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

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m 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 who dated someone who was using her to get back at his ex-wife … who turned out to be her boss? Here’s the update.

I just wanted to reflect some gratitude for your compassionate response, as well as the support from everyone in the comment section. At the time I sent this letter, this had all happened to me seven years earlier, but is still something that brings up a lot of shame and stress.

I think in part, I felt that I should have known better, and I felt stupid for not realizing that someone could have had ulterior motives for seeking me out. This prevented me from talking to people in my life about it, and on the rare occasions that I did, I was always focused on what I should have done differently and the ways that I felt I should have recognized what was going on. This is reflected by my continued ruminations for years that I had wronged my previous director by not finding a way to address the situation with her, even knowing now that this could have caused all sorts of unanticipated tumult for everyone involved.

This is all just to say that self-directed shame and stigma very commonly is a barrier when it comes to working towards a healthier relationship with oneself. As an older (thankfully married!) person now, I can definitely recognize the ways that I could have practiced more caution and discernment while dating online, but ultimately I’m working towards feeling compassion for that younger version of myself who just wanted to be chosen at a time when life was marked by insecurity, chaos and loneliness.

I made reference to this in the comments of the original article, but I’m at a place in my career now where my previous director is more of a colleague in my professional network. From the outside, she appears to be doing very well. As I’ve gotten older and moved into management roles myself, I’ve gained more perspective on all of the moving parts at play in what happened to us, and my respect for her only continues to grow.

It’s apparent to me now from information I’ve picked up over the years that the husband was struggling significantly with substance use throughout their divorce and the time I knew him. I think there’s a difference between explaining the context of one’s actions vs justifying those actions, but overall my feelings towards him now hover between sympathy and pity. I hope that he finds a place of wellness, hopefully far away from any young girls.

And yes, I’m seeing a therapist – lol

Thanks again, all, and happy new year!

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Wendy the Spiffy*

    “This is all just to say that self-directed shame and stigma very commonly is a barrier when it comes to working towards a healthier relationship with oneself.” Beautifully said and very true. I love to see how you’ve learned compassion for yourself and I hope other readers will take this to heart.

  2. Danish*

    I’m glad you’ve been able to cut younger you some slack. So easy to feel guilt and shame when you’re used, but glad that both you and she are doing well

  3. Critical Rolls*

    I hope there was some catharsis in your situational internet besties collectively yelling “What the FUCK!” and brandishing torches and pitchforks on your behalf. Because one thing I don’t see in your letters is anger, and while you don’t need to take up permanent residence in Wrathville, I hope you gave yourself room to be good and mad at some point.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Yeah, I’m over here raging at him. Horrible, horrible person, I hope karma bites him on the butt.

  4. Michelle Smith*

    Glad to hear you’re doing better and releasing the negative feelings you have about this whole thing. May you continue to be happy at work and in life!

  5. Sloanicota*

    Your comment about other people mirroring back your ambiguity when you try to talk about this really hits for me. I’ve had this happen, where my complicated emotions end up causing someone I’m talking to to believe I am sort of at fault or should have done something differently – the very last thing I needed to hear, since that is the very fear I’m wrestling with in trying to talk to them. A) I’m glad you’re talking to a professional also, who should be more able to think critically about the way this story is being told and B) I have learned to be a better listener myself and not be mislead so easily by the way a narrative is framed. Good luck to you OP.

    1. ferrina*

      I’ve done that so many times to myself- I’m so concerned with being “unfair” to the other person that I end up making myself into the bad guy. In my case, it’s tied to my very manipulative parents (I was the scapegoat child).

      Seconding Critical Rolls- anger is your friend in cases like this. Anger is a healthy and appropriate response to this. Sometimes you really do do everything right, and the other person is just that awful.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Consider reading Lundy Bancroft’s book, _Why Does He Do That_. It’s eye-opening, and really puts a lot of manipulative behavior into context. It’s about male domestic violence abusers, but works for most of them, like manipulative parents.

        1. ferrina*

          Thank you. This book has been on my radar, but I’ve never read it. I’ve been ruminating a lot and self-blaming lately, so I think it is time for me to pick this up.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Google the title + pdf – there’s a free .pdf at the Internet Archive. The style is easy to read, though the content is not. It really helped me accept, emotionally, that some people are just that way, and there’s nothing I can do for them. All I can do is support the people who are not that way, and teach my kid not to be that way.

            1. boof*

              Yea, if I recall (I read the book a long time ago) it makes it clear the only hope of change is 1) they have to want to change and 2) peer pressure can be helpful too, when able. But one person can’t control much/any of that, just know that calling abusive behavior out when you see it happening can be helpful in providing some of that peer pressure. (before I think I would have been worried about it just coming back on the victim, which is still possible and do your best to read the room, but my sense reading the book is that most abusers think their behavior is ok/justified so telling them it’s not might give them pause; and the more the better)

        2. SJ*

          Seconding this book recommendation for you OP!

          And thank you for sharing this update, Happy New Year and I hope this incident moves further and further to the background of your headspace as time goes on

  6. bamcheeks*

    I felt stupid for not realizing that someone could have had ulterior motives for seeking me out

    Oh, but I hope you can let go of this, LW. Why SHOULD you have thought like that? It’s completely understandable that you would not go around anticipating something as nasty and cynical and manipulative as that. That man was a truly horrible outlier, and you had no way of knowing that in advance!

    1. Sloanicota*

      Isn’t it terrible how the person who was actually the bad actor probably beats himself up less than the one who was the innocent victim? And yet I’ve often found this to be true. I wonder if the ex husband has put a fraction of the thought into this that OP has over the years.

    2. ferrina*

      Totally agree. There wasn’t any reason why LW should have assumed that someone sought her out to get back at his almost-ex who was also executive director. This wasn’t a normal case of Creepy Dude- this was planned and manipulative. This was twisted way beyond the pale. You are not responsible for asking “By the way, are you still technically married to my boss’s boss and pursuing me for revenge?” That’s really one of those things that goes without saying- like “You aren’t going to scream at me and punish me for not liking mustard on my hot dogs, right?”
      By the time you have to ask, that person has already hit movie-level villain. You’re not unreasonable for not treating your life like a movie.

      1. anne of mean gables*

        Honestly! If a friend came up to me and said she’d met a new partner, but wondered whether that new partner was secretly pursing her to get revenge on his ex, I would tell the friend she was being paranoid. That is just…not a road you need to go down in any normal dating universe. The fact that that is what actually happened to OP is the result of horrifically bad luck (and extremely bad actions from the partner in question), not any sort of negligence on her part.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          Exactly! Like, LW, you didn’t miss the fact he was an older dude chasing a younger woman and that he probably wasn’t doing so because you were an old soul. You knew that was what he was attracted to you more because you were younger and you were attracted to the attention. That’s the reasonable thing to be aware of when an older guy is pursuing you–not that he might REALLY be chasing you because you work for his wife!

          Similarly, maybe you could have clocked that he was actually still married (hard to tell since he said he was separated), but no way you would have or should have assumed a guy cheating on his wife would go OUT OF HIS WAY to do so with someone their wife worked with! Hell, most cheaters would have dropped you like a hot potato if they found out your cubicle mate had the same yoga teacher as their spouse!

          It would be like feeling bad that you didn’t consider that, because you and the guy you are dating both have brown eyes, secretly he is your long lost sibling because the brother you knew all your life was actually switched at birth in the hospital with this dude.

    3. coffee*

      Agreed, it’s so wildly out there that of course you didn’t see it coming! It would be like saying the dinosaurs should have anticipated the asteroid hitting earth.

    4. boof*

      Honestly I kind of hated she-hulk because
      The level of carrie-level BS her haters put her through (including having a guy pretend to be really into her just to ghost then very publicly shame her, in front of her coworkers and family no less – graphic description of how omitted) was not consistent with the comedic theme or final outcome. IDK I was just thinking the sheer level of damage this can do if the person doing it actually succeeds in what they’re trying to do seems underappreciated.

  7. Feotakahari*

    I think this guy was the worst of today’s crop of terrible people well-meaning LWs had to deal with. The psychic and the missionary were just unreasonable. This guy was vicious.

    1. Bruce*

      For any Sponge Bob fans out there, I’ll quote Mermaid Man: “EVILLLLL!!!”
      I’m glad both you and your former boss are doing well.
      In her case it sounds like getting away from that guy was a huge improvement in her life!

  8. Jules the 3rd*

    This man abused his ex-wife, abused OP. Substance abuse is not relevant to that carefully crafted campaign – he didn’t execute this while drunk or high.

    OP, read Lundy’s “Why Does He Do That”, you can find it on the web in .pdf. The lesson that abusers can and do control their actions is important, so that you can recognize this in other circumstances and know:
    1. Not your / other abuse survivors’ fault
    2. Abusers are doing it on purpose, deliberately
    3. Abusers use a lot of excuses, like addiction or ‘just a joke’, to escape consequences.

    I am glad you’re better, but there’s still some social stories told around abuse that you need to unpack.

  9. JaneDough(not)*

    LW, a thought on something you wrote: “this had all happened to me seven years earlier, but is still something that brings up a lot of shame and stress. / I
    I think in part, I felt that I should have known better, and I felt stupid for not realizing that someone could have had ulterior motives for seeking me out. … on the rare occasions that I did [talk to people about it], I was always focused on what I should have done differently and the ways that I felt I should have recognized what was going on.”

    Every year, teachers around the world welcome a classroom of young people who don’t have certain skills. By the end of the year, most do. And the cycle repeats, for every student and for every teacher. Yet we sort of assume that we should pretty much know all that we need to know once we finish our formal education.

    Let’s all remind ourselves that, despite being self-supporting adults, there are loads of things that we don’t yet know how to do — and feeling ashamed of not-knowing places a terrible burden on us. The following is a bit treacly, but it’s also 100% true: Each of us is a work in progress.

    LW, you handled a tough situation with grace, and you learned from it. Well done!

  10. learnedthehardway*

    I really hope that you’re able to let go of feeling shame or guilt about this – it sounds like you’ve mostly done so, but seriously – the only shame/guilt here belongs to the person who deceived you in order to mess with his ex-wife. That’s somewhere between a Disney and a Bond level of villainy. You didn’t see it coming because NOBODY WOULD. It’s not your fault it happened – it’s entirely his fault.

  11. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    If his now-ex-wife DID receive those pictures, it very likely confirmed what she already knew; her husband was an amoral, exploitive creep and she was well rid of him!

    LW, it sounds as if you’ve moved on from thinking that you somehow SHOULD have known what he was up to (how? mental telepathy is great for sci-fi and fantasy tales but nonexistent IRL!) and realize that 100% of this was on HIM. And what did he get out of it? Nothing! His wife went through with the divorce anyway (and I hope she took him for a financial bundle while she was at it – he certainly deserved it!)

  12. Bunny Lake Is Found*

    LW, seriously, you had no reason to even remotely suspect this. It is a “you hear hoofbeat, think horses, not zebras.” An older dude pursues you with rigor across 2 dating apps. Maybe he is just so enchanted with your profile, or maybe he has ulterior motives. But any normal person would say the ulterior motive is “I am 45 and want to sleep with a 22 year old. I don’t care very much about who they are as a person. I will tell them anything to get them to sleep with me”…not “I am specifically pursuing this bright young thing because they work with my wife and want to use them as part of a power game either to force my wife to work with my new conquest or get her to fire the young lady so it becomes a tawdry and humiliating mess for my wife.” Literally, that is the stuff of the shadiest men of Shondaland, not like, the average shady dude.

    1. zaracat*

      and I think LW’s insight about her life at that time being “marked by insecurity, chaos and loneliness” is important. Predators – which is what the man is here, no question – ferret out that sort of vulnerability and take advantage of it. Self compassion is absolutely the right approach.

  13. WorkingRachel*

    I truly don’t think there’s anything you “should” have done differently. Someone recognizing a distinctive view and then using that information as a way to get revenge on their soon to be ex is unusual behavior and nothing you needed to control for or guard against. Yes, people dating online should exercise some reasonable caution about personal information on their profiles–say, avoiding anything that is easily Googleable in a way that would lead to your full name and address–but extrapolating that to mean “don’t post anything that could, in any way, make you identifiable, including the background of an image” puts too much onus on you. You were not being stupid or careless. He was the one at fault here.

  14. Anonymous For Now*

    Dear LW:

    In the immortal words of Elsa, “Let it go”!

    You did nothing wrong. It’s flattering to have someone pursue you, especially an older man who appears to have it all together while you are a young woman still floundering around as you find your way into who you will become.

    While things were awkward with your Big Boss, the fact that she didn’t find a way to fire you shows that she probably had a good sense of what really happened.

    Take care of yourself and give yourself the gift of unburdening this holiday season.

Comments are closed.