Having a relationship at work can make you the latest gossip. Picture: Pexels
Having a relationship at work can make you the latest gossip. Picture: Pexels

A work affair goes bad. Now what?

By CHERYL STRAYED and STEVE ALMOND Time of article published Apr 15, 2018

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I had an affair with a co-worker that lasted several months. 

Though I had reservations about his character, we had an intense sexual connection. Due to the small, gossipy nature of our workplace, I repeatedly demanded discretion. He promised to never discuss my private life at work.

I found myself falling for him and needed to set boundaries, so I ended the affair. Soon after this, my co-worker’s supervisor revealed he’d been hearing about our relationship from day one. He knew details about my sexuality (I’m bisexual, but not out at work) and our affair that he could only have learned from my ex, who it seems was seeking validation from his buddies by bragging about our involvement.

I was devastated, but I also blamed myself. The consequence is that my co-workers now know private details about me that may affect how they perceive me. Also, someone I cared about lied to me for months.

My ex’s supervisor should have sanctioned him when he began telling him about our relationship, because he violated company sexual harassment policy in doing that. They’re friends, so this isn’t going to happen. I barely interact with my ex at work, so I asked his supervisor to tell him that if he speaks about me again, I’ll file a grievance and pursue having him fired. He told me he did so, and my ex said it wouldn’t be a problem again.

How can I get over my sense of betrayal, my rage and my desire to punish this man for the way he treated me? I want him to be sanctioned for violating workplace policy, but as a woman in a male-dominated setting, I know pursuing such action would make the environment hostile for me. The stress from this is already negatively affecting my work. How can I get closure and let this go?

Steve Almond says: You’re dealing with two forms of betrayal here, both painful and infuriating. The first is personal. Given that you ended the relationship because you were “falling for him,” it seems that part of you hoped the erotic connection you felt for this man would lead to a loving relationship. 

Your ex didn’t provide that. He then violated your trust by bragging about intimate details of your sexual life with co-workers. That betrayal is both personal and professional. If your ex violated the company sexual harassment policy — and if outing a co-worker isn’t a violation, I don’t know what is — he should be held accountable. The fact that his supervisor is his “friend” doesn’t matter. He either broke the rules or he didn’t. 

I realise pursuing this course could make your work environment stressful and hostile. But I’d suggest that a workplace where any employee with a penis gets to flout the sexual harassment policy is already hostile for every employee without one. Threatening to file a grievance to silence this man hasn’t resolved your feelings because he’s already said too much.

Cheryl Strayed says: It’s awful when people we cared for reveal themselves to be someone other than who we believed them to be. You ask how to get over your sense of betrayal and my advice is the oldest in the book: give it time. 

Your feelings are a reasonable response to a breakup that turned ugly. They will decrease in intensity as you move on from this relationship. What will remain in the end is not your regret, but rather the wisdom you’ve gained from lessons you learned the hard way.

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