Even if he keeps his job in the short term and she takes another, there’s a very good chance people will find out why.

              If he were my employee and I found out he did this and was so unrepentant about it – which is how he comes across to me – it would impact my ability to trust him.

              I think his long term prospects in this company, maybe even in the field, are toast when people find out what he did.

              This is so far outside the range of normal behavior that it will send off alarm bells. It does OP no good to sugarcoat that.

          2. General Ginger*

            OP might be enduring awkwardness. Sylvia is likely going to be enduring more than awkwardness.

          3. Mike C.*

            Yeah, the OP is going to have to leave. I suggest they read up on Alison’s advice on resumes and interviews.

      1. TheOtherLiz*

        Right. I still believe apologizing is important, though, which is not the same as asking forgiveness. The forgiveness is all in her ballpark, and really, forgiving someone is about you and not the person being forgiven. You can forgive someone with or without an apology, and you can withhold forgiveness with or without an apology. But Sylvia deserves an apology. I would expect one.

    4. JokeyJules*

      I agree about reaching out before hand. Dont just let her show up on the first day and you be all “oh hey, how have you been? Crazy thing all those years ago, huh?” Thats not a way to drop a bomb like that on somebody.
      She will need to process this, even just a little. So you should give her the time to do so. She will need time to decide for herself if this is going to work.
      It seems like you are continuing to have the upper hand in things, you knew you were going to ghost on her and now you know you’re about to work together.
      It is time to give her this.

      And honestly, if she fires you or has you fired first thing, I cant be all that upset with her.

    5. INTP*

      I agree with this completely.

      All that I would add is, OP, you do NOT get to say anything negative about this woman to anyone in this country. You do not get to call her crazy or claim that she stalked you or speak about her as if she were anything but an absolutely lovely woman who you unfortunately wronged years ago. Even if it’s over beers with the only person you can vent to and you are really frustrated with her and desperate to express your feelings to someone. Write those feelings in a diary or call someone from home. You already screwed her over massively once, you do not get to tarnish her reputation in her new community, even by planting tiny little seeds of negative comments to people you think you can trust.

  4. Kheldarson*

    Ouch! I started wincing as I read this. What a grave to have dug.

    I think AAM has a good strategy for you, LW. Hopefully you can work neutrally enough with your ex so you can get out on your own terms.

    1. EddieSherbert*


      I have no additional advice, and my shoulders are up by my ears with the awkwardness of it all! Good luck, OP.

      Hopefully things work out (even if that means it’s time to job-hunt), and definitely send us an update in the future!

  5. Mini Quiche*

    “We were together for three years and lived together for two of those years.”

    Whoa. That is… whoa.

    I agree with Allison here, but I REALLY want to stress the part about contacting Sylvia before the school years starts up. Even if she is perfectly happy and has completely made peace with what happened, seeing you is going to be a shock to the system. Even if she gets a staff list and knows you are working there, it’s going to be awkward for her to initiate contact (even if she doesn’t show it). You messed up big time (and you get credit for admitting that), so do the hard part and make the first step. I really don’t know how this is going to work out, but I wish you luck.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      No, the OP doesn’t get credit for anything least of all admitting the obvious. Please don’t set the bar so low.

        1. Amy the Rev*

          To be honest, I’d argue that the majority of folks, myself included, often have a hard time admitting when we’re in the wrong, even when it’s obvious. While it is definitely behavior that *should* be expected, I think its uncommon enough that positive reinforcement can be used appropriately.

          Plus, if we’re hoping for someone to rehabilitate from their bad behavior, it isn’t helpful to avoid praise for ‘regular decent person behavior’ until they’ve reached the point of ‘going above and beyond good behavior’. Instead, we acknowledge *any* step in the ‘good behavior’ direction, even if it’s still below the ‘bar’ of what would be ideal. A person did something that they didn’t see as too horrible at the time, and now they are acknowledging that it wasn’t an ok thing to do. That’s progress, and it isn’t necessarily harmful to acknowledge that.

          That being said, it’s good OP, in general, that you’re able to acknowledge that what you did wasn’t OK. What’s happening now I’d see as falling into the ‘consequences’ category, and the onus is on you to go ‘above and beyond’ by doing whatever is best for Sylvia, whether or not it causes you personal hardship. It’s not punishment/penance, because punitive mindsets aren’t healthy in the workplace; it’s just a natural consequence of treating someone super shittily and being entirely in the wrong.

          1. Blue Anne*

            I understand what you’re saying, but I completely disagree. We’re talking about adults. I can agree with holding back on criticism to keep the conversation constructive, and I can certainly acknowledge how hard it is to work on yourself as a person even when you really want to (which I don’t see much evidence of in OP’s letter) but that’s as far as it goes.

          2. Jesca*

            I think that any person with a half brain writing in to AAM is going to recognize that what they did in this situation was wrong. At the same time, I have to disagree that most people don’t see that they are in the wrong. I think most people know basic right and wrong and know when have done something awful. (btw, I really hope you do recognize when you are wrong, because that is a really damaging and awful way to live one’s life otherwise!)

            All this is for the OP is fall out for when you have decided to treat another human being in a horrible manner.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              “I think most people know basic right and wrong and know when have done something awful.” I have met so, so many people who will tell you with no hesitation or sense of embarrassment awful things that they have done. People are very good at rationalizing the way the treat other people. And even when people realize on some level that they’ve done wrong, they are often not inclined to admit it. (Just ask any lawyer in private practice how often clients leave out important information because it might make them look bad).

              I’m not saying we should all pat the OP on the back and tell them what a great person they are for acknowledging what they did was wrong, but I don’t think it’s at all a bad idea to say it’s a good thing/positive first step that they will at least admit out in the open that they did a bad thing.

              1. Solidad*

                Humans judge others by their actions and themselves by intention.

                This man did something very, very horrible to another human. He can’t see it or admit it.

                He’s got larger issues than his job.

              2. Jesca*

                LOL what you are missing is that they do SEE IT. That is why they are leaving it out. Just because they are not telling you about it, doesn’t mean they don’t know that they did something awful. People know right from wrong.

                1. Solidad*

                  I used to think that, then I became a lawyer.

                  A lot of people have very skewed moral compasses. Even more judge other by different standards than they judge themselves.

                  Also, there are more people out there w “sociopathic tendencies” than most of us want to admit. Not full blown sociopaths, but on a spectrum.

                2. Jesca*

                  I will agree with you that sociopathy is on a continuum, but even sociopaths for the most part are aware of what is socially considered what is right and what is wrong. People like to spin things. God knows my recent ex did. But deep down inside? He was wrong and he knows it. That is why they lie. That is why they spin the truth. That is why they do all these face-saving actions. They freaking know, and this is their way of living with it.

                  I think you are thinking more a long the lines of people who exist who are devoid of rational thought. That is very different. Plenty of people are devoid of rational thought, and yeah nuanced situation play to their spins. but for crap like this? it is pretty cut and it is pretty dry. You do not do that. And if you after 10 years its just “history” to you, then you got problems you should really be looking into.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, no credit for meeting the absolute bare minimum standard to which all non-sociopathic persons should be expected to meet.

        1. MommyMD*

          Yes. That letter about the manager who tormented the pretty coworker is haunting. Some things can’t be excused. Intentionally and persistently harming another innocent person is one. No pats on the head for seeking advice when horrendous behavior causes trouble. Advice, yes, but no kudos or head pats.

      2. Health Insurance Nerd*

        Agree, less than zero credit is deserved. The only reason he is coming clean now about what he did is because he has been backed into the smallest corner imaginable. And to paint Sylvia as a hysterical female for “obsessing” over the relationship, while failing to include the VERY pertinent detail of the length of the relationship, is just beyond the pale.

        1. Jesca*

          I always wonder who the people are who upon hearing tales such as these stated with such a lack of remorse, still decide to enter into/continue relationships with the person who did it.

      3. MommyMD*

        No credit or pats on the head. He’s only concerned bc his behavior is now affecting him. Some things are so bad they can’t be glazed over. His only hope is his ex is a much bigger person than he and has put his behavior behind her.

      4. The OG Anonsie*

        Yeah, I’m not gonna spank the LW since he (she?) obviously understands how people are going to view this situation and why. But I’m also not going to pat him on the back for it. As you say, that’s sort of the bare minimum level of responsibility to take, and admitting it was cruddy when describing it is sort of the least you can do.

    2. Liz T*

      I think that’s too low a bar, AND I think OP didn’t meet that bar! They did as much smack-talking of Sylvia as they did any sort of self-critique. They seem to think this was an etiquette breach, rather than a truly cruel, traumatic offense.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        I catch whiffs of two things here: One is “I guess it was objectively wrong but she was crazy upset about it, which was not fair to me” and the other is “I guess it was objectively wrong but I can’t change the past so it’s not fair for me to still suffer consequences for it.” Both loop back around to him saying that he feels, back then and still today, that maybe it was a bad thing to do according to other people but that doesn’t mean it’s ok for him to see consequences.

        And you know, usually there really aren’t and repercussions to treating people badly. But sometimes life is funny, and like with the previous LW who had the bus confrontation with the CEO’s wife, when something comes back around to you then you have to accept when it really is all you and bow out gracefully. It sounds like he’s trying to spread the blame around a little (onto Sylvia, or say it should have faded with time) to make the consequences measure up as disproportionate to his actions, but the only really reasonable thing to do IMO is take it on the chin and make a transition plan. Anything else will just be digging a deeper and deeper hole.

        1. Solidad*

          I’ve handled many divorce cases.

          This guy reminds me of many cheaters, especially the rich white male ones. They will say to the judge with no irony at all that the issue wasn’t their cheating, the issue was the spouse’s hysterical, over-the-top reaction to finding out that their husband of 25 years has been having sex with everyone within 200 miles without protection.

          It’s very worrying that he doesn’t see that her reaction was normal and he should have anticipated it. He doesn’t have the same moral compass as I do. He also doesn’t seem to understand cause and effect.

          1. Liz T*

            Thank you! It’s pure egocentrism. “*I* don’t have a problem with my behavior, so anyone who does is a hysterical manipulative loon.”

          2. The OG Anonsie*

            Yeah. Digging into that angle of it would probably derail the comments more than is necessary / appropriate, but I absolutely read a very classic flavor of entitlement in here.

            It’s worth addressing enough to say essentially what Alison and everyone else has, which is that this is bad enough that you can’t really expect to not have to change jobs at this point. It might not feel fair, but is… Really is, in a lot of ways.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            If we move in with someone they tend to start thinking Long Term. It’s not unusual, I am not sure what OP thought would happen.

  6. Here we go again*

    “Sylvia was rather emotional and became obsessed with the relationship, tracking me down, even causing various scenes with my parents and friends.”

    OP – It’s possible that she was not obsessed with the relationship, but was just looking for closure… There are so many people who are rational until someone does something like this to them.

    “I simply wanted to avoid being untangled in a break-up drama.”

    By not actually breaking up with her, you made it worse.

    All that being said, I think you need to reach out to her and acknowledge that you did a horrible thing and ask how you can work together professionally now.

    1. Murphy*

      By not actually breaking up with her, you made it worse.

      Yeah, absconding out of the country is the nuclear option of not actually breaking up with someone.

      1. CMDRBNA*

        Yeah, the way to avoid a ‘breakup drama’ is to break up completely, finally, and with as much amicability as you can, and then move on completely.

        Ghosting on someone basically guarantees there will be drama. It’s kind of like quitting a job with no notice. It may feel good or seem easier in the short term, but long term it comes back to bite you in the ass (something I learned the hard way).

        1. FDCA In Canada*

          I feel like this is far worse than ghosting–to me, ghosting is an early-relationship, “it would be too awkward to break up and I’m a coward” type thing. “Ghosting” on someone you’ve lived with for two years (which I’ll point out is long enough in some places to be a common-law marriage) is more like straight-up abandonment, which would be more like quitting a job by no-calling and no-showing after years of standard employment. And that would burn a bridge at a job badly–in a relationship where emotions and lives are intertwined, it’d be infinitely worse.

          1. Soon to be former fed*

            Very well said. Just no justification for ghosting in any long term serious association, work related or otherwise.

          2. Mike C.*

            This is much, much worse than quitting without notice. A job is a business agreement, a long-term relationship is much, much more significant.

            1. FDCA In Canada*

              Indeed, which is why I said “in a relationship where emotions and lives are intertwined, it’d be infinitely worse.” Having had this happen to me, I understand it.

            2. MashaKasha*

              Yeah, this is more like the way Milton quit without notice in Office Space. You leave work, you go home, you come back the next day and your office building is on fire.

              1. General Ginger*

                Milton at least mumbled he’d do that a few times. Doesn’t look like OP did even that.

          3. Liz T*

            Agreed. Ghosting is when you stop texting someone back; it’s passive. This was flamboyantly, actively cruel.

          4. Turtle Candle*

            I think, for me, the most horrifyingly telling part is that he’d relegated Sylvia to “forgotten history.” I can’t imagine being with someone for three years and living with them for two, ten years ago, and just… dismissing them like that? Like Alisain said, OOF. That combined with not even giving her the dignity of a “sorry it’s not working out” and just dropping her like a boring novel is, honestly, dehumanizing in a way that I’d find difficult to forgive and impossible to forget.

            It smacks of “I thought I could safely relegate her to nonentity, and it’s super inconvenient that she insists on continuing to be an entity.”

            1. Solidad*

              If he promised her a future and then did this, he could have caused major issues for her. But he wouldn’t know that, b/c he’s out of the picture.

              Actions have consequences. How one treats someone they claim to love says a lot about their moral fiber.

        2. Allison*

          Exactly. Nothing guarantees that there won’t be a fight or hurt feelings during an actual breakup with words, but at least in the end they know what’s happening and can start the healing process. Thing about being ghosted or abandoned is that even though deep down they meant to end it when they moved out, or stopped answering your texts, it’s hard to move on without that actual “I’m ending this now” conversation.

    2. K.*

      And she probably wondered if he was alive or dead! As Alison said, I don’t know a soul who, upon returning to the home that she shared with her long-term partner and finding that person and their belongings gone without a word or any indication that they were unhappy in the relationship, would not call their friends and family to find out WTF happened to them. “Oh, he must have moved out and left the country. Oh well!” is not a reaction that most people are going to have. I was pretty put off by the OP basically calling Sylvia hysterical when he behaved in such a way. Like, of COURSE she called his friends and family to find out what had happened.

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        Even saying “Sylvia was rather emotional and became obsessed with the relationship, tracking me down, even causing various scenes with my parents and friends,” the LW is gaslighting Sylvia’s perspective on this situation.

        1. Soon to be former fed*

          Yes! Who the hell wouldn’t have become emotional under those circumstances. To even describe her response in such a way makes OP sound a bit on the sociopathic side, ugh.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Honestly I’m more surprised that it didn’t escalate to missing person reports and law enforcement involvement.

            1. Lora*

              Seriously, that would have been my first thought – as my grandmother used to say, “You could be dead in a ditch somewhere!”

            2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

              Probably didn’t because the OP took all their stuff with them. Or at least that’s how I’m reading it when they say they moved out.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Yeah, I can imagine who badly this must have affected Sylvia, but I’d be surprised if she thought he was dead since he took all his stuff with him.

            3. nonymous*

              I guess if she saw activity on social media, it would be pretty easy to figure out what happened.

            4. Case of the Mondays*

              That happened to a friend in high school. Mom came home and thought they were robbed and called the police. Turned out dad had emptied the house while mom was at work and moved across the country. He left the kids’ rooms untouched and that was how the police realized it wasn’t a robbery. Few robbers have the conscience to leave a computer or tv or other valuable even if it is in a kid’s room. I just remember her crying and saying that he even took the blender. He had never even used the blender.

        2. SignalLost*

          Yeah, that stood out to me. Sorry, OP, but whenever one chooses a “drama-free” solution, one has not chosen whether the other party will shrug and say it sucks but whatevs. Sylvia’s reaction to your actions is her business, and your distaste for the fact she reacted at all suggests that even if she was somehow at peace with the past and able to manage you, you are not able to be managed by her. You’re pretty dismissive of a REALLY HUGE terrible thing you did, and that she thinks it was really huge and terrible, and it’s clear that where you are involved in awareness of its awfulness, that’s because it’s now awful and inconvenient for you, not because you badly hurt someone.

          If you seemed remorseful, I would have a different take – I did some dumb, hurtful shit ten years ago that I’m not proud of, and that’s what growing up and doing better is – but it completely comes off that the only reason you want this to work is because it would be inconvenient for you to get another job, not because you realize what you did was wrong for anyone other than you in your current situation.

          1. Stacy*

            I just… wow. So OP, you want to relay a story of how you were utterly callous and cold hearted and… you want to dictate the tone of our comments.

            I’m not sure there’s anything constructive to be said other than: 1) Don’t refer to her as “emotional” and “obsessed” to your colleagues, or make any attempt to sully her reputation with that kind of talk; 2) Keep a strong check on your tendency to see any disciplines or reprimands she makes as sour grapes; 3) Get a grip on your view of her, pronto. She’s obviously skilled and qualified for the job.

            More than anything, you need to surrender your ego here and realize you did a terrible thing to someone you were supposed to care about, and this is karma coming back to bite you in the heiny. In other words, suck it up. If I were her and found out you were going to be working as my employee, I would have serious reservations about working with you, especially if I found out about the language you’ve used here. You’re still a danger to her because you’re referring to her this way, and you’re showing that you’re liable to see everything she does through this prism of being a jilted lover rather than your boss. It puts her in a terrible position–particularly if she has to reprimand you or discipline you.

            I see no way you can salvage this unless you do a 180 on your attitude. This isn’t about you not wanting to move or find another job or how this might inconvenience you. It’s about you making her as comfortable as possible and signaling you’re going to be professional, suck it up, and try to make the best of a very bad situation that you caused. That includes apologizing, sincerely.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I agree that she might be fine and be professional but OP still thinks of her as hysterical with irrational behavior.

            OP, I have not seen anyone mention this yet, but maybe get some counseling so you can learn how your actions impact other people. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The stories in our lives accumulate and over time they shape us for better or worse.
            I am not sure where you learned abandonment is okay and it’s none of my business really. But please do some soul searching to find out why you think abandonment is okay. Yes, this is present tense I am using here. And that is because part of you STILL thinks abandonment is okay. It’s hurtful to people, it’s deeply hurtful to people.

        3. MashaKasha*

          Yup. If the OP had taken one second of his time to put himself in Sylvia’s shoes, that sentence would not have been written. This makes me question whether he really understands, even now, what he’d done back then.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        And assuming they were still living together at the time of the ghosting, there is so much administrative mess that then needs to be worked out. Can she afford rent? Does she need to find a new roommate? Did the LW leave all his stuff in the house to deal with or leave Sylvia now without either a partner or a couch?

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yeah, that’s what I’m wondering. Like it’s hard for me to imagine a way the OP could have chosen to leave that would have involved more drama — just not drama that was all on Sylvia’s shoulders.

        2. MashaKasha*

          And they were both expats, no less. So she was dealing with all of that mess while living in another country.

        3. Allison*

          I would like to think he left the important furniture and key kitchen appliances, and just took whatever he could put in a box or suitcase like clothes, books, maybe some cookware, etc.

          But to clarify, I’d like to think that’s what happened.

          But yeah, even if he left her with all the stuff she needed, I wonder how long it took her to either get a new roommate, or move somewhere else. If they were living together, they probably only had one bedroom, so she may have had to move out if she couldn’t afford the full rent.

      3. JanetM*

        Oh, geeze. I just remembered when someone I knew somewhat distantly never returned from a vacation and cut off all contact with the guy she was seeing, her underage children, and her mother. There were police involved, among other things. Eventually a message filtered back through channels that she was fine and had started a new life.

    3. Yet Another Alison*

      OP, you inflicted some serious trauma on her. Please do not make this about her – it is about you and your immature actions. Try to put yourself in her shoes, at the time you just ghosted, and see how that makes you feel. You will need to find another job – no doubt. You may wish to use this time and experience to grow and reflect.

    4. Observer*

      “By not actually breaking up with her, you made it worse. “

      That assumes that you are trying to avoid drama for both people. If all you care about it your own comfort then this works.

      OP, I realize that none of this is what you wanted to hear, but as others have noted, you need to understand what Sylvia is probably thinking about you. Because odds are that if you don’t get ahead of this she will share this with others, which could harm your reputation quite badly. If you reach out to her, and assure her that you’ll be moving on at the end of the term, she might find it worth her while to not share her impressions. Otherwise?

      Do you really want to be tarred with the kind of negativity that Sylvia could paint you with? As noted down thread, from Sylvia’s point of view she know someone who is dishonest, non-confrontational to a fault, disrespectful of others, and unwilling to take responsibility. She’s clearly at a level where her word means something, so understand that what she says really could hurt you.

      1. Here we go again*

        Considering the ex reached out to OP’s friends and family, I don’t think it avoided drama for the OP at all.

      2. Amy*

        The whole point is, this didn’t work for his own comfort either. Even if he had successfully dodged all ‘drama’ in the short term (which it doesn’t sound like he did), it’s coming back now to bite him in the ass. You never know when people from your past might turn up again–isn’t it better to treat people reasonably well, so they don’t have reason to react badly to you?

        1. MashaKasha*

          Honestly I have no idea what OP was thinking in that regard. They both worked together, in what sounds like a fairly niche industry. It’s not like you’re both baristas at Starbucks and then one of you goes on to be a barista somewhere else and you never run into each other again professionally, or if you do, you change jobs.

          1. Amy*

            I mean, it’s very possible that one or both of them wasn’t in the field yet at that point. But that’s part of the point–you really never know how things will work out a decade down the line.

      3. Owl*

        And really, all she has to say is “we were living together for two years and then he moved out whilst I was on holiday.” That’s ALL the detail she needs to give for people to write you off entirely.

    5. birchwoods*

      Yep. I actually thought this might be my ex writing in… except it was right after my birthday and he’s not a math teacher. Then I saw all the other people this has happened to. What is wrong with people?! I probably could have been described as “rather emotional” and “obsessed with the relationship” and “causing various scenes with parents and friends” too. Because that’s the normal reaction when someone you’re in a long term relationship in goes off the grid. First you’re terrified that they’re dead in a ditch somewhere. Then you want to know what the heck happened that would make them do something like that, because it’s totally inhumane. She shouldn’t have to work with OP. If he has any smidge of humanity in him, he will find somewhere else to work. He’s done enough, the least he can do is leave her alone.

      1. Lissa*

        No idea. Though I do sometimes see advice that cowardly people could read as “if the relationship is bad enough you are absolved from anything you do in the breakup”, as people are typically not great at evaluating these things. I personally think it is always terrible to disappear on someone failing fear to physical safety…even in the most extreme situations, a note or phone call after moving out so the person at least knows what happened. I mean, I just almost can’t imagine anything worse, especially if I thought the relationship was going well, to have somebody I live with vanish. It would destroy my trust in everything for a good long time.

        I am truly boggled than anyone thinks a reasonable reaction to this would be a shrug and an “oh well, guess I got dumped” which is kind of how the letter reads.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          She thought it was going well and scared OP with talking about long term.

          OP, she actually loved you. She wanted to build a life with you. There is NO higher compliment. That is the ultimate compliment there is.

          1. Mina*

            This is why I can’t deal with the people defending him and accusing others of wanting him to wear a hair shirt or grovel. Sure, people make mistakes, and usually after ten years they come to regret the impact it had on others.

            What OP did was deeply traumatizing to someone who loved him, and the attitude I get from the letter (especially since he refers to it as a “conundrum”) is that he doesn’t recognize that trauma, nor does he really care. To me, that’s chilling.

    6. AnonForThis*


      OP’s ex is the completely reasonable one. It makes sense to be emotional in this situation! And her behavior doesn’t sound obsessive. Why wouldn’t you want to know why someone you lived with for two years and wanted to have a future with just disappeared?

      You end a relationship by … ending it.

      I have an ex who tries to contact me every so often by asking friends to tell me she says hi, or when she finds a new social media account I started and haven’t yet blocked her on. I broke up with her after we had a big fight, and she said and did some stuff that’s completely unforgivable to me. So I said “you’re a horrible person for saying that, we’re done, don’t ever talk to me again.” That’s when you can call the ex creepy and obsessed.

    7. Flossie Bobbsey*

      +1 to this. I came here to say that looking for closure and understanding is not the same as “bec[oming] obsessed with the relationship.” It’s unspeakably selfish/cruel to foist utter confusion and sudden loss on someone else to avoid dealing with “drama” oneself after that long and committed of a relationship. The fact that the OP selected these phrases (“obsessed,” “drama”) *more than a decade later* to describe what happened shows his *current* self-centered perspective on it and is, as someone else mentioned, gaslighting.

      It’s clear that OP doesn’t see this as a horrible mistake that he’s at all remorseful for — except insofar as it affects his current job and living situation. If the letter were worded differently or hinted that he understood and genuinely regretted (not just for self-centered reasons) what an emotional horror he caused this woman, I think OP would be seeing a lot more sympathy about the present predicament.

      The best OP can do is reach out and try to make amends, as others have said. But given that OP’s current perspective about his own actions doesn’t appear to have changed, I don’t have much hope for a happy ending here. I really don’t know that anything can be done to create a good working relationship at this point. I’d think it would take an exceptional person to completely forgive and forget when faced with starting an ongoing professional relationship with the perpetrator of such sudden, intentional abandonment, even a decade later. Sorry, OP. Horrible decisions sometimes have reverberating consequences.

    8. MashaKasha*

      Well, no kidding she became emotional! When I was planning leaving my husband, I came close to a nervous breakdown when a few people whose opinions I trusted, told me that my only option was not to tell him anything, quickly move out one day while he was at work, and serve him papers the same day. I remember being at work on lunch break, while my teammates were out at lunch, curled under my desk on the floor crying, because I COULD NOT DO IT. Much less have it done to me!* This might be the worst breakup story I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been on-and-off lingering in a breakup support group for years, and have heard some scary things!

      * I eventually talked to more people and figured out that I could actually talk to my husband like an adult, and tell him I had exhausted all other options, and was leaving. We ended up having a very amicable dissolution. Yay.

      1. Solidad*

        Assuming “emotional” is a bad thing when faced w this level of trauma says everything I need to know about the original poster.

        He’s got major lack of empathy issues

    9. Tuxedo Cat*

      She could’ve also been worried. Up and leaving someone like that without a word, after a long relationship, could be signs the person who left has some kind of trouble.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Right. If this happened to me, I probably wouldn’t think they were dead, because dead people don’t take their stuff with them. (Unless they ancient pharoahs.) But I would probably think that they were in some kind of serious trouble, CSI-style, because otherwise why would you vanish suddenly without a word?

    10. Optimistic Prime*

      I would say that before she was looking for closure, she was probably just looking for the OP! If my spouse disappeared tomorrow and I had no idea where he went, the fist people I’d contact would be parents and friends…to see if I could find him and see if he was alive! Because if my spouse disappeared without a word to me my first assumption would be that something happened to him.

    11. Sunshine*

      I really don’t understand his family and friends either. Unless he spun some sort of yarn for them? I have one or two friends who would cover for me in this scenario, but as functioning human beings with human emotions they’d be furious with me.

  7. Murphy*

    Ouch. I’d do what Alison says. You definitely don’t want her to be blindsided by you being there. I would make the main point of your email “How do we proceed?” rather than the apology, though you should include the apology. Like Alison said, the apology will likely not come off as super sincere at this time.

    1. JulieBulie*

      Agreed… OP will get zero points for an apology, but will lose points without it. And this is a case where OP can’t afford to lose any points. But since the timing of the apology will make it look self-interested (which it apparently is), it’s better to lead with a focus on deciding what to do next.

    2. Michael Carmichael*

      Totally agree, lead with “how would you like to proceed,” but keep the apology anyway.

      We are assuming a lot about Sylvia’s reaction. I think it’s wise to assume the worst, but who knows? She may now be happily married and glad that relationship didn’t work out. I would be super glad if someone in my earlier life that I had hung relationship hopes on had proven so dramatically not to be the right person for me – would take a while to get there, but we don’t know where she is with this at all.

      However, having said that…doesn’t seem like this will work in the long term even if you can make it through the school term without incident. No matter what, you are highly unlikely to ever be trustworthy in her eyes, which won’t make for a good working relationship even if you can superficially keep it cordial.

    3. aebhel*

      This. Apologize, certainly–you owe her one–but the point should be the practical matters of making this as painless as possible for her. Don’t take up space with declarations of how bad you feel about what you did; you clearly don’t, for one thing, and that will be obvious in any correspondence you send her, and even if you did, that’s not her problem.

    1. Kowalski! Options!*

      Time wounds all heels. I’m sorry. I know that isn’t constructive or helpful in this situation, but it’s the stark reality of the effects of astoundingly poor decisions.

    2. MV*

      +1 – He was hoping the avoid drama and in order to avoid it here I think he needs to move on from this job, however much of a hassle that will be for him now (I am sure it was a hassle and financial burden to suddenly have ton pay all the rent and bill instead of splitting them for her when you disappeared). If the ex-pat community is tight once word of what happened comes out you will not have many friends I think.

      1. JulieBulie*

        It appears that OP has grown at least a little bit – he’s not planning to ghost on his job!

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Only because the OP likes the job and the area and wants to stay there. Or at least, that’s all we get from the email. There’s absolutely no indication that the OP wants to stay because leaving would be problematic for the school.

    3. jess!*

      I agree with all the people who rightly point out that seeing OP could be traumatic for Sylvia, but MAN OH MAN if I were in Sylvia’s shoes I would be GLEEFUL. It wouldn’t be professional but it would feel like karmic retribution of the highest order.

    4. L.*

      Ha, yes! Not constructive, but I will think of this letter whenever I’m having a tough day. It’s a reminder to keep on, and that maybe, someday, I will be rewarded as Sylvia has been, with my crapsack ex at my total mercy!

    5. NecroFishmonger*

      This is not “ghosting”.

      This is “Resurrecting the undead by unholy blood sacrifice using ancient relics of unknown origin, asking a single question, then conducting a rite of the unquiet dead, killing the person with an overdose of amphetamine and epinephrine, then binding the tethered soul to a Hello Kitty doll you then turn into a chew toy for your pet shihtzu, who humps and chews it in equal measure.”

      I know that “ghosting” means to just leave without warning. But what this guy did is not ghosting.

      And let’s be clear, managing or being managed by a ghosted ex is one thing. This guy?

      I had to imagine a profane, unholy ritual of corpse reanimation and desecration to describe what this guy did.

      It’s not just the job he should be ditching at this point. My suggestion is: job, career, city, country, continent – in that order, because the minute this story gets out to literally any coworker, this guy’s career path flatlines so hard it would break the heart monitor.

    1. Shadow*

      i can’t imagine someone coming in brand new to a job with unknown co workers and no feeling of belonging yet would stay once . I bet she would quit or back out as soon as she found out op was her subordinate.

        1. SignalLost*

          I don’t know about that, but I’m pretty sure this would not be a grin and bear it situation for me, were I Sylvia. I would rather explain a gap or a non-field-related job on my resume next year than work with someone who did this to me.

      1. Mike C.*

        No way. She’s in control, she’s going to make the OP’s life a living hell.

        Frankly, I don’t blame her.

        1. Shadow*

          She can’t though really without damaging her reputation. You can’t take out your personal grievances at work without everyone gossiping about it. And she’s got more to lose than him.

          1. JulieBulie*

            Well the nice thing is that she doesn’t really have to do a thing in order to make things difficult for OP. He’s already uncomfortable.

          2. L.*

            Yes, damaging her reputation or even risking a sexual harassment/retaliation lawsuit from OP, because she would be motivated by their failed relationship. (to be clear, sounds like the OP is more to blame for that…) At least, in USA that would be a concern for both Sylvia and her employer.

            1. Mike C.*

              Just because the conflict stems from a previous relationship doesn’t mean that this would be sexual harassment.

          3. Turtle Candle*

            This reminds me: OP, if you do leave, please, PLEASE resist any temptation to smear her on the way out. Even subtly, a la, “she’s probably too emotional to work with me anyway” or “I have to leave because she’s kinda obsessed with me” or any of the other sideways digs in the letter. It may be tempting to lash out and tarnish her possibly before she even arrives, but please don’t.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Mike, all she has to do is show up for work and OP is immediately in hell.

          Alfred Hitchcock understood this very well. What people imagine in their minds is usually far, far worse than anything that can be shown on screen.
          I am thinking that OP will probably conjure up ten different ways that she is taking a baseball bat to his knees. And in reality she has done nothing but be professional. What happens in our minds can be the ultimate terror.

          OP, are you prepared to view her in an unbiased, professional manner? Can you let go of the ideas about hysteria, etc? Can you behave in a manner that is ABOVE reproach at all times?

      2. Gandalf the Nude*

        If one of them goes, it should be the OP. It was her bad behavior that brought this mess on, and she should carry the consequences rather than inflicting them on Sylvia again.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, if I were Sylvia, I can’t even describe how I’d feel. The OP is going to be embarrassed and worried about how she’ll treat him/what she’ll do with the information. But it’s not going to be the emotional punch in the gut that it will be for Sylvia. Some of the commenters here think they’d want to make his life miserable, and maybe Sylvia will be angry and not thrown for a loop. But if it were me, I think it would just turn my completely upside-down. The last thing I’d want is to see or be around him. I agree with Alison and others who have said he needs to let her know ahead of time that he works there so she won’t get blindsided.

    2. MV*

      Why should she? She is the boss and since he is about avoiding drama he needs to get out. Why should she cause harm to her career?He already screwed her over once, no need to do so again.

  8. Sara*

    You should immediately reach out and see if you can either schedule a coffee or meeting with her so you can clear the air. I would not want my first face to face with an ex that disappeared on me to be at a staff meeting.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I think he could maybe include a line in his apology email/call/whatever inviting her to meet up… if he really wants to discuss things… but if I was her, I would totally balk at meeting up with this guy. Noooooo thank youuuuu.

      Apology – okay. thanks.
      When I’m at work – fine, I can be civil (not sure if I could handle being OP’s manager though!)
      casual meeting in my free time for unknown reasons? Haha, funny… No way in heck.

      1. Sara*

        I wouldn’t want to hang out necessarily, but maybe he could come in early before the first day. I’m just thinking personally of starting at a new school and seeing that person’s face for the first time in 10 years – I feel like emotions would come up you wouldn’t expect. I’d want to get that interaction done in private and then move on professionally.

        1. Goya*

          yeah no….if I was Sylvia, OP showing up early on the first day would in no way help. At least if they meet before the start of the school year, she has time to collect herself without ruining HER first day as well.

          All of this assuming it is still even an issue for her! We (the commenters and the OP) are assuming that she’ll be completely broken up by this. And while I think it’s very likely…I also think it’s very vain to assume that she’ll have any qualms about this. OP acted like a total jerk, she could be moved on with spouse & kids – chalking it up to learning what type of partner they DON’T want.

      2. Lala*

        Dude, if someone who did what the OP did asked to meet up with me after 10 years, I would absolutely schedule a meeting to discuss things. And then I would not show up, or respond to anything asking why I didn’t show up.

        I mean, that doesn’t even begin to touch the level of revenge that would be fitting, but it would be a fun start.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I’d show up.
          I’d remind OP that he will be held to the same standards as everyone else without exception. I’d tell him “All that exists is present time. We keep all discussions in present time. No mention of the past. Ever.”

          Then I would ask him how he would fare with constructive criticism from me. There is no right answer to this question. Some answers are stronger, confidence inspiring and some answers are weaker, perhaps red flags.
          I had a boss that insisted everyone work with everyone, no excuses and no exceptions. Some people can make a go of this and some people absolutely cannot.

    2. BethRA*

      “Yes” to reaching out, “no” to suggesting coffee/meeting. OP should be open to the possibility, but I think suggesting it would put Sylvia back on her heels. If it were me, my response to such an offer would not be polite.

  9. S.I. Newhouse*

    The odds of such a thing happening are so astronomically low that it blows my mind that this even happened. But it just goes to show that there are almost always consequences for actions like these, even far down the road, after it’s long forgotten. I think Alison’s advice is your only way to go — you have to contact her, and hope for the best. Good luck, OP.

    1. my two cents*

      eh, I’ve since switched industries after 8 years of microcontrollers to 2 years in power and I still occasionally run into folks I never expected to see again. (typically at a random tradeshow or something, but I’m female engineer with piercings/tattooos and I tend to stick out a bit)

      Depending on how niche these types of schools are, and if the OP’s profile and pic are posted to the school’s site, she might have done some legwork to track him down.
      THIS IN NO WAY EXCUSES OP’S BEHAVIOR. It just slims the odds down further that they’d run into each other.

    2. LizB*

      It strikes me that the OP has knowingly chosen a career where they can’t move jobs easily or on their own timeline, the number of possible employers is small, and coworkers are generally very close and spend lots of time together. That kind of situation means that if your chickens ever come home to roost, you’re stuck with them. If I knew that there was at least one person out there in the world who rightfully hated my guts, I don’t know that I’d choose that particular employment niche.

    3. Snark*

      I don’t think it’s that low, actually. There’s a roving community of expats who teach at international schools and move around the world, and I know people who’ve run back into multiple old friends from, say, Thailand when they take a job at the international school in South Africa or whatever. It’s a small number of employers, a small pool of applicants, and that pool of applicants tends to have wanderlust and end up in the same places.

      1. Anonintheuk*

        I was coming to say this. I was an expat child, and my parents continued to do the circuit twenty years after I finished school. Now some of my contemporaries are roving teachers.

        I would be willing to bet that within 2 or 3 connections I know someone who knows either Sylvia or the OP.

  10. Inspector Spacetime*

    Wow. “Chickens come home to roost,” indeed.

    Apologize, do your best to stick out the rest of the term if you can, and then move on. I would definitely start looking for other employment opportunities now, just in case.

  11. k8*

    “Sylvia was rather emotional and became obsessed with the relationship, tracking me down, even causing various scenes with my parents and friends.”

    but you….disappeared….after three years………………………I feel like this kind of response should be expected??

    idk i have nothing constructive or helpful to say here lol. you’ve dug yourself a hell of a grave, and at the very least, it sounds like you’ll have a pretty awkward school year . . .

    1. Mes*

      I know right? Who wouldn’t try to track down their long term partner? Poor Sylvia probably thought OP was kidnapped or dead!

    2. Traveler*

      Yeah. I came here to advise that you not say things like she was “obsessed with the relationship” when discussing this with anyone. Up and disappearing on someone after 3 years when you’ve been living together is abnormal behavior. She was probably in shock and not dealing with the situation well, and attempting to get answers. I don’t know the details, so maybe you were saving yourself from a very scary or negative situation but to someone on the outside, without more context, it sounds like you did something cruel and are trying to use the “crazy ex gf” card to relieve yourself of some of the blame.

      1. teclatrans*

        I once dated a guy whose ex-gf kept showing up am threatening me physically, and his explanation was “*shrug*, guess she’s kinda crazy?” I mean, sure, they still shared title on a car and swapped it occasionally, and sure, he still let her take his clothes to the cleaners, and when she called to invite him to breakfast he said yes because he didn’t want to be mean, but man, what was hee problem?

        One day I sat down and walked him through the logic: you say she is “crazy,” do you mean she has actual, serious mental illness that is not being managed? (No.) Was she this way before you broke up? (No.) Is it possible that she has a different understanding about this whole situation, and that your words or actions might be contributing? (…)

        Anyway, one day he called to tell me, in amazement and wonder, that she didn’t know they were broken up. Apparently she fought by hurling insults and mean words, and he’d told her he was finished during a fight, and she thought he’d just been trying to hurt her. So, from her perspective, they were still dating and I was an infidelity. He was gobsmacked.

        All of which is to say, gaslighting can come from pure self-centeredness and refusal to recognize that your actions have meaning and consequence, and you don’t get to dictate what those are. Also, anytime a woman’s actions are blown off as overemotional and crazy, I wonder what is missing from the story.

        1. Solidad*

          I’m an old. One piece of advice I give younger friends who date men (be they male or female): any man who describes an ex as crazy should be interrogated as to why she was crazy. If more than one ex was crazy? Run.

          Usually the exes aren’t crazy. There are communication issues.

          Now, women can and do have some similar red flags, but usually the terms they chose are not “crazy.” This seems to be, in my experience, directed at women and gay men. As are words such as “emotional” and “hysterical.”

          1. Laura*

            Brilliant advice. When dating I would always ask about their last relationship and they needed to talk about their ex with respect. They chose her. I’m even harsher than you – one “she was crazy” and I would have been out of there.

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      Yeah. That whole sentence is a prime example of gaslighting, and that’s not going to help the OP in any way. Saying such a thing is only going to make it worse.

    4. WellRed*

      Did the family and friends also gaslight her, I wonder? That would make anyone ….Not relevant to question, but wow!

      1. Gadfly*

        Birds of a feather, apples falling from trees, etc–I would bet some did. And I bet it caused issues for OP’s relationships with those who didn’t.

  12. Observer*

    When you do acknowledge your behavior, you need to do so without any “sorry you were hurt” or any reference to her being “emotional” or “being obsessed with the relationship.” Breaking up with her was ok, but the way you did it was NOT, which means that any hint that you had a problem with her behavior is going to hurt you. Also, if there is any chance that you are going to be able to work for her – even for the one term, you need to rethink your assessment of her. It’s not just that may have changed, which is quite possible. It’s also that what you describe as emotional and obsessed sounds to most people as not all that strange. You’ll have a much better chance of getting through this if you view her as a reasonable adult rather than as someone who was needy and obsessive, who you hope has changed for the better.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Not only this, but you need to demonstrate that *you* have changed for the better. Sylvia’s reaction to finding her partner of three years gone was not inappropriate and I sincerely hope that you realize that now from your vantage point 10 years later.

      Do not in any way make what happened back then out to be her fault. You behaved badly. If there is any hope of salvaging this situation, you need to own that unequivocally.

    2. CMDRBNA*

      Yeah, and I find it verrrrrrrrrrry interesting that his take on it, even after all this time, is that Sylvia was emotional and obsessed. That’s a very interesting narrative that he’s telling himself.

      I’m trying to imagine the emotional impact that having someone ghost in that way (and that’s not really ghosting – ghosting is not returning texts, this is more like abandonment) and I can’t imagine what Sylvia must have gone through, being blindsided like that. I think I would have been ’emotional and obsessed’ too.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I know! Ghosting is not at all the same as abandoning someone. These are not the same actions, and it costs the OP a lot that he doesn’t see that.

        Even if he left some kind of note — “I’m not feeling this. Bye!” — I definitely would have tried contacting friends and family to hunt him down and just have a conversation about why. Living with someone for two years is a commitment. It’s not marriage, but you’re living together and she’s talking marriage. That is a committed relationship. It’s not obsessive to at least attempt to figure out what’s going on and if there’s anything that can be done — that’s literally where the committed part of “committed relationship” comes into play.

      2. AMPG*

        I know someone who was “ghosted” by their spouse in this way – they had been together a couple of years in a seemingly happy marriage, they had a fight, then my acquaintance came home from work to find their spouse packed and gone, and divorce papers couriered over a couple of days later but no in-person contact at all. This person was still going to grief support groups ten years later, and I can’t say I blame them.

        1. Doug Judy*

          I also found the fact that he described a three year relationship as long forgotten about odd too. You don’t forget someone you lived with for two years. I wonder if his more recent relationships knew what he did to her.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Am shaking my head.
          I had a couple relatives who were divorced and widowed (two marriages each) and they said that divorce was BY FAR harder than being widowed. That is how hard it is to separate from a pairing, OP. It’s worse than if the person died. And I have met a few people who feel this way.

    3. LavaLamp*

      This. Honestly, I feel like I need to say it because I don’t see anyone else has.
      OP, you need to dial down your ego. Whenever a guy says their ex was ‘crazy and obsessed with them’ I automatically assume that the person saying it has a really undeservedly high opinion of themselves, because that has been my experience.

      1. teclatrans*

        Word. I posted above about this at length, but short version, I have decided that anytime a guy says this, he is discounting whatever he did to put her into such a state, as well as recasting her actions to fit the narrative of overemotional, obsessed, etc.

    4. INTP*

      I agree with all of this.

      And, if OP can’t bring himself to change his perception of Sylvia like you describe, at the absolute very least, he should keep his opinions 100% to himself and never say a negative word about her to anyone. Ideally OP will think about this and stop thinking of Sylvia as someone who was “crazy” or intrusive or out of line in trying to find him, but if not, he absolutely 100% cannot *say* anything even slightly implying this to anyone else. OP, you lost the right to vent about this woman or say anything even remotely negative about her, even just venting about her as a boss, even getting drunk and letting something slip to friends, even when you’re frustrated with her and desperate to vent your feelings to your closest local confidantes. You’re in a tight knit community where people will talk, and you’ve already screwed her over once. You absolutely can only say positive things about her from now on. (And you should also let her decide whether you’ll even acknowledge having met each other prior. Ask her how she wants to handle it and go along with whatever she wants to do, whether that’s spinning you as a villain or never admitting to a soul that you’ve ever even met before.)

  13. MissAnnElk*

    Just for clarity, what you did wasn’t “ghosting.” As Alison pointed out, that’s more of an early-in-the-relationship move. What you did was more like abandonment, and calling it ghosting sounds flippant. I agree you should contact Sylvia to apologize (sincerely!) and to give her a heads-up, but please don’t call it ghosting or you may give her the impression that you don’t realize or care about the magnitude of what you did.

    1. CMDRBNA*

      Yeah, ghosting is not returning someone’s texts after a few dates. Ghosting is not living with someone for two years and moving out of the country while they’re gone. That is abandonment.

      1. INTP*

        Seriously. There are Dateline specials about people who have done things like this. Investigations are conducted. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone that disappeared overnight to have committed suicide or had a mental break or be found living under a false identity. Causing a scene with family is a sometimes-inappropriate thing that very normal people do under extreme circumstances, disappearing on a long-term partner in this manner is something that is at least seen as a thing that, well, only very not-normal people would ever do. Which I don’t say to pile on OP but I think he will need to recognize the full gravity of what he did in order to view Sylvia and her behavior in a fair way, and he needs to be objective and fair about her in order to work with her.

    2. MashaKasha*

      Yup. Like most people, I’ve been ghosted. Met him on match, we went on three dates, he stopped contacting me after the third, responded to my texts by saying we should “just be friends”, and cut contact altogether soon after. Felt terrible for a few weeks after that, but absolutely no big deal six years later. I barely even knew the guy. That was classic ghosting. What OP did was something completely different. I… honestly… have no name for it, it is so mind-blowingly awful, I do not know what to call it. Definitely not ghosting.

      1. Laura*

        That’s not ghosting – he told you he had no sexual interest in you. He behaved decently and didn’t just disappear.

  14. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Similar to the former high school bully who didn’t get a job, I’m getting the same vibe with this letter. You’ve told us your truth, but the bigger concern is HER truth about what you did. That we’ll never know, but it’s never surprising that offenders tend not to fully remember all of their bad behavior and/or minimize the negative consequences intentionally or unintentionally. (For example, I’ll never believe the former bully’s version of events because there’s a fantastic chance that wasn’t the entire story.)

    I’m not trying to dump on you here. You’ll get plenty of that. But like the former bully, you need to realize there could be a lot more (or less but unlikely) to Sylvia’s side of things, which will factor in how she treats you. You shouldn’t be surprised at all if you get a chilly response, and you don’t get to blame her for that either.

    I’d also like to reemphasize what AAM said. Please stop calling Sylvia “emotional” and “obsessed” and “causing various scenes.” Your behavior caused her to act that way. If you’d been upfront with her from the start and she acted that way anyway, THEN you can use those terms. But you didn’t so she’s entitled to act like she has no clue where here live-in, long-term partner disappeared to.

    Oh and yeah you should find another job somewhere else. If you think that’s a pain in the butt because you don’t want to move, well, consider what you put Sylvia through. My guess is moving is easier than what she endured.

    1. Spooky*

      “Please stop calling Sylvia “emotional” and “obsessed” and “causing various scenes.” Your behavior caused her to act that way. ”

      10000x this.

      1. Sara*

        Right! If someone abandoned me, I would go a little crazy wondering if they were ok and probably reach out to family and friends to make sure things were ok. If he had just broken up with her, she probably would have been upset but could deal with it constructively!

      2. paul*

        No kidding.

        You just up and vanish, and most partners would try to find out if you are, you know, alive. That’s not obsessed.

      3. Yet Another Alison*

        Spooky – you said it better than I did – or wrote it better. + infinity to your comment.

    2. k8*

      yes to your third paragraph! I find it really hard to respect his person for “coming clean” or whatever when they have that kind of attitude . . . honestly makes it sound like they don’t really think they did anything too wrong and are just upset because it’s coming to bite them in the ass.

    3. Observer*

      “Please stop calling Sylvia “emotional” and “obsessed” and “causing various scenes.” Your behavior caused her to act that way. ”

      Seriously! Don’t just stop calling her that – stop thinking that way.

      1. Solidad*

        Dude has issues with being self-centered, issues with women, or issues with seeing his own actions clearly. Maybe some combination.

        He needs to do some serious self-reflection or this will not be the worst thing he does to himself.

        He also needs to stop framing this as something that “just happened.” He caused this. This is the natural outcome of his selfish and cowardly behavior.

    4. Traveler*

      I’d also put out there that its possible that this was 10 years ago and Sylvia has moved on and would be insulted that an ex bf would think that he still has that much hold over her. So I’d tread very lightly and not make any assumptions about how she might feel about this LW.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I tried to account for this in my original response. If it’s true, then kudos (yes kudos!) to Sylvia.

        But that scenario isn’t too likely.

      2. AMPG*

        I think it’s entirely possible that she’s put the experience itself behind her, but I think it’s very unlikely that she would ever see the LW as a decent person that she could have a productive working relationship with.

      3. Traveler*

        Oh yes, Snarkus, your original post was great. And I agree that it might not be very likely, just wanting to emphasize that LW needs to tread very lightly with all of this.

    5. TootsNYC*

      it’s never surprising that offenders tend not to fully remember all of their bad behavior and/or minimize the negative consequences intentionally or unintentionally.

      This is something I try very hard to NOT ; it’s really, really uncomfortable. Like–really.
      But I try very hard to MAKE myself sit with that discomfort, to hold on through it.
      That’s the only way to ever grow. You never, ever become a better or kinder person by making up excuses for yourself or by pushing your faults off onto someone else.

      (and this is projection–the OP created the drama)

    6. Trout 'Waver*

      Be very careful with the “Your behavior caused her to act that way.”

      Sylvia still has agency in her actions regardless of how OP acted.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        Right, but his behavior DID cause her to act that way, and I cannot imagine any normally rational person not losing their mind a little over essentially being literally abandoned by their partner of three years.

        Come on.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I think a better word is that the OP’s behavior influenced Sylvia. I wouldn’t say it unilaterally caused any particular actions on Sylvia’s part.

          1. Health Insurance Nerd*

            We’ll need to agree to disagree then. Because I would say that his actions 100% caused her to react the way she did.

              1. Snark*

                No, it doesn’t do that at all. It recognizes that when you do something gaslighty and emotionally abusive, you own the pain you cause. Your approach seems to minimize the ethical relationship there.

                1. Health Insurance Nerd*

                  Thank you, Snark. I was trying to come up with a reply that wouldn’t break the “be kind” rule, and was falling short!

              2. AMPG*

                You’re nitpicking wording, here. The OP’s choices/actions provoked Sylvia’s. Is that better? The point is that nothing she did would have happened without his actions precipitating them, AND her actions were an understandable reaction to his.

          2. Soon to be former fed*

            Your word parsing is unhelpful and not useful. Yeah, abandoned person could have responded in a somewhat sociopathic way herself, but so what? Her actions were normal, understandable, and defensible. What we do impacts other people.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        And the OP is still responsible for his actions in her reaction.

        We see this all the time on AAM: one person has more substantive knowledge and insight than another person, yet there’s so much befuddlement when the latter person acts out most times in ignorance.

      3. chomps*

        @Trout ‘Waver. I think you’re misreading the comment. We aren’t saying that Sylvia isn’t responsible for her own actions, we are saying that the OP is most likely completely mischaracterizing Sylvia’s actions. He called her obsessive, but she was most likely just trying to figure out what happened to her boyfriend! You can’t just disappear from a 3-year relationship and expect the other person to not try to figure out where you went! And doing that involves contacting friends and family. It’s a completely reasonable reaction.

      4. aebhel*

        That’s like saying that if someone punches me and I yell ‘ouch’ I still have agency and they shouldn’t have to take the blame for my yelling. Sylvia acted like almost any normal human being would in her situation.

      5. Mary*

        “caused her to act that way” This still seems to presume that “the way she acted” was a problem! It’s not even that she was “justified in being a little unhinged” because of what OP did. The actions he describes – contacting his family after he disappeared- are the normal, rational thing to do if you partner disappears. You’d better believe that if I came home one day and found my partner had gone I’d call her family and friends to try and find her. Shrugging and moving on without making any attempt to contact or find them would be the abnormal response!

        1. Health Insurance Nerd*

          In no way am I presuming that the way she acted was a problem. The only persons whose actions were a problem is the LW.

          1. Mary*

            Sorry, that was meant to be a response to Trout Waver, who did seem to be suggesting that Sylvia needed to be held responsible for her actions Ina way that implied those reactions were bad.

        2. Observer*

          I think that the OP caused Sylvia to act the way she did – and that the way she acted was perfectly normal to to expected. That, in some ways, is the thing that blows me away the most. How did the OP not see that this was a HIGHLY likely outcome of his behavior?

      6. Not So NewReader*

        Very few people would do nothing if their SO was missing.
        I don’t think contacting fam and friends is causing a scene. It’s called, “looking for someone who is suddenly missing”. A fairly normal reaction.

        And, OP, you put people in a very awkward spot when they had to explain to your SO where you were. Basically you let other people give her YOUR break up message. You owe all these people a heartfelt apology also.

        I have a very satisfying story of a husband who abandoned a wife and two children. His family kept the wife and kids and ditched HIM. It’s been decades and they still check on the (now adult) kids.

    7. SomeoneLikeAnon*

      It’s a really fair point about how Sylvia may have also created her own narrative to the breakup. I know that when I broke up with an ex I had the reasons for the breakup at that time. Upon reflection and the distance of time, I had stronger reasons that were red flags but not part of my orginal reasoning; however, if having to explain the story, I tell the red flag reasons. Sylvia may have also created some story and based on OP’s actions, I highly doubt it would be favorable toward his/her personal conduct.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Yes this is correct. No relationship ever ends because everything is perfect; or even because everything is perfect for one side while being flawed for another. There are plenty of red flags on both sides. I’ve had a serious partner of a few years initiate a breakup twice, and both times after some time and analysis, I’d realize that they had done me a favor by ending things; that I would’ve either left myself, or burned myself out trying to keep a failing relationship going, if they hadn’t left.

  15. The Mighty Thor*

    Wow. I’d say how horrible it is to ghost someone, but you clearly already know that. Alison’s advice sounds good (as it always is) and I hope this ends as well as it possibly can. Please write back with an update when you have one, OP.

    1. Oh Well*

      “how horrible it is to ghost someone, but you clearly already know that”
      Does he really though? LW still feels his decision to “minimize the break up drama” was correct because she “became emotional.” So he’s not sorry he left that way. In his mind he was right; he called it!
      He never felt that her reaction and subsequent actions were justified. There was no empathy for her concern for him. She wasn’t worried that he was dead, she was obsessed. He called it again, more “drama.”
      He feels horrible that he may have to face unpleasant consequences of an action that he buried in his past.

      1. Flossie Bobbsey*

        Oh Well hit the nail on the head. OP clearly does NOT understand how horrible his actions were. All expressions of recognizing he shouldn’t have done what he did are in the context of realizing it will impact his current job/living situation. Purely self-interested.

      2. Anon55*

        +10000 and if I was Sylvia, I’d be really concerned that he’d smear me to coworkers/management. I mean, he’s basically made her sound like a loon (not that anyone here actually bought it, but still) and that line about the comments not “having a go” at him was telling. Um, you chose to write in about this situation and you don’t get to dictate that people don’t call out your behavior. There’s something really off about people who go around like the human version of Teflon and expect poor behavior to never actually reflect badly on them.

    1. Phouka*

      For me, it was “living together” — two years? After two years LW just…disappeared.
      Heck, if a platonic roommate of mine disappeared after two years of sharing the rent, I’d be overturning heaven and earth to figure out what happened to them, including calling their family, work, and anyone else I could contact.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Even a roommate that I didn’t LIKE, if they vanished into the ether suddenly along with all their stuff, I’d be looking into it! Because that’s just weird and frightening all by itself.

    2. IMakeSigns*

      Same! I thought my eyes were going to fall out of my head from the shock when I read that.

  16. Amber Rose*

    LW, I understand that you don’t want to/are not in a position to change jobs. That you do not want advice dealing with leaving your current position.

    Unfortunately, that’s all anyone can really say. Terrible actions have terrible consequences. I’m not having a go at you, but you need to understand that while you can’t change what you did, the fact is you did it and you need to face the music for it. In this case, that may very well be being forced to leave this job, regardless of the situation that puts you in. It sucks, but well, your actions sucked, and sometimes life comes around in unexpected ways.

    Reach out to her, explain that you work in this place and that you would like to talk to her about what that will look like for you both. It’s possible she won’t care. It’s more probable she will though, and considering the harm you’ve done, I think one small step towards admitting fault and making amends will be to offer to leave.

    1. Doug Judy*

      This. LW’s been living consequence free for 10 years for doing what is a very horrible thing.

      Sorry OP, but you have a chance to do the right thing now which is to resign. It might be inconvenient for you but you inconvenienced her AND broke her heart. Dealing with a temporary inconvenience of moving and finding a new job pales in comparison to what she likely went through.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        All this.

        OP, part of being an adult is doing things we don’t want to do.
        You skipped the part about having a break up conversation with her. Now you don’t want to move, you don’t want to look for another job, etc. You know, everyone else feels the same way. No one likes having difficult conversations, no one likes being forced to move, no one likes job hunting and so on. This is life.

        Adults deal with stuff they do not like on a daily basis. Today alone, I had a sick dog, three major time consuming problems at work and a tornado watch. It’s not a fun day. There is no avoiding the parts we don’t like.

      2. CM*

        Resign AND send a note saying, “I’m so sorry for hurting you. I was a terrible, immature person and I deeply regret what I did to you. Now that I’ve learned you are going to be the new head of the school, I have decided that the only decent thing to do is resign. You deserve to start fresh and I don’t want to cause you any more pain.”

  17. BlondeAnon*

    When you talk with her you might mention how you were young and immature, only for it to possibly soften what happened years ago. We all make mistakes in life, especially when young and we may not handle situations well… Perhaps since time has passed she is simply over it. But she will likely question your judgement since she will be a manager over you. I am hoping it works out for you both.

    1. LizB*

      I think mentioning being young and immature would ring hollow, unfortunately. I had a messy, painful, shouldn’t-have-been-that-hard breakup when I was young and my partner was young and neither of us knew how to deal with emotions. This is… above and beyond any normal young person relationship mistake.

      1. JaneB*

        Old enough for the parts to work, old enough to live together in presumably a common-law marriage type situation, well beyond room mates – old enough to end it at least by TELLING THE PERSON.

        Youth is NO EXCUSE.

      1. RG*

        This is a super interesting question to think about! I personally believe that many accidents are mistakes or are the product of mistakes, but not all mistakes are/cause accidents. For example, I can see that an action was a mistake in hindsight, even if it was a deliberate decision at the time. That could be because I messed up the calculus (either in error or in lack of experience) because I didn’t see a path, or because I was blind to a bias. Do you feel differently?

        1. Bend & Snap*

          I do actually. A mistake, to me, has a sense of the unknown as far as impact/consequences. The OP’s action seems to have been thought out pretty thoroughly, motivations are clear, and the only unforeseen result is this job issue. So there’s no “oops” factor.

          That makes it more of a poor decision than a mistake.

          1. RG*

            Fair. We definitely have different interpretations on this. I personally don’t think a mistake means an “oops” factor in the same way an accident does. I also think you can have a clear motivation at the time and later realize you’d made a mistake. You can even make a terrible mistake! I also don’t think categorizing something as a mistake in ANY way absolves anyone of responsibility. We’re responsible for our mistakes and, just like saying ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t mean you necessarily get forgiven, saying something’s a mistake is not a mitigation of responsibility for the decision at the time. But I do think, if someone says something was a mistake, it’s a recognition that what they did wasn’t the correct decision, even if they only recognize it in hindsight, and they’re not doubling down on it.

      2. Rachel Green*

        I have been wondering the same thing! It’s not like he woke up one day while his girlfriend was out of town, and decided to move back in with his parents. He applied to a job out of the country, hid the job search from her, didn’t tell her when he’d accepted the job, then just relocated to another country. That isn’t just something that happens over a matter of days. He would have had to plan all this out over months. Work visas, packing, airfare, so much stuff! He hid all that from her and then purposefully chose to leave while he knew she wouldn’t be there. How on earth could such deliberate, cruel action be considered a “mistake”?

        1. Gadfly*

          I guess it all depends on how synonymous with ‘made a bad decision’ mistake is. Some people use it to gloss decisions and lifestyles that result in lengthy prision sentances. By that standard, it works. Still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

        2. Mina*

          Yeah, that’s what got me–it was *calculated* over a long time instead of sitting Sylvia down and telling her they were over.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I think people tend to use the word mistake for small errors. “Two plus two equals five. Whoops. My mistake.”

    2. Jadelyn*

      Eh…I feel like that’s really the kind of thing that only works if someone is genuinely sorry and regrets their behavior, which the OP doesn’t seem to. He’s just sorry it’s coming back to bite him. “I was young and immature…but I still think it should have been fine and I’m still painting you as “emotional and obsessed” for quite reasonably having a strong reaction to a partner of 3 years abandoning you without a word” is the kind of non-apology excuse-making that isn’t likely to win OP any points with her.

    3. Blah (currently feeling)*

      Leaving the country when your ex is on vacation is far beyond young and immature, I think that will make it sound like he’s trying to justify his actions that were obviously wrong then and now.

    4. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I don’t think young and immature would soften much. They were old enough to be living out of their home country and in a romantic relationship for 3 years. And I just don’t know how anyone could get over the person that they were living with just up and leaving without a word. I would be pretty shocked if any of my exes suddenly showed up at work and wouldn’t be able to be their manager.

    5. Tuxedo Cat*

      If I were Sylvia, I’d be angry if he brought up being young and immature because it would feel like an excuse. I’m assuming he went to college because he’s teaching, so that places him around mid-20s. He was young but it wasn’t like he was teenager.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        He was old enough to pay for a place to live, to have a physical relationship, to hold down a job, etc.
        I hope you do not use this as a talking point, OP, because it’s pretty weak.

  18. Whoanelly*

    If I went away for a few days and then came home to find that my boyfriend had packed all his belongings and simply disappeared, I’d be very concerned that I’d just made the whole relationship up in my head and he never actually existed. Of course I’d be calling his family and friends to find out what happened, for my own sanity.

    1. Interviewer*

      I’m trying to figure out at what point your family and/or friends called you to say, “what the heck?!” Seriously. Did you tell them a totally different story about what you did to her? Or did you ghost them, too? Surely you understood at *some* point before NOW, that Sylvia was *not* the crazy one here.

      You can’t run away from your problems, if the problem is you.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        I wondered the same exact thing. I can’t imagine this happening and not getting several “WTF” phone calls from the friends and family Sylvia had reached out to.

        1. LavaLamp*

          This. I have a funny feeling this “obsessive/drama/gaslighting” narrative is the OP’s way of hiding the shame they felt from having friends and family tell him he did a really shitty thing. It’s easier to tell people “oh my ex was crazy” then “Oh I planned and moved out when my ex was out of town without telling her I was done. Then I was surprised and pissed off when mutual friends and family called and told me I’d acted like an asshat”

          1. many bells down*

            My ex lost a friend he’d known from childhood, after said friend found out I was divorcing ex because he was a serial cheater. My ex is to this day baffled as to why “Bob” won’t speak to him anymore. “I didn’t do anything to BOB!”
            I was like “well maybe Bob thinks your behavior was wrong?” and ex was like a deer in the headlights. Beep boop does not compute.

          2. Mina*

            This is something OP isn’t obligated to answer, but I do wonder how mutual friends and family reacted to his actions.

  19. Sevenrider*

    Wow. I would take Allison’s suggestion of contacting her ahead of time. I would skip the apology. I am not a big fan of apologizing for things I am not sorry for. I don’t get that you are really all that sorry, only as your behavior has now come back to bite you. I think the best thing to do would be to move on, leave the job and the country no matter how inconvenient this is for you. Please spare the poor woman any further emotional distress of having to deal with you now. As for the future, maybe try treating people (no matter who they are) with a little more respect and courtesy. You never who you may meet again, 10-20 years down the road.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I wasn’t going to pick on this, but, yes, I’m getting the impression the OP still didn’t and doesn’t really understand what he did. I’m bothered by the fact he still views her responses to his disappearance (emotional, obsessed, etc.) as bad. And he forgot about her until now. Because he was forced to.

      Not work related, but I can’t disentangle this from the letter.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, I feel like he doesn’t really comprehend that this was not a breakup.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        OP seems to like to compartmentalize. OP, what happens in our personal lives cannot be separated from our professional lives. Both work life and personal life leak into each other. Let’s say you were a stock broker. But you were an unethical stock broker. That one will bite you in very personal way, your home, your career, your peeps can all disappear from your life. It’s a two way street, what we do at home can impact our work and what we do at work can impact our home.

        I know you said this is not the answer you want. But you need to take a serious look at how life and relationships work. We are all interwoven and interconnected. Expect it.

  20. lisalee*


    I really think your only way out here is a very sincere, contrite, thoughtful apology. Have a friend or family member read it over to make sure it comes off correctly. I also recommend including the phrases “I regret how I hurt you,” “I was incredibly immature” and “I’m sure you’ll make a wonderful director.”

    1. Flossie Bobbsey*

      Normally this would be good advice if his own cowardice and poor decision-making had been weighing on him for the past decade, but given OP’s choice of wording and perspective on what he did, OP will not be capable of true sincerity and contrition about this. I don’t advise trying to apologize with false sincerity and contrition. No apology at all would be better.

      1. lisalee*

        You don’t think that would come off as cold? I think if he really does feel some remorse, it would be best to say it. He could even acknowledge the time that’s passed: “I’ve regretted my behavior often in the last ten years and I realize this apology is long overdue.”

        1. Flossie Bobbsey*

          Not apologizing probably comes off as cold, but OP’s actions 10 years ago AND (more importantly) his current perspective on them *are* cold. And now it seems he may have to pay the piper.

          I don’t see that he feels any remorse, other than about how his current life will be affected. He doesn’t “regret” his actual behavior and hasn’t thought of it “often” over the past decade (actually, at all), per his own account of things. There are numerous comments here picking up on this based no OP’s account of things. Sure, OP could say the words you suggest, but they are not actually true for him. I do think apologizing would be ideal if there were a shred of recognition of his own wrongs, but I’m having trouble wording anything coming from this OP’s perspective that doesn’t seem like an outright falsity, incompatible with how he described the situation in his letter, and self-interested.

          1. lisalee*

            That’s true. I guess I’m just hoping the letter is not a real representation of his feelings.

  21. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Ouch. When I first started I reading I thought this was some casual thing. But…hoo boy. Skipping out of the country, without a note, after three years, while she was visiting family at Christmas. I don’t think I can cringe hard enough on this one.

    I don’t know how you’d salvage this. Definitely reach out to her and let her know you’re working there. But I would start looking for something new PRONTO. Even if she’s moved on emotionally, she knows a lot about your character (even though it’s in the past). You demonstrated that you were non-confrontational to a fault, disrespectful and don’t take responsibility. If I were in her shoes, I would find it difficult to look at you without that lens. Staying there as her report could hurt you professionally.

    1. Morning Glory*

      Yes – this is like a far more extreme version of the employee who falsified an email earlier in the week. Sylvia knows that the OP has serious (really really serious) integrity problems.

      Even setting aside any personal hurt from the OP’s actions, how could she trust an employee who did that. Even if I was not the Sylvia of the situation, just an acquaintance who knew what the OP had done to Sylvia, I would have trouble trusting the OP as an employee.

    2. Roscoe*

      I think that is petty (and I know I’ll get bashed for that). I think she is entitled to her opinion of him as a person. However, she doesn’t know him as a professional. I’m not saying he gets a complete clean slate, but if she is going to be professional as well, she needs to really let him be a professional. People definitely need to be able to separate their personal feelings from their professional feels. I can’t stand a couple of my co-workers as people, but I can respect the work they do.

      I wouldn’t want my ex girlfriend judging my professional credibility, because they are very different things.

      1. Amy*

        I don’t know about that. There are lines between personal and professional, of course–things like how quickly you respond to a message or how you prioritize tasks can differ in personal vs. professional life. But things like whether you have basic integrity, or whether you treat people with a basic level of decency, tend to carry over throughout a person’s life. They may show up in different ways in different areas, but they end up showing up somehow, and it usually causes problems.

      2. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        I worked with an ex of mine. Managed him, actually. I wanted nothing more than to bash him in the face with a shovel. But he still was treated fairly. *To me* the difference is LW showed a lack of integrity. In my opinion, that’s harder to overcome than someone being an ass hat.

      3. General Ginger*

        I don’t know. OP works in a school. Communication is clearly a skill needed on the job, and I’d argue also compassion (or at least some ability to understand how others will react to a situation).

        1. Roscoe*

          So again, I used to be a teacher. And I was a damn good one. Communicated well, worked well with my students, parents, and colleagues. All of that. However, if you asked some of my ex girlfriends, you would probably have a very different opinion of me.

          1. General Ginger*

            Roscoe, I don’t know you, and I don’t know anything about your relationships with your ex girlfriends, but, I mean, everyone’s ex probably has at least something unflattering to say about them, that’s just life. But in this situation, I’m not going by what OP’s ex is saying, I’m going by what the OP himself is saying about his own behavior. And OP’s words don’t paint a good picture of either his actions, or what he has or hasn’t learned.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Right. We aren’t making a judgment about his decision-making or character via a biased third party report. This is based on what he himself said.

          2. The Voice of Reason*

            Exactly. Like I say: plenty of people who were louses when it comes to personal relationships are excellent in the professional realm.

      4. Kate 2*

        Not liking someone and knowing something about their character are two different things though. I don’t know any people who don’t show their personal life character traits at work, one way or another, in the long term at least. Dishonesty, disloyalty, gossip, laziness, defensiveness, etc.

      5. Agnodike*

        Professionals are still people, though, and it’s not unreasonable for them to expect a safe working environment. It wouldn’t be reasonable for someone to ask me to manage a neo-Nazi, because they would consider me to be subhuman. It’s not reasonable to ask Sylvia to manage someone who has shown that he holds her in the deepest contempt by violating all the expected norms of relationship behaviour and then describing her normal reaction to his bizarre and hurtful conduct as being “obsessed” and causing a scene. Professionalism means putting aside personal preferences to an extent. It doesn’t mean pretending you don’t have normal human needs.

          1. Agnodike*

            This guy isn’t a bad ex. The OP was so successful in dehumanizing Sylvia in his own mind that not only did he see nothing wrong with literally packing up and leaving the country without a word but he also characterized her trying to find out where the hell he went as being “obsessed with the relationship.” One can’t generalize anything about his broader beliefs about the world from there, and I wouldn’t try to, but Sylvia definitely shouldn’t have to manage someone who has treated her with tgat level of contempt. I’m not comparing him to a neo-Nazi. I’m pointing out that nobody should have to manage someone who can’t respect their basic humanity, and that it’s not unprofessional to refuse to.

            1. The Voice of Reason*

              OP may be a “bad ex”; he’s not a Nazi. Let’s leave the inappropriate analogies out of it.

      6. Gadfly*

        It is kind of like when people claim to be a different person when drunk when they say or do things they don’t want to face. I’ve never seen it be true. Maybe they don’t show that side of themselves as clearly when sober, but it is always there.

        Some people can restrain certain things (behaviors, comments, etc) better when at work than when dealing with friends and family. But it doesn’t magically go away and they are different people.

        The guy that yells at his wife but not his boss? There are concerns there for the boss that don’t exist for the guy who doesn’t yell at either wife or boss.

        It may not be actionable at work to judge someone for personal life behavior. But I think it makes sense for it to raise flags. Red flags and whatever the opposite would be for good behavior (green?)

      7. CodingFool*

        It’s really more about character. I wouldn’t wan’t someone with LW’s character teaching my child regardless of skills. You are what you do.

  22. AwkwardKaterpillar*

    You absolutely need to reach out to her beforehand. Coming onto her first day of work and seeing you there would be an emotional punch the gut. (at least it would be for me). Acknowledge that what you did was horribly, horribly, wrong and the pain you caused her. Determine if you can work together to finish the term and immediately begin looking for new work.

    This isn’t really a situation where two people had a messy breakup and are trying to work around it. You did something really awful to her, and so you should be the one to exit as gracefully as possible.

  23. Spooky*

    Most of the comments on here seem to be focusing on the relationship side, but just think for a second about what the advice would be if Sylvia had been the one to write in. The discussion would be “can I manage someone who I know has serious lapses in judgement and runs away from responsibility?”

    I’m not going to speculate one way or the other on what the answer would be, but OP, keep in mind that that’s the kind of thought that’s likely running through her mind. Another job may very well be the only option here.

    1. Juxtapose is Just a Pose*

      Yeah, I think this is important. The OP needs to own as much of the awkwardness as possible here, not just because he wronged her but to show that he’s changed since then, and is now a more mature person.

    2. Elsajeni*

      That’s a good point — even if she hadn’t been at all emotionally hurt by OP’s disappearance, or even if she’s completely gotten over the emotional aspect of it by now, she could still quite reasonably see it as evidence that the OP isn’t trustworthy, can’t handle responsibility, is generally callous about other people’s feelings, etc., none of which are traits you want in a teacher. Even for people who take a really strict view that personal feelings shouldn’t affect professional relationships, it would be hard to blame Sylvia for taking the OP’s behavior into account.

  24. Knitchic*

    I remember a long ago ex who tried the slowly dissapearing out of my life method of ending the relationship. He eventually had a mutual friend tell me that he (the ex) concidered it was over and was waiting on me to figure it out. Same friend popped up a decade later asking me all sorts of questions about if I’d ever thought of ex and would I ever get back together with him. He clearly still has the emotional maturity of a snail, apologies to snails.
    Write her, appoligize for the hurt and fear you must’ve caused, and ask her how she’d like to proceed. I don’t see this working in your favor if you don’t get in front of this in a mature adult way.

      1. Knitchic*

        Oh he’s a whole other story. I’m not at all suprised that he participates in this sort of nonsense. Lol the stories I could tell.

    1. Jessica*

      I’m imagining reporting back to the friend that you’d be totally up for getting back together with the ex, but in much the same way that he uses a go-between to deliver relationship communication, you plan to have someone else as the actual boyfriend and will regularly inform the ex on how well the relationship is going.

  25. Rose*

    This is just one of the many many reasons not to treat people as you wouldn’t want to be treated. It’s not right to treat people as disposable trash

  26. bookish*


    When you said “ghosted” I assumed you’d mean “we went on a date or two and then I didn’t text her back,” not this… HORRIFIC, pulling-out-the-floor-from-under-her situation. You were together for three years and lived together and you *didn’t want to deal with breaking up* so you just *disappeared* and moved all your stuff out while she wasn’t home??? This is… REALLY … out-there behavior, does not fall into the same realm as failing to text someone after a few dates because you don’t see it going anywhere that “ghosting” commonly refers to (I’m sure it can mean whatever you want it to mean, but this is like… this is on another level entirely, and you absolutely had a responsibility after this much of a commitment to, you know, actually tell Sylvia you did not want to be in it anymore and you were moving out. My goodness. The only possible times this could be acceptable is under such extenuating circumstances as like… if Sylvia was abusive and you had to steal away because you feared brutal physical retaliation for breaking up.

    I don’t want this to just be a pile-on and I’m not having a personal emotional reaction to this, I just think it’s important for you to be very aware that what you did was so outside of the realm of acceptable behavior towards another human, and for such a bad reason (“just didn’t feel like it” does not translate to “stage a total, immediate disappearance” – you move from wanting to avoid drama to leaving the relationship in the most dramatic way), that you do deserve any consequences that now ensue.


    1. Sara*

      Yeah ‘ghosting’ is more for someone you’ve been out with a few times and it isn’t working out.

      Abandoned is a better term for what this guy did.

      1. Big10Professor*

        TBH, the severity of it makes me question his character enough to think this is not someone I’d want to deal with professionally.

    2. Treecat*

      Yes. OP did not “ghost” Sylvia, OP straight-up ABANDONED their live-in partner and then actually dared to act like she was unreasonable for trying to figure out what had happened. I’m really struggling to obey the “be kind” instructions on this website, because, ugh. What a deeply selfish and horrible thing to do to someone.

      Find a new job, OP. Take this as some goddamn penance for your incredible cruelty and cowardice. Put someone else’s feelings first, for once in your life.

    3. Jadelyn*

      “you move from wanting to avoid drama to leaving the relationship in the most dramatic way” – I think the key here is the OP didn’t actually care about doing something dramatic – he just didn’t want to have to deal with the drama himself, whether he would ever phrase it that way or admit it to himself or not. Inflicting drama on someone else, that he was fine with, as long as he could avoid taking responsibility for it.

    4. MashaKasha*

      Yeah a part of me feels bad about this being a pile-on.

      The rest of me thinks that OP needs a wake-up call of epic proportions, because he still seems to have a very vague idea of how terrible this thing was that he did.

    5. aebhel*

      Yeah, that’s the striking thing here–I think probably most of us have behaved badly in relationships, but this is wayy to the outer edge of the bell curve. OP should realize that anyone with an even vaguely accurate account of what happened here is not going to come down on their side.

  27. Kate 2*

    Advice on how to apologize to Sylvia:

    OP you say you know you are wrong, but it doesn’t sound like you are sorry at all about what you did to her. You lived together for three years and then completely disappeared. You didn’t even leave a note!

    Then you say: “Sylvia was rather emotional and became obsessed with the relationship, tracking me down, even causing various scenes with my parents and friends.”

    “Rather emotional”. “Rather emotional” about having the person she was in love with leave and cut off all contact with no warning or explanation. Yeah I’d be “rather emotional” too.

    OP whatever you do, DO NOT use any of the terms, descriptions or phrases you used with us on Sylvia. Write out a script and google “how to sincerely apologize”. If you can ask a couple of friends or acquaintances to read it over. Then stick to it! If she gets upset with you don’t comment! Don’t say anything like “this is why I ghosted you” or “you’re rather emotional”. Just repeat “I’m so sorry” and “I was wrong” over and over again.

    1. Competent Commenter*

      Although like others I have some very strong feelings about the OP’s past behavior, I do think there’s some possibility that Sylvia might be able to work with him.

      I have an ex who was mentally ill. We were together for 7 years, married for nearly 4. He seemed stable when we got together, but by the time we married he was destabilizing and I was essentially just his caregiver during our marriage. After me, he went through a multi-year downslide that included losing his sobriety. It was very confusing when we were together—it’s easy to say just “he had mental illness” but the reality was incredibly complicated, lots of medical appointments, conflicting diagnoses, many medications, symptoms and side effects, behavior choices that did seem to be in his control but for which he took no responsibility…it was a horrible, tragic period. I began to wonder if the person I originally met even existed. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail but eventually it felt like I’d been conned.

      I recently visited mutual friends and heard that he’s gotten sober and has been stable and partnered for a while. It brought up a lot of feelings to hear about him, but if we had to work together, I could do it. I accept that he has a problem, to put it simply, and that he had many other positive qualities. He also sent me an AA step apology a while back in which he did take responsibility in a meaningful, if a bit too brief, way. And I have really, really moved on (it’s been more than a decade).

      So whether or not OP and Sylvia could successfully work together is going to depend on 1) how good OP’s apology and behavior are, as others have noted, and 2) where Sylvia is in her own moving on process. She may look back on that time with a huge amount of pain but recognize that OP was young/had issues/did her a favor by disappearing/however she’s rationalized it to feel better and bring herself closure. She may feel pity for him, or have forgiven him as part of her own moving on process. Those are some of the feelings I have about my ex due to our particular circumstances. Or she may just remain furious, as is her absolute right…or OP could behave badly/do a bad job of apologizing and blow it and it won’t matter how much moving on Sylvia had done.

      1. rudster*

        I’m going to agree with this. Apparently OP is stuck there for the term, so there’s nothing to be lost by hoping for an acceptable outcome. There’s at least a non-zero chance that Sylvia has moved on or is professional enough to preten she has. Do most people, as a rule, really harbor resentments a decade or longer and fantasize about opportunities for vengeance they can act on? I think most people have moved on to the “life’s too short for that nonsense” stage by a certain point. I would at least see how it plays out before making any decisions.

        1. the gold digger*

          Do most people, as a rule, really harbor resentments a decade or longer and fantasize about opportunities for vengeance they can act on?

          Um. Yes? I would have no interest whatsoever in having anything to do with the grad school boyfriend of only a few months who, as soon as I left the country for a semester abroad, asked out a friend of mine. And that was over 20 years ago.

          I mean, I don’t dwell on it now (I hadn’t thought of him in forever until I read this post) and really, I dodged a bullet with that guy, but if I were put in a work situation with him, I would remember him as untrustworthy and without the guts just to say, “Even though we have spent most of our free time for the past six months with each other, this is no longer working for me and I want to break up.”

          1. Augusta Sugarbean*

            I think that’s where I’d come down. I hardly ever think about my ex (and he was just an immature, entitled twerp). I don’t wish him harm or hold onto any ill will really. This is at least in part because I never see him, we don’t have any mutual friends anymore, and I don’t even live in the same area. But having to see him every day, work with him, supervise him? Hell. No. That would bring back a lot of bad feelings that I have done my best to leave in my past.

            1. Myrin*

              Exactly. Not the same situation, but I was bullied fifteen years ago and I feel about the main perpetrator the same way as you about your ex. I randomly think about her maybe three times a year and don’t actively wish her harm, but while I don’t “fantasize about opportunities for vengeance they can act on” I certainly have not and will not ever forget what she did to me. It would totally be a “me or her” situation if there was ever a circumstance where I’d have the “opportunity” to work with her.

            2. MashaKasha*

              Yes! I don’t know about OP and Sylvia’s line of work, but in ours, there’s constant communication between you and your supervisor. There are 1:1 meetings, and other meetings. There are performance reviews where Sylvia would sit with OP in her office with the door closed, and advise him on how he can further develop himself and advance her career. I would nope of this situation so fast if I were her!

            3. SignalLost*

              Yeah, my bastard ex has been much on my mind the last six months or so, ever since I figured out I’m now only two degrees of Facebook separation from him, which is much closer than I wanted, since we have no mutual friends. (A person in my hobby club is friended to a friend of his.) Presence seems to make the person weigh on your mind, no matter where you are emotionally.

            4. Mina*

              Thirded/nthed. There was a friend who turned on me over 10 years ago, and while she doesn’t occupy my thoughts at every waking moment and I have no wish for retribution, I would never, ever, want to work with her.

        2. Inspector Spacetime*

          This probably reveals poor things about my character, but I still hold a nasty grudge from the sixth grade.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Ha! Same.

            I think that it’s useful for everyone to remember that this is a spectrum. When something awful is done, some people will forgive immediately, and some people will go to their grave still loathing the offender to their marrow, and most people will fall somewhere in the middle.

            There is a societal usefulness to the “loathing to their marrow” people, I think–I know that from a purely practical POV it discourages me from being a jackass if I remember that some people will in fact not forgive. I mean, the larger reason to not be a jackass is that I do have basic human decency, but there’s something to the idea that if you hurt someone, you’re rolling the dice on whether they’ll hold a damaging grudge.

        3. birchwoods*

          “Do most people, as a rule, really harbor resentments a decade or longer and fantasize about opportunities for vengeance they can act on?”

          It sounds to me more like the OP has resentments and fantasies. Regardless of how Sylvia feels about him (she could have revenge fantasies, or she might have forgotten OP–it’s not up to us to judge her feelings), it takes a special kind of sociopathy to not see the problem with trying to work with someone you know you caused significant pain. It doesn’t matter that it was a decade ago.

          1. Mookie*


            Apart from which, playing dumb about whether time truly heals all wounds is not productive; that’s putting the onus on the victim to cure things for the OP so they can live their life without responsibility for their actions. Making this about Sylvia’s feelings and how best to make them go away is obviously advice the OP wants, but it isn’t what they’re in need of. OP’s just interested in somehow shifting the burden onto Alison, Sylvia, and the rest of us to solve this for them.

        4. Amy*

          I’m not really thinking of Sylvia’s potential reaction in terms of resentment and vengeance. It’s more, she knows this person has the capacity to dodge responsibility on a truly massive scale. She knows he has the capacity to be dishonest (I would consider not telling your partner of 3 years “Hey, I’m not happy in this relationship, I’m leaving” to be at the very least concealing the truth–not to mention, this likely involved outright lying somewhere in there, e.g. saying “I love you” while working on this plan to abandon her). She knows he showed no concern for how his actions may hurt her, and that he’s shown no remorse for what he did. In short, based on her experience, he’s unreliable, untrustworthy, and cruel.

          None of those are traits I would look for in an employee!!! There are so many people out there who are not those things (or at least who aren’t known to be those things). Why would she want to employ someone who she knows has those negative traits, when she could hire someone else instead?

        5. Elizabeth West*

          Hell. Yes.
          I’m not saying Sylvia does, or should seek revenge. For me, I would just avoid people who hurt me that badly–they don’t deserve any of my time. But yeah, I know from experience that some people cannot shrug off even merely stupid stuff without a deep-seated need to strike back.

        6. Tuxedo Cat*

          I think it would be challenging for me to be fair and trust an ex who I dated for 3 years and then he suddenly left me. I think even if I had the best of intentions to do so, I don’t know well I could mange that person.

        7. aebhel*

          I mean, it depends on what you mean. I don’t spend any mental time on my college boyfriend now, but if I had to work with him on a daily basis all of a sudden, I would… not be okay with that.

          I’d like to think I could be professional about it, but honestly, I’m not sure. It would for sure make my working life hellish.

      2. the gold digger*

        He also sent me an AA step apology a while back in which he did take responsibility in a meaningful, if a bit too brief, way.

        If OP had apologized to Sylvia a few years ago, without prompting, that would be one thing. But he needs something from her now, which makes an apology invalid as far as I am concerned.

      3. Traveler*

        Yes. I think we might be assuming a lot about Sylvia. I have an ex that was a real piece of work, on par with what the LW did. But it was a decade ago and so much has changed. I’m not going to forget it completely, of course, but its ancient history. Who we were personally would not be who we are professionally.

      4. birchwoods*

        Even if she’s fully moved on, it’s understandable if she just doesn’t want to have him in her life. It doesn’t necesssarily mean she’s not over him, it just means she doesn’t have time for that kind of negativity that his presence brings–clearly he still has a questionable sense of integrity given the way he’s describing the situation to lessen the impact of what he did to her.

        1. K.*

          Yeah, I was ghosted by a guy that I had an on/off thing with for four years, and while I’ve moved on and am glad to be shut of him, that means I don’t want him around. I could probably work on a larger team with him if everything else about the job was great (I wouldn’t let him run me out of a job I loved), keeping it professional but distant the way I would any other colleague, but I don’t think I could manage him, and I wouldn’t accept any invitation to interact with him socially (either in person or virtually; we are not in touch at all).

      5. Alton*

        I think this relies largely on acknowledgement of just how abnormal the behavior is, too. It’s good that the OP recognizes he was wrong, but it’s not clear whether he realizes how dysfunctional his actions were. This is a good deal more extreme and unusual than common immature relationship behaviors like breaking up with someone via text message or something.

        I think if I were Sylvia, I might feel differently depending on whether my ex just treated the whole thing like a “mistake” or if they really did some soul-searching about what led them to do something so extreme and made efforts to work on that. But that doesn’t guarantee forgiveness, and you can’t force that sort of growth and self-awareness.

        1. teclatrans*

          Just a tiny nitpick: there is no sign OP sees his actions as wrong. In fact, he provides us with proof that abandonment was a good choice, since his ex was so emotional and overwrought. His problem now, he wants us to remember, is that his new boss might bring drama into his work situation, maybe even enough so that he has to move.

          So, I would say he has identified a basic problem, but not that he recognizes a mistake.

      6. Kate 2*

        The big difference though is that OP has/had no excuse or reason for their behavior. They did something horrifically cruel for no reason. Because they felt like it.

        Forgiving someone with mental health and addiction problems who is working on it and apologized for no reason, they didn’t want anything, is completely different.

    2. Competent Commenter*

      Didn’t mean to leave my comment as a reply to you, Kate 2, but gotta give you a +1 on your great explanation of the importance of sincerely apologizing. :)

  28. My Cat Posted This*

    Hooo boy. This is a hard one.

    I agree all the way with Alison’s advice. Additionally, I’d think a lot about how you present yourself and your apologies. One of my exes was a horrible partner, controlling and abusive, and in later years he would “apologize” in a very superficial way, particularly given the extent and gravity of what he’d done. His apologies—”I know I was an a*****e, yeah, yeah,” in a let’s get this over with tone, seemed more designed to get me to say “okay, apology accepted, now I’ll move on” than to be real apologies. A real apology would have sounded more like, “All those times I called you names in a joking way, or gave you the silent treatment for several days if you didn’t do what I wanted, etc….I did know what I was doing. It wasn’t right that I told you that you were crazy for being upset. I want to apologize for all the hurt I caused you and let you know that not a day goes by that I don’t regret it. You deserved better and I am trying to be a better person in my current relationship.” Your ex deserves that kind of apology, and more.

    So be sure if you apologize, you make it meaningful, not just a formality you’re going to observe so that you can get on with your life in a way that’s convenient for you. And be sure you don’t downplay the seriousness of what you did, and that you hold the sole responsibility for the fallout it caused.

    1. 5 Leaf Clover*

      Yes, and I’ll add that a meaningful apology will show not only that you’ve thought through what you did intellectually (“I know ghosting was not the way”, as you say in your letter) but also that you’ve thought through how much this hurt her and that the thought of that pain inspires real feelings of remorse in you. Nowhere here do I see you say, for example, “I feel terrible for how I must have made her feel,” and until you have done that emotional work I don’t think an apology is going to sound heartfelt – because it won’t be.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yes, very much. One thing that really puts me off is people who use apologies like a video game cheat code: I plugged in the right words, so now you have to let me advance to the next level. And it’s not only ineffective, it’s kind of insulting: do you really think I’m so simpleminded that I can’t see that your apology is a transparent attempt to get something out of me?

      1. 5 Leaf Clover*

        Great analogy… and part of me fears that by giving this advice we are teaching the cheat codes to someone who really doesn’t deserve them!

  29. Soon to be former fed*

    I totally agree with AAM. The situation is not salvageable. Young or not, ghosting on a live in relationship was a punk, selfish move that has now come back on you. You still owe the victim of your immaturity a sincere apology, but start looking for another position and hope she doesn’t rat you out to your work community. I’m having a hard time generating any sympathy for you, I don’t imagine she will be able to either since you devastated her life, no matter how long ago. I do wish you the best and I hope you have grown a spine and a conscience.

  30. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*


    First: When you talk/write with Sylvia, you’re going to need to be careful about your tone. There’s a lot in your letter that downplays what you did (“ghosted”) and heightens the drama of what she did (“emotional,” “obsessed”). You can’t let any of that leak into your conversation with her; your tone needs to be apologetic, professional, and blameless (of her).

    Second: I’m not sure that Alison’s advice to get in touch with Sylvia before she arrives at school will work. I don’t think the OP has any way of getting in touch with her. She doesn’t use social media and has been out of touch with Sylvia for the past decade plus. I suspect she’ll have to wait until they connect at school, unless she’s able to get contact information from the school itself.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I meant to say a bit more about “ghosting” being the wrong term here. Leaving someone you lived with with no notice is way, way worse than “ghosting.” The OP presumbly left her in the lurch with rent/mortgage, a social network, vacation plans, etc.

      1. nnn*

        OMG, I didn’t even think of this, but you’re right – he could have thoughtlessly ruined her financial situation!

    2. CMDRBNA*

      Yeah, I think the OP is definitely spinning the narrative and has told themselves a particular version of the story for so long they now believe it. There doesn’t seem to be ANY acknowledgement that abandoning someone after three years is a deeply, deeply shitty thing to do.

      1. AMPG*

        This is one of the hardest things about the human condition, IMO. We all want to be the heroes of our own story, and for good reason. But we’re all flawed and have to reconcile our failures with the desire to have a good narrative. Some of us recognize when we come up short and do the hard work of trying to make ourselves into a person worthy of a hero’s story, and some of us try to shortcut and just rewrite everyone else’s story so we come out looking the best.

  31. KHB*

    I was ghosted by a man I dated for two months in 2003. It was, actually, devastating at the time, but life goes on. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like if I had to work with him now, let alone be his boss. I really don’t think I’d be able to maintain professionalism.

    Maybe this says more about me, and why it’s a good thing that I’m not anybody’s boss, than about anything else.

    1. CMDRBNA*

      Yup. Obviously this is not on a par with what happened to Sylvia, but about two years ago I went on a few dates with someone that I really, really hit it off with and was actually really excited about.

      He went on a trip home to visit family and ghosted me. As in, we had plans for when he came back and I never heard from him again. I texted once or twice, then gave up, but it really stung.

      In a bit of karmic sweetness, though, a friend of his messaged my best friend on a dating site nearly a year later, and while we were looking at his profile I saw the guy that had ghosted me in one of the pictures. Turns out he was best friends with the ghost, and my friend sent him a blistering response calling his friend out on his behavior. So I DID have the last word (sort of!).

      1. KHB*

        Yeah, I agree that it’s not comparable to what happened here – I was reacting to the line that “A month of dating more than a decade ago isn’t likely to loom very large for most people, emotionally.” The only reason it doesn’t loom large for me is that the ghoster is out of my life. If he were somehow back in it, it would be really, really hard to ignore.

        I can see the situation maybe being salvageable IF he were to offer me a sincere unconditional apology. But I have trouble seeing that happening, because he, like the OP here, probably doesn’t think he did much of anything wrong. I suspect that in his mind, I (like Sylvia) was the one who misbehaved by being “emotional” and “obsessed” and “clingy” and “crazy.” Because that’s how we, as a culture, think about women who want something other than what the men around them want them to want.

        1. CMDRBNA*

          Oh, sorry, I meant that my experience wasn’t on a par with what happened to Sylvia, not yours!

          Honestly, the more I think about it, the more appalled I am by the OP’s behavior. It seems almost…sociopathic to vanish on someone like that? Not sure if that’s the right word. At the VERY least it was unnecessarily cruel. I’d rather have someone break up with me in a hurtful way than vanish.

          1. KHB*

            Sorry, that was an astonishingly poor choice of pronouns on my part. I meant that what happened to either one of us isn’t on a par with what happened to Sylvia.

            Abandoning your partner of three years without so much as a word is horrendous behavior. But even ghosting on someone you’ve known for a short time (at least, when they don’t want to be ghosted upon – sometimes people just sort of mutually drift apart, and that’s fine) is pretty bad. It’s treating people as disposable.

  32. K.*

    I have to say, the OP doesn’t come across as remorseful at all. He doesn’t sound like he’s sorry that he abandoned a woman by up and moving out of the country without speaking to her. He doesn’t sound like he believes what he did was wrong; there are lots of justifications here – she “caused scenes,” “became obsessed with the relationship.” He speaks very callously of what he did – while I understand that what happened happened some time ago, it’s … very telling that he seems to hand-wave off dumping someone by MOVING OUT OF THE COUNTRY as ancient history. “Oh, well, I get that this is my fault but nothing I can do about it now.” Like … what? He moved. Out. Of the country.

    He’s not sorry for what he did; he’s sorry for the impact it’s now having on his life. He’s sorry that he’s being inconvenienced by it. I feel certain that any communication he has with Sylvia is going to come across the same way, like “Oh, can’t we put this little mishap behind us?” And the way to do that is to find another job. Reach out to her to let her know you work there; don’t blindside her ( … again), and make a plan to leave.

      1. K.*

        Fair enough; that was hetero-normative of me. Regardless, I don’t think the OP is sorry for the actions taken at the time; I think the OP is sorry that the chickens are coming home to roost.

      2. AthenaC*

        Probably because when we see this behavior, there’s a 99.9999% chance that it’s a man.

        But you’re right – we shouldn’t assume.

        1. Noel*

          That’s really sexist, Athena. Reverse the genders: When we see this behavior, there’s a 99.9999% chance that it’s a woman. Let’s not judge a group by the actions of a few.

        2. serenity*

          Sorry but that comment deserves to be called out. Anyone can be a jerk, and this blog isn’t the place to bring our private baggage to and pigeonhole an entire gender.

      3. The IT Manager*

        Because I’m playing the percentages when we know the wronged party is a woman which is I admit hetero-normative, but its backed by math.

        You also have the stereotype that AthenaC mentions that this kind of jerk move is one a man often makes fighting with the stereotype that teachers are usually woman. Neither of these stereotypes are helpful.

        1. MathOwl*

          Yeah, but when we refer to professionals in fields where women are in the minority, we still refer to them as a woman by default on this blog, despite the math saying men are in the majority. I’ve noticed often the female voice is used as the default here, which is fine, except when someone’s being a bit (or a lot) of a jerk, which I don’t like as much. Then that person is considered to be a man, because they sound male.

          Honestly, as a man myself, I do feel there’s sometimes a bit of reverse sexism going on here (as many remember at least one man who harassed them or was a jerk to them), but I accept historically sexism has been far worse towards women and that this blog is otherwise interesting, so I overlook it.

          1. SignalLost*

            Wait, I’m perpetrating sexist behaviour at you because a man I dated treated me badly and I sometimes mention it? That is not how ANYTHING works!

            1. CM*

              No, I don’t think that’s what MathOwl is saying and I agree with him. (I’m a woman, FWIW.) It’s not fair to assume people are women by default, but if they’re acting like a jerk, then assume they’re a man. While I dislike the term “reverse -ism” I do regularly see comments here saying things like, “This OP is so self-centered and insensitive, I bet he’s a man.” See AthenaC’s comment just above, for instance.

              Talking about your personal experiences isn’t perpetrating sexist behavior. Speculating about people’s gender, and especially making negative assumptions about them based on their gender, is. (And SignalLost, I don’t think this was aimed at anything you said.)

      4. nnn*

        Oh, you’re right, good catch.

        I landed on assuming OP is a man because when I was the Sylvia in this situation, my partner who left me was male. But obviously that’s not extrapolable to all of human relations.

      5. Amy*

        I’ve been using ‘he’ for OP because then I can talk about him and Sylvia without worrying about whether it’s clear which ‘she’ I’m talking about.

      6. Misha*

        Because sex is either unspecified or intentionally omitted in the article, and in that situation it is entirely normal to assume a normative and statistically likely situation, especially a more personal idea of the author is better for a narrative reading than some abstract “he/she.”

        Many people would be perfectly willing to agree that the OP isn’t *necessarily* a man, but since that has very little to do with the story or the question he/she is asking, many people probably go with the man assumption.

  33. animaniactoo*

    Among other things that you are going to want to do here is to explain your lack of ability/knowledge of how to deal with the situation then, and what you have learned since that would allow you to deal with the breakup/issues and not do something like this to anyone ever again.

    Because beyond Sylvia’s own feelings about having to work with you from a personal standpoint, from a professional standpoint this is such an egregious act that I would need to seriously question your professional judgment as well. Particularly when you’re working with children of any age.

    I doubt that you’ll be able to continue there in the end, and you’re going to have to own that as the long-delayed consequences of your previous actions, but if there is any hope at all to be found it’s going to be found in being able to convince Sylvia that you are unlikely to be such a jerk again. Which means owning why you were a jerk and being able to be clear about what is different *now* that would make you choose a different path if you were in such a situation again.

    You are also probably better off if you don’t try to pretend that reaching out to her now has anything to do with anything except the fact that she’s about to be your boss. Something along the lines of “I have been deeply ashamed of my actions then, and thought it buried and in my past. However my chickens have come home to roost, so am reaching out now to explain and see if we can talk about how to handle the current situation. I am truly sorry for how I treated you then, it was and is inexcusable.”

    1. animaniactoo*

      fwiw – if you did this to me? I could not work with you, even years later. I know you want constructive advice, but in large part the most constructive thing I can do is tell you that Sylvia did not want her happy settled life to be abruptly upended in a confusing “what reality have I been living in/am I nuts/WTF?” form a decade ago, and yet it happened. You need to realistically understand the fallout of being the cause of that, and use it to assess the shot that your current happily settled life can be saved. I would estimate those chances as being slim-to-none, and 90% of even making any attempt at this point is to try and salvage the ex-pat community situation, so that you are not burned to the ground there. Gracefully following her lead – even if it means you’re out a job and a city – is going to be what salvages that for you if anything can.

      I’m sorry, but that’s my actual constructive advice here. I know it’s not what you want to hear – but I do think it is what you need to accept.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Agree 100%. Sylvia does not deserve to be put through this daily reminder when she’s moved on with her life.

        I was cleaning out a box last week and found some reminders of a (short) relationship from 12 years ago that ended badly. REALLY badly. As in I-found-out-he-had-a-wife kind of badly and just finding those reminders almost gave me a panic attack after a decade.

        1. Morning Glory*

          I had something similar happen, 7 years ago, also very brief. I am happily married now, but would not want to work with person, or manage him. I also would not trust him since he showed no problems with deceit.

          I’ve seen a few comments implying that this won’t be an issue as long as Sylvia’s ‘moved on’.’ It’s very possible though that she has moved on and is happy in her life… and still will not want to manage the OP. Not because she is bitter or still in love with him, or emotional, but because his behavior is the sort of thing that leaves lasting scars, and also demonstrated the kind of person he is.

        2. Mina*

          Ooof. I had a relationship that lasted less than a year that was abusive, with a terrible breakup. It’s been twice as long since then and I’m still in therapy for it. If I had to work with that asshole, ever (highly unlikely), I’d probably wind up with severely damaged mental health for it.

  34. Anna*

    You didn’t ghost her. You left her. You skipped out. You abandoned. Ghosting is when you don’t call someone after 1,2,3, even 10 dates. If you live with someone? It’s disingenuous to refer to this as ghosting, and probably indicates a lot more about you than you realize. I wonder if there isn’t a lot more to the story than you just leaving the country–did you cheat? Do you have a personality disorder?

    On the other side, I rather think that Sylvia might already know you work there. I would guess she googles you from time to time, or has heard, if the international school community is as small as you say.

    1. Sue*

      That’s what I was thinking, that there is a decent chance she knows he is there. Interesting to know her motivation if she does.

  35. Eljay*

    OP, I agree that reaching out to your ex directly, in advance of her start date, is the right thing to do. Perhaps if you speak to her with true humility and remorse she will be forgiving. Hopefully she has moved on with her life and is in a better place (and a better relationship!).

    If she reacts badly or doesn’t feel she can work with you, it will be an opportunity for you to do the right thing and resign. If you’re truly sorry for your past actions, then as hard as it may be, you will be able to make amends by leaving your job and leaving her in peace.

  36. FDCA In Canada*

    I’ve been Sylvia in this situation, minus the employment.

    My then-fiance said he was going on a business trip and just…never returned. We weren’t living together at the time, but he never called me again, never texted, deleted me off social media, and when I finally managed to track him down to ask “are you alive?” and “WTF?” his reaction was “I just didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to hurt you!” I can’t explain to you how emotionally scarring this was and how infinitely worse it would have been for Sylvia, living with you, OP. This is not ghosting. This is not just not-calling-after-a-few-dates. It’s been many years and I am happily married now, but I can honestly say I would not ever work with that man again. Of course I wouldn’t trust his judgment–I’ve seen it firsthand! Sure, it’s been many years, maybe he’s changed, but…the cardinal rule really ought to be to make the workplace as stress-free as possible and I don’t see a way to manage that.

    Actions have consequences. Your consequences might be that you give up this job. If you want to make a last-ditch effort for it, write her sincerely, do not blame anything on her emotions (you caused those emotions, by the way), and apologize for your horrid behaviour and ask what you can do to make the workplace a more pleasant environment for her. But don’t be surprised if nothing works.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Oh god, that is awful. Just awful. What a terrible way to treat someone. Of course you’re going to hurt someone doing that – the only difference is that you can ignore it.

      I agree that this is such an issue of judgement and character. I wouldn’t want someone with such a weak character working for me.

    2. The IT Manager*

      +1 “This is not ghosting.”
      — Frankly the LW was completely downplaying what he did by calling it “ghosting” and not telling Alison that he disappeared with no communication on the woman he lived with for two years. Which doesn’t actually point to him being sincerely sorry about hurting Sylvia by calling it his “forgotten history”.

      I’m so sorry this happened to you. Running away caused Sylvia (and FDCA in Canada) much more pain than an awkward conversation. The LW and fiancé avoided an awkward conversation and witnessing the pain they cause someone that they (presumably) once cared for, but they caused much more pain, confusion, damage, loss of trust and self-esteem by being a coward. They avoided hurt, but hurt Sylvia and FDCA so much worse than if they’d had a normal I’m not ready to settle down break up.

    3. teclatrans*

      Oh, god, the cowardice. “I didn’t want to hurt you” is bullshit. “I knew it would hurt you and couldn’t bear to face the hurt, so I constructed a fantasy where out of sight meant out of mind,” leaving you to bear a double burden of hurt, plus self-doubt, humiliation, and all the rest. Boo.

      1. Solidad*

        Or “I cared about me and didn’t care about you. My being potentially uncomfortable was scarier to me than potentially devastating your world and screwing with your ability to trust men.”


        This letter conveys all that to me. And this is the wrongdoer trying to frame things. I wonder what she would say if asked?

    4. Gadfly*

      I’m acquainted with Mark Hoffman’s ex-wife (he was a forger and bomber, for those who don’t know of him) and I find stories like this always ring a bell. There is a matter of degree to consider, but it is very clearly the same spectrum.

    5. Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude*

      Yeah, I had an ex who did this not to me, but to her previous ex. She at least had the decency to personally respond to her then-girlfriend’s reasonably concerned attempts to track her down… after a month.

      I can’t say it forever changed how I saw her, because people who do this kind of stuff are usually doing similar stuff in smaller does. It was shocking, but not surprising. I think that is important because it really was emblematic of her worldview–it was this single, aberrant act that stemmed from the same impulses and justifications that lay behind littler things, like hissing whispered criticism at me during parties, then fuming because I wasn’t acting happy enough, or setting me up to believe she was cheating on me*, then accusing me of being crazy when I wasn’t acting happy enough.

      All that to say, I wouldn’t work with her unless I was seriously desperate for $$$. Not because I’m still distraught over the relationship**, and not because she’s not a competent professional (no idea). I just wouldn’t want to be around her daily, because my experience of her behavior has been so disturbing from a human point of view that she creeps me the fuck out.

      *Possibly by actually cheating on me? Haven’t figured that one out, wouldn’t really care if I wasn’t fascinated by human behavior. It’s definitely more disturbing if she was just pretending to cheat on me, but way more interesting. People, man.
      **Ha! NOPE

  37. Edina Monsoon*

    If it was me I’d go to the director of the school and explain what happened and acknowledge that it’s obviously going to be very awkward and that she’s unlikely to take any apology from you as genuine at this point, so how would they like you to proceed? perhaps you can work out a deal where you report to the director instead of her to avoid her being in a position where she has to manage you.

    Fwiw we all make mistakes when we’re younger and don’t expect them to come back and bite us on the behind, you’ve just been spectacularly unlucky!

    1. KDat*

      That’s a pretty shit mistake.

      He didn’t ghost her after a month of casual dating… Therapy might be in order (for him- to be a decent human and figure out why it was ever okay to treat someone so poorly and expect there would never be consequences).

    2. Morning Glory*

      My reading of the letter is that Sylvia is the director – I don’t think there is a higher boss to report to. I also would not necessarily recommend the OP make his first action in regard to Sylvia an attempt to undermine her by appealing to a higher authority.

      That would torpedo the shred of a chance the OP has that he and Sylvia are able to work together (which would already require that Sylvia be a distant outlier on the forgiveness bell curve).

      1. Edina Monsoon*

        Yeah, it’s a really really shitty thing to have done but he can’t undo it now and an apology to her isn’t really going to cut it, so I’d go to whoever hired her and say what the situation is, as a preventative measure so that even if/when he does have to leave at least he won’t have to use Sylvia as a reference. Best case scenario is that Sylvia has put it behind her and is able to work with him but that seems unlikely and I’d want to make sure someone knew the back story in case she decides to try to get revenge.

        1. Morning Glory*

          I really don’t think revenge is an apt word for the potential problems, and framing it that way for the OP is not doing him any favors.

    3. Observer*

      I’d say that this is a very risky move, and not likely to succeed even if the OP handles everything perfectly. And if he lets ANY hint of his real attitude towards Sylvia come through (ie emotional, obsessed) he’ll be out the door the minute she comes in AND his reputation is going to be mud. (And it might be mud anyway – what he did really speaks to major character issues.)

      Even if he’s perfect, this is not just about reporting structures. For one thing, anyone above the Director (which is the position that Sylvia is taking) is not likely to be in a good position to manage a teacher. Beyond that, the Director needs to be able to work with (and trust) the teachers, no matter who they officially report to. On top of that Sylvia is likely to see this as a way to bypass her and to undermine her. What’s more she would have a point, because if the OP is able to bypass her, it WILL undermine her, unless everyone knows why it’s happening, which is something the OP really needs to avoid if he can.

      1. Edina Monsoon*

        Not undermine, just make sure that he’s not in a vulnerable position.
        I think it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to have to leave this job but if Sylvia is still angry, and who could blame her, she might make up something to fire him for, so yeah, I’d want someone higher up to be aware that she might have it in for him.

        1. motherofdragons*

          But, if OP is in an at-will position, Sylvia would be within her rights to fire him for whatever cause she finds, “made up” or not. Going to someone higher up would not protect him. In fact, I think it would only make him look worse, like he was trying to cover his ass for the terrible hurt he once caused Sylvia.

          1. Gadfly*

            I calculate the odds of this backfiring to be rather high.

            It is one thing to go to HR and say “we have history and it was bad”
            (and even then it is problematic.) It is another thing altogether to say “we have a history where I did horrible things so now I’m afraid.”

        2. Mookie*

          OP didn’t mention a contract, so Sylvia would have no need to “make something up.” He can be fired for this or be asked to resign, and neither of those scenarios are ridiculous or unfair. Sylvia has demonstrated thus far no penchant for any kind of revenge or blackmail (OP’s spun this his way, but even in doing so she comes out as looking reasonable and responsible), so projecting more fantasies onto her is unhelpful for everyone. Stoking his paranoia about Sylvia as a walking, talking Scorned Woman cliché won’t serve him well and approaching his current employers in that frame of mind will either make him look even more ridiculous or will sabotage Sylvia’s future at their school.

    4. You're Not My Supervisor*

      From what I understand in this letter his ex IS the new director, so he already reports to the director.

    5. Rachel Green*

      This was not just a mistake. He isn’t unlucky. His actions were cruel. He applied for job out of the country, without telling her about the job search. And then just disappeared. At Christmas!

      I get that people here are trying to be kind of nice to the OP, but we don’t really know what age the OP was when all of this happened. If he was old enough to maintain a serious, 3 year relationship with someone, he’s old enough to end that relationship in a non-cruel way.

    6. General Ginger*

      I wouldn’t say the OP is unlucky. I’d say the OP made their bed and is about to have to lie in it.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      One thing we all have ignored is that OP says this is a small community.
      What if some of them ALREADY know? Now what?

      OP, you asked for an action plan. I think your best action plan is to watch every step you take and every single word that comes out of your mouth.

    8. Marghe*

      This is the comment I was looking for, I felt pretty alone here.

      Personal life of 10 years ago isn’t something that should be so incredibly relevant, even if it was a bad move. Is not illegal, is not even borderline, is just bad judgment of a young person that ideally improved their view (he demonstrate he did, even if is as mortify as most of the people here wanted to see apparently).

      OP tried to build his life again, new environment, new partner, new work. Telling him he should resign “if he is really sorry” is way too much. This is basically suggesting that she is entitled to ruin his life due to his previous mistake. How is this better that what he did?

      I agree with Edina about letting the director know (he may wish to no get drama in the school actually, and this is his call) and let her know (she may decide she doesn’t want the job, her call again).

      I agree also with the suggestion about “looking around” : fair or not, OP may just decide is not worth being involved in that, but should be his call.

  38. Catalin*

    Is there anyone like a second-in-command to the director? Yes, you need to apologize to Sylvia and discuss how to work together moving forward, but it might be helpful to have a sit-down with another higher-up and have a conversation about a) the relationship with Sylvia (just the facts, i.e. you were involved in a three year relationship and you abandoned her 10 years ago) and b) how can this history be addressed in a professional setting. Like any ex, there may need to be layers between you and the director (ex) in order for everything to remain kosher.

    1. Nineveh*

      Agreed. The LW behaved like a dick, but people work with people they’ve had horrible break-ups from all the time – I’m in academia, it’s full of people who are divorced or once had an ill-advised affair and can’t be asked to work together. LW’s position is awkward by completely get manageable if everyone involves behaves like a reasonable professional person. If they don’t, they then that’s what they should be losing a job for, not a fuck-up in the past, big fuck-up as it was.
      LW needs to go to the other senior management team or board of governors/whoever, explain the basics (no significant detail, no negative comments about Sylvia), and they would like to discuss how it can be managed and the school ask Sylvia for her input. I’d suggest that the company, not the LW, informs Sylvia so she isn’t blindsided by the contact.

    2. Zip Zap*

      I agree. Having a conversation with a supervisor is another option. OP, if you take that route, I would keep it impersonal and stick to the facts: “The new director and I were in a three year relationship a decade ago. It ended badly and I was at fault. We haven’t spoken since. I think that if we were to work together, there would be challenges. What would you recommend?”

  39. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Also, OP, I think you need to re-think your comment that you “weren’t ready to commit” because living together for 2 years is a pretty big commitment.

    1. CMDRBNA*

      Yeahhhhhhh, I got the “not ready to commit” line from my (now ex) boyfriend after eight years. EIGHT YEARS. Eight years IS a commitment.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah…usually if you’re not ready to commit and you don’t want to be settled down, you say no when the person asks to move in together…

    3. Lora*

      Eh, I was married for 15 years and there were certain things I would not let my ex share. So I can kinda see that. Even now, if I had a partner, I’d be fine with living with someone but I’d never share my bank account.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This comment confuses me because it seems to imply that you have to share a bank account with someone to be committed to them.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I think commitment means different things to different people. I’m sure there are people out there who are in a romantic relationship, have lived together for 2 years, and aren’t ‘committed’.

        2. Lora*

          No, I’m just saying there’s different levels of commitment. I’d be happy to live with a partner, share my shampoo bottle and stuff, but I had a partner who asked if I’d be willing to have children with him and was disappointed that I wouldn’t commit on that level. I’m saying it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        That has nothing to do with commitment. That’s merely a financial arrangement between the members of a couple. Some share and some don’t. It doesn’t imply you’re not committed if you have your own bank account.

  40. Emma*

    I’m trying to think about what it would be like if the OP is able to stay working at the school. Presumably eventually a coworker will hear about this story, and will most likely be horrified with the OP. I guess the only way to avoid that scenario would be if Sylvia never tells anyone… which, maybe? Like maybe she wouldn’t want anyone to know this painful part of her past? But all it would take would be one wine-filled time confiding in a coworker, and boom.

    1. k.k*

      OP said that it’s a small, tight community and that the teachers socialize, so I don’t see a scenario in which this doesn’t come out. Even if Sylvia doesn’t want to bring it up immediately, people are going to notice the awkwardness between them and pry.

      On the up-ish side, it might make it easier for OP to move if they no longer have any friends there. (I realize that’s a stretch, but trying to find a constructive or positive spin for this one is hard).

    2. JMO*

      Something tells me OP would counteract all that by telling this close-knit community that Sylvia the New Director is “rather emotional” and “obsessed.”

      1. Mookie*

        Now that he’s told the world at large that, through AAM, yes, I imagine that’s his plan of action. OP, please don’t be a toady about this. If you’re actually remorseful, don’t compound your cruelty by trying to salvage your reputation at the expense of someone you’ve victimized.

        1. Gadfly*

          Especially since you can see it only seems to have worked for a very few special people, and everyone else thinks worse of OP for it…

  41. MicroManagered*

    This letter made me wonder: What’s the protocol when a new manager takes over and finds that there’s someone there they can’t reasonably work with? Does Sylvia have the right/ability to terminate OP?

    (I know that’s a more complex question because we’re talking about a non-US / unknown country, there could be contracts involved, etc… But assuming your typical at-will employment situation.)

    PS: I’m not suggesting that this is the correct course of action — I’m just curious about those situations we’ve seen where someone can’t reasonably be expected to work with someone else due to reasons outside the workplace.

    1. INeedANap*

      I have no idea and it’s an interesting question!

      I think that it’s reasonable to ask the company to accommodate the new manager presuming they were the “victim” – either by reassigning the “offender”, having someone else manage that person, or even firing the person if the incoming manager was a valuable enough asset to the company (assuming at-will).

      I would be surprised if Sylvia had the right or ability to terminate OP directly, however, purely because of a past personal relationship no matter how terribly she was treated (excluding abuse). I image it would be really bad for morale with other employees who have no way of knowing whose story to believe, but have a friendly history with OP, to see OP fired so suddenly and for such a (to them, who aren’t part of the history) subjective reason. I also imagine it would be bad for the company image to allow Sylvia to fire OP for just this reason, because of the risk the OP would tell people he was fired because Sylvia didn’t like him (no matter how justified we find that dislike).

      Actually, even if Sylvia were to fire OP for purely work-related reasons, I would still have HR or a boss do it just because the history could be construed as the reason.

      1. Roscoe*

        Exactly. I stated this below. But even knowing all of this. If I have one person who I have known and worked with (and hung with socially) previously. Then their ex comes in and fires them or has them fired, I can’t say I’d have a lot of respect for my new manager. Its not a good look at all. Because there are 2 sides to every story, and I’d be more inclined to believe the person I already have a relationship with , not some stranger.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          There are two sides, but in this case I’m having trouble imagining how there’s a side that paints the LW better than his own words, which make him look pretty darn bad.

          1. Roscoe*

            Maybe its just me, but I can separate my friends behavior toward their girlfriends from my opinion of them as my friends. I’ve definitely had friends I know cheated on their girlfriends. I didn’t condone or support their behavior, but I also looked at that as a separate thing from their friendship with me. So even if they told me this exact thing, knowing it happened 10 years ago, to someone I didn’t know, I’d still be friends with him. With that said, I’d still have a lack of respect for my new boss who fired them because of that.

            1. Anita*

              Roscoe, are you a man? As a woman, I don’t separate it from their friendship with me, because I’m only friends with men who respect women.

              Cheating on your partner, and then having sex with them afterwards without disclosing the cheating, robs them of full consent in your sexual relationship and of the ability to make informed decisions about their bodies (bless Kai Cole for laying this out in her criticism of her ex, Joss Whedon). (It’s different if someone cheats and comes clean immediately.)

              Where do you draw the line? If your male friends abuse their girlfriends in other ways is that separate from their friendship with you?

              1. Roscoe*

                Yep, I’m a guy. I don’t think cheating on a girlfriend means you don’t respect women period though. I have female friends that I know cheated on their boyfriends too. I don’t think that means they don’t respect any men. In fact, those friend are married now. They made mistakes in the past, owned up to them with their current partners. If their partners can get past something they did in the past, why can’t I?

                And like I said, different sections of your life. Someone can be a great friend and a horrible boyfriend. Or a great co-worker and a horrible roommate. I’m able to compartmentalize those things, and base my relationship with them on how they treat me.

                That said, as to your question of abuse? I honestly don’t know. I’ve never had that happen. So while I could sit here and say I’d cut them out of my life completely, I don’t know if it would be true depending on how close my relationship with them was. Maybe you think that makes me a bad person, and that’s fine. But I don’t think everything is that black and white. I can hate a specific act a person did, without that negating everything else we have been through in the past.

                1. Solidad*

                  One off cheating is very different than repeated infidelity. It still involves violating the bodily autonomy and right to make informed decisions by the cheated-on partner. I could not be friends with anyone who did that more than once. Because if they do that to the person they love and whom they’ve promised fidelity, then what will they do to me?

                  A partner cannot cheat long term, however, without some serious lying and gaslighting. I’ve seen spouses have PTSD from this that is as bad as the soldiers and abused children I’ve worked with.

                  It’s not just the sex. It’s the robbing of the cheated-on partner’s right to make informed decisions. It’s the messing with their sense of reality. The former isn’t rape, but it sure isn’t fully informed consent. The latter is certainly abusive. I’ve seen too many cases of it.

                  Actually, I’ve seen physical abuse cases where the victim was better off than some of the gaslighting cases I’ve seen. Physical abuse is painful, but it does not cause the victim to doubt themselves and all of reality in the way gaslighting and other emotional abuse does.

                  Not saying you are wrong to have cheaters as friends. Just saying you may want to do a lot more thinking about this. It’s not a black and white issue. But it is an issue.

                2. Anita*

                  I agree with Solidad that it’s the subsequent lying and gaslighting that can, in some circumstances, elevate cheating to serious emotional abuse. Not all bad actions mean someone is a bad person, but there is definitely a subset of them that deeply suggest that. We see this all the time in the blog when we consider certain offenses coachable, and others indicative of a more fundamental untrustworthiness. I really think you should reflect on this because it’s not as simple as “my buddy was a dick to his girlfriend but it has no bearing on our friendship.” When an individual woman mistreats men, that’s generally an individual decision, but when a man engages in that behavior, it occurs within a constellation of power dynamics and socialization.

                  So, basically, if a man treats his girlfriend this way, it is more likely that there are other issues (misogyny, sexism – which we see on display with the OP, who uses gendered language, like “causing a scene” to trivialize his girlfriend’s feelings, and which is basically gaslighting in light of his later description of his behavior).

                  I’m concerned that you don’t seem to see the difference between “cheating on a girlfriend” and what this guy did (serious callous abandonment followed by gaslighting). I really don’t understand your logic: this guy did something abusive that potentially caused lasting psychological damage to someone. Why would you judge the boss for not being able to work with him? If he had beaten her or raped her during the relationship, would you feel differently?

                3. AGirlCalledFriday*

                  I hear this sort of thing often, Roscoe, and I’ve never understood it. I truly think this is one of the worst things about our society – the ability to turn a blind eye to mistreatment because it doesn’t impact ME. I understand your reasoning here “this is my buddy, maybe he’s a shitty boyfriend but he’s not a shitty friend.” I also am seeing this with several comments “He was shitty as a boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean he’s a shitty professional.” I don’t think the argument holds water.

                  People are not like rainbows. They don’t shine out and whoops! you got the orange color which sucks, and you got blue which is horrible, and red is abusive, but if you got green, yellow, or purple they are pretty swell! No. When your friends cheat on their girlfriends and act otherwise terribly, that’s their character and it says something about the caliber of person they are, AS A WHOLE. When you choose to disregard that, you are sending the message that you don’t care about their character. That’s not a real friendship. You are also contributing to society’s ills: your friend turns out to be a racist, abuser, rapist, or any other kind of jerk – you are making it possible for people like that to survive in our society where they should be actively shunned. “You have been cheating on your longterm girlfriend and potentially passing diseases to her while she is paying your bills and giving you a place to stay? That’s not cool, and it makes me think we don’t have the same morality barometer and I’m going to find other people to spend time with who I can respect.” That has an impact. Not “Oh man that sucks, are you up for hoops tomorrow?”

                4. Mookie*

                  Roscoe, if you haven’t, I’d investigate what a Missing Stair is, and why harboring one in your professional and personal circles is dangerous, has a chilling effect, creates splash damage, and reinforces certain intersections of oppression. Compartmentalizing may be natural, may feel good, and may be easy, but it has tangible consequences of the lives and well-being of people you probably care about.

            2. Sylvan*

              I think if someone treats an SO badly, that’s a bit of a red flag for how they’ll treat a friend. I’ve unfortunately been right about that a few times. You know your friends better than an internet stranger, though.

            3. JP*

              To be honest, the respect of someone who is too cowardly and lacking in character to stand up to those who mistreat others “because it’s nothing to do with me!!” isn’t actually worth having.

        2. The Voice of Reason*

          Exactly this. If OP has resided in this country for a year or so, he already has a network of friends there. The ex coming in and firing him would reflect badly on her, regardless of the fact OP was at fault in the breakup. The expat community doesn’t know these people as former romantic partners. They know them as new boss and longtime teacher.

    2. Roscoe*

      Me too. I mean it seems to be a tough situation. I’m not going to be like most people and say “You reap what you sow” or anything like that. But I mean, if she can’t reasonably manage him, I don’t think that is grounds for termination, even in an at will situation that seems pretty horrible. (and i’m not excusing OPs behavior)

      1. MicroManagered*

        Absolutely agree. Again, definitely don’t think it’s the right or fair outcome to THIS situation. (But also not excusing OP’s behavior, or tone in discussing Sylvia’s response, for that matter.)

        But we’ve seen LWs ask about whether it was right that they were not hired based on their previous relationship with a current staff member, or what to do when you realize you have to manage someone who was done grave harm by a distant family member of yours, etc.

        When you get two people together who can’t reasonably be expected to work together, who has the onus to leave? The wrong-doer who’s an existing employee? Or the new person, who was wronged?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not reasonable to expect the ex to manage him, and given the awfulness of what he did, it’s reasonable that he should be the one to uproot his life to deal with that fact. Is he going to screw her over again by causing her to have to back out of this job? The right thing to do here is to be the one to take the hit, if one of them needs to.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          But shouldn’t their manager (board, etc.) be most interested in what is best for the school? And couldn’t the best choice for the organization (if not karma) be keeping their known-quantity teacher over their new hire?

          I don’t intend to argue this point, just to raise it. What would you do if you were on the board of the school (or whoever has authority over this situation)?

          1. SignalLost*

            OP has demonstrated a really serious problem with his ethics, or his morality, or his communication, or all of the above. For the same reason I wouldn’t keep the LW who forged her permission email, I wouldn’t keep the OP. The known quantity just changed, and I have serious questions about his integrity.

          2. Gadfly*

            You can usually tell who is most valuable to an organization by the title and paycheck.

            My money is on director versus one math teacher…

    3. Amy*

      The legality would depend on where the company is, but under typical US at-will employment, I don’t think there’s a legal reason you can’t. At-will employment means they can fire you for mostly whatever they want as long as the reason isn’t in a protected class–and ‘I treated my ex so badly that now she doesn’t feel she can work with me, and my company values her more than me’ isn’t a protected class.

      The more complex part to me would be the company policy/social pros and cons side of things. Many companies have policies that require a documented history of issues (performance, insubordination, etc.) before firing someone. A manager generally shouldn’t try to go against company policy; that may mean that the manager is keeping a close eye on this person and being harder on potential infractions with them than with other people, but they probably couldn’t just fire them off the bat.

      Even if a policy doesn’t exist, a new manager coming in and immediately firing a longtime employee is likely to cause a lot of alarm among other employees. Even if there’s nothing legal or company-policy wise stopping them, it’s worth weighing the pros of having that person gone vs. the cons of what kind of first impression it will make on the rest of their team.

      1. GrandBargain*

        I don’t see that workplace and at-will employment laws are directly applicable here. Instead, I see the relative freedom of managers to terminate an at-will employee being used as cover for an act of personal retribution. So many of the commenters suggest that Sylvia should fire OP as a just response for his abandoning her. Many might say that OP deserves what he gets, but then it is not about the job. What class of laws would apply to a manager intentionally sabotaging the career of a subordinate as revenge for something that happened 10 years ago?