Here's the Thing: My Ex Works With Me Now
AN ABSOLUTE GEM:
I split with my then-boyfriend after a drawn out 6 months of knowing how we both felt, but not having the guts to end an 8 year relationship. During the end of that relationship, I was in love with another man I worked with.
What followed was sadly, a painful, powerful and messy relationship - I was annoying fragile after the break-up, he was upset with me, I lost my way. What followed were two people going down swinging. I was a mess at the beginning of 'us' and I have apologised for this a number of times but it never could undo the hurt. As such, he was unkind to me on several occasions and he has said some things to me that have caused a long of long-term pain.
I genuinely wish I had a time machine and I could go back with *this* mind that I have now and do it all right because in many ways we were special.
He broke up with me 3 times, these were often brutal and I am ashamed with the neediness that I displayed in those moments.
We walked away and he said he wanted no contact and 2 weeks later he met someone else. She is my superior in every way - younger, hotter, richer, cooler and more ambitious. I stayed away and closed my social media. I maintained a dignified silence to our mutual friends. I dated new people but nothing serious. I did the hard work in therapy (adverse childhood experiences have made me poor at showing my emotions, especially love and I've really owned that), I bought a house, a new car, I took on a big project at work and got really good at it. I have worked hard to be better in the aftermath because I felt such a fool in my neediness. He has not been in touch and I am pretty certain that I don't cross his mind in any way. That hurts but I can accept it.
I got so good at my job in fact that I applied for another promotion in another company. My ex was also employed by the same company and I was diligent in my research before accepting the job to ensure we would remain estranged. He was in the field, his office time would be limited to a different floor, our allocations would not overlap, any chance of seeing each other would be in a communal 400 people are in this room way maybe twice a year. I took my chances because of the significant pay raise and an an opportunity to move to a city I love. You can see where this is going.
When I first started he ran in to each other, said an awkward hello and even though I wanted to die, I thought it was good that it was done and we silently have agreed to just keep out of each others way.
By sheer chance I found out that he has applied and got an internal job in my wider team, he will be leading on projects I am involved in and this is happening imminently.
I am very privately devastated. I am not completely over him and his new life is a horrible reminder that I fucked up and someone else gets to do it with with him all right this time. The more horrible reminder will be how little I mean to him now.
I can't leave until I have served 12 months, I have served 3.
I am specially trained for the projects I work on - and I am good at them.
I have moved cities to be here and I don't want to leave yet.
I also know:
That I don't want any of our new colleagues to know about our history.
That I have to ensure my dignified distance and silence.
There will be days where it will hurt and I'll have to put my professionalism first.
But I don't know how to handle this or what to do next. Do I speak to him first and outline this? Or will that look kind of mad? I've lost sleep thinking about this and I feel really sad about it. I wish we were either friends or never saw each other.
He knew about my role when he applied for the job so clearly this doesn't bother him at all.
Here’s the thing: we are not going to let you give up this great job and great city (WHERE YOU OWN A HOME) for some mediocre dick that you used to have, ok?!!? Not on my watch!!!!
Will this be painful at times? Excruciating!!! Are you allowed to give up if it gets to be too much? YES. But first, let’s take a swing at it. We’re not going to give way to this dipshit (even if you do not feel he has been a dipshit, and even if you were also a dipshit, I do feel he has been/is being one, and will henceforth refer to him as such) getting a good job instead of you. Instead, I’ll tell you what I think you should do.
Before I get to that, though, I’m going to address the old relationship because (very reasonably) you have a warped view of what went down. This is not because you’re a naive cabbagehead or anything, it’s because you were in the relationship and no one can see their relationship well. This isn’t to say that I’m right and you’re wrong; it was your relationship. I also don’t know your relationship perfectly, or see it clearly. I wasn’t even there!!!! But going based off of what you’ve said, I’d like to address some things:
Being needy is not foolish. Frankly, I can’t even be sure that you were needy. That’s a charge that gets lobbed at women incredibly frequently, and often when their expectations are perfectly reasonable. I will also say that most of us have moments of true, desperate neediness in relationships and your relationship with this person seems especially volatile (a perfect breeding ground for “neediness”). If someone keeps dangling the “I’m going to break up with you” threat over your head, it makes sense— even if it does not work— to try to hold on tighter. I’m not saying that what you did was positive, helpful, or healthy. I’m merely suggesting that being needy is, at its core, about having an unmet need. There is no shame in that. It is not foolish to need things. Perhaps you went about expressing your needs poorly; perhaps you were hurtful. Make some room to fucking forgive yourself. Own what you did do bad. Write yourself a note, even. “Here are the things that I did wrong. [List those things]. I forgive myself.” Keep practicing this until you actually do forgive yourself. You’re fabulous. You’re worth it. You’re going to learn from the past.
Someone who is superior to you in every way does not exist. Sorry, sweetie!!!!! This is a myth that you created. The idea of a superior-to-you-in-every-way person is a lot like the dollar: it only exists because we believe in it. If everyone in America decided all of a sudden that dollars weren’t money, a dollar would become a piece of paper. (Cotton + linen, actually I think). This woman is only cooler than you because you think that. She doesn’t have your memories. She didn’t laugh so hard in the kitchen last Thanksgiving that she peed her pants. She doesn’t know every line of When Harry Met Sally like you do. I don’t know what your Cool Things About You are. I just made those up (duh). But you exist completely independently of her. She is very cool. And so are you. YOU are the only one comparing you two. YOUR EX IS NOT DOING THIS. YOU HAVE FABRICATED THIS. It’s like you’ve decided that it’s more miraculous that flowers exist than that books do. Both are great! They’re both here on Earth! No one else is worried that one being great makes the other less great! 🌭 I say all of this as a massive hot dog who frequently compares herself to people and is working on it very hard because here’s a little secret: no matter what my conclusion, comparing myself to someone else has never once made me feel better and has never once given me anything. I’ve never gotten a job, made a friend, been given $7,000 dollars, or gotten to smooch a hottie hottie hunk because I compared myself to someone. All it did was make me feel bad.
A bad ending does not erase what happened. I’m 100% sure that he remembers you. Both the good and the bad of your relationship. A relationship ending— even ending poorly, even ending multiple times in painful ways— does not negate the good parts of it. He had good times with you. He has good memories of you. He also probably has painful ones. He gets to decide what he learned from the relationship and what he wants to focus on. You can’t touch that. But, the corollary is that he cannot touch what you have learned, and what you want to take from the relationship. So take joy and take lessons. You do not need to pack up the pain of that relationship with you and put it in a suitcase with no wheels and lug it around for the rest of your life as punishment for what went wrong. That doesn’t help and it doesn’t do anything. Choose something else (lessons and fond memories, ideally) to take from the relationship and hope that he has done the same.
WHAT TO DO IN THE WORKPLACE:
You said it best yourself: There will be days where it will hurt and I'll have to put my professionalism first.
You are going to love your career path (even if not your day-in-day-out job) more than you used to love this dipshit. Which might mean crying a wee little bit in the bathroom or on the subway ride home. Or calling your best friend a few extra times. Or getting extra manicures because you feel stressed and sad and they help a little. Or going on a camping trip on your weekends off. (Sounds awful to me, but some people love outdoorsy shit so I’m holding space for them).
I don’t think that you need to address your plan with him. Your tacit professionalism will set the tone by itself. Speak to him only about work, and only about projects that you two have to talk about. Do not try to make him your friend again. Do not try to get on his good side. He chose to apply for this position and knew that he might work with you. He’s clearly fine with that possibility. Address this as if it is perfectly normal and fine with you to work with your ex because you both are here to do work, even if some days this is a total lie.
I know some days it will hurt your heart to be around him. You’re prepared for that. Here is what I think you should do to help yourself:
Spice up your life. Get as much good shit in your life as you can. Nurture good friendships. Make new ones if you want to. Actually do things that you like doing when you have time off. Living in a new city can feel incredibly isolating; try to carve out paths that make it feel less so. Find a favorite bar. Find a favorite taco truck. Take a cooking class. Invite an old friend to visit and stay with you. Fortify your life because the more good you have, the less this dude will matter to you.
Be honest with yourself about how you feel. Look the situation sucks, but it is an opportunity for you to practice forgiveness and grace. And you’re going to practice the shit out of them. Embrace the good parts of your life and job as much as you can. Embrace your feelings when you feel them, even if they are small or petty or bitter or anxious. If the feeling doesn’t serve you (like feeling small or petty or bitter or anxious), say, “Thank you for stopping by. I see you. I appreciate that I’m feeling this way, but I’m not going to invite you into my home.
Enjoy yourself!!! Don’t let him rob you of enjoying your job. It’s not fair to you. It seems like you are very good at this job, and I don’t want any of that success to be overshadowed by a past dipshit you used to date. Remind yourself— hell, make a list and put it on your fridge if you need to— of all the great things you’ve done at work. Keep track of your successes (this will also help when its time to apply for a new job, anyway). Keep track of moments that felt great. Get lunch with colleagues you do like. DO NOT TELL THEM ABOUT YOUR EX EVEN IF YOU BECOME FRIENDS! (If you get to the point where someone is a true friend outside of the office and they do not at all work with your ex in any capacity, then maybe you can mention that you two used to date. I think it’s too easy to get into drama territory here, though. I would keep it to myself).
Give yourself a break!!!! Sometimes you’re going to mess up. I don’t know when or how, but it will happen. You’ll get your feelings hurt by something he says, or you’ll mess up in front of him at work and feel embarrassed. You’ll miss him or you’ll beat yourself up for something. He’ll say something charming and you’ll want to be his friend (BAD IDEA). I have no idea what will happen!!! FORGIVE YOURSELF and keep moving forward. This is going to be a nine month process of dealing with him (at the very least). You’re bound to do something dumb or feel something painful or judge yourself. Allow it to happen, remind yourself that you’re human and that it’s your first time on earth and then keep going.
You can do this. I know you can. I would be remiss to not recommend a good therapist because any time you’re keeping a painful secret and having to be graceful in public, it’s INCREDIBLY helpful to have someone you can be a whiny little brat to about it. Your friends and family will thank you (they cannot bear the whole load for you, as I’m sure you know) and in about 7 months, you’ll thank yourself as well. Consider therapy if you can!!!
In the meantime, just remember that you have power, too. You have the power to decide that you’re not going to leave, that you’re not going to quit, that you’ve forgiven yourself for the past and that you’re going to be professional in the present.
I wish you all the best. You’ve got this.
❤️❤️❤️NOTE: because so many sweetie pies have been asking questions, it can take up to a month or two to answer them. I’M SORRY. I try to answer “urgent” / timely letters ASAP and more general questions later. IF I HAVEN’T GOTTEN TO YOURS, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RESEND!!! I DON’T MIND AT ALL!!!❤️❤️❤️
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.