update: the CEO is obsessed with me and wants me to be his emotional support

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest of the year I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose boss was obsessed with her and wanted her to be his emotional support? The first update was here, and here’s the latest.

Your readers may remember me as the executive assistant who wanted advice about the increasingly obsessive behavior of their CEO. Shortly after reading your response, I began job hunting in the public sector. I was disillusioned by my recent experiences and the thought of landing a position that was even remotely similar made my skin crawl. Fortunately, I was able to land a position in my local government after a relatively brief search. I’ve been in this new position for a few months and it’s been the single most humbling experience of my life: the caliber of people that I work for and with is astonishing; I’ve never been part of a team that operates this way and it’s incredibly gratifying. However, I’ve been struggling to find my footing and rather than hit the ground running, I took two steps and face planted. I feel like I’ve gone from playing with Lego Duplo to Lego Creator Expert sets overnight — one of the many astute comments left by your readers suggested that my old job was doing nothing for my skill building and they couldn’t have been more right! However, I’m happy to say my new boss has been incredible at every turn: they understand it’s been a rough transition and they are willing to see me through. I’m learning and growing in fantastic and challenging ways for the first time in my adult career. It’s been really hard, but the kind of hard that makes a person better for having experienced it.

As you can expect, it’s been a really bitter pill to swallow, now that I have first hand knowledge of what an appropriate EA/executive relationship should look like. In an effort to insure that my ex-boss is no longer able to leverage his title and position to manipulate or out-right force women into these relationships with him, I’ve retained an attorney and am currently working through the list of options available to hold him and the organization accountable.

And I’m still married, happily for the most part (ha!)

I remain forever grateful that you responded – you and your readers showed me everything I was missing when I was too close to see.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

    I’m so glad that you recognize your former job held you back from learning and growing. It’d be so easy to think that you couldn’t hack it and it’s you that’s the problem, rather than realizing and spelling out that your professional growth was hindered. I wish you the absolute best.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yes, 100%. And I’m glad that you’re now in an organization where people help you adjust and skill up.

  2. OrigCassandra*

    I hope you and your attorney give that creep hell, OP, and I’m very glad you’re in a better situation now.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed, it’s good that this time there may be something done to stop this guy. But let’s not make this a requirement – sometimes just escaping takes all the victims energy, and getting out to live well is also a successful outcome.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Even if LW “only”* uses the attorney’s advice as part of her own education and growth, it will still have been worthwhile and much more than many of us would have the stones and spoons to look into. Brava!

          * scare quotes because still a big deal

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Yes to all of this. I’m proud of OP for getting out and recognizing that the situation was abusive and horrible, and especially proud for OP’s taking the extra step to try to protect anyone this guy hires after OP left. That situation was terrifying and it’s excellent that OP’s current boss is able to help OP catch up on skills and that OP is learning what a normal boss and work situation is like. Hooray!

    1. ferrina*

      Yes! So happy for this update! LW, you are doing so well for yourself after a horrible situation. Please continue to keep us posted!

  3. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I have so many questions about the legal part that you absolutely should not answer in a public forum, but I’m so happy you retained a lawyer and feel like you are going to make legitimate change. You had an awful experience – hopefully you have enough great experiences to come that it will be a bad memory and a dinner party story before too long. You’ve handled everything well and I’m happy for you.

  4. nm*

    Oh goodness, I missed the original letter at its time but reading it now–boy am I glad that there’s a “I’m ok” update!

    1. MigraineMonth*

      The original letter was terrifying. Of all the bad boss behavior I’ve read on here, this CEO’s behavior was the one that really haunted me.

      Thank you so much for sharing these updates, OP. I’m so, so glad you got out safely. Know that we’re all rooting for you, whether or not you end up pursuing/succeeding with legal action.

    2. Quinalla*

      I did see the original letter and the update, but yes so glad to see I’m ok and out update! I hope everything goes well with your attorney OP and hopefully you aren’t beating yourself up too much. You knew enough to reach out for help and get yourself the heck out of there, that’s amazing with how much it must have seemed normal.

  5. higheredadmin*

    I was just re-reading the original letter and first update, and noticed that Creep CEO is married? What on earth? It is hard to move on from an unhealthy work environment to a healthy one, and give yourself grace OP as you cope with that adjustment. I’m sending you and your attorney good vibes for your lawsuit. Thank you for standing up for future women who might end up working for Creep CEO.

      1. Artemesia*

        But his wife seemed to be part of team harassment; she was the one that insisted she cut up her company card and send video of her doing it. I hope she sued them for major damages; this was really egregious.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Yeah, this kind of toxic can sometimes become a folie a deux of sorts. See: the Cosbys, Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffery Epstein, etc. Obviously those are extreme examples, but the “supportive spouse gone totally off the rails with said ‘support'” can be a thing, for sure.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          This is somebody who was grooming his assistant using cult tactics; it’s unlikely that he gives his wife honest information about this. Remember the HR person he defamed and sacked, and convinced the OP about, before moving in on OP?

        3. pierrotlunaire*

          There was also speculation in some of the comments that the communication coming from “the wife” was actually coming the CEO using a fake email. None of the communication (if I remember correctly) was via phone, but all emails or texts.

      2. Le Sigh*

        Yup. My experience is that a lot of creeps are pretty good at putting up a mask of normalcy around others. In fact, being married gives them great cover. And in any case, I don’t think the CEO’s behavior was about being in love/obsessed with her in that way.

  6. Feral Campsite Raccoon*

    I’m so glad. I was really afraid this one was going to end up very, very poorly, to be honest.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      Same here. It’s hard enough to get rid of a stalker in the first place, let alone one with loads of money and influence. OP getting herself a lawyer and getting out of that horrible work environment are the best possible things she could have done here.

      And don’t be down on yourself for stumbling when you started your new job, OP. Any new job has a learning curve and you need time to recover from the humungous case of “toxic job syndrome” you picked up at Mr. Creepo’s business.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        It seems pretty normal to me to struggle at the start of a new job, even without all the awfulness OP has had to deal with. Heck, one retail job I had, it took 6 months for new staff to stop causing more problems than they solved and a few more months before they were actively helpful. It was true of me and everyone else who started after me. That was just the nature of going into something new with that kind of learning curve.

        1. ferrina*

          Yes! When starting a new job, most people hit the ground stumbling. That’s why it’s so important to have a strong onboarding. Add in the stress of escaping an obsessive, dangerous boss like this, and it makes sense that it’s a LOT.

          I started a new job shortly after a major family emergency, and it sucked. I found a therapist to be really helpful to keep me grounded and help me start the new job with good habits.

      2. Dragon*

        Another early stumbler here. I already had a big adjustment going from BigFirm back to SmallFirm, and from big-city downtown to a suburban office. It’s a welcome change, just a big adjustment after many years in BigFirm downtown settings.

        My early stumble wasn’t because I didn’t know what I was doing. It was that being new, I simply wasn’t familiar with some substantive points of the project.

        SmallFirm is much quieter and simpler than bureaucratic BigFirm, and my colleagues are all terrific. BigFirm has some good people, but very few of them are in positions to influence firm policy for the better.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Same. The bit about him wanting to “fight for us” was legit one of the creepiest, most concerning things I’ve ever read on this site. And that bar is very high.

      Good for you, OP, for kicking yourself free.

      1. MEH Squared*

        Agreed. I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding as I read this update.

        OP, congrats on getting out and into a much better job. I’m so thankful that you’re in a better place literally and emotionally. Good luck with your lawyer and hope your ex-boss gets all that he deserves. Wishing you all the best!

  7. Plumeria*

    Just read the entire saga, and wow, oh, wow. A lot commentors on the update suggested counseling, and I think that’s a great idea. That much time in such a toxic atmosphere is bound to have left a mark.

    About holding him accountable through legal means, that’s a long row to hoe. I’ve take legal action against a former employer, and you really have to be realistic about what you can achieve and, more importantly, the impact on you. You can’t always count on the lawyer to be candid about these things, esp. if they are on retainer. Be sure you are getting good advice about how much of what your former CEO did was actually illegal as opposed to creepy and toxic. Illegal is actionable through the courts. Creepy and toxic is not. Get a second opinion, in fact. Continuing on with the action when you are not likely to win a case can keep you enmeshed with your former CEO when you really want to be moving on. It is time consuming, emotionally draining, and expensive.

    1. The+Baconing*

      Counseling is really a great idea to help the OP process the toxic environment they left so they can move forward and not carry that with you them. You just don’t know how many habits for survival you carry with you from working for someone like that until you leave and realize you’re doing it in a space that doesn’t need it.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      This is exceptionally good advice. I was going to ask if the legal route is the best option. It’s not your obligation, OP, to protect future women from this guy, even though you may feel a desire to do so. Your primary objective needs to be separating yourself from any contact or involvement with him, and I would look first at counselling.

      If you need a cease-and-desist letter created to get this guy to leave you alone (and to send to your former employer as well), that’s one thing. Getting involved in a lawsuit is another thing entirely, and you have to decide what is best for you, and what is achievable. It may very well be that walking away is safer and healthier for you.

      I’m really glad that you’re out of that environment and into a good one. If you are struggling with your role, and if you trust the company/your manager/HR – it might be a good thing to let them know what you are coming out of, and to avail yourself of the EAP program (if one exists), and to get some counselling from someone who specializes in work relationships.

  8. Whynot*

    So glad to see this update, OP. I’m glad you have found such a good place to land after a truly awful experience. An understanding boss and colleagues you can learn from are invaluable, particularly as you heal from your trauma, learn new and better workplace norms, and rebuild your self-confidence on better foundations after years of undermining and gaslighting. My guess is that you’re being too hard on yourself about that faceplant, and that your boss and colleagues see your attitude and willingness to learn as a true asset. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to those closest to you. You’ve been through a lot! You survived, you’re healing, and now you’re in a place where you can grow and thrive.

    As for your former boss and his organization – I sincerely hope they get the full measure of karma that is coming to them. What they did to you was illegal, unethical, and truly horrifying. Kudos to you for doing what you can to hold them accountable.

  9. Clobberin' Time*

    That’s great, LW! Please understand what your boss’s support means – that they see YOU as a valuable employee and that training you in those skills will be an investment for them.

  10. Zweisatz*

    I am so so glad to read this update! Please make sure to take any time you may still need to be angry and just work through what your former job put you through.

    Also I want to mention, just in case the legal route doesn’t go as intended, that it is not your job to make sure he doesn’t do this again. It’s his job and that of every person with power in your former organisation.
    I hope it all works out as planned! But if it doesn’t, anything that happens afterwards has nothing to do with you and everything to do with his weirdo self.

    In the meantime have fun with your new job! In sounds like a great opportunity.

    1. Observer*

      Also I want to mention, just in case the legal route doesn’t go as intended, that it is not your job to make sure he doesn’t do this again. It’s his job and that of every person with power in your former organisation.

      OP, I think this is worth highlighting. I am glad that you are trying to find a way to hold him accountable. But at the end of the day, it really is not your job and if you don’t succeed don’t let it get you down. You can be sure the this will catch up to him eventually.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        This, exactly.

        I’ve been through abusive exes, abusive coworkers and the horrible burden society puts on the victims (“you HAVE to report it else he’ll do it again and think of their next victim!”) is really hard to deal with on one’s own. I needed years of therapy to deal with the fact that the guy who did things horrible to me was never even punished at all.

        There’s a part of me who’s still scared he’s out there doing this to other women – and he probably is. But that part is shouted down by the trained bit that says “that’s entirely HIS fault. HIS. Not mine”.

        (I tried the legal route – but police really don’t believe r*pe claims round here)

        1. Pants*

          Or anywhere, I’ve found. “Think of the next victim” is incredibly cruel to say to someone who has been through a harrowing experience. Start with #1, first and foremost, which is always you-yourself-you. Helping others can be re-traumatizing if we’re not prepared to do so. Your obligation is to yourself first and foremost. And eff crappy cops.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Wanted to echo this important point. You cannot be responsible for his future behaviour. I super hope that the legal avenues you’re exploring do actually stop him from abusing others and that you get something to help repair the damage he caused. But however it works out, none of his behaviour is on you. None of it. You do not have the power on your own to change him and nobody should make you in any way responsible.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Echoing you don’t have the power to make him change. The only way abusive people change is if they WANT to change. And a lot don’t.

    1. HufferWare*

      OP, so happy to read this update. Your original letter and first update were so harrowing, I’m glad you got out of that situation and are fighting back against a capital-C CREEP! Best of luck in the new job!

  11. Gigi*

    Yay! I’m so happy for you! Not only that you’re safe, but that you had such a great landing. I’m confident that you’re already contributing more than you know. Good luck!

  12. RJ*

    OP, I am so very, very happy you are in a better job and situation away from this unhinged former boss. Best of luck to you and your legal case. What a creep that guy was/is.

  13. Brain the Brian*

    Good for you, OP! I’m so glad that you got out of a truly nightmarish work situation. My fingers crossed that your marriage continues to survive, and hopefully all areas of your personal and professional life can thrive now. I work government-adjacent, and I agree that — for the most part — civil servants are insanely competent, extremely collaborative, and very high-performers.

  14. EPLawyer*

    OP so glad you are in a job where you have support.

    But I will echo others. Employment law is a tough miserable case. You have my support as you go through this. Counseling would be a good idea because it can get UGLY.

  15. Princesa*

    Thank you so much for the update! I’m so glad to hear that you are still married and are in a better job. I’ve been following this since the first day your letter got released. Best of luck going forward. I hope everything continues to get better going forward, and I’m glad you are out of such a bad situation.

  16. Ellen+Ripley*

    Congrats on your new job! It is very normal to feel overwhelmed or like you’re not learning quick enough for the first 6 months to a year when you start a new position, so don’t let that make you feel bad! What helps me is reminding myself of what I have learned in the past few weeks (i.e. I didn’t used to know how to do X, look at me now!). Even starting to write them on your resume so you don’t forget can be a good exercise. Also have patience with yourself and the process, you will get to a point were things are easier. You got this!

  17. Berin*

    I went to re-read your initial two emails before reading this update, and holy cow, let me join the chorus of folks who are so happy that you’ve managed to escape that abuser. It’s a really hard thing to recognize dysfunction when it’s all you’ve ever been around; it’s very much a frog in boiling water scenario (ask me how I know!). You should be so proud of yourself for recognizing that what you went through was not okay.

    Best wishes moving forward!!

  18. Sick+of+Workplace+Bullshit+(she/her)*

    I’m so happy for you, OP! That was one of the scariest letters I’ve ever read. I’m glad you’re out of that situation! Have you thought about any counseling to help with the aftermath? I wish you nothing but the best!

    1. nom de plume*

      Yes, this was hands down the creepiest situations ever described on this site. Just jaw-droppingly awful. So glad you’re safe, OP!

  19. All Het Up About It*

    So glad the OP is doing better!! Reading that original letter is ROUGH and I feel for them. And the drama in the second update – also anxiety spiking!

    Glad that the OP is able to work on the marriage as well after all of this.

    I do say that the stuff about the HR Generalist being a pathological liar sometimes lives in my head. Like…. really? Or was that stuff the boss made up to fire them? Something we’ll probably never get an update on and isn’t really important but I just wonder.

  20. LurkingLibrarian*

    I’m so glad you are safely out of there and in much better place! Very best wishes to you in moving forward.

  21. HufferWare*

    OP, so happy to read this update. Your original letter and first update were so harrowing, I’m glad you got out of that situation and are fighting back against a capital-C CREEP! Best of luck in the new job!

  22. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I would like to add my sincere congratulations on getting out and also reassure you that messing up in a new job? Not a problem. Frankly I’m more reassured by new staff who can make an error, admit to it and learn from it than anyone who seems flawless!

    Secondly, on a more personal level, I’d like to gently suggest therapy or something like keeping an eye on mental state. I’ve escaped an abusive relationship and an abusive workplace (that led to a high court case) and I’ve got a form of PTSD from both. Not saying this’ll happen to you but be gentle with yourself.

    Lots of hugs over IP from the UK. You’ve survived a hell of an ordeal.

  23. That'sNotMyName*

    I had totally forgotten about the “fight for us” bit. Horrible.

    Glad you’re out of there!

  24. Adds*

    LW, I’m so glad that you left the original job and that you feel you are thriving and doing very well at your new job!

    I somehow missed the first update until just now but OMG, that was/is absolutely insane and terrifying and I am doubly glad you were able to leave it and the awful boss. I hope you continue to grow and thrive both professionally and personally after that awful experience.

  25. EA Wants Out*

    I’m not sure how to go about this, but OP, I would love to know how you transitioned from an EA role into your new one. I’m looking to do the same, and I’m finding that it is nearly impossible to get interviews for roles that are anything other than EA positions.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I haven’t done this but I did recently complete a different career transition. Just a couple of pieces of advice. Try and search on LinkedIn for people who made the transition you’re trying to make and reach out to them to ask for informational interviews. In those interviews, ask them specific questions about their career path, how they made the transition, whether they have advice for how you can make a similar one, what skills to emphasize in applications, and whether they have someone else in mind that might be good for you to talk to. It’s also a good idea to take a hard look at your resume and social profiles and make sure that they accurately reflect your desire to make a career transition and how you’ve beefed up your skills to make it happen. For example, I got a lot more traction much more quickly in my job search once I had several people in my network who had advised me and I used that advice to better highlight my transferrable skills in my resume, LinkedIn, and website. Your documents need to tell a story about why you’re making the transition and why your background is a strategic advantage rather than a detriment. Finally, just be prepared for it to take awhile and do whatever you have to do to keep your mental health up during that time. For me, it was paying to join a collaborative of people also trying to transition away from my field as well as hiring a coach for one-on-one support. For you, it might be something different. Maybe a bootcamp or skills course or volunteer experience or building a freelance portfolio. It really depends on what kind of jobs you’re looking for. But someone who has been a teapot designer for 5 years is probably going to have a strong advantage over you in applying for teapot designer roles, even if you have a compelling story as to why your EA background would make you an excellent teapot designer. You might have to look for a bit longer (my job search took 2 years, while all of my pre-transition job searches only took a couple of months at most) or you might have to take a job that is teapot designer adjacent (like assistant teapot designer) to build up a reputation in the new industry first. I chose to wait it out rather than start at entry level, but YMMV. I wish you the best of luck in your transition!

  26. E*

    Good for you! As other commenters noted, don’t be too hard on yourself in the new job. Your self-awareness and willingness to put in the work to improve are HUGE assets that I’m sure your manager appreciates. Those are not teachable, unlike the areas where you may feel like you have been struggling.

  27. Dragon*

    Sometimes involving a lawyer gets results. A business acquaintance of mine put up with a toxic boss because the firm’s benefits offset their non-top salaries. The firm allowed the toxic behavior because boss was a big rainmaker.

    When I met this person, the boss’s conduct thus far had been morally reprehensible, but not illegal. Eventually he did cross a legal line, my acquaintance hired a good lawyer, and the firm split them up because they were on the wrong end of a potential lawsuit.

  28. nom de plume*

    OP, you’re getting well-deserved accolades from everyone, and I want to add this: I re-read your original post and updates, and your strength and resolve and poise just shine through (as well as your writing). This was an abusive relationship that ended in terrifying fashion, and you got out.

    I have no doubt that there’s still so much you’re dealing with, but just wanted to let you know how strong and amazing a person you seem to be.

  29. Michelle Smith*

    I remember your post and I am so, so happy to hear that you are still married!!! I was genuinely sad for you at the end of the last update when you weren’t sure if it would survive. I wish you the best of luck in pursuing any legal avenues of recourse, but also want you to know that you are not responsible for that man’s behavior and you are well within your rights (ethically, morally, etc.) to just move on if you feel at some point that you want to.

    Anyway, I did a little happy dance in my chair reading this update. Thanks for letting us know what happened!

  30. Hapax Legomenon*

    I am so happy to hear that you got away, you’re moving on, and the situation didn’t take out your marriage as you were afraid it would. I hope you can take pride in how much progress you have made getting away from something so awful.

  31. Lady Knittington*

    Most importantly I’m so pleased to hear that OP is safe. I’m also so pleased that her marriage has survived and that she’s got a lawyer on the case of the ex CEO. These are all good updates. Happy Holidays and I hope 2023 kicks your ex CEO’s butt in ways he couldn’t imagine.

  32. sav*

    Oh OP I am so glad to hear you are safe and in a good place, and that your marriage is too! This was one of those letters that I just *kept thinking about*, a lot of us were very genuinely worried for you. Congratulations on all the growth you’re achieving. I hope 2023 is even better for you!

  33. CA Cupid*

    That letter haunted me, and I’m SO GLAD that your marriage survived, your career hasn’t been torpedoed, and your sense of professional norms/ability to grow haven’t been destroyed. Best of luck!!!

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