I might run into the person whose life I ruined at a work event

A reader writes:

Almost a decade ago, I found out my fiancé (who I had been with for many years) was still with Sarah, the woman he had been dating for years before we got together — the one he told me he had broken up with to date me. It broke my heart and horrified me — I was, in my eyes, essentially his mistress for the entirety of our relationship, and because I did not question certain things enough, I had allowed him to cheat on her with me. I decided shortly after I found out to go to Sarah’s house and tell her the truth.

It went about as well as you’d expect. After she initially opened the door, I quickly and succinctly word-vomited his betrayal, my existence, the seriousness of our relationship, and how I never knew about their continued relationship until a few days earlier. I then told her I was done with him, would have never dated him if I had known he was still with her, and thought she had the right to know what had been going on. She said nothing — seemingly stunned more than anything. After a long pause, she slowly closed the door in my face.

I did email her once more after that to give her my contact information and offered to answer any questions she might have (because I certainly had a ton of questions about how so many years of my life were a lie), but she never reached out and I didn’t want her to feel like I was harassing her, so I left it alone after that. The last I heard, she and my ex had parted ways immediately afterward and she moved to a neighboring state in a field unrelated to her previous business (let’s say that previous business was teapot design). She was a locally renowned teapot designer — which doesn’t pay great, but she had tried hard for years to make it a profitable profession. And in one fell swoop it ended because my ex had stepped out of his relationship with her for one with me.

Fast forward to the present day. I am now working a prestigious dream job at a vaguely tea-related organization in the very Mayberry-esque small town that my ex and Sarah had lived in. Their old house is a short walk away from my new workplace. I have no fears that anyone in town knows of my involvement with her ex — she was a presence in the community and he was not and they did a lot of things very independently of each other, so I actually doubt many people in town even knew my ex really existed. The sale of their house and her business happened so quickly that a lot of people locally didn’t even know she had left for months after she had gone (he moved away at the same time). However, people in the area still know Sarah and remember her skills as a teapot designer fondly.

A few weeks ago I was meeting with a board member of mine over a tea-related project complete with a gala and on-site teapot designing station. He mentioned the possibility of bringing notable teapot designers in to work during the party to add to the experience and specifically name-dropped Sarah.

I was very much caught off-guard, and tried to recover by casually asking, “Oh, I thought she had moved out of state a few years back?”

And then that’s when I got to hear my board member give me the Spark Notes version of what I already knew — “Yeah, things didn’t work out with the guy she was dating — he was cheating on her — and she left. But she still comes back from time to time. She’s giving some design classes at [local nonprofit] in a few months.”

The proposed gala may not happen (this board member tends to come up with grand ideas that don’t always pan out), or may not happen in the way my board member pictured it. However, the whole interaction has sent me spiraling and unlocked a new fear in me: meeting the person whose personal and professional life I ruined in my work setting.

If my board member’s plan does go through, and a gala is organized with Sarah in attendance … what should I do? In my role at this organization, I’m most likely going to be in some form of contact with her at such an event. My last name has changed since we met, but she will probably still recognize my face despite the fact that I’ve aged a bit since our only face-to-face interaction. I also have no idea how she feels about me after all this time. I don’t know if she blames me for what happened and harbors resentment towards me. From the little I know of her, I don’t think she would cause a scene … but I simply do not know.

Should I pretend I’m just meeting her for the first time? Do I have a responsibility to share the situation with my board member and my boss in case something happens during any interaction with her (or to get them to help me stay away from her?) Should I just try my best to just avoid her without explanation to anyone?

I never thought I’d have to deal with my ex’s ex in a workplace setting. The relationship with my ex was very traumatic, and not just because of what happened to Sarah. It took me years of therapy to deal with the fallout of that relationship. This new potential situation is giving me nightmares.

You are catastrophizing!

First, you didn’t ruin Sarah’s life. Your ex is the one responsible for the impact on Sarah, not you. You were only the messenger — and delivered a message she chose to act upon, so for all we know she might appreciate what you said that night you came to her house, regardless of how upsetting it was in the moment. And she might not consider her life ruined at all!

Second, she met you once 10 years ago for a few extremely emotionally-charged minutes. It’s very possible, even likely, that she won’t recognize you a decade later.

But if she does recognize you, the most likely scenario is that everything will be fine. You’re not showing up as Sarah’s new sister-in-law or boss; you’d be a professional contact who she won’t need to work closely with. In fact, since you’re in a small town, she’s already probably aware she could run into you at some point.

We also don’t know if Sarah even cares! It’s been a decade; it’s more likely than not that she’s moved on and your existence in the same room might be awkward but not devastating … or it could even be entirely neutral. It’s extremely unlikely that Sarah will cause a scene. (And for what it’s worth, if I were in Sarah’s shoes and heard someone was worried about me causing a scene over something they weren’t responsible for a decade ago, I’d be taken aback!)

As for what to do …. act the way you would if you were meeting for the first time. Be professional and polite. If Sarah does recognize you, she’ll likely appreciate that you’re not forcing her to engage on a more intense level when she’s in a professional mode.

I don’t think you need to share the situation with your board or the board member either, since it’s so unlikely that there will be fall-out. If this had all happened last month instead of a decade ago, I’d advise you differently (in that case I’d recommend giving them a discreet heads-up) but at this point this is all such old news that you can just treat Sarah professionally and assume she’ll do the same.

{ 368 comments… read them below }

    1. ThatGirl*

      Correct. The LW did not ruin Sarah’s life; she did her a big favor if anything. Of course it was probably hard to hear, but don’t take her stunned silence as anything but what it was – surprise! What she chose to do after that is up to her.

      (I have to say too that I expected something very different from the headline, but there was no life-ruining!)

      1. Czhorat*

        Compare the guy who posted about ghosting an ex he’d lived with for two years (just walking out and vanishing one day) and showing very little to any remorse for it.

        Some people have enough natural compassion to feel repsonsibility even when it’s not merited; some have enough lack of same to justify whatever they do.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yep – and I get it, she feels bad and it brings up some buried anxiety. But truly, this is not a big deal.

        2. Lea*

          That was the first thing I thought of?!!

          This is far from that.

          If I were Sarah, and I have been in a not as serious version of this, I would just be like ‘oh yeah what a jerk right’ and move on.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            The post is titled “I ghosted my ex, and she’s about to be my new boss” from August 22, 2017. There’s also an update linked at the bottom of the original post.

            I’ll link to the original in a reply. The link will have to go through moderation, but you should be able to find the post by searching the title in the meantime.

            1. Tinamedte*

              Just came on to say that you r.o.c.k! You’re so helpful with all the links. Thank you!

        3. Irish Teacher.*

          Yeah, reading the headline of this, I immediately thought of that and assumed it would be something similar or even worse.

          LW, it was not your fault for not asking certain things. He would almost certainly have lied to you anyway nor was it your job to prevent him from cheating on his SO. He is a grown man and responsible for his own behaviour and if he hadn’t cheated with you, it would probably have been with somebody else.

          And think of it this way, even if you did catch him out in a lie and chose not to date him, yeah, OK, he wouldn’t have cheated, but it would be morally the same. If the only reason he didn’t cheat on Sarah was because you said “no,” well, he was still willing to cheat. He would have still been going behind her back. He would still have been somebody she was better off without.

          1. Chickadee*

            He probably still would have cheated, just with somebody else. LW there’s no need to blame yourself, especially when you took the time to notify the other person! That was very brave and let her make an informed decision about her life.

          2. Hexiva*

            When I read that headline, I thought it was going to be like that one LW who had mental health issues and kept stalking coworkers!

            1. jojo*

              Oh my, I need to read this letter!! A link or a headline would be amazing if you remember the specifics. I’m not finding it so far. :(

      2. RVA Cat*

        This. The headline made me think they’re maimed someone while drunk driving or something.
        The OP did nothing wrong. The only thing I’d say is to see her therapist before and after the event to help process her thoughts and feelings about this.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          I hope LW works with her therapist on a few scripts for what to say or not say to Sarah. LW should practice what to say if Sarah doesn’t recognize her, what to say if Sarah recognizes her but doesn’t bring up the drama, and what to say if Sarah DOES bring up the drama (which probably would take the form of “Can you believe that jerkwad? I don’t talk to him, but I hope he’s miserable somewhere.”).

          It’s very likely that Sarah doesn’t want to dredge up this drama and would prefer to stay professional. That is the most likely outcome, especially at a work event. If I were Sarah and I recognized LW, at most I would maybe look surprised for a moment, and then nod and say “hey there,” and then keep the conversation to teapot-related topics. I’d then go rehash the drama over drinks with the girls, but I’d keep it out of the event.

      3. RagingADHD*

        I mean, there is also the possibility that Sarah was completely not surprised and knew about LW all along, but just didn’t want to deal with the mess of having LW know about her and show up at the house. She may have been content with the situation until the guy “crossed the streams.”

        Or they may have had an open relationship, and Sarah thought LW knew about her. She may have broken up with the guy because he kept her a secret / lied to LW, not because he was dating/engaged to LW.

        Or Sarah may have suspected that the guy was cheating but didn’t have proof. Or Sarah may have been biding her time to break up for other reasons, and this was a tipping point. Or Sarah may have been cheating too!

        We can’t know, and the LW really doesn’t know, what was going on with Sarah, how she felt, or what she was thinking. Because Sarah deliberately chose not to say anything, either at that time or later when LW followed up.

        LW is filling in the blanks with a worst-case scenario. So they might as well fill in the blanks with something neutral or positive — like that Sarah is fine and none of this is LW’s doing or an ongoing problem. They could also start thinking about Sarah as an adult with agency who made complicated choices for complicated reasons, rather than a cardboard-cutout victim in a melodrama.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          To add to this, Sarah herself chose to move away and take a job in the adjacent subject matter. Sarah has taken and displayed her own agency at every step of this. OP, I know it’s really easy to think that all these things were horribly drastic events which forced Sarah to do things she didn’t want to do–but it truly doesn’t seem that way. Especially since you have no idea what Sarah wanted to do in her life–then or now! You did nothing wrong, and it’s more than probable that Sarah only remembers you vaguely as ‘that woman who told me my boyfriend was a cheating scumbag’, and wouldn’t actually recognize you if she did see you.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Exactly. OP, Sarah’s BF was the one potentially “ruining her life” by cheating on her and lying. You didn’t cheat or lie. You weren’t even a passive bystander: you gave her the information she needed to make choices about her own life.

            If she’d wanted to forgive ex-BF, she had that option. If she’d wanted to stay in that town, she had that option. If she’d wanted to stay in the same business, she had that option. You gave her agency to make her own choices; respect that she made the best ones for herself!

          2. KateM*

            And who knows, maybe Sarah had wanted to move away from that small town for months but stayed there because of that jerk she loved, trying to make a living out of a profession that didn’t pay much and thinking how much easier it would be to make a career out of teapot designing in a bigger city. Or something.

            1. RVA Cat*

              Sarah’s situation is what happens after the Hallmark Movie ends. Seriously, we need a subgenre that’s a sequel where the heroine dumps Cheating Small Town Hunk and moves back to the city. Bonus if she takes someone like OP with her and they become best friends.

              1. AcademiaNut*

                I love this.

                Woman in a small town, running a cute business (that’s barely scraping by and taking all her time), with a handsome, charming fiance (who never does housework) his cute dog (who is horribly trained) and her picturesque house (which needs expensive roof maintenance). She finds out fiance is cheating on her, sells the house and business, moves to the big city for a new, high profile job, and finds love with a man who is average looking and a bit awkward, but a total sweetheart, and they find happiness in a small condo.

                1. The Holiday?*

                  Have you seen The Holiday? (I think that was the name)? Because it features a strikingly similar plot to what you’ve described. (And the reverse. Two women in the throws of heartbreak find each other on a housing swap site, and trade houses for two weeks.) The one from picturesque rural England ends up dumping her (conventionally handsome) on-again, off-again cheating bf back home and staying in Los Angeles with her newfound confidence and self-respect.

              2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Look upauthor Jenny Colgan… see you on the Saturday open forum if you’d like to talk more.

        2. Selina Luna*

          It’s possible that they have an open relationship, but it seems unlikely. I have an actual open relationship, and one of the main tenets of my relationship (and the thing that makes it work, really) is that ALL parties know about each other. No assumptions are allowed, either. If my husband starts dating or even has a one-night stand, we start a group text. Anything less breeds dishonesty.

          1. RagingADHD*

            Clearly it wasn’t exactly like your relationship. But my point is that we don’t know what Sarah knew / thought /felt about the situation, so if LW is going to make up a mental narrative for the past, it might as well be a narrative that helps them navigate the work situation with more equanimity.

            1. Dahlia*

              It’s a pretty safe assumption he was cheating on her since she tells people they broke up because he was cheating on her. Not really a leap there.

          2. Thinking*

            It would be a pretty terrible open relationship if the LW didn’t even know that her partner was in an open relationship with Sarah. And from what the LW says, it doesn’t sound like the fiance tried that defense either.

      4. Csethiro Ceredin*

        Agreed! You did her a kindness.

        And the fact that she broke up with this bozo shows that she didn’t accept his side of the story, so the chance she has somehow cast you as the villain in this seems VERY slim to me.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          Sarah may even be thankful to OP for letting her know what was going on.

          It’s no fun being cheated on,

      5. H.Regalis*

        Same. I was thinking it’d be something like, “I got this person fired from a job/burned down their house/got their kids taken away from them”; something like that.

      6. Clisby*

        Exactly. Sarah could have:

        1) Stayed with cheater guy – after all, OP had ditched him.
        2) Dumped cheater guy but stayed put and continued in the small town with her design career.
        3) Put this whole situation WAY in the rear-view mirror by moving out of state and into a new career – the route she took.

        Nobody forced any of these decisions on Sarah – OP just clarified what had been going on so Sarah could make the best choice for herself. Maybe it was the best choice, maybe it wasn’t – but it was Sarah’s choice.

      7. Bruce*

        LW saved Sarah from wasting more time of her precious life with scum. It is awkward, but I don’t think she’ll blame the LW.

      8. Dorothy Zpornak*

        I mean… OP says this Chad was dating Sarah for years (plural) before he got together with the OP, and apparently for additional years (plural) after they got together. So it sounds like Sarah wasted about a decade of her life to have her relationship fall apart and be completely betrayed by the person she had believed for years had loved her, then she had to move away from her home to a new state, abandoning the business she had spent years building to completely start over. Not to mention that when someone wastes a decade of your romantic life, that puts you back on the market at a time when almost all the single men your age are taken and robs you of the kind of options you would have had earlier in life. It sounds pretty life-ruining to me.

        Though, agreed, not the OP’s fault; this was Chad’s doing.

        But I also expected something different from the headline, since I read the modifier based on placement, and was thinking, “How do you ruin someone’s life at a work event?”

        1. M*

          And, at that – if the update in a few weeks is “yeah, so, turns out Sarah had a serious mental health crisis after she shut that door, and while she’d rebuilt her life, it looked like running into me was pretty distressing for her”, I’m not going to be *entirely* surprised. Sure, there’s plenty of less dramatic possibilities – but there’s the very real possibility that Sarah *very* much remembers the woman who told her her multi-year relationship was a complete lie, and that the reason she didn’t tell her neighbours and friends that she was leaving was more than just being busy selling a house and business. She doesn’t have to *blame* OP for it to be pretty devastating to run into her again unexpectedly.

    2. Justme, The OG*

      Exactly! The situation was terrible but OP did the right thing by breaking it off immediately.

    3. TG*

      Agreed in fact you did her a favor letting her know her supposed partner was cheating on her!

    4. Flames on the Side of My Face*

      Yes! OP, you gave Sarah agency and showed great emotional maturity and respect by emailing her once and then *backing away.* That was a great move on your part–you didn’t force the issue, you gave Sarah options to act on as she saw fit. You did well in a shit situation. Rest easy!!

    5. Artemesia*

      And the ONLY play here is to pretend it never happened and that you don’t know Sarah. She will likely appreciate that if she does recognize you.

      And absolutely don’t poison your own well by discussing it with the board or your boss or anyone else. Let it never come to light.

      If she does bring it up — well it was awkward then and you still feel bad about it. But nothing needs done.

    6. Lokifan*

      Yep. And I totally see why you’re catastrophising; you had a traumatic relationship that ended in this huge reveal of all these lies, and I can easily imagine how a new surprise related to all of it would feel like it was going to be another big thing. Plus it sounds like you might feel guilty over this (“ruined her life”, “didn’t question… allowed him to cheat”) even though it’s not your fault at ALL.

      but it’s been 10 years, it sounds like she’s doing well – I truly think a slightly awkward professional interaction is by far the most likely possibility if this gala even happens!

    7. Ellis Bell*

      OP was cheated on too! I say that as someone who was badly affected by my spouse’s affair; I never understood that about the other person – she was very jealous and unhappy, but it was a situation she knew about and signed up for. OP, you had a discovery just as shocking as any other betrayed person. He took your time and affection under false pretences, without your consent to being in a triangle. You got engaged without informed consent! It really doesn’t matter that someone else was getting betrayed by him first (except that it gave you a job he was too dishonest and cowardly for).

  1. Peanut Hamper*

    OP, I think you did yourself and Sarah a huge favor by being honest. It’s quite likely that she appreciated it and has no ill will toward you. After all, you were both the victims of this guy.

    You’ll be fine. Enjoy the gala!

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      You did nothing wrong with any of this, and lord I hate how women have been socialized to think of themselves as the bad ones when the man in a romantic clustersmooch acts like an ass.

      Your ex lied to you – that was his choice, his fault, his wrongdoing. It’s not your duty to go all Forensic Files on a partner to find out if they might happen to be cheating on someone else; we’re supposed to be able to trust our loved ones.

      You did the right thing by dumping the guy as soon as you found out he was cheating, and gave Sarah the information she needed to make an informed decision for herself. Her choices to sell out and move away were what she thought was best for herself at the time and I doubt you factored into it.

      Now you’re a high achiever in your field, which wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t a decent person and good at what you do. As a professional herself, Sarah will grok that.

      1. Not that other person you didn't like*

        Yes, Mr. Two-timing Ex is the one who caused the heartache and sadness and Teapot Designing Woman was the one who decided to move away because of it. OP, please stop taking responsibility/blame that isn’t yours to take. You did the correct and ethical thing.

        Besides, your life isn’t ruined (you’re better off without this jerk) so why do you assume her life is?

      2. Tau*

        And, like-

        LW frames it as her having been the mistress, but it sure sounds like she thought she was in a monogamous relationship this whole time. Which means that from where I’m standing, LW was also cheated on. And I’m guessing suddenly breaking up with her fiance because she discovered he’d been lying to her for the entirety of their relationship was not in her life plans either! She is IMO just as much of a victim here as Sarah.

    2. starsaphire*

      I know two women who were being unknowingly double-timed by the same sleazeball. Found out about each other. Both of them dumped sleazeball and they’re now really good friends.

      The odds are low that Sarah blames you, or that she is angry with you after all this time. Or that she even remembers you. Go easy on yourself, and don’t stress about it.

      1. Zap R.*

        I know two women who were being double-timed by a sleazeball and now they’re married.

      2. dePizan*

        There was an article a few years ago in the New York Times, maybe? Anyway, three women found out they were all dating the same guy and thinking it was monogamous (there were also 3 more women he was dating, but they didn’t join this group). The first three all dumped him, became good friends, and were road tripping the country in a converted school bus together.

    1. Czhorat*

      Certainly not with the incident a decade in the rear view mirror. The month after? She might have thought that.

      Time may not heal all wounds, but it takes the sting out of many of them.

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        And hopefully time wounded the true heel in this situation, NOT the OP or Sarah!

      2. Misty*

        Yeah, kind of presumptuous to say you ruined her life! From title I was waiting to hear she relapsed or started into drug use and was unhoused etc.

    2. Kitano*

      Agreed – the OP is only imagining the worst case scenario and also projecting her own pain and trauma from her relationship onto Sarah. Even though they both dated the same jerk, OP and Sarah have different viewpoints and may have experienced the same betrayal differently.

      OP, it’s best for everyone if you let go of your misplaced guilt (you didn’t ruin anything, HE DID) and make space for Sarah to exist as Sarah, not “the woman whose life I ruined.” If you do meet her, try to make space to be curious about HER, not your shared past. Ask how the business is going, where she gets her inspiration for designs, what drew her to this work in the first place.

      There is so much more to both of you than this one terrible experience, and you owe it to yourself and her to let go of your mental landscape from 10 years ago and imagine a new world where you both get to tell your own stories in your own terms.

      Letting go will be hard, but in doing so you will reclaim your power and be able to tell YOUR story, not the story written by a cheater from 10 years ago.

      1. Indystacey*

        Yes, I was coming to say this – please stop beating yourself up for this situation. You did nothing wrong. When you became aware of his cheating, you informed her. It’s clear you blame yourself, but don’t. I know it’s hard to fooled by someone, but we’ve been there before. You live and you learn and you move on.

      2. Old Admin*

        “[…] make space for Sarah to exist as Sarah, not “the woman whose life I ruined.” If you do meet her, try to make space to be curious about HER, not your shared past.”

        I applaud that. If I were in Sarah’s shoes, I would – even if I recognized the OP (less than 10% chance of that) – maintain the polite fiction fiction we had just met. If I were Sarah, I would be annoyed by a nervous guiltridden OP.
        In a nutshell, OP please act as normal as you can.

    3. Reality Check*

      Agree. My husband was the messenger once, telling his little sister her boyfriend was cheating, among other things. She got mad at him and didn’t speak to him for 6 months. Now? She thanks him for it.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      True. With the indsight of many years I can look back on the most painful moments of my life and realise that while they didn’t help me at all they also didn’t destroy me.

      I’m still here. Bit battered, bit broken, a lot wiser (I hope!) but not ruined.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I got a phone call from one of my now-ex’s ‘girlfriends.’ She thought he was single but got suspicious – he wasn’t the clever liar he thought he was – and snooped through his wallet, finding pictures of our life together. She was embarrassed, angry, and maybe out for a little vengeance when she called, but also apologized for dropping such a bombshell out of nowhere.

      Except she didn’t. My ex and I had been through counseling more than once due to his infidelity and had split up because of it. I wanted to believe he’d fully committed to our marriage, but saw familiar patterns again that made it difficult to trust that he had. I couldn’t prove it…or maybe I didn’t want to.

      Her call wasn’t easy to deal with, and there was lots of anger, pain, and tears to follow. But she helped me face, and make, some hard decisions.

      My life was not ruined. I have a feeling Sarah’s life wasn’t ruined, either.

    6. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

      The fact that Sarah acted on the information LW talked to her is a pretty good indication that she appreciated it. Sarah kicked her cheating ex to the curb and moved cities immediately after LW’s visit. It took months, not minutes, but that’s a very understandable reaction.

  2. Czhorat*

    Sometimes the world is small in a good way and sometimes *gestures* it’s small like this.

    I’m very sorry, OP. This is, at the very least, painfully awkward. It sounds as if you acted in good faith throughout and were a victim of that guy’s infidelity.

    Even if she DOES see you there and recognize you, I agree that the worst would be some painful awkwardness for both of you. It’s also possible that she’s moved on far enough with her life that the old relationship doesn’t hurt as much, even with the cheating.

    Good luck. You deserve better than this.

    1. RVA Cat*

      It’s likely that Sarah moved on to a great relationship. There may even be some little kids who wouldn’t exist if all this had not happened.

    2. Worldwalker*

      Exactly. The OP was just as much of a victim as Sarah was (and has the therapy bills to prove it). The only person who caused damage in this situation was their shared ex.

      OP, Sarah’s life seems to be going well. Her ex would have cheated on her with someone; it would have been another person if not you. (And for all we know it was, either before, after, or even simultaneously) You broke it off with him as soon as you knew the truth. You didn’t do anything wrong; HE did.

      If you hadn’t been there, it would have been someone else. Perhaps someone less ethical, happy to be his side piece, with worse consequences when Sarah inevitably found out.

  3. Momma Bear*

    Sometimes the best course of action is just to politely and professionally pretend not to remember. There’s a chance she might not remember you, or might not remember the situation the way you do. Her actions after your info are hers – not yours. You didn’t push her out of a job. You just told her about her relationship. If you see her again, remember that she made choices for herself that aren’t about you, just like you made your own choices. Just be professional and focus on the work at hand.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      The worry that she would probably recognize the LW ten years after a single brief encounter rather jumped out as unlikely.

      1. Silver Robin*

        Flashbulb memories are a thing though and that was a *big* moment. If nothing else, I would not be surprised if Sarah vaguely recognized LW but could not place her. We also have no idea if Sarah looked LW up afterward to learn more about this mystery person their mutual ex was engaged to (!) or anything like that.

        Or Sarah does not recognize LW at all! But either version makes sense to me

        1. Lea*

          I think the odds of Sarah recognizing her are higher if she went in to social media sleuth mode but still probably unlikely after all that time.

          And maybe she was happy she moved! Maybe she’s doing great. Op needs to chill

      2. amoeba*

        Eh. I mean, possible, but I’d definitely be prepared for her to recognize me – pretty sure that in her shoes, I’d have spent quite some time looking the LW up online (and, well, generally thinking about her)! I mean, not that that would necessarily have been a good impulse, but certainly a human one, and as she had her contact details and social media existed, I’d at least consider the possibility that she’s seen LW’s face a lot more than that one time…

        That said, I agree that it’s very likely that there’s no ill will towards LW! LW has done absolutely nothing wrong and Sarah had a decade of time to come to terms with what happened. Although I’d still be sensitive for any painful awkwardness just from being reminded of old wounds…. but very likely not resentment, anger, or anything of the sort.

        1. Tio*

          I agree with this. And I also suspect that if Sarah did feel ill will towards LW, it would have come out way before now – like in the months after this while she was moving and had LW’s contact information and everything. And even then, if she had been mad at LW ten, she still might have gotten over it by now – but given that she never contacted you, she doesn’t seem likely to make things weird ten years later!

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            This was my thought. If Sarah has kept a lid on any seething hatred in the privacy of her own home with full access to OP’s contact details for the last 10 years, she’ll keep a lid on it in public a full decade later.

            If it comes to happen that OP has to be in touch with Sarah, pretend not to know her and she’ll likely follow suit.

          2. Turquoisecow*

            Yeah if Sarah was going to be really pissed at OP she would have lashed out ten years ago when the pain was fresh. Denied, accused, retaliated, etc. She had the opportunity and she didn’t. She had the ability and she didn’t. OP was not only standing at her door, she also gave her contact information! If Sarah didn’t take action against OP then, or in the decade since, I sincerely doubt she holds a major grudge.

            More likely she moved away and changed jobs to get away from the memories of the ex and the probing questions of the small town, and has built a life and maybe a new relationship or two since then, and doesn’t think about OP or their ex.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes. Most people don’t hold grudges for 10 years, do nothing and then take revenge for something like this. I mean there may be an odd person who does but it would be pretty unusual.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Rather agree with this. I can remember vividly the face of my cheating SOB ex. I can’t even recall the NAME of the woman who told me.

        1. Old Admin*

          Keymaster, you always write interesting and wise comments here that I like to reead.

          I had a similar experience, my ex cheated on me with an acquaintance. *She* had to tell me I was dumped and out of the picture, but I still don’t remember her name. AFAIK they separated after she doubletimed him.
          In any case, if I were to meet her now, I would not discuss old stuff. Maybe not trust her, but I’m careful anyway.

    2. Smithy*

      Absolutely this.

      I used to live outside the US, where I had a job within a smaller “expat” community. Essentially a dynamic where it was not uncommon to encounter people professionally who you’d previously only met in social situations (not uncommon). And as it all to inevitable in those social circles, people are looser/more prone to behavior they do not bring to the office.

      All to say, the professional amnesia of either not recalling someone who two weeks ago was dancing on the bar, or them not recalling you nodding off in a corner, or the fact that perhaps both of you have dated (are dating) the same guy. Not to say it never matters, but the ability to separate that personal from professional context can help people start fresh. Particularly in smaller environments where “everyone knows everyone”.

      1. Old Admin*

        Exactly, maintaining the polite fiction of “I didn’t hear you fart”, “You never saw me drunk” is a kindness.

      2. amoeba*

        Hah, yes. The hiring manager you’ve previously had tequila shot’s with at a common friend’s birthday party, and so on… It’s a thing.

  4. Erin*

    Go easier on yourself, girl!

    I agree it’s unlikely she’ll cause a scene. Not only because it’s been so many years, but because of her reaction to you showing up at her house – she slowly closed the door on you in bewilderment, when she could have started screaming, shouting, or punching.

    She seems like a decent person with a good head on her shoulders, who cares about her professional reputation, as do you.

    1. HugeTractsofLand*

      Seconding this! Even if she recognizes you, I would bet that she’d be a little shocked but quickly tamp it down based on her past reaction.

    2. el l*

      Agree, and put it this way: We have been given every reason – except the intense nature of the first meeting – to believe that both OP and Sarah have completely moved on. Proceed on that good faith basis. She’s just another business contact, and I’d lead with that.

      And if it comes up, don’t lie or dissemble. Just say something like:

      “Yes, we’ve met before. Not a happy moment for either of us. But that was a long time ago, you seem to be doing well, and I personally believe that living well is the best revenge.”

  5. Teapots*

    You weren’t his mistress – he cheated on both of you, I’m so sorry that happened, and I think your interactions with Sarah will be fine.

    1. Old Cynic*

      I agree she wasn’t his mistress. Quite honestly it seems like a poly relationship. Except he was the only one that knew.

      1. Andromeda*

        not to get all no-true-Scotsman here but most poly people would still call that common or garden cheating. even if you don’t know the other partners in question, communication about boundaries and consent (ie knowing *of* any other partners) is very important, especially in a world that assumes you’ll just have the one SO.

        1. Margaret Cavendish*

          Yeah, if only one person is calling it a poly relationship, then everyone else calls it cheating.

          1. Good Enough For Government Work*

            Poly relationships are defined as ‘ETHICAL non-monogamy’.

            The first word is key.

      2. anywhere but here*

        Is this comment meant to normalize polyamory / make it sound good? Because it is doing the exact opposite by drawing a comparison between this guy’s POS behavior and multiple partner relationships.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Thank you! I’m not poly-inclined but several of my friends are in successful long-term poly relationships (within the same big friend group, which makes honesty both easy and inevitable) and it’s so frustrating to see it conflated with cheating.

      3. GammaGirl1908*

        Yeah, the “he was the only one that knew” negates the poly. Polyamorous relationship means everyone involved actively agrees and consents that multiple partners are acceptable and occurring. It’s not poly if your partner doesn’t know and hasn’t consented. This isn’t poly, it’s cheating.

      4. basically functional*

        No. This comment is offensive to people in actual poly relationships. Cheating is not the same as ethical non-monogamy where everyone involved knows the deal. Please examine your biases.

  6. ILoveLllamas*

    OP, please forgive yourself. Your concern and empathy are admirable, but it’s over now. You have healed and she has as well. Life moves on. Peace to you both.

  7. Lilo*

    You did nothing wrong, this guy lied to both of you. If anything you did her a favor. I seriously doubt she’ll say or do anything, but if she did, she’d be wrong to do so and misplacing blame.

  8. Tio*

    OP, it sounds like this event caused a huge reaction in you (with the going to the house and everything; that’s a little much, at least in my circles) and you’re expecting it to have had an equally huge, lasting impact on Sarah. I can see why! It’s not easy to find out your partner’s cheating and then split up and move. But Sarah didn’t have to do any of that. And Sarah and her partner are in charge of their choices, good or bad. If Sarah was going to hate you forever, she probably wouldn’t have been so polite when she just quietly shut the door and then moved on. It sounds like she picked herself up. And look! She’s still doing her thing! She’s teaching classes in her hometown and being considered as a gala guest! Sarah sounds like she’s doing fine!

      1. Fikly*

        That’s not a drama llama, that’s a traumatized person, to the extent that she is blaming herself for everything – she says she allowed him to cheat on her for years, even though she had no idea it was happening.

        Calling them a drama llama is victim blaming, and you need to examine yourself for why you do that.

      2. Jiminy Cricket*

        This is unfair. It was a big, painful occurrence, not “drama.” And it’s pretty unsurprising that Sarah’s reemergence in the OP’s life has triggered some shame, fear, and uncertainty. She wrote in to get professional advice on a potentially sticky professional information.

        You’ve also made a whole lot of assumptions about how she has handled this in her personal life that are also unfair.

      3. recovering admissions counselor*

        I think this is a little unfair of a tone to take with LW. Anxiety is a strange, massive beast and sometimes can cause things to flare up that you’d thought you’d moved past.

      4. Garblesnark*

        This is rude. There is no need to regard OP so disrespectfully for asking for advice and worrying about something unusual and bad happening to them.

  9. Sara*

    Oh OP, I totally understand your panic. But you need to remember that you did nothing to this woman – your mutual ex did. You just brought it to light for her. In the months that followed, she may have had a ‘shoot the messenger’ vibe but as its been a literal decade, I would think that vibe has mellowed out. I doubt she would do anything other than be polite, especially if she’s well respected in this community.

    Just treat her as a new person – you’ve never really known her personally as an individual, just as another character in the story of your dating past. This is a fresh start for you both.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      It doesn’t sound to me like Sarah had a “shoot the messenger” vibe at all. She reacted pretty calmly in the moment, and then ignored OP and went on with her life. We don’t know what she said to their mutual ex, but she certainly didn’t seem to be angry with OP.

  10. Ex-prof*

    We take the blame for all the ways men screw up. We’re trained that way.

    OP, you didn’t mess up. Mr. Have Your Cake did that.

    Also, AAM continues to need a Dickensian Coincidences subheading.

    1. Myrin*

      This gets mentioned somewhat regularly and Alison always says that she edits them out if she feels that it’s “too much” or simply doesn’t add anything but leaves them in if you would need an anonymised stand-in either way.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — I edit them out when I can (often you really don’t need a stand-in at all) but sometimes the letter will be less clear without a stand-in.

        1. underhill*

          Here I am with the existing amount of teapot letters grinding my gears, and now you tell me that there are far more teapot letters that are de-teapotized before we see them. Wow.

            1. Caramel & Cheddar*

              We’d definitely have people complaining about widgets if every teapot letter became a widget letter.

            2. Stardust*

              See, that’s something I’ve never gotten about that argument–how are widgets any less confusing than teapots? It’s just different words. I would think that either you are confused by substitutions or you aren’t.

      2. Czhorat*

        Yeah, it’s the teapots and the llamas.

        I get why we need a stand-in, and one which is unusual enough that it isn’t usually the real answer.

        I agree that it gets to be a bit much sometimes

        1. Lea*

          I don’t even know what the llama thing is about I missed a memo somewhere but I saw it mentioned and was exceedingly confused

          1. Student*

            Llama grooming is used as a stand-in for the real roles people have, just like teapot manufacturing.

            Teapot job substitutes are for object-based jobs, like manufacturing, sometimes the sales of physical objects, stocking, etc.
            Llama grooming substitutes are for service industry oriented jobs, like marketing, customer service, care-giving.

            At least, that’s my mental sorting.

            1. Roland*

              I’ve always read them as entirely interchangeable, along with rice sculpting (which seems to be more common in Allison’s answers than in letters)

              1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

                So, sculptures made OUT OF rice? Or single sculpted GRAINS OF rice?

        2. I'm just here for the cats!*

          For once I would really like to hear from a llama groomer or care taker or someone who makes teapots.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            Not a llama groomer, but have you seen the “llamas” post? It’s letter #6 from the “I gave relationship advice to my employee, company won’t hire me because of where I live, and more” post on April 24, 2020. The letter-writer hired some llamas for a Zoom call. Presumably llama grooming happens before the llamas attend their various functions (Zoom call in the original letter, yoga and graduation in the update).

            1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

              I missed this! I get so many repeats when I click “surprise me” that I was starting to think I might have reached the fabled last page of the internet (or AAM at least), and I can’t believe I missed LLAMAS! Thank you Hlao-roo, love your work <3

      3. Abk*

        plot twist! you both totally click and have a great night out where you bond about what a jerk your mutual ex is/was and laugh about his weird sock habits and lame excuses he came up with to cover his affairs. You end the night with karaoke duets and swear to be best friends, which you both doubt you’ll follow through on.

        1. Coffee Protein Drink*

          I am good friends with an ex of a long-ago ex. Sometimes that works out.

          And we have plenty in common, which is probably why the ex liked us both.

          People are so weird.

          1. allathian*

            My FIL’s brother is in his third marriage. His first wife who’s the mother of his only child and his current wife are great friends, while the second wife isn’t in the picture at all and hasn’t been since their divorce 30+ years ago.

        2. Hola Playa*

          A much needed and well-received teapot-bitching break!

          Bonus if there’s hair-braiding!

      4. JSPA*

        I love to make actual teapots and get the warm fuzzies from picturing the style of teapot that would fit each teapot-ized LW and letter. (Llamas are cool, too.)

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      There was a thread a few weeks back that introduced microwaves as a unit of measure, maybe we can have microwave techs as a stand in.

      It just requires one person to write in cleverly enough and it will catch on.

        1. Tio*

          That’s been around the internet for a while; I started seeing it around a lot more when people backed off words like crazy and insane

        2. Pizza Rat*

          I first heard “bananapants” on the podcast Make Me Smart. Not sure if that’s the origin, though.

        3. Hlao-roo*

          A commenter recommended “batshit bananapants” instead of using terms like “crazy” or “insane” on the “my ex-boss threatened to contact my husband, his coworkers, and my father-in-law if I don’t return $48 of office supplies” post from January 18, 2023. The term definitely existed before/outside of AAM but I think that’s the origin of its use in answers (and then in the comments section) here.

    3. ecnaseener*

      I for one like having a stand-in other than “X” and “this industry.” Makes it easier to just zoom out from the details instead of trying to figure out what’s relevant.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        As the person who originally came up with the (Chocolate) Teapots, this was the whole point.

        For me the important part is the advice on the situation. Of course there are letters on here where the industry affects Alison’s response, academia and medicine being obvious examples, but dealing with an unreasonable boss or unpleasant co-workers can occur in any circumstances.

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, I personally don’t understand people being annoyed by it at all – it’s a stand-in which is less confusing than just letters or abbreviations, it’s unusual enough to not be mistaken for anything in particular, and it’s clearly a metaphor and not the real thing. I agree that a stand-in often isn’t needed at all, period, but I can also understand not being able to realise that when you’re in the thick of a situation and trying to write about that.
        On the other hand, the complaint comes up often enough that I know my thoughts on it aren’t universal by far.

        1. underhill*

          My personal beef with it is that it seems like people purposefully try to include teapot/llama stuff in places where it’s totally unnecessary. I wouldn’t mind if it was every once in a while when it was actually useful, but there’s a certain contingent of posters here who treat it like a writing exercise about “how many clever teapot/llama/Game of Thrones character jokes can I work into this thing because haha this is Ask a Manager and we do teapots and llamas here!”

        2. yeah*

          I’m one of the people that finds it very irritating. I like the site and a lot of the comment sections can be really interesting, but we’ve been reading about llamas and teapots for multiple years now and I find the repetition boring. Every teapot letter provokes a “not this again” reaction for me.

          But I will admit that I think this comment section in general seems to have far more tolerance for twee, quirky writing than I do (I’ve never before encountered a group of people so uniformly into Terry Pratchett, for instance), so I’m willing to acknowledge that I’m likely in the minority here. And I’m not as bothered by the teapots as I am the low-quality memes that regularly get posted in the comment section that are mainly just content-free callbacks to old letters (cheap-ass rolls, Hanukkah balls, etc). Sometimes I feel like the abundance of references crowd out substantive discussion and promote an in-crowd mentality.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I think the repetition is part of what makes it work as a stand-in. It’s like “Jane Doe” or the letter X. It makes it immediately obvious that it’s a stand-in (for those who read the site a lot, at least).

        3. Worldwalker*

          I like the teapots and the llamas. Some of the sub-tasks really make me laugh—I think we had a spout sculptor mentioned.

          Plus, anonymizing the industry also makes it easier to compare situations across different jobs. If two different things are described as llama grooming, we don’t get distracted by the fact that one is car rentals and the other is wedding planning, because we’re looking at what’s the same in the situations, not what’s different. That makes it a lot easier to apply to other situations.

      3. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Same. I have a hard time following letters when “X is Y’s boss and we work in Z industry” just because of how my brain works. But I guess I can allow other people’s brains to get annoyed with things!

      4. Pita Chips*

        I do as well. Plus, if one talks too much about the industry or gets too specific about the workplace accidentally it could compromise the anonymity we all enjoy.

    4. Yoyoyo*

      Personally I will be very happy if I never read another reference to “cheap ass rolls” ever again.

    5. Lenora Rose*

      I find the teapots and llamas as placeholder sometimes a bit much.

      However, a recent letter tried to use the much more realistic order processing and invoicing as its *clearly marked* stand-in for the actual tasks in a multi-step process with a lot of follow-up — and everyone suddenly started advising on software specific to those tasks instead.

      So with that demonstration, it seems to me that having a wildly unlikely stand-in like teapots being made (in a process that really isn’t much like any actual teapot manufacture I can think of) seems to be better than using a vague but existing work task.

      1. starsaphire*

        You’re right; it’s a great idea to have a simple shorthand word that means “this thing I can’t specify” to keep people from trying to speculate or make assumptions that aren’t relevant to the advice.

        Me, if I have to hear the word “widget” ever again I’ll scream, but I get that it has its place in business speak.

        And I kind of love the llamas and the teapots and the rice sculptures and the Warbleworth family, tbh.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          I stan the Warbleworth clan, their wacky names and occasionally dubious business practices. I imagine them all as eccentric aristocrats living in a huge, decaying mansion along with 54 small fluffy dogs and a few pet badgers.

          1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

            Another Warbleworth stan here! I wonder if we could get a Yuletide fic…

      2. Socks*

        There’s an old letter where someone talked about the women getting lower quality versions of a gift than the men at the company, and they used golf clubs as an example. Naturally (/s) this led to much discussion about the difference between men and women’s golf clubs and whether the company could’ve been reasonable etc etc. I doubt this would’ve happened if they used different quality teapots as an example.

      3. What name did I use last time?*

        I was scrolling down to say exactly what Lenora Rose said — the recent letter that DIDN’T use llama or teapots generated pages and pages of comments on accounting software, when the actual task was not invoicing and accounts receivable at all. The placeholder needs to be something kind of silly so that people don’t skim too quickly and go off on a tangent.

    6. Peanut Hamper*


      Just for once I would love to hear from someone who works in a droid factory or trains hamsters. But I guess teapots and llamas it is.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I think those would be just as effective at short-circuiting the “I will give advice that is very specific to the job described even though the letter said it was an example” issue I noted above.

    7. nonprofit worker*

      Yeah, 99% of the time the LW could just say “the product” and we’d get it…

    8. Starbuck*

      Sure – and when I feel that way, I take it as a hint that maybe I should take a break and spend some time reading a different website full of free content, for some variety, if I feel like this isn’t doing it for me at the moment.

      Or use one of those word-replacer browser extensions and choose your own “teapot” stand in.

      1. Nancy’s Brother*

        Personally, I can deal with teapots and llamas (I get their value for clarity & simplicity). What gets me is “grandboss” which somehow sounds twee & cutesy in situations where it is anything but. I don’t have an effective alternative, however.

  11. Sandwiches*

    I don’t think OP intentionally ruined Sarah’s life in any way BUT it is pretty suspect that they now work in her industry right near where she used to live?

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      Nah – ex probably found it convenient to keep both women nearby so if he had to switch household quickly he was never too far away. And small towns means there’s often a lot of ‘comorbid’ industries.

      1. Sandwiches*

        Thank you! I live in a relatively big city so in my mind, the idea of her ending up in said career in said place seemed… interesting, whether intentional or not. Just from an optics perspective. I just had to re-frame my view of it to see that in most contexts this isn’t weird at all. And I appreciate your explanation of it; I know not everyone would have taken the time.

    2. Thalia*

      They don’t work in her industry but in one that’s “vaguely related”. In a small town where they both lived. Seems very normal to me!

    3. Be Gneiss*

      I cannot even wrap my head around all the ways that this comment is absolutely revolting.

      1. Abundant Shrimp*

        Right? What the hell is the comment supposed to even mean?

        LW dated (was engaged, even) to Ex. Ex lived in Smalltown. Is it too much of a stretch to believe that LW lived close to her fiance to begin with?

      2. Jiminy Cricket*

        Agreed. Lots of malicious assumptions in that one, when the most obvious assumption would be benign: It’s where she lived before and got a job.

    4. bamcheeks*

      It kind of depends how LW and Horrible Two-Timing Ex met. I assume LW was always fairly close by, since there’s no indication that it was a long-distance relationship with the Horrible Two-Timing Ex. If HTTEx met both of them through work, or work-mixed-with-social-activities (since it sounds like Sarah’s work at least might be in an area that crosses over with a lot of unpaid activity), it’s not that weird. My partner has ended up in work seminars with my ex of twenty years ago just because I have A Type and they’re both it.

    5. Ella Bee*

      I’m sorry, are you trying to imply that OP is somehow *maliciously* working in a similar field 10 years later in the town she has continued to live in the whole time?

    6. HonorBox*

      Suspect how? Working in a vaguely related industry is suspect? In a community that was presumably near to where LW was already living suspect? You’re insinuating something that has zero merit.

    7. Observer*

      BUT it is pretty suspect that they now work in her industry right near where she used to live?

      Why? Was the OP never supposed to take a high prestige, high paying job anywhere where either of them ever passed through?

      I’m not being snarky here. I’m simply pointing out that you are not expressing anything reasonable.

    8. Ex-Teacher*

      Why would it be suspect? They at some point lived in the same area, and they work in industries that have some kind of overlap. In small towns, people often wear more than one hat, so why is it surprising that there’s a professional situation where they might meet?

      It seems like you’re insinuating that one or both of these women are intentionally engineering a situation for them to meet/interact. Aside from that being totally illogical, why do you think either one would do that?

    9. Letter Writer*

      LW here. I don’t live in said small town (I live within driving distance). Sarah is also not originally from said small town, so doesn’t have a family connection here. If we had both lived in the same small town it wouldn’t have taken us years to figure out that my ex was cheating on both of us. Also, probably part of the reason my ex was attracted to both of us is he has interests in both of our somewhat similar industries.

      I am trying to be as vague as possible, but to explain how our industries are related…. say I worked on a cattle farm as a shepherd. And Sarah grew blueberries on a separate farm, but we had a farmer’s market stall that sold both our cattle and fruits and veggies from outside vendors. So we’re both in the very wide industry of agriculture, but in very different specialties that sometimes overlap. That’s how Sarah’s industry is related to mine–they’re not the same industry. And part of the reason I took my current dream job was that it was a dream job, and Sarah had moved many years before so I thought I was in the clear regarding ever running into her again.

      1. Margaret Cavendish*

        You don’t need to explain, LW! Most people don’t think it’s suspect at all. And even if it is, it’s not at all relevant to your question, or to the advice. If it’s just one person writing advice-column fanfic, you’re safe to ignore them and focus on the supportive ones.

      2. Sandwiches*

        Hi! Just wanted to apologize if I made you feel like you owed anyone an explanation. I posted this comment NOT thinking that it would be perceived as me accusing you of being some movie villain, and I’m sorry. I hope, if the work event has already happened that it went well!

    10. Annony*

      Unless OP moves away, she probably can’t avoid working near Sarah’s old house. Have you ever been to a small town? Literally everything in a small town is nearby.

    11. Garblesnark*

      it’s suspect that OP didn’t move out of town because of their ex being a bad person and that OP didn’t make their career choices based on what the other people their ex dated have previously done?

      I bet you find mysteries everywhere.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        “I bet you find mysteries everywhere” – Bwa ha!!

        I am SO going to use that with conspiracy-adherents from now on.

  12. bamcheeks*

    LW, there are a bunch of different ways Sarah can legitimately feel about you, from furious to pitying to grateful, but you can’t control this and nor should you try. Regardless of what she feels, you are absolutely entitled to expect professional behaviour from her. It might be a little *weird* if you do end up emailing or coming face to face, but if you lead with the same kind of warm professional tone you would with anyone else, she is very likely to follow your lead– and quite possibly be grateful that you have given that lead. You don’t need to cower, apologise, or hide.

    (She could also legitimately feel that SHE is the one who ruined your life and is terrified of you– I mean, it makes just as much sense as this way around. The only one who should actually be feeling that is your mutual horrible ex, but anyone who can deceive two humans so thoroughly probably does not have that capacity for empathy.)

    1. FG*

      As has already been said many times you did not ruin her life – be did. I wanted to also highlight this:

      “… because I did not question certain things enough, I had allowed him to cheat on her with me.”

      No, no, no, no, no. It was not your responsibility to prevent him from cheating. He cheated. He did that. He allowed himself to cheat, not you. He cheated on you (and her); you did not let him cheat due to insufficient diligence.

      Were you able to see things in hindsight you wish you’d questioned? That’s common in these situations, and a reasonable response. But shouldering the responsibility, even in part, is a heavy, unnecessary burden.

      1. Csethiro Ceredin*

        He got ENGAGED to OP!

        I assume OP did not label them as engaged on their own, so this ex knowingly escalated the relationship and the expectations of monogamy despite NOT being monogamous.

        It’s entirely the ex’s fault, not OP’s for believing him.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, one of the ways that abusive people like this really mess with your head is by making you feel like you “should” have realised or suspected. But really, most people are *not* engaged in a years-long deception of the people they claim to love, and it is not normal to behave as if they were! When your partner says, “sorry I’m later than expected, traffic was terrible”, it is normal to think, “traffic was terrible” not, “I wonder if he has a whole other secret girlfriend I don’t know about.” The level of subterfuge and lying this requires is wholly on him, not you!

  13. onebitcpu*

    OP, as others said, you did not ruin her life, professional or otherwise.
    You are not responsible for her decision to leave town and change careers.
    What if she was only staying in town and working in this career path because that is where he lived?
    Whatever the reasons for her making such a drastic change, it is not your fault.
    She could just have easily publicly dumped him for being a cheater, and continued on with her life and career.

  14. Grace*

    As someone who’s been in Sarah’s shoes – please don’t worry. It wasn’t your fault, you didn’t cause any of this, and you do not have to feel bad about it. If you can pull off calm, professional and politely neutral should the two of you meet, that’s your best bet.

    It’s been ten years. She’s almost definitely moved on long ago. You get to move on too.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Ten years on, she could be married with kids. We don’t know. There’s always a mindset that people are exactly the same as the way we last saw them. It’s possible that Sarah has changed so much that the LW has passed her on the street and not realized it. And also the other way around.

      1. Ex-Teacher*

        I recently had a chance encounter with a former partner who cheated on me. I got stuck behind her in a line at a popular attraction.

        She had a child and had a spouse there (confirmed by some social media stalking after the fact). It was quite jarring, and if I hadn’t heard her voice I wouldn’t have even recognized her at all. I strongly doubt she recognized me- granted we had a difficult breakup, but from what I remember I think if she had recognized me she would have acknowledged me.

        All that to say she was very different than I would have expected. Having moved on with my life I hadn’t even thought of her for over a decade and it was very surprising.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      This is a really good point. Sarah is frozen in time in your memory, but she hasn’t stood still any more than you have. As the song says, “I’m not where you left me at all.”

    3. Your genderqueer dad*

      I agree, I’ve been in shoes like Sarah’s too. LW, if it’s any consolation, the ‘other woman’ and I are actually friends now, nearly a decade after we both dumped the lousy man in the middle.

  15. Silver Robin*

    I agree that Sarah is unlikely to cause a scene and that acting like you are meeting her for the first time is the way to go. I think you handled the situation with the cheating quite well actually, including the single follow up email without further contact afterwards.

    You did nothing wrong! And. I totally get being worried. Sarah literally only knows you in the context of something really awful that happened to her. Even if she does not blame you, or even appreciates your honesty to some extent, you only exist in her head as “that woman my ex cheated on me with”, which is awkward at best. IF the gala happens, or you run into her professionally at some other point, that will be a chance to update your relationship, so to speak. That will take time and multiple interactions, but it will happen, and you will morph from “mistress” to “professional contact with an unexpected history”.

    And that all assumes that she even recognizes you! You might be able to skip right into “professional contact” sans “unexpected history”, and that would be totally okay. You do not need to remind her who you are proactively. You will be fine, LW. Rooting for you!

    1. She of Many Hats*

      If this was a Hallmark movie, the two of you would find additional things to bond over and/or plot a hilarious revenge of Horrible Rotten Two-Timing Ex. Then you’d find out he’d married a woman he was cheating on the two of you with but she turned out even worse than him and took him to the cleaners before dumping him out with the trash when she divorced him.

  16. Maggie*

    This should be a total non-issue for all the reasons above, but also did a random board member just drop Sarah’s messy relationship history in response to a vague question about her moving away? This feels like a drama llama org, I’d be prepared for something unpleasant.

    1. Silver Robin*

      “Yeah, things didn’t work out with the guy she was dating — he was cheating on her — and she left. But she still comes back from time to time. She’s giving some design classes at [local nonprofit] in a few months.”

      LW got a very very shallow version of what happened and that was only because LW asked a follow up question that showed she knew Sarah enough to know she had left. Small town, too, people share more information than they might in other places because, well, “everyone knows each other around here”.

    2. Letter Writer*

      LW here. Yep, small town. In my job, I’m expected to know (but not spread) a lot of the gossip and political relationships in our area because it directly affects aspects of my job, which is heavily focused on relationship building. I will not get more specific than than.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yeah, I doubt this is a drama llama org; it’s just part of how small towns are.

        Note: I’ve lived in small towns that were 1,000 people and “small” towns that were 20,000. It doesn’t seem to matter. People like their tea, but there is always some new tea out there to distract them.

        1. Student*

          People in big towns also like their tea. They’re just a lot less likely to run into the person you’ve spilled tea about at a random meeting, the grocery store, etc.

          1. AnonORama*

            Oh, I wish that was the case. I lived in a city of ~1 million and ran into two exes in a week. None of us lived and worked in the same neighborhood, either. (And I didn’t dart into a dumpster-filled alley to avoid one of them, who was walking with his new girlfriend who was much younger and better-looking than I am. NOT AT ALL.)

            1. Clisby*

              Charleston, SC, is not a big town, but boy I feel this. I’ve always told my 2 children that if they want to live secret lives, this is not the place to try. It’s amazing how many people know so many other people, in a city of 130,000.

  17. HonorBox*

    Especially in the setting you’re talking about, she will likely handle herself professionally. Heck, she may be as likely to give you a hug and say thank you as she would be to do something negative.

    It is very easy to let your mind go to worst-case scenarios, and you sound very compassionate LW. But you also seem like someone who would also handle an interaction with Sarah well if the shoe was on the other foot. Assume the best. Expect the positive. And if she does do something that is unprofessional, you can walk away from her and let her actions be the ones that are judged.

  18. Seashell*

    I’d love an update on “I’ve been accidentally dating my boss’ husband” in the You May Also Like… section.

  19. SallyGreene*

    On the contrary, OP, you likely saved Sarah of years of additional heartbreak by telling her what her partner was doing. The fault lies squarely on him. Sarah very well may be grateful for your help getting rid of the trash she didn’t know she had.

    1. Elbe*

      This is what I think is most likely, also. The fact that Sarah ended things right away is a huge sign that she did not accept the reality of the relationship, once she knew what that was.

      The LW mentions that the breakup was traumatic and that she’s been to therapy, but her letter still feels like she’s not seeing the situation clearly. I think that she would be more relaxed about seeing Sarah again if she understood that the situation wasn’t her fault at all.

      “I had allowed him to cheat on her with me.”
      When the cheating came to light, the LW immediately informed Sarah, so that Sarah could make her own decisions about how to move forward. That’s the opposite of “allowing” this behavior.

      “…meeting the person whose personal and professional life I ruined in my work setting.”
      Even if Sarah considers her life ruined (which I very much doubt), it’s not the LW’s fault. She didn’t move to get away from the LW, she moved to get away from her cheating ex. The LW didn’t force this guy to cheat, and she certainly didn’t force Sarah to give up her business due to this situation.

      The LW is taking way, way too much responsibility for the situation. A reasonable person would not blame her at all.

      1. FG*

        Lately I always get a nesting fail whenever I use the link at the top of the comments list when trying to make a “primary” reply. I can’t even understand why it’s choosing to nest where it does.

      2. AnonORama*

        Yes, no need to blame yourself, OP. The ex is the only one who did anything wrong! Both you and Sarah did the smart thing and took out the trash, so to speak.

    2. straws*

      This is exactly what I came to say. So many situations like this end with one woman confronting the other and trying to get them to back off. OP approached her with complete remorse and saved her from future heartbreak (despite her own obvious distress), as I’m sure her partner would have had no problem doing this again.

  20. Sparkles McFadden*

    Pretend you don’t know who she is and let her pretend she doesn’t know you. Familiarize yourself with her work (as you would with any designer you had to work with for an event) and talk about that, telling her you’re so glad to work with someone so highly recommended.

    She might not even recognize you! She saw you once when you told her about your ex. More importantly, you didn’t ruin her life! Yes, her life got upended but *you* didn’t do that, She made choices based on the information you gave her, and those were the right choices for her. You have no way of knowing how she feels about what happened. Many other things, both good and bad, could have happened to her in the past ten years that overshadowed all of that. Just be a professional and let her be one too.

  21. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Don’t mention this to anyone in the present. It’s personal history that has no relevance in the present world. If you do meet Sarah, act professionally. Do not bring up the past unless she asks you and remain professional no matter what her response to you may be. As delicious as revenge might be I don’t think she is going to tank her professional reputation by dragging up the past.

  22. Higgs Bison*

    Virtual hugs, if you want them. Here’s hoping that your update to this letter is positive to neutral.

  23. A Simple Narwhal*

    Oh OP I wish you had some compassion for yourself. You found out you had been lied to and betrayed by your (ex)fiancé and somehow made yourself out to be the bad guy!

    You say you were “his mistress for the entirety of our relationship, and…I had allowed him to cheat on her with me” which is so mean to yourself – you did none of that! You were a single adult who started and was in a serious relationship with (what you thought was) another single adult. You acted in good faith – he lied and cheated on both of you, you and Sarah are both victims. And once you learned the truth you broke up with him and told her the truth, all very admirable.

    He holds all of the blame, and I’m fairly certain Sarah agrees. None of the bad things that happened were either of your faults.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      If OP is still with the therapist, it’s definitely worth revisiting how OP is still framing this relationship and their role in it. If they’re not, or if the therapist encouraged the ‘mistress’ framing (just thinking of some religious counsellors people have described in past comments!), then it’s worth getting a new therapist, because it’s clear there’s there’s still some issues that may be affecting OP self-image.

      1. Observer*


        But I also think that any competent therapist, or even religious counselor would not use this framing because the OP *did not know*. That’s a really crucial piece here, even from a religious POV.

    2. Observer*

      You say you were “his mistress for the entirety of our relationship, and…I had allowed him to cheat on her with me” which is so mean to yourself – you did none of that!

      Yes, that struck me as well.

      No, you did NOT “allow” him to do anything of the sort. Because “allow” implies knowledge. And you did not have knowledge. That really important piece of information was absolutely hidden from you. Consent only means something when you actually know about the thing you are consenting to. Thus, you COULD NOT consent.

      He holds all of the blame

      This! 100%, 1 MILLION%

    3. AnonORama*

      IMO, you’re not a mistress unless you know you’re a mistress. You thought you were in a monogamous relationship with this d-bag, and so did Sarah. You are both the good guys here, and she seems like a smart person who will see this. Let her set the tone; if she acts like she doesn’t recognize you, go with that. (Even if you think she’s covering.) If it’s clear she does recognize you, you’ll probably both want to segue quickly into work stuff, and it sounds like you have enough common ground professionally that this won’t be an issue.

  24. NotARealManager*

    You didn’t ruin her life. You probably improved it (though it might not have felt that way immediately to Sarah). You could’ve just broken up with your ex and never mentioned anything to Sarah, but you warned her and I think it was probably the right choice.

    She probably won’t recognize you now and if she does, just stick to business at hand. She may put two and two together someday, but I’d leave that in her hands.

  25. Someone Online*

    I have a somewhat related work concern. I found out four years ago that my ex had cheated on me with someone who makes teapots. And luckily, I have nothing to do with making teapots. Until sometime last year I was informed I was now part of a teapot design project. I have not run in to the “Other Person” but it’s possible at some point we will be in the same spot. It’s hard to have that anxiety in the back of my head.

      1. Someone Online*

        I could handle it, but I wouldn’t enjoy it. And of course I know how I can respond, but I can’t know how this person will respond. Probably by avoiding me and pretending they don’t know me. Luckily if it does happen I will come in very well respected and regarded professionally and I know my stuff, but still. I would be happier if this person moved to the other side of the planet.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          I think that’s a fine place to be, mentally. You know what the possibilities are and you’re ready for any of them. That means to me that you’ll get through this.

          Good luck. Sorry you’re dealing with this.

  26. ecnaseener*

    I can see why, even if you know intellectually that you did nothing wrong, you would still be worried about her thinking of you as “that woman who stole my boyfriend.” But from how you describe the events, I think it’s very, very unlikely that she thinks that. You chose to go to her, clearly very upset about the whole thing, admitted you were literally engaged to this guy, and said you had just found out a few days ago and dumped him over it. There’s no reason for her to doubt that version of events — no reason to suspect that you knew the whole time or anything like that.

    Also, consider that you’re thinking of yourself as the “mistress” because she was dating him first, but she might well be thinking of *herself* that way since you were engaged to him and she presumably wasn’t. Obviously neither of you should blame yourself or each other at all, but don’t be surprised if she feels the same guilt towards you as you feel towards her!

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Such a good point!

      It may feel like you were the one who did wrong because you were the messenger who delivered a painful message. As an analogy; kids who report abuse often feel bad for being the ones who broke up their family. However, the abuser is the one who broke up their family by abusing. The kid reporting is just the messenger; the damage was already done.

      Sometimes (maybe often) it is easier to blame the messenger than the person truly at fault, because if the messenger had just taken the pain upon themselves and hid it, then the facade could have continued. It’s perhaps similar to the way chaplains and casualty notification officers feel when delivering news that a loved one has died. But the event has already happened and it was no one’s fault except the one whose fault it truly was – the abuser, or the cheater, or whoever actually had the knowledge and power to prevent the bad thing and chose not to.

      You mentioned being in therapy after this; it makes me think it struck something really deep in you. It may be helpful to check back in with your previous or a new therapist for a few sessions to see what this has brought up for you. You may have healed all that was available for healing at the time, and this new situation has revealed something else that is ready to be addressed.

      You deserve to be helped.

  27. RagingADHD*

    LW, not only were you not responsible for the end of Sarah’s relationship, it doesn’t sound like Sarah’s life was “ruined” at all, personally or professionally. She got cheated on and chose to end her relationship as a result. She sold the house she shared with her ex, because that’s what you do when you own property together and break up. All these are perfectly sensible actions that people do when they are moving on from a bad situation.

    She also chose to sell the business and move to a different state. And apparently she is still working in the field, is notable and distinguished, and is being brought back from time to time to teach. Sounds like her professional life is doing just fine in her new location. Why would you think her professional life was ruined / over simply because she relocated? It certainly doesn’t sound like your small town is the only place on Earth where this business can be successfully run.

    Nobody’s life is ruined here. It might do you good to step back and consider why you think of her choices that way. I know it was a really hard breakup for you, but in case you need to hear it — your life isn’t “ruined” either.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I believe her professional life was ruined because it was. She was a struggling starving teapot designer who counted on my ex’s income to support them. She HAD to close her business after this because she had been trying for years to succeed in making it profitable, but it just wasn’t. After this conversation I did some internet sleuthing and found out that she ended up taking a job in a field she had previously left 20 years earlier that, from what my ex had said, she absolutely hated. But this new job is more related to her degree, which teapot design is not.

      The classes she is teaching at local nonprofit is the first time she’s been back in years, from what I can gather. So she’s either trying to get back into the teapot design game or is doing it as a favor to the nonprofit. She has no familial ties to this town, and did not grow up in this town–she and my ex moved to this town together about 20 years before they left the town.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Even if her professional life *was* ruined, the blame still falls squarely on your cheating ex for being a scumbag, not the poor person he strung along for years in a relationship built on a lie (aka you).

        Also I would take anything he ever told you about her with a grain of salt, he’s a proven liar.

        1. Observer*

          Also I would take anything he ever told you about her with a grain of salt, he’s a proven liar.

          This is 100% correct.

          And, yes, LW, it was not YOU, it was your Cheating Ex.

      2. Margaret Cavendish*

        Still. You only know the facts – you don’t know how Sarah feels about them! If she had been trying for years to make her business profitable, there’s an equally good chance that she was happy to take the exit ramp when it was offered.

        Also this: she ended up taking a job in a field she had previously left 20 years earlier that, from what my ex had said, she absolutely hated
        Please remember that your ex is a lying liar who lies about things. Don’t take his word for *anything,* especially about something that another person may or may not have thought…thirty years ago.

        You know that Sarah moved to a new town and changed careers, but you don’t know exactly why she did those things, how she felt about doing them at the time, and how she feels about it now. You may believe her life was ruined, but you have no way of knowing that for sure. Please be gentle with yourself!

      3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Gentle suggestion and I mean this with very deep caring – stop looking into her life.

        You simply cannot tell from the outside what any of the changes mean/meant to her and it’s tearing you apart trying to imagine it. You’re looking for pins to walk on.

        Life will provide you enough pins on the path to step on without looking for imaginary ones.

      4. Tio*

        So LW – cheaters often don’t cheat with one person. If there had been a third woman who got both of you together and told you that he was cheating on both of you, would you consider that woman to have ruined Sarah’s life? Yours?

        Plenty of people have side hustles they want to be their main income but never get it there. If he had just normally broken up with her, then ex wouldn’t have ruined her career – that is just an unfortunate fact of how businesses sometimes work. Same as if they had a great relationship and you didn’t exist but they couldn’t afford to have him float her hustle. Please don’t take too much responsibility for what happened there just because Ex caused the relationship to end in a more douchey way than the ones I listed!

        1. Letter Writer*

          I’m convinced there was a third woman (or fourth) who he dated while he was with me, and in retrospect I have suspicions about who they might have been. They were female “friends” he hung out with quite a lot. And they knew I was ex’s girlfriend/fiance at the time I knew them, so if they were in fact his other lovers, I’d have been angry at them too and blamed them as well as him because they used to hang out with both of us and could have told me at any time. If they told me now, ten years on I’d be annoyed with them and distance myself from them, but probably just brush it off as further definitive proof that ex was a scumbag and move on.

          If there was a third woman who had brought it up to me the way I brought it up to Sarah–when I was completely in the dark about his infidelity–and she seemed to be approaching me in good faith…I’d want more details. I’d want hours of conversation with her about what happened, how he cheated, how he hid the lies, how she found out. My biggest struggle after our breakup was filling in the holes in his stories–for me, it was like discovering my reality was actually a fantasy world, and in my grief I thought that patching up those holes might heal me. He gaslit me and played so many mental gymnastics with my thoughts so much that I think it severely damaged my brain. But I never got even close to all the answers I wanted. Patching up the holes in his stories and trying to make sense of the parts of our relationship that don’t seem to make sense isn’t a goal anymore, and hasn’t been for years. I’d still like to talk to Sarah about it all if she was ever up for it… but seeing as I don’t remember much about dates and times and such as I used to, it’d be a pointless conversation to have.

          1. Someone Online*

            As someone who’s ex-husband cheated on me, I don’t want all the information and answers and to fill in all the holes, so I understand if Sarah is not feeling that way. It’s enough to know that two people I trusted turned out to not be trustworthy and also severely suck as human beings. For me getting into the details would keep me from moving forward.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes, when one of my exes cheated on me and got the other woman pregnant, i didn’t want the details or the information about it. I just wanted him out of my life and that chapter over and I never wanted to see him or her again.

              I’ve a friend who likes to talk over and analyse people and relationships a lot but that’s never been my choice. Some people like me prefer to digest the news and then move on.

          2. Tio*

            Well, you already have a different reaction than Sarah! And tbh, you say you want details, but would you consider those women, assuming they knew nothing, to have ruined your life? I really bet not. And you don’t really know what was going on with Sarah, then or now. Maybe she already suspected him, and you were just enough that she went with her gut. Maybe they were already on the verge of breaking up for other reasons and you were just the push she needed to get somewhere she was already going. You’ll probably never know – I don’t recommend bringing it up – but just the fact that there are other women he was cheating with should show that YOU didn’t “ruin” her life, HE did (If she considers it ruined at all.)

            While there are for sure some people who would treat the other person as the reason, usually they’re the people who stay with their partners and are using those people to scapegoat their choice. Sarah made a different choice. She had options and picked them, so I strongly urge you to reconsider her as this victim that she seems to be to you. because she was, yes, but she was a victim of HIS cheating, and that may not be a role she wants to stay in ten years later.

          3. River Song*

            LW- you’re getting a lot of validation that you weren’t and aren’t at fault. I want to add that you’re also not wrong for still having questions, doubts, and hang ups over this situation. There were so many layers of betrayal in how your ex harmed both of you. The advice here about how to handle the possible professional contact is excellent. And also: this has very understandably and legitimately shaken you. Don’t forget to take time to process everything this has brought up both in your empathy with Sarah and the harm you had to overcome. Be gentle and kind with yourself, remember to show yourself the same care you are applying in worrying over Sarah. It sounds like she was in an untenable position and has weathered the fallout of the truth- but as has been repeatedly said- that isn’t due to you. You both had to have grace and courage the past ten years – I believe regardless of this specific situation, you will both figure out how to continue to have grace and courage moving forward. I recommend starting by releasing Sarah and her story- it is her life to live and there is nothing to be gained by focusing on her. Give yourself time and capacity to process, perhaps with a therapist, your own valid reactions and what you do with them moving forward. Wishing you well, be kind to yourself.

      5. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        “Her professional life was ruined” does not mean that you, Letter Writer, ruined it.

        The active-voice version of that would be “The man she was living with ruined her professional life” — by cheating with her. Maybe she dumped him as soon as she knew he was cheating, maybe she offered him a chance to fix things and he didn’t take it, but he’s the one who cheated.

        Even if you look at it as “finding out he was cheating on her” ruined her life, you still aren’t the person who caused the problem. “Mistress” implies that you chose to start a relationship with someone who you knew had another partner, and asked you not to tell anyone. This guy didn’t just let you assume he was single, he specifically lied, saying he had broken up with Sarah.

      6. All het up about it*

        “and found out that she ended up taking a job in a field she had previously left 20 years earlier that, from what my ex had said, she absolutely hated.

        You are basing your assumptions off of something a known liar told you. Maybe Sarah never hated the field. Maybe she just couldn’t work in it in Mayberry, so she took the opportunity to try and do her art full-time. It didn’t work out – and you literally had NOTHING to do with it not working out. Maybe she was happy to stop monetizing her art and to go back to a field she got a degree in and just do fun art things, like working with a non-profit on the side.

        Internet sleuthing and comments from a liar a decade or more ago – cannot serve as proof that YOU ruined her professional life. Her professional life changed when she made decisions based partially on the information you shared. (And I’m only saying partially because we’ve all seen or heard stories where someone ignores information from the other cheated on individual and stays with the cheater anyway.) Even if you found a post that said “I hate to do this, but I’m forced to close my artist shop and enter back into the 9-5 workforce” – you don’t know if that’s how she really felt, or if that’s just what she decided was the best messaging given the situation.

        You shared information – she made choices. You’re acting like she had no choice based on the info you shared, but she had LOTS of them then and even more over the past decade. Also – adding things up here, we’re talking about a person in their 40’s, maybe even older. Her life and career path is surely different than she expected and would have been regardless of you informing her that she was living with a cheating scumbag.

        1. Socks*

          Yes I came here to say the exact same thing! OP didn’t force this woman to close her business. SHE decided keeping her business wasn’t worth it if it meant being with a cheating scumbag.

      7. RagingADHD*

        Did *you* make her business unprofitable?

        Did her ex cheating somehow make her business unprofitable?

        If her business was *already* unprofitable, and she was living on his income for 10-20 years, then her professional life wasn’t “ruined” by finding out he was cheating. Her professional life fundamentally wasn’t working, and she decided to take a different path where she wouldn’t be dependent on someone else to support her.

        How is a woman in her late 30s-early 40s finally becoming independent and self-supporting “ruining” her life?

        She could have chosen a different career. She could have gone back to school. She could have (sounds like she probably did) choose a job that would allow her to pursue her unprofitable hobby on the side, as a passion project. That’s not a “ruined” life. That’s a *normal* life.

        Why do you want her story to be about you? Why can’t her story be about herself? You’re a day player.

      8. Observer*

        I believe her professional life was ruined because it was.

        You don’t actually know that. Yes, you know that this whole mess precipitated some extreme changes. But that’s not necessarily the same thing as “ruining her professional life.” It could be that this was the push she needed to cut her losses. Given that people still know her work so well and want her to come back to teach, it’s also possible that she still does a little of that for her own pleasure rather than trying to make it her *career*. That’s not an uncommon situation.

        Also, please do keep in mind that, as others have pointed out, NOTHING Cheating Ex said about her means anything. Because he’s a lying liar who lies, and will say whatever it is that he thinks will work best for him.

      9. Umami*

        I would still say that if the she wasn’t successful with her business already while being supported by the ex, then she likely wasn’t going to be. So you still didn’t ‘ruin’ anything. Many creative/artistic people are quite happy to be struggling while doing what they love. I am sure she was happier struggling alone than struggling with a lying cheat for support. My best friends became struggling dancers in NY after college, and I remember their mom saying once how proud she was of me for my success because she hated seeing them struggling financially, but they loved it! It might not look to you like what Sarah wanted for her life, but you were not the issue, you were only (if anything) the catalyst for change.

      10. Allonge*

        And instead of eing a starving teapot designer relying on financial support from a scumbag, she is now notable enough to be invited to give speeches.

        It sounds like she had a rough go of it at the time! But getting married to and being financially dependent on a cheating, lying person is not exactly fun either. She managed instead to stand on her on feet. This is not a life that is ruined!

        1. Allonge*

          OP, the reason I am insisting on this is: it’s quite something to be told by someone else that your life is / was ruined. A decade ago, even!

          I get that you use this term to illustrate the seriousness of what happened, but think about this term: her life was ruined? As in, it’s long over, and nothing she did before or since is valuable any more? Because a guy cheated on her? For me this is too close to the ‘fate worse than death’ terminology around assault that was used to brand women.

          Let her decide the status of her life and the impact this mess had on her, is what I am saying. (In addition to the fact that even if she considers her life ruined, it was your mutual ex who did it, not you).

      11. learnedthehardway*

        Her life changed – drastically. Okay. But that is not your fault. You were both deceived by someone who clearly had every intention of deceiving both of you.

        I do not understand why you feel responsible for this.

        Personal experience – when I found out that a boyfriend was cheating on me, I didn’t know who he was cheating on me with. But I found her personal items at his place, and I left a note in them to let her know – because I figured if he was cheating on me, he was probably lying to her as well. I felt no guilt at all. Why on earth would I? I wasn’t the one doing the cheating and lying!!

      12. KateM*

        So, she moved to this small town that she had no other ties with because of her partner (yuor common ex), and she was struggling to make a living there, being fully financially dependent on her partner.

        How is escaping this a ruin of her professional life?

  28. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    Letter Writer, I just came here to leave a recommendation for the Something Was Wrong podcast. I discovered it in the midst of extricating myself from a highly emotionally abusive relationship with a person who lied constantly and preyed upon my own insecurities to keep me around. There are now many seasons full of compassionately told first person survivor stories, many of which may ring true to you and help you to continue much of the work and processing you’ve already done. There is something about hearing another person tell a story that is similar to your own experience and listening to the kindness you are inclined to extend to them that can make a person more inclined to direct that kindness inward.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you. I really mean it. I didn’t expect this much support. I am sorry you went through that emotionally abusive relationship–sounds a lot like the one with my ex. It was also why I wanted to tell Sarah–I wondered if she had been treated the same way I had been treated to stop questioning the things that didn’t add up.

      I will give that podcast a try. Seems like I still have some healing to do.

      1. Susannah*

        We’re rooting for you, Letter Writer! So sorry you and Sarah were betrayed so terribly. And glad you are both free of that kind scum.

      2. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        It’s such a long process to heal from this sort of thing, in part because it takes time to discover some of the thought patterns you’ve held onto (like taking responsibility for the consequences of another person’s choices) before you can root them out, let go, and move forward. Be kind to yourself, Letter Writer.

  29. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

    I once ran into someone who was a friend of an ex a couple of years post-break up. The break up wasn’t nearly as dramatic as OP’s, but yeah, he eas a cheating jerk so I dumped him. This acquaintance swooped over to me all “Are you all right?” It had been 2 years. And yes. Don’t assume Sarah’s life was “ruined” and don’t assume she is frozen in time.

    1. H.Regalis*

      I had something similar. A guy broke up with me and at the time I was sad. I think I cried. ~Ten years later I ran into him walking down the street and got this overly solicitous “How ARE you?” reaction from him, like he was waiting for me to fall apart from seeing him. I was like, “Uh, I’m fine. How are you?” It was weird and vaguely insulting.

  30. Anon for this*

    A few years ago I had a horrible breakup with a very close friend in my small professional sphere. We had a lot of mutual friends and acquaintances who also shared our professional circle, so no matter how much we tried to keep it out of our professional lives, it inevitably rippled through that sphere. I spent the following years isolating myself from my professional community, worried about encountering her or any of the people who my brain had decided were on “her side.” Then, a few months ago, I finally went to our big annual conference for the first time in a while. I encountered a lot of those people I’d been scared to see. (Ex-friend was not there.) Some acquaintances asked me about her, not knowing we were no longer in touch, and I found ways to gracefully deflect. The biggest takeaway for me was that (surprise) nobody was thinking about this as much as I was. Of course it loomed large in my own brain, because the end of our friendship had been an extremely stressful experience, and frankly a little traumatic. To everyone else, it was mostly water under the bridge—maybe a piece of gossip they’d heard a few years ago, if anything. It was honestly extremely reassuring, and a good reminder that everyone didn’t actually hate me for not exiting a bad relationship in the most graceful possible way during the depths of the pandemic. OP, I hope you can give yourself grace for making the best possible decisions with the information you had at the time, and I hope the event goes smoothly for you. You didn’t ruin Sarah’s relationship—this guy did.

  31. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’d find it handy to have a concise story ready, just on the unlikely chance it does come up. Just in case Sarah says, “oh my ex cheated on me with LW,” and people start looking askance at the LW.

    And that story should NOT be that the LW was the “other woman” that ruined Sarah’s life. The truth is that LW and Sarah were duped by the same man, and as soon as LW found out her fiancé (FIANCE!! this was not a casual fling!) was involved with someone else the LW broke it off.

    1. anywhere but here*

      “Yes, unfortunately when he proposed, he neglected to mention that he and Sarah were together,” could be delivered a bit drily I think.

      That being said, I don’t think it’s terribly likely that Sarah would bring this up as she seems to have handled it very maturely. Also, LW, I want to echo all of the comments pointing out that it is not your fault! And you did not ruin her life!

    2. JustaTech*

      “Yes, my fiancé told me he was single when we started dating, and when I found out that he had actually been with Sarah that whole time, even after he proposed, I dumped him. Good riddance!”

      Put ALL the blame where it belongs, on cheating ex, and also make a it a quick and breezy statement by moving *immediately* to a work-related question.

    3. xylocopa*

      YES. It’s very possible that no one will ever bring this up–but who knows. It’s good to have a very short, no-frills explanation ready, so that if you’re taken by surprise and asked about it you don’t start blurting out unnecessary details. (And unnecessarily blaming yourself!)

      One or two sentences. All it needs to be.

  32. RandomNameAllocated*

    OP, I think context is everything. If you were both going to be appearing on the TV programme “He Done Us Wrong”, then yes, she probably would remember you. But in a purely professional capacity? I’m sure she won’t.

  33. Dasein9 (he/him)*

    Add my voice to the chorus reassuring you that you didn’t ruin Sarah’s life.

    It’s unlikely that she’ll cause a scene, but seeing you may dredge up old pain. In your position, I’d consider confiding in one and only one person at my own company that I really, really trust in case someone needs to swoop in and act as a buffer between Sarah and me, not because of any acrimony, but simply as a kindness.

  34. Annony*

    I mean this kindly but you are giving yourself far too much importance in her life. Hearing that her SO had been leading a double life likely did hurt. But you were just the messenger that she saw for a few minutes at most before closing the door. She almost certainly wouldn’t recognize you. The news also probably didn’t affect her professional life. It sounds like she moved from an unprofitable field to a more lucrative one all while maintaining ties to her former community and being invited back often. From your description, her ex was not involved in her business. If she wanted to keep it, she could have. Her life does not sound ruined to me. She dumped the deadweight that is your ex and got a better job. You were a blip 10 years ago. You don’t need to beat yourself up over something that wasn’t your fault.

  35. Kaitlyn*

    I’ve been in Sarah’s shoes several times (I know, I know), and my anger is never with the women who come forward and tell me about my now-ex’s relationship with them, or spotting him on dating apps, or whatever other cheater behavior he was engaging in. You may never have a cozy relationship, but she probably things, “man, that lady helped me out a decade ago” and that’s not the worst that could happen.

  36. Andromeda*

    fully agree on “you ruined no-one’s life”. it was probably a shock to Sarah, and she might have been sad about it, but you’re painting yourself into a situation where you are the bad guy no matter what:
    – you’re the bad guy for not looking deeper into the POS guy’s history or investigating whether he’d really broken up with her
    – you’re also the bad guy for telling her the truth

    besides which, you’re putting *all* the blame on yourself, saying you “allowed” the cheating like he has no agency in the situation and couldn’t have chosen otherwise. HE was the life-ruiner (if life ruining even took place!!), not you.

    what would you have wanted to do differently? is there a course of action you could have taken that wouldn’t make you feel so guilty? would you have known to take that course of action, given what you knew of at the time?

    in the long term, Sarah’s way better off without POS guy, even if her reaction to you *is* negative, and she probably knows that. if it is, she is much more likely to be sad than angry, and it will not be because of anything you did yourself. just a reminder of bad stuff from the past. hell, many many adults have had serious relationships end badly before. being professional and pretending you don’t know each other, if you do run into her, allows her to address it if she wants or you to give her space.

    1. JustaTech*

      Yes! Cheating Ex is a grown adult with full agency, not a puppy or something. It was his choice to engage in extended two-timing.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this.

        Reminds me a bit of my FIL in the sense that he was a traveling salesman who had a mistress in another city he visited frequently. The difference there was that the other woman knew about his marriage for all the *eight years* they were together until my MIL found out about the relationship and divorced him. Even though the other woman, whom my FIL subsequently married, had children from a previous marriage, she’s always resented the existence of my FIL’s family. I’ve been with my husband for 19 years, and in all that time I’ve met my FIL’s wife only a handful of times and have no wish to see her ever again, and I seriously doubt I will until my FIL’s funeral (unless she dies first). Even though she “won,” she’s been difficult to deal with, although she’s been a little bit better since my MIL married her current husband (and since she managed to get my FIL declared incompetent as he’s in a care home for people with dementia, and assumed control of his assets).

  37. BJP*

    OMG, OP, that man ruined her life, not you! Shame she can’t slap some glaze on him and stick him in the kiln, metaphorically speaking. What a dog.

  38. Old Cynic*

    Speaking from experience as a former Sarah (albeit Sam) I think you shouldn’t be too concerned about an encounter.

    It stung for a few months but I got over it. And I’ve run into the other guy since and we had a mutual session of trashing talking the ex.

  39. juliebulie*

    Do not be surprised if she offers to buy you a drink. I certainly would. It sounds like she didn’t care to suffer that guy’s presence for a moment longer.

    If she doesn’t, offer to buy her a drink. You don’t have to talk about what happened, but if she has anything to say, that would be the time for her to say it.

  40. BlondeSpiders*

    I am constantly amazed (I shouldn’t be, at this point in my life) at the way women will twist themselves into knots in order to blame themselves for men’s bad behavior. We are conditioned from birth to alter our behavior to appease men (don’t wear spaghetti straps to school) or accept unacceptable behavior because boys will be boys (he’s teasing you/treating you badly because he likes you!)

    This is how it manifests in adulthood. It’s sickening and very sad. OP did all the right things: ended the relationship and told Sarah. That wasn’t strictly necessary, but it was a kindness. All the time, OP was blaming herself and still feels at fault, 10 YEARS LATER.

    Sarah won’t be mad at you. Will it be awkward? Sure. But maybe she’ll thank you.

    Women, please hold the men in your lives accountable for their actions, and parents, please teach your daughters to do the same.

  41. BellyButton*

    “you didn’t ruin Sarah’s life. Your ex is the one responsible for the impact on Sarah, not you.” repeat this to yourself over and over until you believe it. You didn’t do anything wrong! We take on the blame and shame in situations like this. It takes practice to remember who should own the blame and shame.

  42. Nat20*

    Think about this from Sarah’s perspective:

    You were dating her boyfriend, but you immediately dumped him & told her when you found out. That means you were never some homewrecker mistress – you were decieved into believing you were in a normal monogamous relationship just as much as she was. Once you found out, you did the absolute best thing you could do for both yourself AND for her: you exposed him completely and without hesitation.

    You did her a huge favor! She shut the door on you and never responded to your email, but that’s almost certainly because she was in shock, in pain, and processing a lot. She might’ve blamed you to an extent, we don’t know. But she obviously blamed Cheater McScumbag too, because she also dumped his ass.

    You never ruined her life, HE did. And besides, you don’t even know if it was ruined! She might be thriving now as a direct result. Even if she was devastated, even though she moved away – all of that is HIS fault, not yours! In the end, you still did her a huge favor.

    Whether she hates you, thanks you, or feels nothing toward you, it’s not something you need to worry about here, and there’s nothing to blame yourself for. You are, at worst, a fellow victim of Cheater McScumbag’s lies, and at best, a hero who saved someone else from them. It’s been a decade, and this can (and should) be a perfectly normal, professional contact.

    1. Susannah*

      LW was *engaged* to Sarah’s boyfriend. Which means it was actually more of a betrayal of LW, who was planning her life and future around this piece of scum. But it wasn’t Sarah’s fault or LW’s fault.

  43. kiki*

    LW, you didn’t ruin Sarah’s life. I also don’t think it sounds like Sarah’s life was really ruined at all– after a breakup with her long-term but no-good boyfriend, she decided to move to another state and try working in a new field outside teapot design. She still teaches classes and is invited to galas and events related to teapot design. I guess I don’t know for sure, but I would bet teapot design is still an option for Sarah in her new state, so if she wanted to continue pursuing this full-time she would have or would have moved back after a few years.

    I would bet that Sarah is fine and is happier now to be separated from her ex who was living a double life. If her ex wouldn’t have been cheating with you, it would have been somebody else. Somebody that deceptive was never really a good partner to Sarah, even if she thought he was before she knew about his affair.

    1. kiki*

      I also want to make clear that even if Sarah struggled after the fallout with her boyfriend– that’s not at all your fault! You were deceived. You immediately ended things and then told Sarah what you knew because she did deserve to know her boyfriend wasn’t who she might have thought he was. If Sarah had a hard time recovering, that’s on her ex, not you.

  44. Observer*

    LW, as others have pointed out, YOU have no blame here. You did not ruin anyone’s life, nor did you allow any bad behavior.

    You don’t know if Sarah’s life was ruined, and it doesn’t sound like it was. But even if it was, YOU were not the one who did it. It was your Cheating EX.

    Your Cheating EX had a lot of agency here, YOU did not. Because he carefully chose to *lie to you*. You can’t prevent something you have no way to know is a risk. When someone who you have reason to trust lies to you so profoundly, consistently and broadly you simply don’t have any real way to know better.

    I have three thoughts here:

    1. DO NOT share this with anyone in the work context. It’s way too much drama and you are likely to wind up stepping on her privacy. The only way I would change my mind is if she were to act up when meeting you, but I would really be surprised if that happened.

    2. Your framing of a lot of this really concerns me. I think you may still have a way to go to get to a healthier place. The level of blame you are taking on yourself is just out of proportion. This is not “I did something wrong and I’m being too hard on myself.” It’s “I was a victim but I think that all the blame lies with me not the person who hurt me.” That’s just not healthy.

    3. You are catastrophising here. That’s not uncommon. Take Alison’s advice. But also, sometimes a chat with a therapist (if you have a good therapist who helped you through this and is still available, that may be a good staring point) can be helpful when something comes along to upset your equilibrium.

  45. Ann*

    Adding to the chorus: you didn’t ruin Sarah’s life! Every single bit of responsibility and blame is placed squarely on your ex. He cheated. You did the right thing by telling Sarah so she could make decisions with full information. Don’t take responsibility for a shitty man’s behavior. sending virtual hugs!

  46. HugeTractsofLand*

    OP, you didn’t create his cheating problem; you solved it by telling Sarah. I hope you can work with your therapist to handle some of this guilt, because it’s misplaced. I also recommend Alison’s approach of treating Sarah with professional courtesy. If she seems noticeably stiff or awkward- and keep in mind you may be reading too much into her behavior, so try and be objective!- you could send her a short, professional note acknowledging “I know we’ve interacted in the past, but I hope you know that I see you as a coworker on this project, one that I respect and that I hope to work smoothly with.” Good luck!

  47. BecauseHigherEd*

    Yeah, OP, you did honestly the best thing you could given the circumstances–you ended things with your partner and notified the relevant people involved without any harassment or blame. Could she be mad at you? Potentially, but very likely not. It’s more awkward to have that come up in a work setting than anything else, but if you see her and there seems to be some recognition, you can just smile, nod, continue as normal, act as if you’re meeting her for the first time if introduced, and follow her cues.

    I’ll add also that if she decides to come back to this small town for this event, she probably already knows that she *could* run into someone from her past and will have decided to do it, anyway.

  48. Forrest Rhodes*

    Please drop those weights you’re carrying around, OP. They don’t belong with you, and you don’t need them.

    For what it’s worth: I was Sarah once, thinking I was in a committed relationship with X. It was one of X’s pals who told me what was (and had been for some time) going on; Pal said, “You don’t deserve this, and he doesn’t deserve you.” The locks on my doors were changed (literally and figuratively) as soon as Pal and I concluded that conversation.

    And what do I think of Pal? I liked him before he told me, and after he told me I wanted to nominate him for the Nobel Prize for Friendship. He was a better friend to me than X had been a partner. Pal and I both went on to live our own happy, productive, fulfilled lives, and we still exchange Christmas cards; I’m not sure what ultimately happened to my former non-partner partner.

    Do an Elsa OP—let it go!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      From an old Angel and Faith comic there’s a beautiful moment where Faith meets up with another slayer who went through something traumatic that Faith blames herself for.

      The other slayer says something like:

      “I’m going to give you a gift, a gift I think more people should give3. You’re carrying around a huge burden that you think you have to shoulder for me. My gift to you is to tell you that I don’t need it, I never did”

  49. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I say this as someone who did have a man cheat on her, it was bad when I found out and things between me and him did not end well at all:

    I can’t even remember the name of the woman who told me he was shagging her as well.

    It was in my 20s, so we’re talking well over a couple of decades ago, and if I ever see HIM again I’ll be utterly furious (and terrified tbh – he was a nasty piece of work) but he didn’t wreck my life. I could easily have seen her somewhere and just never recognised her.

    The instigator and cause of the trauma stays with you. The one who called it out tends not to.

    So no, don’t apologise, don’t pre-empt anything and if I may advise? Take that guilt you feel, however misguided it is, write it down and then burn it. Don’t reopen old wounds by bringing this back into the open around her.

  50. atalanta0jess*

    You didn’t ruin her life. You were both hurt by the same person. You know that Fiona Apple song, Newspaper?

    I too, used to want him to be proud of me
    And then I just wanted him to make amends
    I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me
    To make sure that we’ll never be friends

    And it’s a shame, because you and I didn’t get a witness
    We’re the only ones who know
    We were cursed, the moment that he kissed us
    From then on, it was his big show

  51. mreasy*

    OP, I am so sad that you believed you “ruined her life.” You did nothing of the sort. You made the brave decision to let her know, in person, about the situation and to apologize for your unknowing participation. You did Sarah a huge kindness by sharing this information – her subsequent actions were her choice. Ultimately, you enabled her to leave a cheater and go on with her life without wasting any more time on him. While this feels awkward, you did Sarah a kindness.

  52. Katy*

    I think that for your own peace of mind, you should work on reframing and shortening the way you tell this story to yourself. If you do that, I think it will seem less scary and more manageable. For example:

    Sarah and I met once, years ago, under difficult circumstances. Unbeknownst to us, we were both dating the same man, who was lying to both of us. When I discovered this, I told Sarah, and both of us ended our relationships with him. I have not seen Sarah since, and I’m a little nervous about meeting her again because our last encounter was so stressful. However, as neither of us was at fault, and many years have passed, there is no reason for us not to be polite and professional with each other.

    1. kiki*

      This is a great summary and abbreviated telling. As somebody who was in a somewhat similar situation years ago, it can feel really hard to shorten the story because it was a confusing situation to be in, there’s a lot that LW will never know that only their ex does, and there was a lot of nuance that feels really important to explain to ward off judgment, but ultimately doesn’t matter in this scenario.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I don’t even think that it needs to be that detailed – just a “We found out that we were dating the same person, and we both broke it off with him” would be fine.

  53. ReallyBadPerson*

    OP, both you and Sarah were victims of this jerk! You didn’t ruin her life. Her life was already built on a lie because of the boyfriend’s duplicity. I hope you haven’t lived for a decade feeling guilty because you learned an awful truth and said it out loud to Sarah. I think most people, myself included, would hate you for 15 minutes and then be very, very grateful that you spoke the truth.

  54. Anon for this…*

    I’ve been a Sarah in this scenario. Alison is right – you’re catastrophising!

    If this was very recent, you’d be right to be concerned a little, because emotions run high and they don’t lead to rationality. I was Angry. I did – initially – put some of the blame on the other person in the immediate aftermath, when everything was so raw and I’d had to upend the life I thought I had with someone who wasn’t the person I’d thought they were. If I’d encountered her in those first few weeks after she told me I don’t think I’d have been kind to her. I knew it wasn’t her fault, that she was hurting too but had done the right thing, and I knew it was irrational, and there was only one person to blame but – emotions aren’t rational and the logical part of my brain went AWOL.

    I did eventually bump into her a few months later and all I felt then was relief, and gratitude. That initial flood of anger and pain had subsided and whilst I was still angry and hurt, it wasn’t at her – she’d done nothing wrong. It was awkward but we both got through it just by being professional. After 10 years it wouldn’t be anything more than an anecdote, and evidence that she’s a decent person who does the right thing even at huge personal cost.

    Just be professional. It might be awkward, but I doubt it will be anything like what you’re imagining.

  55. AnonEncounter*

    Anon for this: My then husband he was propositioned by a mutual friend. My husband and the friend worked at the same company- different departments. We hung out with this woman and her husband often. Husband and friend went to a normal workday lunch and she said to him “My husband is gay and he told me I can sleep with whoever I want. Are you interested? We can be very discreet.” He was so horrified and upset. As soon as he got home that evening he told me about it. We never socialized with them again, and he kept his distance from her at work.

    Jump ahead a few years, I was at a charity event that she happened to be at. She came running up to me with a huge smile and attempted to hug me like we were long lost friends. I kept my face neutral and pulled away from the attempted physical contact. She looked a little shocked that I wasn’t playing along with her enthusiasm, or maybe she suddenly realized he had probably told me?? I have no idea.

    Jump ahead a few more years, husband and I had a very mutual and amicable divorce. We never had children so the divorce was easy and we never had occasion to see each other again and never really spoke again after everything was said and done.

    Jump head a few more years- and now they are married!!!! LOL. I don’t how they ended up together, but they did. No ill will towards either of them, but it is a fun story to tell.

  56. Jiminy Cricket*

    OP, you’ve got this. If the event happens, practice in a mirror so you are absolutely certain you can keep a neutral face. Warm smile: “So nice to meet you. We’re thrilled to have you involved in this event.”

    Practice practice practice!

  57. Brain the Brian*

    Would HR or your boss overreact if you gave them a heads up, LW? Or would they overreact if they found out after the fact that you had a history that — in some people’s view — could affect your ability to interact professionally? Just a couple of things to weigh as you consider the advice.

    1. Letter Writer*

      LW here. We don’t have HR at this organization and I’m not sure how it would apply, because Sarah and our ex have never worked here. If Sarah was invited to this gala, she’d be a “working guest,” I think–not a paid employee.

      I don’t think anyone would overreact now (maybe if I had been working here while the whole interaction with Sarah had happened, sure. But not now). In fact, if I brought it up to her, I think my boss would be very kind about it, and I’d probably be advised to say nothing and we’d just strategize about how to keep me away from Sarah just in case.

      I’m more concerned about my board member, and the other board members, and how they would judge me and my ability to do my current job if they knew I had been so entangled in such a mess. I say that because my role is very much about optics–how my organization is perceived by others. Part of the reason I was selected for this role is because I’ve developed a reputation as a friendly and capable professional in this field who works well with others.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Oh Letter Writer, I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this, and this jerk’s actions are still causing you trouble a decade later. While I do think that anyone reasonable would never hold this against you, you are the one actually on the ground and know how people judge these kinds of situations. If you think your boss will keep this to herself and be kind, it might be helpful to have another perspective as a reality check.

        I think earlier commenters are right, in that if Sarah were going to act out, she would have done by now. It could be that she’s also sitting at home, worried about how you are going to react, and what she’s going to say when she sees you. Would it make you feel more confident about the situation to have some scripts ready to go if someone tries to introduce you, or you run into each other? If you can have some go-to phrases in your back pocket (“Hi Sarah, I’m so glad you could make it to [event]” or “Hi Sarah, I’m really looking forward to your tea brewing demonstration”), I think it could be really helpful for both of you to get over the awkwardness, if you are both going into this not wanting to drag up the past.

        1. Marie Mac*

          As a former catastrophizer, hard agree with doing your own work to feel prepared if you bump into Sarah. I got divorced 5 years ago and my ex and I liked all the same bands and I fully expected to see them at shows together. It was really helpful for me to come up with a plan for if I saw them, if they were in my eyesight during the show, if I saw his partner in the bathroom, etc. I only ended up having to use it once or twice, but I knew how I’d react in a bunch of different circumstances. You might find it helpful to mentally play through different scenarios where you might come face to face with Sarah (and to give both of you compassion in that moment).

          The underlying advice, however, is to deal with a situation when you are facing it, not in your imagination. It took a decent amount of therapy to get to that point, but the “if this then that” part of my brain was really strong for a long time. It takes time and practice to tell yourself “I’ll figure it out/make a decision when I need to, not before.” The anxiety made me (and you, it looks like) go down rabbit holes of “what if she’s at the gala” and “what if we work together” and all of these what if’s don’t exist. They might, but again, you can face it if it happens.

          So on top of all the other advice to forgive yourself and reframe your participation in Sarah’s story, I’d add these two pieces as a former catasrophizer myself.

          1. Marie Mac*

            ALSO. If your job deals with optics, there is nothing more reassuring to a board member than the unflappability of professionally and thoughtfully handling a tough situation. Your board members wont judge you for being in that situation 10 years ago, but they will think highly of someone who can navigate a tricky intro with grace and compassion. You’ll keep your rep as a capable professional who can handle tough issues with ease.

      2. Observer*

        I’m more concerned about my board member, and the other board members, and how they would judge me and my ability to do my current job if they knew I had been so entangled in such a mess.

        That’s all the more reason to NOT say anything. In the extremely unlikely situation that the details come out, the fact that you acted as though this all had never happened is going to be the best optics of all. “Does not bring up ancient personal history in a work context” is a very good look.

      3. Tio*

        You say such a mess, but being cheated on is not actually that big of a thing. Like, your board members clearly know something about it, and they’re not judging Sarah for being cheated on – why would they pass much harsher judgement on you? I know there’s an optics component, but being cheated on ten years ago doesn’t sound quite like a world-ender to me, even in a PR profession.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yeah that’s fairly normal and mainstream. It’s not uncommon sadly for people to have unfaithful partners. I’d be surprised at a company deciding to take a negative view of the OP for something that happened 10 years ago and was as routine and mainstream as having an unfaithful partner who was two timing her. I mean I suppose companies like that would exist but it would surprise me if there were many of them (certainly in the UK it would surprise me).

      4. Nea*

        A reputation for being friendly and capable that you’ve developed in the last 10 years, yes? Then the past is dead and buried and can let lie. Continue to be friendly and capable in your org, be friendly and professional with her, and, like Elsa, let it gooooooo!

      5. learnedthehardway*

        I don’t see any reason to bring this up to anyone – HR or otherwise. It happened 10 years ago. It has no reflection on you or your character. It’s very old news, and neither you nor Sarah were in the wrong.

      6. Looper*

        Don’t say anything to anyone in your professional life for multiple reasons, but not the least of which is that if you share your story, you are sharing hers as well and she probably doesn’t want tales of her crappy ex haunting her for the rest of your life.
        I understand and feel so deeply for you, your stress is jumping out of the screen. But I really think the best thing you can do is access your channels of healing (your therapist, a close non-work friend, etc.) and focus on your own reaction/feelings to this situation. I think you are projecting this concept of “ruining her life” on to her as a result of your own anxiety and it’s causing a lot of catastrophic thinking.
        You deserve to release yourself from this shame and leave this episode in the past. Whatever it takes to get there, give yourself that.

      7. Susannah*

        LW, for heaven’s sake – judge YOU? How? You were his fiancee, and he was cheating on you! You were both mistreated by this lout. PLEASE stop seeing yourself as the instigator (let alone the life-ruiner) here.
        My God, what was he going to do – tell her he couldn’t make their movie date because he was getting married that day?

    2. Observer*

      I believe her professional life was ruined because it was.

      Why on earth would the OP do that?

      Or would they overreact if they found out after the fact that you had a history that — in some people’s view — could affect your ability to interact professionally?

      Unless Sarah Sarah reacts in a extremely unlikely and odd manner, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will find out. And if this company is even half as good as the OP thinks it is, HR is not going to lay anything on her. *Especially* since they don’t really have to work together on any real work projects.

      Just a couple of things to weigh as you consider the advice

      Why? What on earth is the benefit to the OP to “consider” potential scenarios that are so unlikely that they might as well be fiction, and the are utterly irrelevant to her position?

  58. Anna*

    I guess I’ll be the dissenting voice.

    Of course it wasn’t OP’s fault, it would be unreasonable of Sarah to blame her, and it would be highly inappropriate of her to make a scene, but people do unreasonable and inappropriate things all the time.

    We can’t assume that Sarah doesn’t harbor any bad feelings for OP, especially if the door in the face and the ignored email are any indication. Nor should we assume that she’s over it – sure it’s been 10 years, but it sounds like their relationship was about as long. It’s hard to completely get over something like that!

    And it does sound like her life got materially worse after the fact, even though, again, OP, this is not your fault! And relying on an abusive jerk financially is never a good situation either.

    The best move is still to act professionally, and hopefully/most likely she will be mature and respond in kind! But assuming Sarah would want to thank OP or buy her a drink is bananapants.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      I think the order of likely behaviour from Sarah is

      ~Neutral, pleasant, professional (most likely)
      ~Grateful, wanting to buy OP a drink (unlikely but possible)
      ~Huge dramatic confrontation (highly, highly unlikely, given what OP has told us about Sarah and the amount of time that has passed.)

      1. Katy*

        The main reason I could see Sarah being irritated is if the LW tries to make a big dramatic thing and talk about it while she’s trying to do her job, or if the LW reveals that she thinks she ruined Sarah’s life. I’d be pretty annoyed to learn that someone else was describing my life as “ruined.” If LW acts professional, I think the most likely scenario is that Sarah does as well.

        1. Umami*

          Yes, I see no reason to be describing Sarah’s life as ‘ruined’ or even ‘less than’ just because OP is obviously quite happy with what has happened with her life. She also had the rug pulled out from under her, and she doesn’t consider her life ruined, so it doesn’t stand to reason to believe Sarah’s life is ruined. I’m pretty sure Sarah would not be happy to hear OP has such a low opinion of her station in life and also feels responsible. Sarah is her own person who has made her own choices. And in my estimation seems quite happy and successful!

        2. Letter Writer*

          I would DEFINITELY not try to make a big dramatic thing and try to talk to her about it, especially at the event. I’ll also be occupied doing my job there if this event does happen.

          I was very relieved when she left town, because my career started taking off shortly after she left in ways that definitely overlapped with her industry. I didn’t have to worry about running into her at local events.

          Best case scenario for me is she doesn’t even remember me, I can quickly introduce myself by my new name, thank her for coming, and move on to my other duties.

          1. allathian*

            That’s the best case scenario, and also the most likely scenario. It’s been 10 years, she saw you for at most a few minutes when you gave her some very shocking news, and you didn’t make a fuss when she wanted to be left alone. Unless she has an exceptional memory for faces, or you post a lot of selfies on public social media and she’s been following your posts, she probably won’t even recognize you.

            I actually think that meeting Sarah at that event could be the best thing that ever happened to you because if things go down in an undramatic way, maybe you can finally let this whole thing go.

            Neither Sarah nor your ex can give you closure, only you can do that. Please allow yourself to move on, your dastardly ex and Sarah have occupied enough of your brainspace to last a lifetime.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      FWIW, I got a email from an ex several years after a very tumultuous breakup. She wanted to apologize to me for how things went down and acknowledged that what neither of us knew at the time that was contributing to her bizarre behavior and constant fight picking. It was a very short email that actually healed a wound I hadn’t realized I was still carrying with me and I greatly appreciated her outreach. However, we both had moved on from the relationship by then. I chose not to respond, despite the fact that I really did appreciate the email.

      Not replying to a “hey if you want to talk about this further, here is how to reach me” line does not automatically mean that the outreach was unwelcome. It can just as well mean that ADDITIONAL outreach or contact is not needed or wanted, but doesn’t necessarily imply that the original message was unwanted.

    3. Observer*

      But assuming Sarah would want to thank OP or buy her a drink is bananapants.

      No one is *assuming* that. They are simply saying that it is a real *possibility*. And it’s good for the OP to realize that for herself, on a personal level.

      In terms of what she should do, none of this is not really relevant. The most likely *behavior* from Sarah is that she’s going to be neutral and professional. And I would say that it’s *highly* unlikely that she’s going to make a fuss or go public about this.

    4. EvilQueenRegina*

      Thing is though, the door in the face and the ignored email were back when it had only just happened, and that was years ago. Bearing in mind the amount of time that’s passed, can we really judge Sarah’s likely reaction now based on something that happened back then?

  59. I'm just here for the cats!*

    first OP you did nothing wrong and second, why do you think your ruined her professional life. By everything I read she just moved and is still doing the same stuff. She just sold her business. For all you know she was going to sell before this happened.

    You did nothing wrong.

  60. Volunteer Enforcer*

    OP, this is definitely not your fault. You would only need to worry if you were the scumbag ex who you are clearly not. Any chance you are a woman, I believe we are brought up to feel guilty for things going wrong even if they’re not our fault.

  61. Suni*

    I don’t know that I agree with Allison here.

    It sounds like Sarah might be hired to do live painting at an event or something similar. In which case, she needs to be focused, because it’s quite nerve-wracking to be creative when hundreds of people are watching you.

    Surprising her with the sudden appearance of her ex’s mistress, with no warning, and then expecting her to still focus on her live performance as if she’s not emotionally shaken—that just seems cruel and unrealistic.

    If I were OP, I would do everything within my power to NOT interact with her. Fake food poisoning that evening, whatever. If OP absolutely needs to attend, and absolutely needs to interact with Sarah, then it would be a kindness to give Sarah a head’s up first.

    If it was just a normal work function or networking event, that’s one thing. But we’re taking about a live performance. That’s incredibly different.

    1. Observer*

      Surprising her with the sudden appearance of her ex’s mistress, with no warning, and then expecting her to still focus on her live performance as if she’s not emotionally shaken—that just seems cruel and unrealistic.

      Nice piece of fiction, but that’s not what is going to happen. Even if she was going to be doing something like that (which it doesn’t sound like it), there won’t be a surprise meeting. Because just as the LW is getting the information about who is going to be working on this project, so will Sarah.

      1. Czhorat*

        And this might be making assumptions, but I’d guess that Sarah is dreading it as much as the OP is.

    2. Nat20*

      I disagree, because OP was just as much of a victim in this situation as Sarah. If OP was willingly or knowingly a mistress I would agree with you, but she wasn’t – she was also lied to. So, even though Sarah may still harbor resentment toward her, OP is not the one who hurt Sarah, and has no obligation to avoid her. She only needs to be polite and professional, even if it’s a bit awkward.

    3. Susannah*

      LW was NOT Sarah’s ex’s “mistress.” She was his fiancee! Sarah probably worried that LW saw HER as the “mistress,” if anything.
      Jeez Louise, can we stop blaming the women when a man has an affair? And in this case, NEITHER woman knew about the other.

      1. Suni*

        The OP calls herself the mistress, so that is the term I used. No one is blaming the OP here. She is not at fault, and neither is Sarah. But absolutely no one wants to be surprised with the woman their partner cheated with, while they are trying to do a live performance at a gala.

  62. Hiring Mgr*

    You definitely did nothing wrong, but I would be surprised if Sarah doesn’t remember you, considering a board member who presumably didn’t know her that well remembered the details of her being cheated on ten years later.

    She’s probably totally fine with it, but I would expect her to recognize you!

  63. Umami*

    Oh wow, first off, you didn’t ruin her life. Her life sounds just fine! It might not look like yours, but you don’t know her and know what she was wanting out of life. For all you know, she’s happier and healthier for the changes she’s experienced. But also, you are not responsible for any of this. I would try just reframing your thinking to say that you know nothing about her or her life choices, you just know about this one incident that you were involved in. You do not have a starring role in anything that has happened to her since, so nothing to worry about!

  64. anon for this*

    I’m just gonna say that Sarah will remember OP’s name and face forever and ever. Speaking as a cheated-on spouse.

    But since OP was scammed herself, and made sure Sarah had the info she needed to make decisions about her life, I’d hope that Sarah would not blame OP.

    1. allathian*

      Depends on how good a memory for faces she has. The OP has changed her name since then, too.

  65. Panhandlerann*

    The headline makes it sound like Sarah had her life ruined while at a work event! LOL

  66. Czhorat*

    My last thought on this:

    This was a terrible and traumatic episode for Sarah. I’d not be surprised if she would dread this meeting as much as OP if she knows about the possibility.

    It will be awkward and potentially painful for everyone, and sometimes all you can do is be as professional as you can and move on.

  67. JelloStapler*

    I would say you did the opposite- you made sure it was on the table so she could decide for herself. Who knows if she would have stayed with the jackass otherwise.

    Just be professional and follow her lead.

  68. Ciela*

    I think you are waaay overthinking.
    I was somewhat in Sarah’s shoes a while ago. But(!) I thought the Other Woman and I were friends.

    I thought I was in a long term relationship (not living together). He thought he was in a relationship Other Woman, but had left it up to her to break up with me ?!?!?!
    I moved out of town shortly after for unrelated reasons. I was back in town for family reasons, and almost literally ran into her while out shopping. There was a half a second of a gut-punch feeling, but then realizing it was 7 years past, I moved on to “how’s your mom ‘n them?”

  69. Susannah*

    LW, not only did you do nothing wrong – but Sarah might feel like you see *her* as the “other woman.” You were engaged, after all.

    In my fantasy, you meet again, have a ritual burning of this bozo’s photos and become best friends.

  70. Raida*

    If you do interact with her, do it correctly according to your position:

    Gracious thanks for her presence, a comment on how people still speak fondly of her, a statement about your positive opinion on her professional skills, a statement on how this is a good thing for the gala/event/institute/community.

    She’d be a guest, so you treat her as such: Positive interactions around her professional skills and reputation and how they pertain to your employer.

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. I’ve been known not to recognize people I see weekly when I meet them out of the usual context.

  71. Mmm.*

    My ex cheated on me, and I only resent the girl because she not only knew about me but agreed to have…fun…in my bedroom. If she hadn’t known, I think I actually could’ve been friends with her. Clearly we had some tastes in common! Bad taste is still taste…

    It’s a work event. I doubt she’ll do anything over the top unless it’s to match your energy. If you get the idea that she’s uncomfortable, acknowledge that you’ve met before by saying something like “I’m so happy to hear about how great your job is going, and I’m excited to have you here.” Totally normal, acknowledges previous knowledge without naming it, and showing that you plan to be cool. After that, interact when you have to, and leave any other possible balls in her court.

  72. ThatOtherClare*

    Letter writer, it’s probably worthwhile taking another look at why you’re so keen to avoid Sarah. Obviously your primary goal is to protect her, but are you also hoping to protect yourself a bit, too? It would be totally understandable if running into her caused you some pain, since it was the discovery of her existence that ended your engagement. None of it was her fault either, of course, but the sight of her might still cause you some sadness, since she was unwittingly deeply tied to the whole thing. Are you assuming the sight of you would upset her because on some level the thought of seeing her upsets you? It would be a totally normal and unsurprising reaction.

    IF that’s the case, you’re allowed to feel like that, and you’re allowed to limit your interactions with her to the polite basic minimum – so long as you’re not disadvantaging her career or reputation in some way by doing so. Alison has plenty of advice on how to be fair and polite to people you’d rather avoid through no fault of their own.

    Hopefully I’m wrong and you’re laughing at me right now! Good luck with the maybe-gala :)

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you for your questions. I guess even mention of Sarah is somewhat triggering for me because I don’t really know her much outside of her relationship with my ex. I carry a lot of shame and guilt, because I feel like I should have known all along that ex was playing us. She also reminds me of the emotional abuse, gaslighting, shame, and depression I went through in that relationship. I was dangerously mentally ill for a long time during and after that relationship, and thinking of it in low moments sometimes brings me back to that dark place.

      I need to really work on reframing Sarah not as ex’s ex, but as the remarkable teapot designer she really is. She deserves to be known for more than her relationship with ex.

      1. Betty Beep Boop*

        And also, although I realize that you are never going to want to have this conversation with Sarah unless she brings it up first, away from work, and maybe not then, it sounds like you in fact did the opposite of ruining her life, because wow does your mutual ex ever sound like a nasty piece of work.

      2. allathian*

        Sounds like you’re still carrying a lot of baggage from ten years ago. Gaslighting abusers are very good at hiding the things they want to keep hidden. I recommend some more therapy for you until you can let go of the idea that you should’ve known about his cheating. He made damn sure you didn’t.

        Ex was a terrible partner to you, and there’s no reason to believe he treated Sarah any better.

  73. musical chairs*

    I’m not so sure, if there was anyone who I’d remember ten years after meeting once it’d be the person who showed up at my doorstep and told me this kind of news. We have no way of knowing how this broke (for her quality life or how she feels about you) as many self-conflicting reactions are pretty valid in a case like this.

    I’m not saying this to scare you or get in your head, LW, I mostly want you to feel validated in being concerned about your further impact on her based on what you’ve shared here. If she does remember you (well or otherwise), it could be potentially offensive for you to act like you don’t remember her at all. You showed up at her house.

    When a situation calls for a delicate touch, I strongly believe in saying the nicest, truest thing you can, if you must speak at all. If you must interact with her, see if someone can help you by “introducing” you. Only say “hello” (not “nice to meet you”) and remark that you’re familiar with her work (because you are) and try to keep the conversation focused on work. Do not ignore the elephant, but don’t feed it either.

    I think she’d be relieved to keep any relationship you have to have going forward strictly professional (especially if put on the spot) and if she were to bring up the history, you can still try to steer the conversation back to work (“I wish everything had gone so differently, I so valued your contribution to XYZ and I’m glad you’re back”, or whatever sounds like you) without being dismissive of the real pain in it for both of you.

    You have good instincts on this. You can trust them.

    1. musical chairs*

      To be clear: I mean your instincts on the need to rectify harm or avoid the potential for harm. I don’t think you did anything wrong and I don’t think you can definitively say you ruined her life. Luckily for all of us, the way life unfolds is so much more complicated than a single event can dictate. :)

  74. Jan*

    OP, nothing you did ruined Sarah’s life, it’s her ex’s actions that hurt her. He lied to you as much as you did her, and you finished with him as soon as you found out. It’s good she’s moved on, and you have the right to do the same. She probably doesn’t blame you at all. I wouldn’t, in the same circumstances.

  75. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    LW, I think it’s reasonable to expect that Sarah has complicated feelings about you (if she remembers your face or your name — it’s not clear from your letter that she would!). But it is unlikely that she thinks of you as the main character of this event in her life — her boyfriend was. However, if she’s aware of who you are and that you’ll be at this event, she’s probably just as anxious as you are to get through it with her professionalism intact. I fuy recommend the professional power of playing dumb — pretend you have no idea who she is and there’s no reason she’d know who you are. Depending on the context of the event, I’d also put a script or two in your back pocket to allow you to gracefully exit any group conversations that allude to Sarah’s past. I’m imagining you and Sarah and a group of colleagues standing around during the cocktail hour:

    Colleague 1: “Sarah, it’s so good to see you! We’ve missed you since that business with what’s-his-face. I never liked him, by the way.”

    You: “Oh, this sound private — I’ll leave you two to talk./Would you excuse me, I see someone over there I simply must talk to./Would you two excuse me? I don’t think this is the drink I ordered.”

  76. Scott*

    Dear OP,

    I just want to offer some empathy here. I agree with Allison that you’re probably catrastrophizing a bit, but I know that if I were in a similar situation, I’d be right there with you.

    This person is a supporting player in a really hard chapter of your life, and trying to compartmentalize that is, while important, not easy. Please be gentle with yourself!

  77. anon_sighing*

    OP, you were likely a blip on the radar – “the other person her ex deceived but that’s not important right now.”

    Selling your business and house and leaving town feels like a personal choice she made to deal with what she thought was a long term relationship built on trust ending – I’m sure her surroundings were a horrible reminder of her ex’s betrayal. It doesn’t have anything to do with you though.

  78. Yup*

    Oh boy, I thought the person’s life was ruined *at* a work event, and imagined the horrible scene. But this is not that–the fault is 100% the ex’s and both women in this case did what they had to in order to live with dignity and move on. Kudos to you for doing the hard thing, and for her doing the same. You did her a favour.

  79. TooBoss2quit*

    I agree with everyone but if it makes you feel better maybe wear a mask (like an N95) at the event?

  80. Awkward*

    I feel the urge to add to this:

    this is what ‘being too emotional’ really means.

    we are so used to people claiming we are too emotional to silence our contribution that we become blind to situations were we truly let our emotions get the best of us.

    Best in such a situation is sitting back, taking a deep breath and start asking ourselves, where does this panic really come from?

    I don’t know you well enough to make assumptions about your state of mind. That’s why I’d like to share my take on this when it happened to me just in case it might be helpful.

    When I fell into the trap of such spiraling thoughts calming myself and allowing myself to really dive into those emotions made me realise that this wasn’t at all about meeting people I had awkward or embarrassing experiences with. In all cases it was something I was feeling. And in most cases I was still feeling guilty for having a less than optimal reaction in the original situation. Not even necessarily feeling guilty for what I did to the other person in that situation, but for ‘letting it happen’ in the first place.

    Being aware of hindsight bias helped me putting a past situation into perspective. In hindsight, everything seems so logical and obvious, and I tend to beat myself up for not seeing the warning signs sooner and preventing the situation. But in reality, if I wrote up a fair timeline and what I knew at which point, that’s not at all true .
    Often the different clues are there, yes, but without that final thing, that last information that made me realise that things were going wrong, none of the individual clues were actually enough. Without that final puzzle piece to tie them all together, no one could have truly known what was really happening.

    Alison’s advice is solid. Forgive yourself. Surely you did the best you could back then. And none of it was your fault. Not even indirectly. You didn’t ruin that woman’s reputation. You didn’t force her to leave. You didn’t make her partner cheat.

    If she would blame you, she’d be unreasonable. So far she seemed to deal with it pretty calmly and level headed, making good decisions and moving on. There’s no indication that she’d suddenly turn around and become a raging monster at your sight.

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