The Hook Up: What to do if your girlfriend’s ex works with her … and you

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My girlfriend and I have been together just shy of two years. Our relationship is nearly perfect, aside from the pesky ex problem. To make it easier, I’ll refer to my girlfriend as Shane and her ex as Alice (because who doesn’t love a good L Word reference?) Shane and Alice were together for six years. Alice pushed for marriage, and after six years Shane finally obliged (marriage isn’t Shane’s thing, so this was a huge commitment for her). A short two months later, Alice left Shane for another woman. I was there for Shane to help her through this terrible time, and seven months later we were an item.

The kicker: We all work together. Alice and I share a small office, and technically I am her subordinate. She has made it her life’s mission to make my work life a living hell. And then I have to watch Alice and Shane talk in the hallway, laughing, and dare I say, flirting. Alice has made it very clear that she would leave her girlfriend in a heartbeat if Shane would take her back, and that she thinks she made a terrible mistake leaving her. I have talked to Shane about this on numerous occasions, and she thinks that she is doing nothing wrong. She says she is with me, she loves me, and has no desire to go back to Alice. But still it disturbs me to see them talking. I have asked Shane to not talk to her, because I think that if she truly loved me she wouldn’t be OK with Alice treating me so badly every day. But Shane insists that she can’t do anything about it, that if she were to stand up to Alice for me then it would only make things worse for me, and that they were together for six years, so she cares about her and wants to have a friendship with her.

What should I do? Am I just being a jealous girlfriend? Or do I have good reason to want them to stop talking? And if Shane won’t stop talking to Alice, where does that leave our relationship? — Jealous at Work

Anna says: Oof. You all work together? That is some Real-World-meets-RuPaul’s-Drag-Race dramz you got going on, Jealous.

Here’s what I would do. First, trust your girlfriend and your “nearly perfect” relationship, as you put it. The fact that you are all crammed in the same office building is hellish, but really, you can’t expect your girlfriend to ignore someone she was once married to, especially if she’s in the next cubicle over 40 hours a week. It’s just not realistic. Especially since Shane wants to be friends with her, which is not something you can (or should) try to interfere with. That’s her life and her decision.

That said, if Alice is being a dick to you as a boss, that is something you can (and should) do something about. Have you been keeping track of the times she’s treated you in an unfair, discriminatory, or unprofessional manner? It’s always better to have proof if you’ve got it, so you’ve got something to show to your company’s Human Resources department (or Human Resources person, if your office is small). This is why HR exists—well, that and to send you annoying emails about the copier being broken again. Go to whoever is in charge of HR and tell them your story, as professionally as you can. Tell her or him that you feel you’re being treated unfairly because of your relationship with Shane and that it’s affecting your work. (Hopefully your company doesn’t have a policy against inter-office dating). The HR person might set up a facilitation meeting between the three of you, or help you to transfer to another boss if that’s possible, but either way, you shouldn’t have to suffer in silence if you’re being wrongly treated. This ain’t junior high, after all. Homegirl needs to recognize she can’t use you as her doormat because you’re boinking her ex.

If, however, Alice’s behavior is mostly professional but just kind of snooty — like, she rolls her eyes at you at the water cooler — then perhaps leave HR out of it and try to talk to her like a person. I know that sounds difficult, that being a nice, respectful, mature person to someone who is mistreating you seems like the worst kind of torture, but I assure you that the “kill ‘em with kindness” approach can work wonders. My ex is a yoga teacher and she had this student once who constantly said terrible things about her and made her cry all the time. She hoped this student would go away, but of course that didn’t work. What did work was sitting down with her and being honest and confronting why their relationship was at odds. It turned out to be some pretty basic miscommunications on their parts, and after a week or so, they improved not only their student/teacher relationship, but actually became friends. Of course, your situation is more loaded and involved, but that’s all the more reason to nip this in the bud before it gets even more out of hand.

And even though it is mildly dickish for Shane to not say anything on your behalf, I think she is right to stay out of it. This is between you and Alice. And standing up for ourselves is always an important lesson, even when it’s awkward as hell.

Plus, I think squaring things between you and Alice will help you feel less jealous about Alice and Shane being on speaking terms. As it is now, of course you don’t want them talking. I wouldn’t want my girlfriend flirting with someone who was both mean and had the power to fire me! But if you can take her down from monster status, by being friendly and clearly state your intention to resolve the issue between the two of you, it should, in addition to improving your work situation, also help your feelings of insecurity.

You’ve got almost two years of an awesome relationship with an awesome girl under your belt. You are killin’ it! Don’t forget that. And good luck sorting out the office drama. As Carl Jung once said, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”

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