Dear Prudence

Help! I Can’t Stand Working With My Ex.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A kitchen scene shows multiple cooks at work using commercial stoves.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by izikMd/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Q. Managing my ex: Back in September a friend of mine and I ended a yearslong on-again, off-again fling. We had been very close for a long time, and I didn’t want the romantic part of our relationship to end, but he told me that he did not “have enough” to give me, and wanted time to himself. He wanted to continue to be friends, but I felt too hurt to hang out with him. That same month he began working in the small kitchen where I am a manager. I had told him about the position earlier in the summer, and he knew the owner (we had worked together previously) so it felt natural at the time. For a while after the “breakup” we were able to stagger shifts to avoid working at the same time but recently we’ve been working together multiple times a week. We’re polite and make small talk, but I still have no desire to be friends, and feel somewhat cursed because the point of contention in our relationship was that I wanted more time with him.

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It’s difficult to bury my hurt in order to make the workplace function. Most days it’s just us two in the kitchen, and by the end of the day I’m completely mentally unravelled because I am so uncomfortable. I used to enjoy my job, mostly because it is a place where I feel confident and in control, but now I’m filled with dread before these shifts. I’ve realized it’s unsustainable and have started looking for other work, which I’ve wanted to do for a while now anyway. How can I manage the days we have left together? I want to speak with him, but I’m tired of rehashing this relationship, feel embarrassed bringing it up with my boss, and just want to move on!

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Here’s hoping you’re able to move on to a new job relatively quickly. I can understand the difficulty of trying to balance competing interests like wanting to talk through this obvious discomfort with a (formerly) close friend, while also not wanting to appear vulnerable or revisit painful topics with someone who doesn’t want to be with you. To that end, since you’re already pretty emotionally taxed at the end of a neutral and polite workday, I think you should continue to avoid personal conversations with your ex-turned-colleague, at least until after you’ve given notice and gotten a new job. The odds that such a conversation would be draining or make it difficult-to-impossible to stay neutral in a small kitchen together are very high, and the odds that it would make you feel better are very low. What you need from this man right now is space, and since you can’t get much physical distance until you’ve found another job, the best thing you can give yourself is personal and emotional space for as long as you have to work shoulder-to-shoulder.

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