Every week, Danny and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: “the good ex-wife.”
Nicole: Oh, man. Well, since you know nothing about the situation, I think your decision to refuse to speak on his behalf at mediation is correct (why on earth would HR agree it was appropriate to loop in an employee’s ex-wife for such a meeting, incidentally?)
Danny: It’s so odd that her ex would ask her to do that! What could she possibly say that was relevant to the conversation? “When we were married fifteen years ago, my ex-husband never sexually harassed me at work”?
Nicole: It suggests that better boundaries between the LW and her ex might be a good idea in the future.
Danny: My fear, of course, is that the ex was hoping for a general sort of character reference – “Look at this woman I have treated well, I am therefore not the kind of person who could ever sexually harass a different woman.”
Nicole: I am honestly pretty sure that ceasing to proactively invite your ex to things is a good step into the rest of your life.
Danny: I also think that, if it’s possible, the LW might want to try to learn a little bit more about the harassment claims before deciding how to handle her relationship with her ex in the future.
Nicole: Right. I do not think you have a sweeping responsibility to distance yourself from him at the moment, but I would absolutely want to inform myself more.
Danny: She says she doesn’t want to cut him out of her life without knowing all the facts, which is reasonable, but I also think she has the opportunity to get more facts, especially since the woman has gotten in touch with her AND she was invited to sit on an HR hearing. What were the comments? How frequent were they? How does the women feel it affected her at work?
Nicole: Because my overall sense is that she is stuck in stasis as long as she’s processing her ex’s life and needs. I think ceasing to hang out is a really solid option. If he hadn’t tried to get her to show up to the HR meeting I might feel differently, but to me it radiates gendered expectations. I must admit my skepticism as to her suggestion that she thinks the colleague might have an axe to grind over a past dispute. Because your ex-husband is the one who told you about it!
Danny: You don’t have to cut him out of your life; you don’t have to do anything. It may be that if you ultimately decide you want to continue having a social relationship with him, that this woman will not think well of you. That’s not something you can control. If you decide, ultimately, that you don’t think this is worth modifying or ending a relationship with your ex over, then that’s your choice, and other people may disagree. I will say this: I get a fair number of letters from people saying “Normally I would believe a woman accusing a man of harassment, but when it’s a man I know/care about, I’m inclined towards skepticism.” But the question facing your ex isn’t, “Are you friendly with your ex-wife?” Or “Have you generally been nice to women?” It’s “Did you specifically sexually harass this woman at work?” And if the majority of his response to that question has been, “I’m a good guy and lots of other women like me,” then that’s not a sufficient response.