I dated someone who was using me to get back at his ex-wife … who turned out to be my boss

A reader writes:

I have a question about something that happened to me a number of years ago. From time to time, I remember everything that went down and I wonder to myself if I reacted the right way or how things could have been different.

I was about three months in to a new job and really enjoying myself. I worked on a separate floor from the executive office and never really had much opportunity or reason to interact with them, as there were about four levels of hierarchy between us. A few weeks after being hired, I also started casually dating/sleeping with an older man. He had pursued me pretty intently on two different dating apps — this becomes very relevant.

After a few weeks of seeing him, one morning I woke up to find that he was taking selfies that included me sleeping next to him. He tried to brush it off by saying that I looked cute while I was asleep, but after bringing it up a few times over the next few days, he finally relented and told me that he was originally thinking about sending them to his soon-to-be-ex wife (!!!!!) because their divorce was acrimonious and he wanted to taunt her by showing that he was sleeping with someone younger. Ew ew ew.

He assured me that he thought twice and he never sent them, but obviously I immediately ended things. Of course I also instantly launched an FBI-level investigation into his entire history online and managed to find a picture of him and his wife at a charity event.

Imagine my shock when I realized that he was still legally married to the executive director of my division! At that point, I only knew her by name but we had never met. Suddenly everything fell into place — one of the pictures on my dating profiles showed me in front of a window with a very distinctive view from our division’s office. You wouldn’t be able to recognize it unless you had been in that room before, but it would be unmistakable to anyone who had spent time there. He of course recognized it and intentionally pursued his wife’s new employee to get back at her, or try to put her in an awkward situation, or god knows what. I was mortified and ashamed and afraid.

It came out through the grapevine that they had a very messy divorce and that she was extremely embarrassed by how publicly he shared very personal details of the proceedings. She was noticeably emotional on occasion and it was clear that she was very strongly impacted by the whole ordeal. Everyone in the office knew that the topic was to be avoided completely.

I was absolutely terrified about what this would mean for me at the company, but she was a consummate professional in every interaction I eventually had with her. That said, she was very awkward and stilted in every one-on-one conversation we had, in ways that she wasn’t with peers. She was known for being warm and convivial with staff, but when we spoke it felt very halting and like she was being overly cautious with everything she said. She was always quick to end our individual interactions. She never noticeably withheld opportunities or did anything to impact my career, but the relationship was definitely strained and uncomfortable.

It goes without saying, but I never brought up the fact that I had been involved with her then-husband, and of course neither did she. However, I can’t help but to assume he actually did send those pictures to her. Who knows what else he sent, especially since he clearly didn’t see anything wrong with taking pictures of me without me knowing. Again — beyond ew.

I ended up leaving a few years later but our relationship continued to be forced and awkward throughout my time at that company. Looking back now, I have to wonder if there could have been a different outcome. The professional side of me rings alarm bells at the thought of bringing something like that up at work, but now that I’m more mature and am married myself, my heart aches for her and — on a human level — I wish we could have spoken about it.

I guess I wonder if you could see a scenario where it would be appropriate to have that discussion. Woman to woman, I wish I could have reassured her that of course I had no clue that they were married, that I never would have dreamed of going out with him otherwise and that I was absolutely revolted by his actions. It kills me to think that she may have wondered if I knew and didn’t care, or that I may have been pulling some weird Machiavellian stunt to take her down a peg or … I don’t know. I just feel gross and sad for both of us and wish that we could have hashed it out.

Ugh, I’m so sorry. None of this is your fault. You were used and manipulated by someone with a twisted agenda, and it’s unfair that years later you’re still carrying the emotional burden of that.

As for whether you could or should have said something to his wife/your director at the time … you didn’t do anything wrong by not talking to her about it.

Might she have welcomed it? Maybe, but maybe not. It could have gone either way and you had no way of knowing which it would be. It could have brought her an enormous amount of relief, or it could have caused her more turmoil and made things more awkward between the two of you at work. Hell, it could have brought her an enormous amount of relief and still have made things unbearably awkward at work. To have any confidence deciding, you would have needed a knowledge of her as a person that you didn’t have.

Talking to her might have completely cleared the air; she might have been grateful for your candor and relaxed around you entirely. In the most extreme good outcome, it could have even made you professionally close. Or you could have talked to her and the awkwardness could have been too much and she could have ended up acting out of pain or discomfort in ways that harmed you professionally at that company, even if inadvertently on her part.

One of the many, many things wrong with what this man did to both of you is that he put on you the burden of needing to figure out the answer to this unknowable dilemma: Do you speak up because it will clear the air and is the right thing to do? Or will that make it worse? And which path is least likely to harm your career? Will you career be affected either way? What is safest for you? What is right for her? Those aren’t questions you should be forced to untangle, and trying was an impossible task.

So I don’t have an answer for you, because I think there is no real answer. You were put in a position you never asked for and didn’t want, were violated by someone you trusted, and were used to harm someone else without your knowledge or consent. It’s just … all-around awful. It’s okay that you weren’t able to find a way to fix what he did. All of it is on him, even the after-effects, and I hope you will release yourself from agonizing these many years later that you could have done something differently.

Read an update to this letter

{ 210 comments… read them below }

        1. CarlDean*

          Never ceases to amaze me when jilted lovers take the “I’ll show you!” approach – and only accomplish showing EVERYONE that their ex was so so SO right to leave them.

    1. Random Dice*

      My skin crawled just at the part where he was secretly taking photos of a sleeping woman, but all the rest of that makes me want to take a shower. Uuuuuggggghhhhhh.

  1. Harper the Other One*

    I am SO ANGRY. OP, I am sorry you had to live with what he did and all of its implications.

  2. Hmmm*

    Op this is probably not the most professional answer you want. You did NOTHING wrong. I hope karma comes back around to this jerk.

    1. londonedit*

      Absolutely, OP did nothing wrong here. I can understand the impulse of ‘if I could just have spoken to her, maybe I could have made it right’ but I don’t think anything could have helped in real terms. Also I’ll take OP’s word for it that their interactions were stilted and awkward, but it is also possible that the boss was picking up on OP’s awkwardness and that was informing their interactions, or that OP was assuming their interactions would be awkward and therefore that’s how they interpreted them. So there’s a distinct possibility that bringing up the whole thing might have opened a massive can of worms and done irreparable damage. I think it’s to everyone’s credit that they managed to get through it and maintain a professional relationship whether the boss knew about your relationship with her ex or not, and I don’t think there’s anything OP needs to feel guilty about. It’s the boss’s ex-husband who was a total arse throughout.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Every time something bad has happened to me, I have gone through a period of feeling like I should have done this or that thing differently and that would have prevented it or caused a different outcome. I realize now that this is a trick my mind plays to make me feel like the situation in question – and situations in general – are within my control and ability to influence. Certainly that is the message we get from almost all stories we ever hear. The hero can save a plane crash, stop a predator, avert disaster. But in reality, the much more difficult-to-accept truth is that often things happen *to* us, with very little predictability or often even potential for influence. The fact that a creep like this could come into OP’s life (if she understands the situation correctly) and disrupt it is scary and hard to accept.

        1. ShinyPenny*

          So wise, so true. And the brain can choose a lot of hamster-wheel mileage, to distract from the pain of that existential discomfort.

        2. Random Dice*

          Yes. So much this.

          Brains react to trauma by trying to assign blame, so we can feel like if we control things, we won’t be victimized in the future. It’s a lie that our brains tell us.

      2. Dona Florinda*

        “it is also possible that the boss was picking up on OP’s awkwardness and that was informing their interactions, or that OP was assuming their interactions would be awkward and therefore that’s how they interpreted them.”

        I agree with this. I’m not saying that your impressions were wrong, OP, but it is possible that the awkwardness came from you (and that’s understandable!) and your boss just followed. But like everyone else said, it’s impossible to say whether you should’ve done things differently, especially since your livelihood was on the line.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah, to be honest there is a version of this that’s nothing like what OP thought. She/we doesn’t quite have enough information to know for sure. Maybe that’s partly why it’s still stuck in OP’s mind now. Still, I remember someone saying “closure is a gift you have to give to yourself” and I think that’s the main takeaway here.

          1. Lily*

            I recently read, “closure doesn’t come from outside of you, it comes from within.”
            I’m adding “closure is a gift you have to give to yourself” to my internal repertoire of self-love and self-support.
            Thank you for this.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        I think that despite overwhelming odds and a horrible situation, the fact that they both managed to maintain a professional relationship and neither of them was damaged in that specific sense is a HUGE win.

        This guy didn’t just want to hurt his ex–he wanted to destroy her career and he went about it in the most grotesque, sure-to-be-fallout way, but both of them managed to erect a Nope Umbrella and take their interactions under it.

        Was it unfair? YES. Could they have had an easier back and forth had this never happened? Of course. But neither quit, neither got off tracked into career oblivion, neither took their anger and hurt out on the other victim of this guy (as he clearly intended.) In a perfect world this would never happen, but here in the fallen one, they triumphed.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Thank you so much <3 <3 <3 for a while I struggled with thinking that I had done or said something to make him think that I would be cruel enough to be okay with his actions but it’s clear that it’s really just a reflection of what a disordered, unkind and very sad state of mind he was in

          I struggle to say that I pity him because he clearly was acting out of malice but it’s stark to think that he lives in a world where not only are his own actions okay, but that he assumes other people behave that way to each other as well. It makes me glad for the genuine friendships and other relationships I have

          1. learnedthehardway*

            He might have hoped that you would be that kind of person, but that would have been icing on malicious cake he was baking. The reality was that he was exploiting you to get revenge on his soon-to-be-ex-wife, and NONE of that is your fault. He was perfectly fine with you being hurt, fired, treated badly at work – whatever – as long as he was able to hurt his ex.

            It speaks well of you and of his ex-wife that both of you acted professionally, and that you broke off the relationship as soon as you found out what he was up to.

            I’m sorry you had to deal with the emotional fallout, and very glad that you didn’t experience any professional fall out.

            If you really feel badly about it still (which you don’t deserve to – you didn’t do the wrong thing here), you could connect with your former manager. I’m not suggesting this is the best idea, but if it is really still plaguing you, you could do this. Let her know that you appreciated her professionalism and leadership, and that she was a role model for you in how to be gracious. Let her know that you were appalled to find out that her ex had pursued a relationship dishonestly with you, and that you broke it off as soon as you realized who he was and what he was doing & why.

            1. ShinyPenny*

              Alternative perspective:
              When someone you know has trauma in their history, it’s kindest not to be the one bringing the topic up. If *they* bring it up, that’s their choice– and evidence that they are in the frame of mind to process about it, or they’re trapped in perseverating about it, or somewhere between those poles. And, it’s a clue suggesting that they might find it helpful for *you* to be a kind listener right then.
              But, if *you* bring it up, you are forcing their attention to return to a dark topic that they may have been successfully not thinking about right then. Which repeats their original victimization in an unhelpful way, even if that’s not your intent. This includes apologies, exciting new cancer treatments you just read about, acknowledgement of anniverseries of life-changing injuries, latest news about trauma treatment, etc., etc.
              Their trauma is probably never going to be a regular/normal topic that you can freely or randomly invoke without hurting them.

              1. Cris*

                Thank you for this. I tend towards this approach, but never really dug into the “why” of it or fully believed I was correct and not just scared to broach the topic. This helps me feel better about my choices :)

              2. allathian*

                Yes, this. The trauma the LW experienced might be best dealt with in counseling. And I’d definitely qualify what the creep did to the LW as a trauma, because she’s still dealing with it years later.

                In her shoes, I wouldn’t reach out to the former boss except in a purely professional capacity, asking for a reference, say.

          2. JSPA*

            Let your solace be that this creep has to live with himself every day.

            (And it’s probably better if she never knows that you knew. She already knows he’s a liar, as do you; whether or not he told her, and exactly what he told her, are 100% unknowable.)

          3. Ellie*

            For what it’s worth, if it had been me I wouldn’t have blamed you, I would have felt sorry for you. If an ex had sent me a picture of a sleeping woman, it would be quite obvious that she hadn’t consented to it. I would have agonised about whether to tell you about it. Could her awkwardness have come from that?

            It sucks so much that two women are left feeling bad from that one man’s actions. He’s the only one who did anything wrong.

          4. Mill Miker*

            If you had done something to make him think you were okay with it, then he wouldn’t have felt the need to hide that he was taking the pictures, and you wouldn’t have had to force a confession out of him.

        2. Random Dice*

          That’s such a beautiful way of viewing this. I was so focused on his violations that I didn’t even give both women the credit they deserved.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      Once again for those in the back of the class: OP, you did nothing wrong. You weren’t responsible for creating the mess, you weren’t responsible for cleaning up the mess, and you handled the harm done to you and the executive director in the best way you could.

      That jerk is responsible for 100% of the harm he did, and I’m glad he’s permanently out of your and the executive director’s life.

  3. Three Flowers*

    I wonder if revenge porn laws might apply to a situation like this, at least now. The revenge wasn’t against OP, but OP’s intimate images were shared without consent.

    That doesn’t necessarily help with the work awkwardness situation, which Alison addressed. But OP, depending on your location and the content of the images, you might now be considered the victim of a crime, and might have had civil law on your side as well if the incident had hampered your career (tortious interference). You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. Nothing at all.

    1. Hmmm*

      I never thought of that angle. OP I would look into this if anything he took pictures of you in an intimate setting that you didn’t give consent to.

    2. MK*

      No offense, but what is the point of this comment? The OP didn’t ask what she can do about this guy. Even aside from the fact that we don’t know the law where she lives and how it will apply years later, that it it costs a lot of money to sue someone and it is incredibly time-consuming and mentally draining, that she probably has zero proof this happened and is unlikely to succeed, she didn’t ask about this.

      1. BubbleTea*

        It does help for people to know that something was so egregious that society has decided it needs to be criminalised. I used to work with people who had experienced awful things that the law was recently changed to criminalise, but that law still hasn’t gone into effect. They told me that knowing the law had changed gave them confidence that it wasn’t their fault, even if they couldn’t do anything practical with that change of law (because it didn’t apply at the time).

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        I didn’t take Three Flower’s comment as saying OP ought to (or even can!) sue her awful ex. The point is to reassure her that she is not at fault – what he did is so horrible that many places have made it a crime. This might be reassuring to OP because it highlights just how bizarre, awful, shocking, and inappropriate her ex was. This wasn’t something anyone could be expected to be prepared for or know how to respond to, nor is it something a reasonable person would hold her responsible for.

      3. Bilateralrope*

        A situation like this sounds like something that could happen to other people. So advice on how to handle it could be useful to them, even if it’s not useful to the letter writer.

      4. young worker*

        it can be really reassuring to know that the way you were treated is so egregious that it is in fact illegal. I had something similar happen to me and I struggled so much wondering if I was overreacting – finding out later that what he did was a felony act was weirdly comforting in showing me that no, I am not being dramatic (even if I was unwilling to go down that legal route);.

      5. learnedthehardway*

        I think it IS helpful to know that what you experienced is so bad that it could very well be a criminal act.

        In past generations, what this guy did would have gotten him sued for damages. Of course, 100 years ago, a lot of things in society were very different, and the implications for a woman of having been set up to take a fall in a false relationship would have been potentially socially devastating, but the principle still applies – the man perpetrated a fraud against the OP in order to harm his (then) wife.

    3. Ex-prof*

      I wondered that as well. If the pics are explicit, and were shared without OP’s consent, even if they weren’t published widely, that seems like revenge porn laws would apply. The crime is the sharing.

      The statute of limitations has probably run out on it now, though, if the laws even existed when this happened. And poking that hornet’s nest would likely cause this horrible dude to publish the pics more widely.

  4. Bookie*

    I wish there was an update to this letter that somehow the ex-husband was thrown in jail for unrelated crimes and karma was involved. I’m sorry this happened to you, OP.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Trust me, there’s a whole slew of updates about his life that I could give that would clearly demonstrate we both came out on top (lol) a small part of me is grateful that he revealed himself to be so horrible so soon after meeting him because the life he lives now is so far from anything I would ever want

      1. Happy Pineapple*

        LW, I’m so glad you got out when you did! Good for you for following that gut instinct that something wasn’t right and ending it. So many people second guess themselves and let red flags slide.

      2. ShinyPenny*

        That’s such a great perspective. You did win the best prize: you got through the Awful with skill and effort, and ended up with the better life. Good job!

  5. OrigCassandra*

    Double-Ex is an absolute horror. It takes an amazing amount of self-centered vengefulness to use you that way, heedless of how much havoc he’s causing to both your career and your personal life.

    I’m sorry you ran into that waste of space, OP, and glad you’re free of him. I hope the exec got free of him also.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Horror is absolutely the best word to describe him. I wish upon him a lifetime of Houses of Bees.

    2. Observer*

      I’m sorry you ran into that waste of space,

      That’s giving him more credit than he deserves. “waste of space” is someone who is self-centered, lazy, entitled and never helpful to anyone. THIS really earns the phrase “absolute horror”.

  6. The Eye of Argon*

    What a rancid excuse for a human being that guy is. Didn’t care how badly he hurt both of you as long as he got to have his petty revenge.

    I don’t really think that hashing things out with your boss would have done any good. Even if (big if) she believed you, the issue would still have been the elephant in the room every time the two of you met. I’m sure she knew how big a of a sleaze her ex was long before he met you, but through no fault of your own you became the face of his sleaziness because you were the one she had to interact with every day.

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, great description! Of all the things I’ve read on AAM, this has to rank as one of the most horrible examples of human behaviour by this guy.

  7. Jenny*

    What an awful situation. Obviously, the poster did nothing wrong. I do have to say that the executive handled everything about as well as could be expected. I’m impressed with her ability to somewhat compartmentalize things. And I’m glad that it didn’t have more negatives affects on your career.

    1. CLC*

      That’s my take on the whole thing as well– the exec remained as professional as could be expected if she did indeed know about the relationship. Obviously it’s not ideal to have an “awkward” relationship with a senior leader at your company, but considering the circumstances it sounds like that’s more than you could hope for. If the exec were a different person this all could have gone much, much worse for the OP.

      1. Sandgroper*

        I feel similarly. There was very little to be gained by addressing this in the moment.

        If you ran into her again, and there was no chance of anyone overhearing you, now with time and hindsight you could lean in and conspiratorially say “Congrats on your divorce, dodged a cannon there!” But aside from that I’d not have a bottle of wine and major confession event.

        She’s a wonderfully professional woman (she probably knew you were none the wiser, or not going to give you ammunition to damage her), and understands the value of “say nothing” which is an incredibly powerful tool too few people use.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, this sounds truly terrible but I think both women handled it about as best as can be reasonably expected.

      I’m sure there are people in the world who could handle a conversation about everything with grace, but I really think for most people–not talking about it was probably the best choice. Especially since it sounds like neither of you technically had confirmation on what the other person knew. It’s possible he either never sent the pics or he did but she didn’t recognize you in them, and as other commenters suggested her awkwardness could simply have been a reflection of OP’s own. And if she DID know it was you, she probably didn’t know for sure whether you realized he was her husband. There was a weird kind of plausible deniability involved that would have been erased with an open conversation. So for all we know, things might have just become even *more* awkward.

      I hope OP can come to terms with how they handled things and direct all the negative feelings about the situation toward the one person who deserves them.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely, I think maintaining the plausible deniability was probably the best as it allowed for both parties to remain professional and handle things with an element of detachment.

  8. Empress Matilda*

    Oh, OP. You did nothing wrong. You made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time – it’s not your fault that this guy was the world’s biggest asshole.

    Do you have access to therapy at all, perhaps through an EAP at your current job? It sucks that you’re still carrying all this years later, and it might help to have someone to talk to about it. Good luck, I’ll be thinking of you.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Do you think something like writing the ex boss a letter, all these years later, and then deciding if they want to send it, or ceremonially burn it and let go of the past, would help at all? If it were me, I doubt I’d send the letter because relatively little good could come of it and it might be hurtful to the CEO to stir up all these old dramas. But it is hard to think of someone out there in the world who you respect possibly still thinking ill of you. Even when I deserve it I have struggled with this!

      1. jane's nemesis*

        I think what you’re suggesting is very like what OP did by writing in to AAM! I hope that the act of writing this letter, and Alison’s response, was cathartic for her.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        I think writing a letter and ceremonially burning it could be a good option for the OP. I also saw this suggestion on Captain Awkward for (not) reaching out to an ex:

        1 – Write (do not send) that One Last Letter
        2 – Write the letter you wish your ex would send to you in response to your One Last Letter
        3 – Burn/destroy/throw away the One Last Letter
        4 – Whenever you feel the urge to reach out to the ex, read the letter “from” your ex that emotionally closes the conversation/relationship

        If the OP wants, they can adapt the above method for this situation. It may be helpful to have a letter “from” the ex boss that says “I agree it was an awkward situation, thank you for handling it professionally and never bringing up my ex-husband.”

  9. Littorally*

    Grossssssss. I’m so sorry this happened to you, OP.

    Unfortunately, creeps like this guy tend to be infuriatingly good at making their victims second-guess themselves. You did nothing wrong, and honestly, the quiet awkwardness sounds like it falls generally toward the better end on the spectrum of possible outcomes the situation could have.

    The only possible advice I could give to you on this situation would be to exercise a little more caution around the background of the photos you put up on dating sites, but it can be hard to know ahead of time what constitutes a really distinctive and unique background shot.

    Other than that… really, based on the info that you had at the time, I think you did about as well as you could have. You ended things as soon as you realized what a skeezeball he was, you did your research to know exactly what was going on so you could protect yourself, and all in all, I think not approaching his wife was probably the better call. It allowed both of you to be just awkward with each other, instead of prompting a blowup of some kind. I would imagine it also preserved some thin veil of plausible deniability, where she could maybe tell herself that it wasn’t actually you in those pictures, just someone who looked similar.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      That’s the creepiest part of this for me: Sleazo searching dating sites for someone who works for that company under that particular boss, and using that unique view to select his victim. He didn’t care about her at all, just that she held the right job at the right time.


      1. Sloanicota*

        TBH, there’s something a little strange about that version of events to me (forgive me, I’m a mystery writer). I don’t think it’s realistic this guy was looking for OP proactively. It’s just a bit abstruse. I think he may have just recognized the photo when he saw it, or that he didn’t know who she was until they went out. We also don’t actually know for sure what the situation was with his wife, what he told her, or that he told her anything, TBH. It would be hard, if I were OP, not to project more into the situation than there may have been. Regardless, it sounds like an upsetting situation that OP is well clear of. I hope this post will allow her to let it go, give herself the benefit of the doubt for doing her best, and move on.

        1. MM*

          The fact that he pursued her fairly aggressively across two sites, though…he may well have found her by chance, but once he did it seems like he had a goal in mind.

      2. Cataclysm*

        I think this is unlikely to have been his target from the start — I think it’s a lot more likely that he just wanted a revenge hookup and was scouring dating sites for any person he thought would be good, then saw the identifying view, realized LW might work for his ex, and got the idea from there. It’d take a fairly big assumption to decide at least one of his ex’s workers was definitely on a dating site.

        1. Observer*

          Even that is a level of deliberation that is just beyond the point of gross and egregious. The concept of a “revenge hookup” is bad enough. Then choosing someone with the highest chance of being harmed?! That’s so bad, that it’s not really THAT much of a stretch to think that he’d actually be looking in the first place.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I’m not a dating site user, but I have gathered that in most of them you can limit your search geographically with pretty high precision. He could’ve used that hoping to find someone likely to work close enough to his ex’s company that they would happen to cross paths at Starbucks, lunch places, the gym, etc. Then OP came up in his search and he recognized the view from his ex’s office building. Target acquired…

            Or if OP works for a large enough local employer, it might be relatively easy to infer which women on the dating sites work there.

      3. Cataclysm*

        I think this is unlikely to have been his target from the start — I think it’s a lot more likely that he just wanted a revenge hookup and was scouring dating sites for any person he thought would be good, then saw the identifying photo, realized LW might work for his ex, and got the idea from there. It’d take a fairly big assumption to decide at least one of his ex’s workers was definitely on a dating site. Which does hopefully make it less creepy.

        tl;dr, I think it’s more likely to have been an act of opportunity rather than methodical planning.

        1. Cataclysm*

          (Sorry for double post, the first one said it was detected as a duplicate for some reason so I assumed it didn’t go through and changed some wording)

      4. Clobberin' Time*

        I think it’s giving Sleazo a bit too much credit to assume that he was only hooking up with one younger woman. More likely he was jumping anyone he could talk into bed, and the fact that the LW worked at his soon-to-be-ex’s company was icing on the gross cake for him.

        1. Letter Writer*

          This is my assumption as well. I would be very surprised if I was the only one – I just happened to be the most opportune

      5. Sandgroper*

        Eh, I suspect Sleazo was searching dating sites, saw recognisable background and thought “Oh.. interesting, let’s see how I can play this one out” – more opportunistic than intentional. OP just got caught up unawares.

    2. Ellie*

      He could have found the same information on linked in, or the corporate directory. Why should she miss out on networking opportunities because there are a few creeps out there?

      OP – you did nothing wrong. If he really thought you were the type to be ok with it, he would have asked you to pose for him. He even tried lying when you caught him.

  10. Stitch*

    It’s really impossible to say one course of action was the correct one here. I think OP acted appropriately here. What a horrible man.

    1. Marz*

      Well, and unnecessary – no one said the executive wasn’t the bigger victim, but also, why we gotta do that? This is one of many ways victims are discredited and missing stairs are encouraged to be jumped is this scorekeeping/ranking – like this woman would have wanted you to not be able to talk about the harm done to you because of the bigger harm to herself! I would love to talk to anyone and validate that it was him, do anything I could to protect or heal another person from a fraction of the harm done to me.

      One of the worst things for me – that feels a little relevant – I hate that I can’t talk about without feeling like I have to acknowledge it could have been worse. That I should be the bigger person and professional and reasonable when he wasn’t and isn’t and never needed to be. Just. Don’t do this. We don’t know if this woman would have wanted it brought up or not; it would be perfectly reasonable to bring it up or not, any hurt is the responsibility of this detestable man; there is no right/perfect way to handle a situation that is horrible because an absolute turd of a person created a shitstorm, and that is not on any of the people dealing with an unprecedented weather event to not know what to do. No one should need to know how to deal with that. (I do regret this metaphor, sorry)

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        I’m laughing at your metaphor.

        Also, I agree with you. If I sprained my ankle, should I avoid getting medical care just because I know you have a broken leg? No, because that would be dumb as hell, and so is comparing emotional wounds.

        1. Bibliothecarial*

          It reminds me of the “at least you don’t have cancer or an eating disorder” coworker from a while back. What sleazo did to today’s OP was bad, period.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I love when Alison removes the crap comments before I see them :D I’m like, huh, someone got sniped!

          1. OhNo*

            Ha, same! It’s very refreshing to see nothing but a well-thought-out and kind takedown of a bad trope, without having to see whatever comment prompted it.

            1. I edit everything*

              And then you try to reconstruct the terrible comment from the clues in the takedown. It’s a second layer of engagement.

      2. MEH Squared*

        I agree. And, honestly, what happened to the OP was horrifying. It’s such a violation of her, and there’s no need to compare it to what happened to her boss (both at the hands of the boss’s ex-husband). They were both victims. Period. End of. OP handled it the best she could as did the director.

  11. Pocket Mouse*

    How awful. I agree you did nothing wrong, but if the company was big enough to have four levels above you on the org chart, it was big enough to have HR. Looping HR into the situation could have secured some professional protection and allayed your fears about your future at the company.

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      Or it might have resulted in a much uglier and more awkward situation.

      If advice can be preceded with “First, build a time machine so you can go back and….” then it’s not very good advice.

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        1. Obviously, everyone should apply what they know of a situation (e.g. how trustworthy HR is) to their own situation rather than uncritically following what a stranger on the internet suggests as an option.

        2. I didn’t give advice. I gave feedback (with rationale) on what could have been done differently, which is precisely what OP requested.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I would have been so hesitant to talk to anyone about the CEO’s personal business. She was probably hoping it would just go away :(

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        She was director of a division, not the CEO. And it’s OP’s personal business too, with the distinct possibility (and seemingly reality) of it becoming professional business. In understand the hesitation, which is why it’s just an option – everyone will approach a situation differently. But since OP said she was terrified about professional repercussions and I didn’t see HR mentioned elsewhere, I wanted to point it out as a reminder that it *should* be considered as a possible resource.

        1. Elsajeni*

          As someone else pointed out upthread, this is essentially a revenge porn situation; if the OP had wanted to protect herself by talking to HR but avoid getting too much into the director’s business, omitting some details and approaching it from that angle might have been an option. “A man I recently stopped dating threatened to send some private photos to my employer. Can you help me make sure that this doesn’t cause workplace problems for me?” (Would this have worked? Idk! Maybe! My guess is that, if the director actually had retaliated against the OP, they would have had no choice but to get into the details at some point; fortunately it didn’t come up. But laying some “I’m dealing with a Bad Ex Situation, please disregard any weird emails you receive about me” groundwork seems like it couldn’t hurt and might offer some peace of mind in a situation like this.)

    3. OhNo*

      I don’t know if going to HR would have been helpful right off the bat, but it might have been good to at least reach out to some of the EAP resources available to get some advice. Talking briefly to a counselor at the time might have helped to navigate an unpleasant situation that was a thousand percent not your fault, LW.

      In fact, that advice applies now, too. If you still find yourself caught up on it, it might be worth talking it over with a counselor or therapist! Maybe your current workplace has some related EAP services you can use.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, EAP makes sense. HR? Not so sure. It’s just such a mess. Especially as the OP was relatively new and did not have really good sense of the players.

  12. CLC*

    If you knew for sure she had received the photos or otherwise known that he was involved with you, I could see writing a sincere letter or email sent to her personal address. Since you never knew for sure I think staying silent was probably a good course of action. If she did in fact know and didn’t bring it up herself, that’s a signal that she didn’t want to talk about it. It doesn’t sound like it affected your career negatively, so either she didn’t know or she knew and was professional enough to not raise it with you, perhaps understanding what a jerk her husband was and that you weren’t to blame. It sounds like everything went as well as it could in a crazy situation like this. Since it is still bothering you maybe a little time with a therapist to talk it through would help get past it.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I thought about this too. I don’t think it would accomplish much, but I see the temptation. I wonder if OP could just – reframe the story in her mind. The CEO *did* know it wasn’t any of her fault, the CEO just felt weird and guilty herself because of all the personal drama, the CEO wishes you well and doesn’t bear any grudge. Why not choose to believe this, if it helps you and harms noone.

      1. Bookmark*

        Love this. I think it’s pretty plausible that CEO knew, did not blame the LW at all, and simply found that interacting with LW filled her with white hot rage at her ex for preying on a young, naïve person just to try to be an asshole to her.

      2. Sandgroper*

        This is exactly how I reframed it in my mind as I read through the letter – the Executive being professional with her all the way, but unable to be warm and inviting tells me she probably DID get the photos but was aware that her ex was a douche and likely had created a nasty burning turd sack in her doorstep .. and that the OP was a new employee caught in a trap not of her own making and thus not at fault.

        IF the OP had crossed the ‘nothing to see here’ line and tried to talk about it to the Exec that might have undone all that anonymity and connected professionalism. I think this was handled perfectly in the moment. Obviously if things had been said, if the dirty laundry was aired (even minutely between them), the veil of secrecy lifted (even by talking to HR) etc then it has to be faced and discussed and hashed out. Sometimes best to leave skeletons in the closet, pretend they don’t exist and be professional.

  13. MassMatt*

    Wow, what a terrible violation by the ex. And what a terrible situation for the OP. This is probably the toughest dilemma I’ve read here. I would agree with Alison that you did nothing wrong by not saying anything.

    I generally fall in the “let’s talk about the elephant in the room” camp but in this case you were taking your lead from the former wife, who clearly didn’t want to talk about it, and doing so could have caused some real harm, both emotionally and professionally.

    If you are still second-guessing your decisions about this, maybe it’s time to forgive yourself.

  14. MK*

    OP, please don’t beat yourself about this. Alison says you don’t know this woman well enough to make approaching her a good option, but… there are people who told their close friend of a partner’s infidelity (with a third party) and it put a strain on the friendship. Life is not a movie, there is zero chance you trying to talk to a much senior woman about her estranged husband’s fling with you to get back at her would have end up in anything other than more awkwardness and humiliation.

  15. Unreasonable Doubt*

    Ok, so first off – Alison is 100% correct. There is no “right” answer, other than that you were treated horribly and none of this is your fault.
    That said, I feel like you were really looking for an answer, and I’m happy to go out on a limb and give you my take: you did exactly what you should have done.
    You described your ED as “extremely embarrassed” and “noticeably emotional” about the divorce, while also explaining that she was painstakingly professional with you at all times – never ever once interfering with your career, your progress, etc. The only clue you had that she knew about what happened with you was the fact that your interactions were awkward where she was known to be warm and congenial with everyone else.
    She sounds, to me, like a person who desperately wanted to maintain a steel wall between the chaos of her personal life and the supreme professionalism that she clearly strove for in her workplace. If she had been the slightest bit vindictive, or irrational, or even just furious for good reason but with porous emotional boundaries you would likely have experienced negative consequences. She was in the position of power and she did not abuse it. This is a person who is not only an excellent manager and a good human, this is someone who is doing everything she can to keep things at work “normal.” And normal for her would have meant not allowing her ex-husband to impose his bullshit on her workplace any more than can be helped.
    So- I think you did EXACTLY right. Lots of people feel so much better once there has been an air-clearing session, and I get that impulse. I think it’s laudable when there’s a miscommunication, of course. But lots of people (myself included), do not want a we-are-in-the-sisterhood-style heart-to-heart when it’s not *necessary*. And it was not necessary here!! The instinct to lay all the cards on the table, to hash out what happened and give her Information About The Thing, while understandable, would have been ignoring the signals SHE was sending. It would have been one more thing she would have had to manage.
    Instead, you gave her space, you were kind and sympathetic and graceful, and sure, it was awkward, but you maintained the polite fiction of the workplace being a place where disgusting ex-husbands don’t exist. They don’t win.
    So yeah, she handled it expertly. AND SO DID YOU.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      I agree. If it weren’t for the steel wall of professionalism I might have said something along the lines of “boy, your ex was a piece of work” (subbing in something less site friendly). But since she maintained that strict wall of professionalism, that’s all the signal you need to say nothing.

      Both of the women handled the situation with class and professionalism.

      1. BubbleTea*

        The only way I could think of that would have respected boss’s clear signals and still communicated “I was not doing this to you on purpose” would be to have a conversation with someone else about stopping seeing a guy who you found out was lying to you and treating his ex really shoddily at a time when boss might overhear it, but I think there are too many things that could go wrong with that approach and of course it’s far too late now.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I would have been so tempted to make up some story about learning someone I had been dating was married and how of course I had to leave him and what a jerk, etc. Just let her overhear me say that to someone else. But, life isn’t a sitcom so I don’t know that I would have actually done it.

    2. Despachito*


      I think you did the best and most professional thing you could given the circumstances, and so did she.

      I think it is more likely that any explanation would have been extremely awkward and unnecessary (you both managed to maintain your work relationship professional even under given circumstances, and there was no chance of you becoming close due to the power imbalance even if you had the talk).

      It is also true that the outcome is not predictable. I get that you likely wanted to signal to her that you were innocent in this, but it is very likely that she already knew that because she knew what an a-hole he was.

      I think you possibly read the room correctly – that she did not want to have the talk. I am sorry you were put into this situation – it was not your fault, and I think you weathered through it all right.

    3. HB*

      Given this… LW, I would also venture to say that the Director may have put up that wall to protect *you*. Given your age at the time, the Director may have felt that approaching you would have put you in fear for your job, or made you feel like you had to do something to make it up to her, or god knows what else. And so seeing how this could be the very worst way to enter the working world, she resolved to be the consummate professional so that you would be able to see a path forward. It’s probably much easier now to think of how some sort of clearing the air conversation *could* have gone, but you’re doing that with years and years of professional experience.

      She gave you a real gift.

    4. Here for the Insurance*

      “The instinct to lay all the cards on the table, to hash out what happened and give her Information About The Thing, while understandable, would have been ignoring the signals SHE was sending. It would have been one more thing she would have had to manage.”

      Agree with this 100%.

      OP, I completely get where you’re coming from. It’s natural & good to want to reach out to someone who’s been hurt by our actions and make things better. But the 1st question to ask is, will it actually make things better? And if so, for them or for you?

      Here, my money is on it might have you made you feel a bit better but wouldn’t have made it any better for her. She was being hurt, actively and gleeful hurt, by the person who was supposed to be closer to her than anyone. Knowing that a stranger (since that’s what you were at the time) didn’t mean to hurt her is unlikely to have lessened that pain much. In fact, it could have made it hurt more by forcing her not only to see it more vividly but to have to discuss it, and with someone she didn’t even know.

      And as Unreasonable Doubt said, it would have been one more thing for her to manage. Not only would she have had her pain to deal with, it would have added yours to her plate. You weren’t the one who let her down; he was. Knowing that he had hurt you in addition to her wouldn’t have lessened her load, it would only have added to it.

    5. UKDancer*

      I agree with this completely. I have a colleague who is very much of the “let’s all discuss our feelings and see why we did what we did and have a lot of discussion about why we feel what we feel.” I am much more of the “no sisterhood heart to heart especially with my colleagues” school. Different people have different approaches.

      The boss obviously seemed to prefer keeping things professional and not having the emotive discussion. So I think it was very sensible of the OP to note this and respond accordingly and display complete professionalism and respect.

  16. BubbleTea*

    If it’s any comfort, plenty of things would gladly eat a human given the chance. Polar bears, for instance.

    1. BubbleTea*

      This, hopefully obviously, was meant to be a response to Aghast’s comment, and isn’t my suggestion for dealing with sketchy men.

      1. Lizzo*

        I just cackled loud enough to disturb my slumbering canine.

        And also possibly the neighbors.

        Well done.

      2. Missb*

        If it is brown, lay down. If it is black, fight back. If it is white, goodnight.

        – bear safety, condensed version.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I’m going to write this on every single letter from now on. And in fact anytime I’m asked for my input.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, that was my first thought. “Well, we know why he’s an ex. And why it was a messy divorce.”

    2. The Cat’s Ass*

      Holy moly, OP. How awful for you and your boss. Your mutual ex is an unmitigated polecat. It sounds like the two of you ( you and the boss, that is) made the best of an awful situation and I hope you can give her and yourself grace as time has passed. It doesn’t sound like you could’ve done anything different at the time.

  17. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    For all the reasons Alison mentioned, I can’t say this would be a good idea, but the only thing I could think of to do in that situation would be to get an appointment with her and tell her… and if she’d like, you’d be happy to share the manipulation with any judge who might find the information interesting, but if she’d prefer you can both go forward pretending it did happen.

    Not sure this is at all advisable, but that might be my impulse in that situation.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I don’t think I’d ever do it in person, just because I wouldn’t want to put her on the spot, but I’d debate the value of writing her a letter or email and offering to meet for coffee if *she* wanted to, but no pressure or expectation of it. However, honestly, I think the energy is better spent just letting go of this incident.

      1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        At this point, absolutely. I just think that would be my impetus in the moment. Sort of offer the opportunity to have the guy’s bad behavior come back to bite him in the a$$. Probably I couldn’t do it, but I’d be tempted.

  18. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    You may or may not want to reach out to her now, that’s something you’d have to consider.

    However, something that might help you with closure is to vividly imagine it working out differently, and genuinely send her warmth and well wishes each time you think of her. Imagine her accepting your explanation and feeling ease, and living her life now in a way that when she remembers that old time, all she feels is relief that it’s over.

    1. Hamster Manager*

      I wouldn’t reach out now, OP said it was years ago and better to leave this poor woman alone (I’d be willing to wager OP was not the only bystander pulled into the mess).

      But I super-like your suggestion of OP sending mental well-wishes to the exec, who is much better off now, for sure.

      1. Sloanicota*

        (I’d be willing to wager OP was not the only bystander pulled into the mess). –

        This is such a great point. OP is very much on the outside of this situation and only knows what she knows – of course, she feels like she has the central role in the story, the main plot thread, and that she was responsible for what was going on with the CEO and the husband. In fact, he could have been doing this with many other people in the CEO’s life, or any number of other things she couldn’t see, or – just a whole bunch of simultaneous threads. Maybe the CEO got the ex-husband’s car repossessed and this was more about that, and the CEO feels responsible – we just can’t know. That’s why we have to let it go. It was a long time ago. You did the best you can. As far as you know, nobody died here, and you’ve all presumably moved on to other dramas now.

      2. Can confirm*

        I agree OP wasn’t alone. My ex husband was a piece of work much like this guy and he never had just one sexual partner on deck. There were a lot of people in his chaos who got pulled down in a myriad of ways. I’m very happy to be almost ten years out of having his unique last name, it is almost becoming a non issue to my reputation (although to be fair he is so spectacularly awful people who make the connection tend to either pity me or high five me).

      3. Ellie*

        The ex-wife might have been receiving all sorts of things from him – pictures of other women, threatening material, he might even have been violent. You don’t know what you might be dredging up if you approach her now. I’d leave it alone, and just try to pay it forward by praising her as a director and leave it at that.

  19. Jessica Fletcher*

    That guy is a special kind of jerk. I don’t think I would have told her, because there’s always a chance her awkwardness is from something else. She might never have seen the pics, or not recognized your from the pics. She might have felt awkward because you were new and she felt embarrassed that you’d only known her through this difficult period, while others had a longstanding memory of her professionalism.

    I’ve learned it’s always a good idea to either make a guy delete unauthorized pics right there in front of you, or immediately delete them from his phone myself. Otherwise you never know what happened to them.

    1. Observer*

      I’ve learned it’s always a good idea to either make a guy delete unauthorized pics right there in front of you, or immediately delete them from his phone myself. Otherwise you never know what happened to them.

      True. But what are the odds that he had already sent pictures?

  20. Zap R.*

    This guy SUUUUUUCKS. Shout out to both you and your boss for handling this as gracefully as possible.

  21. envirolady*

    Gotta be honest – what he did feels like a crime, especially with the photos and what basically amounted to stalking. What in the world is wrong with him? Nothing is your fault, OP!

  22. Michelle Smith*

    What a thoughtful and kind response. Alison is, of course, spot on. None of this is on you and the fact that you care so much about this woman’s pain all these years later is a testament to the kind of person you are. I hope you’re able to put your feelings of guilt to rest, knowing that you did the best you could in a bad situation.

  23. RVA Cat*

    The OP did absolutely nothing wrong and it was not on her to fix the mess the truly vile ex-husband created.

    Question if she was still in this situation – would a 3rd option be to send a note to the court or the CEO’s attorney about the ex’s behavior?

    1. Sloanicota*

      Hmm. I’m not sure this raises to the level of legally actionable behavior as described. If he had kept following her or if he had used the pictures in some public way maybe, but just being a creep and a crappy ex husband isn’t something I’d be willing to go to court over. I’d be a character witness for the wife if she needed it though!). If OP was in the middle of this mess right now, I and presumably Alison would have had other advice for them (although to be honest if it was me, I probably would have started job-searching) – ironically, a maybe-slightly-awkward/chilly-relationship between the two women but no harm done is probably among the best possible outcomes – second best, at least (first best is of course they hash it all out and become friends and get rid of the husband).

    2. an attorney*

      I don’t like the idea of notifying the court – they aren’t in a position to call OP as a witness; it’s just bringing another party into a difficult situation.

      I’d be surprised if OP would know who the exec’s attorney is, but that option makes more sense – they are in a position to call OP as a witness (was OP prepared to testify?) However, it’s probably just an indirect way of telling the exec; the attorney isn’t going to call OP as a witness without first consulting her client.

    3. Observer*

      would a 3rd option be to send a note to the court or the CEO’s attorney about the ex’s behavior

      Only if there were custody issues involved. And even then, I’m not sure. Because outside of custody, there is almost no way this information would be useful to the lawyer. With custody MAYBE you can make the case that he’s such a toxic waste fire that he shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions about / for a child. I’m not talking about a moral argument – I feel bad for any child who is in his power – but a legal argument.

  24. Elm*

    Wow. That guy is a monster.

    I think the boss was the ultimate bigger person here (compared to the husband, not LW. LW is not at fault, and I think boss knew). The fact that no opportunities were missed says a lot about both people here.

    I hope that guy never gets promoted and has his phone fall on his face every time he tries to take an in-bed selfie, especially if he’s with an unknowing partner.

  25. Essentially Cheesy*

    I’m glad to be celibate. (Not a reflection of the OP at all, I promise.)

    I hear way way way too many horror dating stories, and this one takes the cake.

  26. marvin*

    Wow, this is so incredibly gross. Not only was he happy to manipulate another person into helping him hurt his wife, he obviously didn’t care about jeopardizing her employment at the same time. I’m really sorry this happened to you, LW, and I’m not surprised that you’re still processing it years later.

  27. Rosa Rosa Rosa Diaz Diaz Diaz*

    Urgg that guy is awful.

    I think you did the right think, LW. In fact you both handled it really, really well, all things considered.

    She might have been absolutely mortified to have you bring this up with her.

    Take heart from the fact that she knows what a scumbag her ex husband is, so she will be aware of how he probably behaved.

    Perhaps she’s even feeling terrible wondering what lies he told you, wondering whether you deeply loved him, wondering whether you knew he was married, wondering about how he violated your trust with those photos.

  28. kiki*

    LW, this is a terrible situation to have been put in! I honestly do not think LW could have done anything better. It would have been great if LW’s executive would have been able to have a completely unstilted relationship with LW, but that would have required a level of zen or compartmentalization that most people are not capable of. While there is potential a heart-to-heart could have warmed up things between LW and the executive, it’s just as likely to have made things more awkward. It’s really unfortunate because both LW and the executive were victims of a terrible man and it affected both of their jobs while he seems to have just slithered into the night without harm. Even though LW was the one who ultimately left and suffered the greatest impact, I can’t imagine it was easy for the executive either.

  29. Keymaster of Gozer*

    You were in a dreadful situation that wasn’t your fault and you handled it bravely.

    It’s tempting to look back on our ‘holy heck wtf is going on’ moments in life and wonder if we should have done something else, or contact people that may have also been hurt but my advice here is that this is something better done on paper.

    That you write it up, all the things you want to say or wanted to say, or the words you want another to understand, then you burn it.

    The act of getting it down onto paper can be stressful and like reliving the whole damn thing but once it’s done it can feel like a hundred ton weight off the shoulders. You did it. You said what you wanted to say and now you can move on.

    No matter that nobody else will ever read it. You did.

  30. Letter Writer*

    I wanted to thank everyone for the kind and thoughtful responses to this. I’ve actually struggled to discuss it even amongst friends for years because for the longest time I had difficulty accepting that it was real – there was always a “but what if” or a “yeah but…”, and of course always a healthy dose of shame and wondering if I had done something to deserve or incite it (like not being more careful about what pictures I chose)

    I’ve come to reconcile with myself that, at the end of the day, even if he didn’t send them to her, and even if his ex-wife had been someone entirely external to me who I had never and would never have met, it’s clear that he was motivated by cruelty from the beginning. I was 23 and the time and he was well into his 40’s and obviously trying to find someone naive and easily manipulated. At this time in my life, that was me. I can’t say too much without potentially revealing identifying details but I can say that information that came to me later suggests with almost 98% certainty that he absolutely did tell her that he had slept with me, whether he showed her the pictures or not.

    I’ve kind of reconciled with myself that the most resolution I will get is deeply understanding and accepting that this was a very unkind and very emotionally unwell person that did something out of spite and a lack of regard for the fact that he was hurting people. I’m sorry that my old director and I were on the receiving end, but we can’t account for someone else behaving in such horrible ways. I’m glad now to be away from this situation.

    I still live in the same city and work in more or less the same industry. I’m at a level now where myself and my old director are more on the level of colleagues. I’ve resolved to myself that if we ever organically reconnect in a way where this would be appropriate that I will express regret for any hurt this may have caused her and to say how thankful I am that she extended such grace and kindness to me.

    1. Alan*

      I’m not a woman and can’t possibly relate to all that’s involved here, but I really like the idea of “say how thankful”. I’ll bet she would really appreciate that. She could very well be reliving this just as you are, and feeling unwarranted guilt/shame herself.

    2. Gigi*

      I can’t think of a better way to handle this. It sounds like you’ve grown into yourself beautifully. Best wishes to you both.

    3. The Eye of Argon*

      Your next-to-last paragraph shows you’ve got a wise and healthy view of the situation, but I respectfully disagree that bringing up the subject after all this time would do any good.

      She’s now had the same number of years as you to process and recover. Hopefully she’s made peace with it and moved on. Whether she has or not, I just don’t see the value in reopening old wounds after all this time.

      She showed you great kindness and grace, but under the radar. I’m thinking that the best way to thank her is the same way, by always speaking well of her, her abilities, and your time as her employee, and leaving the ugly stuff out of it.

      1. connie*

        Yeah, I’ll be honest, this planned expression of thankfulness seems like it’s about what’s good for the LW and not so much for the ex-wife. There are lots of ways to express gratitude and grace without ever having to speak to her about what is likely a horribly traumatic period of her life rather than reopen it years later.

    4. chs.29*

      LW, I’m so sorry this whole situation happened to you, but I think you’ve shown nothing but grace, poise, and sound judgment. This could have easily become a complete disaster if you and your old director behaved differently! I doubt I would have handled it nearly as well at 23.
      I think you absolutely made the right call in keeping it to yourself rather than talking to her about it. Even the most flawlessly professional, mature, tactful person could respond very negatively to such an upsetting situation. And I can’t think of any real good that could come from it, given how awkward your relationship would be afterwards. I’m glad you’re away from the situation now!

    5. Alexander Graham Yell*

      I think if it were me, I’d also make sure to mention to colleagues when your former director’s name comes up that you always appreciated how scrupulously professional she was, that she made sure you had growth opportunities, and how grateful you are to have seen that kind of manager early in your career. You got a front row seat to a masterclass in professionalism and it clearly stuck with you! Those are the kinds of things that, if I were in her shoes, would mean a lot to hear (especially through the grapevine) because it will give her the reassurance that she succeeded in not letting her personal issues derail your career without having to re-open a very painful wound.

  31. SofiaDeo*

    And people like this man, are why I am very careful about pictures. Nothing really identifiable. I have had an inappropriate angry ex I needed to avoid, to the point of getting a PO Box. We shouldn’t have to do this, but unfortunately we do IME. And then it’s worse when *we* feel like we did something “wrong” just because an inappropriate person used a bit of information against us to further their agenda. When we were simply just going about our life, doing nothing wrong.

    1. allathian*

      Oh yes. And why I’m very happy that I’m extremely monogamously married. I don’t see a divorce in our future because our marriage’s stable, solid and happy, but even if something completely unforeseen happened and we divorced, or if I become a widow, I seriously doubt that I’d want another long-term relationship. Dating apps and sites existed when we met, but they weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now.

  32. Vanilla latte breve*

    I just want to give the OP a hug right now. It really sucks to be used as a pawn in someone’s game, and my heart hurts for you.

  33. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    OP, the only thing that speaking to her would have achieved would be that you could have spelled out that you were unwittingly used, but that may have been obvious from the photos, with you even being asleep in some of them.
    IME if you speak up to explain that you were not in on the evil deed and had no idea he was married to her, the person usually reacts well to such info. Especially if you add that you promptly ended things with the guy once you realised he was using you to taunt her. Like, she already knows he’s a jerk, it’s not like spilling the beans when someone’s beloved hubby hits on you behind her back.
    I’ve never regretted speaking up in difficult situations. I’ve only ever regretted not speaking up.
    But it’s incredibly difficult to speak up, especially when the person is your boss and there’s not a trusting relationship already in place.
    OP you did the best you could with what you had at the time. Maybe in a similar situation today you might be able to smooth things over with an explanation, but there’s only one jerk in the situation you described and you know who that is.

  34. TiredMama*

    Flipping this around, did the Director have any responsibility to move to a position where she wasn’t managing OP? It reads as though the Director and OP acted incredibly professionally, but assuming he did send photos (that is a violation, I am so sorry, OP), is there no liability for the company somewhere?

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      I can’t see where there’d be any liability for the company. Sleazo didn’t work for the company and his sleazery didn’t happen on company time/property. If HR heard about it they’d likely file it under “personal squabble: not our problem.”

      I don’t think the director had any obligation to change positions, either. Maybe if she felt she couldn’t keep things professional and wanted to remove herself from the situation, if she were allowed to do so and if there was an equivalent position available.

      (It’s kind of an interesting thought exercise: what if the director wrote in with “my soon to be ex-husband had an affair to be back at me – and it was one of my reports”? What advice would Alison give her?)

      1. TiredMama*

        I was thinking about framing it that way too – let’s say the OP was the Director the day after she receives the text messages from her then-still-husband. What would Alison have advised?

    2. learnedthehardway*

      No, the director really didn’t have any obligation to change her role. And the company wouldn’t have been liable because the man wasn’t an employee (from what I could see). Her obligation was to act fairly and impartially towards the OP.

      I mean, that might have been what the man hoped would happen – that his ex-wife would have reacted badly at work and been fired, or that she would have felt ethically obligated to leave her job.

      Similarly, the OP wasn’t obligated to leave her job, either – she was obligated to be professional, courteous and to take the director’s lead in how to respond to the situation. Which she did do.

      1. TiredMama*

        So that’s what I was thinking about for a headache for the company…if the Director had not acted professionally and blocked OP from opportunities, iced her out, etc.

        1. Allonge*

          If that happens, there is a responsibility for the company to move her out / stop the actions, but the initial connection is not something that necessarily points to a conflict of interest (mostly because it was not intentional in either direction) that would require preventative action.

          People know each other in all contexts and can behave professionally in the working sphere.

    3. Ellie*

      What if there were others? How many companies is she going to have to stay away from? My friend’s ex-husband cheated on her with hundreds of different people – men, women, prostitutes, etc. It could even be thousands, he was a good looking guy.

  35. HB*

    Really really hoping the former Director reads AAM and this brings her some peace (both in knowing that the OP was just another victim and further proof that divorcing that guy was the right decision).

  36. Buni*

    If this happened to me today, at the age & experience I have now, I would absolutely sit down with the boss and talk it out. But 10 or even 20 years ago? Probably very not…

  37. short'n'stout*

    Responding to the part where LW wonders if there could have been a different outcome – I wonder if seeing a counselor at the time could have given you some tools to make your interactions less awkward?

    The awful situation that that man put you in probably led to something in your manner that was contributing to the awkwardness. With a counselor, you might have discussed the scenario in confidence with a neutral third party, and rehearsed scripts, tone, and body language that would subconsciously make you and your boss a little more at ease when conversing about work matters. Kind of like being an actor on a stage – for your conversations with your boss, you slip into a slightly different version of your persona in order to smooth the interactions a little bit.

    Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you could have used this approach to discuss the ex – you did the right thing by not bringing it up. I’m so glad that things worked out for you :)

    1. anon today*

      I’ve seen several counselors whose advice on how I should behave around people either made things worse or was SO BAD that I refused to follow it. I mean, bad enough if I had done what they suggested, I would’ve been arrested or fired.

      1. short'n'stout*

        Were they talking about how you should behave around people in general? Because I’m talking about ONE person in ONE specific context.

  38. Some Dude*

    Thank you for such a wonderful response Allison.
    OP, y0u did nothing wrong, and the fact that both you and the director managed to continue working together says a ton about the characters and professionalism of both of you. You did the best you could in a horrific situation.

  39. Jules the 3rd*

    This man was abusive. Once abuse enters the situation, it ruins everything, and the others around are often left with no good reaction. His abusiveness is not your fault. You and she both took the best option – getting far, far away from him. If you can, focus on your respect for her, her impeccable professionalism, and your relief that both of you are free of that POS.

    Teach your kids what to look for – aggressive pursuit and fast pace often indicates an agenda.

  40. Looper*

    OP, I’m so sorry this happened to you. All I can say is that I hope that man is receiving all the love and riches he deserves, which would rank somewhere around being left to rot in a ditch.

  41. PotsPansTeapots*

    I have a not entirely dissimilar situation in my past I’m only now coming to grips with. It’s a testament to how professional and emotionally mature you are, OP, that you handled it in this way. This guy took advantage of you and you handled yourself with grace and tact by maintaining a professional relationship with your director.

    It sounds like you’ve moved on and made a great life for yourself. But should you want a tip, I’ve found journaling to be helpful in dealing with my past $#!tty guy. Often, I even play out hypotheticals like yours.

    Sometimes it’s cold comfort, but you’re not alone in stories like these. And you (and it sounds like your director, too) were more thoughtful and emotionally mature than this guy ever was.

  42. Appalled*

    Good heavens. What a ghastly individual. IMO you and the Director showed admirable professionalism and fortitude just by making it through that situation.

  43. George*

    The sheer amount of planning this must have required is astounding.
    Can you imagine how many of his wife’s subordinates he must have fished for before getting a bite?

    1. short'n'stout*

      I expect that the creep was just looking for any random person to use to get back at his ex. The fact that he found someone who worked for her was just a coincidence, and an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I agree with short’n’stout. I think he saw the profile picture with the office space and saw it as an opportunity rather than actually going looking for some employee of the ex wife!

  44. JustMe*

    I feel like OP is feeling guilty for being used to cause this woman pain but…I would imagine that the exec felt guilty that someone from her personal life took advantage of one of her employees for the sole purpose of upsetting her. She, more than anyone, would know how creepy her ex is and the way he operates–I can imagine her awkwardness had more to do with her knowing that a creepy weirdo was taking advantage of you (and had also sent her compromising photos of you, which you may or may not have been aware of) than because she was upset or believed you were complicit in something.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      To be honest though, we do not know what the exec knew or was told. It is likely she never actually realized that her ex actually found OP and pursued her with the primary intention of using it to hurt her. The exec does not know what OP knew or did not know about who he was when OP was dating him. It is pretty clear that the exec knew it was important to be professional and that she knew OP was likely taken advantage of, but the exec had no clue what her horrible ex may have told OP about her. She did not know if OP knew personal information about her or if the ex had told OP awful lies about her. It sounds like the exec tried to be as professional as possible and not disrupt OP professionally, but her awkwardness may not even have been about blame so much as about the fact that she had no idea what OP knew or had been told, and the ex likely told some lies and half truths to the exec about OP in order to mess with her. Basically, we know OP’s side, but at most, we assume the ex showed her the picture. We do not know anything else about the exec’s side, what she was told by her ex, or what she understood about what happened. So I think exec chose to play the professional and safe path with OP, and we should be hesitant to judge her too harshly.

  45. Aghast*

    Totally agree with Alison here that whether there was something you could do different or not is not the issue. It’s normal to think that, because you actually care about this other woman and her feelings, but there’s no way to know how she would react. If you want to spend emotional energy on remembering this incident, it should be on being angry that this man viewed you so little as a person that he was willing to start a relationship with you under false pretenses and risk your career all to hurt his ex-wife. It was a violation of both of you, and truly disgusting to not only do to you, but then leave the two of you to deal with the fallout while he reaped the rewards. You are both much better off having this awful person out of your lives, and I’m so angry on your behalf.

  46. DocVonMitte*

    My relative went through a similar situation from the director’s side (her husband pursued a new employee of hers during their divorce and sent her pics :/). I am honestly tempted to ask her what she would have preferred. In her situation, she never spoke about it to her employee (she was their great-grand boss) and tried to remain professional but I don’t know if she’d have wanted it any other way.

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