Dumb mistakes.
February 27, 2012 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I stupidly got involved with my (married) supervisor. Now what?

For the purposes of this being non-searchable, I'm going to use very generic terms. Feel free to interpret as you will.

I am in a position of being an apprentice. I have one supervisor who oversees my work, assesses my progress, and offers recommendations to his supervisors as to my eventual graduation from this apprenticeship program. This supervisor will write me letters to help me get a full-time job in the field. He cannot fire me or otherwise remove me from this program.

I have no intention of leaving my apprenticeship -- I will be done with it in a couple years. I have no intention of finding a new supervisor -- this one does a good job, is attentive, is helpful, pushes me to work hard, etc. We have a very collegial relationship.

I made the stupid, stupid mistake of getting involved with him almost two years ago. It was not a sexual relationship -- there was some kissing, but that was it. This lasted off and on for a few months. Then my supervisor abruptly stopped emailing me, and I was eventually told that he was going to spend time on his work and family (oh yeah, married supervisor). Fine. Spend some time feeling sorry for myself, etc, but eventually we resumed our collegial relationship and it has been fine for over a year now.

I found out recently that this supervisor has a history of doing this to his supervisees, and that he is well known in our small town for this type of behavior. When I engaged with him, I asked flat out if this was something he had done before, and he said no. I asked if he made a habit of getting involved with his supervisees. He said no. He said he felt things for me and that I was special, etc. I believed this.

Now, my apprentice field is familiar with this type of behavior. In my previous apprenticeship, my supervisor had (and still has) a very public relationship with one of his supervisees. Our business very rarely does anything to stop these kind of involvements, bar a few statements in employee handbooks, etc. In a very practical way, there is almost never any repercussion to this behavior.

In my situation, my supervisor has been known for getting involved with supervisees and the business has not batted an eye. In fact, there was a lawsuit a few years ago, which did not affect my supervisor's job in any way. In a recent conversation, a mutual friend (who does not know my involvement) revealed that he does this all the time, and that his wife knows but refuses to believe. The company knows and refuses to do anything about it.

As stated, we now have a fine collegial relationship, except for two things:

1. I have blinding rage towards him from time to time. Not enough to hinder my work, but enough to keep my mind off my work and on this for amounts of time that I can't afford to lose on spiraling.
2. I really want to say something to him about all this, which I'm afraid will compromise my job as an apprentice and/or my ability to get a job after,which is heavily based on his recommendations.

I do not want this to be public at all. No one knows and I want to keep it that way for personal and professional reasons. By staying quiet about this, am I forfeiting any opportunity to call him out on his bad behavior? I'm not a prude, and how and when he wants to cheat on his wife is his business, but I think he is taking advantage of his position.

Clearly, I am talking about consenting adults. There is no forced stuff or unwanted sexual harassment. He is an opportunist. He often chooses women who are already involved, so that there can be no public revelation. But they are often women under his direct supervision.


1. Should I talk to him? I think he has no empathy, since his wife knows about his indiscretion and he does it anyway. I doubt that my feelings matter at all. But I feel very stupid because he lied to me and assumed I would believe it. Intelligence is a very important part of the work I do, and if I think he believes I'm stupid, then I don't see the point in continuing.
2. Is there any way to prevent this from happening to any other supervisee without publicly tipping my hand?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you're going to do anything about question 2, you need to talk to an employment lawyer before doing anything.
posted by empath at 8:46 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you're mad because you feel taken advantage of, and more for personal than political reasons. In your position, I wouldn't say anything.
posted by queens86 at 8:49 AM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

You definitely should not talk to him. What good could come of it? Nothing. He chooses to cheat on his wife and lie, and, well, you chose to be a part of that. If his wife doesn't care and his company doesn't care, I fail to see what you could to do to prevent it from happening in the future, either. What grown adults do is their own business.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:49 AM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

Two years ago? Why get more involved now? Surely your apprenticeship will end at some point in the future. There's no way to fix this privately except through adjusting your own reaction to your supervisor's behavior.
posted by theraflu at 8:50 AM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

It's a power trip for him. Unless you can emotionally move on, the best thing for you is to quit. The two worse things that could happen is your jealousy influencing your job and others talking about how he got another person under his belt.

It happened to me many, many, many moons ago when I was stupid. I quit and never looked back. I felt like a fool for giving in, embarassed for falling for it, and hey, it was a bad lay. So time to move on.
posted by stormpooper at 8:56 AM on February 27, 2012

Intelligence is a very important part of the work I do, and if I think he believes I'm stupid, then I don't see the point in continuing.

Don't worry about what he thinks. Don't care abiut what he thinks. You feel duped right now because you found out he lied about not doing this before and it stings. Proving to him that you do know better might feel good in the immediate sense but is not worth it. It will only reopen the 'personal' side of things. It's a no-win because per your description he probably has no regard for you as a real person in the first place. Concentrate on working out your anger on your own.
posted by marimeko at 9:01 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. I have blinding rage towards him from time to time. Not enough to hinder my work, but enough to keep my mind off my work and on this for amounts of time that I can't afford to lose on spiraling.
2. I really want to say something to him about all this, which I'm afraid will compromise my job as an apprentice and/or my ability to get a job after,which is heavily based on his recommendations.

It seems to me that you are just as at fault as he is. You knew he was married. So your rage should be directed at yourself as much as at him. You can't fairly consider yourself victimized when you knew the score from the beginning. You can't reasonably have expected him to be honest with you, since he was cheating on his wife.

So, that being said, what would be the value of saying something. You would do just as well to castigate yourself and work on whatever issues led you to get involved with a married man, which was completely wrong of you.

1. Should I talk to him? I think he has no empathy, since his wife knows about his indiscretion and he does it anyway. I doubt that my feelings matter at all. But I feel very stupid because he lied to me and assumed I would believe it. Intelligence is a very important part of the work I do, and if I think he believes I'm stupid, then I don't see the point in continuing.
2. Is there any way to prevent this from happening to any other supervisee without publicly tipping my hand?

1. No. Don't bother. I see no value in talking to him.
2. Why do you worry about this? Basically, you are worried that someone else will show the same poor judgment you showed. Worry about yourself, there's enough to do there without trying to save other people from themselves. (You've already said this sort of thing is accepted or at least tolerated, so you won't fix it on that end, it seems). Worry about yourself, not about other people.
posted by jayder at 9:06 AM on February 27, 2012 [12 favorites]

I can read between the lines here (it's not that hard.) You need to ask yourself what's more important, your future job prospects (if I am reading this correctly, your supervisor could be hugely influential here) or calling him out? If it's the former, I wouldn't say anything to him. You could talk to a person who is higher up, who is not directly involved with your department, but seeing as this was consensual and seeing as this kind of thing has come up before, it doesn't seem likely that much will happen. I'm sorry that you've experienced this, but stories of people in such positions abusing their power are legion. I think you should focus on your long-term goals, even though what you're feeling is perfectly understandable.
posted by ob at 9:06 AM on February 27, 2012

Let him hang himself with his own rope. If he keeps pulling this crap, he may well eventually impregnate someone who will insist on keeping the baby.
posted by brujita at 9:07 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You seem intelligent, sensitive and relatively articulate. You made a choice "eyes wide open" and it's all hit the fan. This was a formula for disaster from the beginning and the fact that it's not messier than it is, is pretty remarkable. I agree with queens86. You made a bad choice.
Your ego is bruised. Let it go and get on with your program.
posted by clancy at 9:11 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. I'm not sure talking to him about your feelings will help in any way since you don't plan to leave your apprenticeship, you have a decent collegial relationship with him, and you don't want any drama or attention.

2. It sounds like attempts have been made, both legally and socially (through shaming gossip) to curb this person's behavior and it hasn't helped. Beyond another lawsuit, I'm not sure what you could do.

Here's something that jumped out at me: you portray yourself as being well under this guy's thumb career-wise. You're emotionally caged in by this idea that he can ruin you by withholding a letter of recommendation if you dare to confront him, despite his being a kind of a predatory creep. That kind of repression and control would fill me with rage as well. Maybe the best thing for YOU, even though you've dismissed the possibility, is to find another job and/or supervisor. You know you can prove your worth or value beyond what he puts on a piece of paper, right?

Barring leaving or confronting him, you need some major outlets and distractions, such as writing, vigorous excercise, therapy, meditation...Maybe something with a group to form some healthy bonds if that's missing from your life. Good luck to you.
posted by sundaydriver at 9:11 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. No you should not talk to him. Your assessment of him is correct. Having it confirmed will just make it worse.
2. Try to build a network for supervisees away from the supervisors where they can talk and hopefully share stories/learning experiences. If you do it diplomatically they is no need to out yourself but you can acknowledge this is an on-going problem in your field. Work yourself up to being a supervisor that does not act in this way. Work towards changing the culture of your field.

You are an adult, you made a bad choice (that hopefully you won't repeat) and directing your anger at him is not productive. This happened two years ago, is there something that has happened recently in your life to have triggered your rage so that you are directing it at him instead of it?
posted by saucysault at 9:13 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's not clear if he lied to you about his marital status. If he did, that certainly makes him an even worse guy, but I don't see why you feel you should "call him out".

You willingly got involved with him, right? You don't say you felt pressured or anything. So you made the same mistake as him; and it seems hypocritical to hold yourself to a lower standard.

Since your personal relationship is over, it none of your business what he does on his personal time. His behavior as a supervisor is inappropriate, but from your own admission it does not seem like his is taking anything out on you professionally.

You are made because he told you he felt something special for you and (apparently) did not. That really sucks. This is the case in a lot of relationships, however, and beyond breaking up with the guy, you don't really have the right to any special revenge on top of that.

If you honestly believe this guy is a predator who is using his position to pressure vulnerable people into physical relationships, than you can persue this, but it will not stay private. Your description of your experience makes this guy seem like a jerk, not a monster, and it does not seem like you were forced into doing something you did not want.

Is there any way to prevent this from happening to any other supervisee

This didn't "happen" to you. You were a participant. If you didn't know he was married, than you certainly were (personally) wronged, but you chose to mix your professional and private life. You should simply hope that other people in your position are more prudent than you were, but beyond that, their personal life is none of your concern.

It's been two years. Move on.
posted by spaltavian at 9:16 AM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Here's the thing: your rage is totally justified. This happens ALL the time, and he (THEY) gets away with it, and he snookered you, and it SUCKS.

However, what do you hope to gain by confronting him? He won't change. He will NEVER change. There was a lawsuit and he kept doing it. But letting him know he hurt you, that it sucks, that you hold a big ol' grudge... you will change nothing but possibly your job prospects.

Feel free to try to fight sexism within the field (it sure needs it!), be honest with any other young women that join your group. It sucks to feel suckered by a jerk like this, but saying something to him will only harden him against you.

Pity his wife, pity him, focus on getting out of there and doing the Best Possible work in the future so that you can try to take away jobs/grants/reputation from asshats like this. Because unlike him, you won't be abusing your power to dick around with your apprentices.

I'm sorry this happened. It doesn't make it easier to know that you're not alone, but you are in good company with other smart young women. May you all go on to greatness and better things.
posted by ldthomps at 9:24 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

All cheaters lie - you have to lie to cheat. You were naive; chalk it up to a lesson learned. In your position I'd just watch to see whether another apprentice falls into the snares, and if she did, take her aside and just discreetly share a couple of salient facts with her, knowing she might or might not listen.

It's lousy, but I agree, refocus and move on.
posted by Miko at 9:35 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your goal is clearly to complete your apprenticeship successfully. You have spoken to him. He is a serial liar, and lied to you. Talking to him again is likely to have the same result. Be professional, carry on at work.

Your other goal is justice, and emotional closure (maybe a smidge of revenge). Sexual Harassment happens all the time. It is illegal and wrong because there is a power imbalance which keeps the less powerful person from having the ability to give honest consent to a relationship. You can sue, but you will get mud flung at you, and your industry, which I'm confident is higher education, will not assign consequences to him, whereas you may be smeared.

Work to make the system more fair. Go to a gym, or run, and work off your anger. He behaved badly. You have not been completely without blame. ratemyprofessor.com is a useful resource for telling the truth about faculty, and warning your successors. Seek justice by righting some other wrong, if you can, and recognize that some people are jerks, and karma isn't always perfect. Currently, I am getting a lot out of reading The No-asshole rule.

Your lack of coming to terms with htis only hurts you. so when people say 'move on' they are doing you a kindness.
posted by theora55 at 9:38 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Meh, I know a few people are kind of castigating you for getting involved in this willingly, but as someone has been UNwillingly around this sort of thing when other people have been involved in it, and been made very uncomfortable by it, your description of what he is getting away with really infuriates me and makes me wish you would go a little Glenn Close on him.

You sound very much like you care about how intelligent he finds you and how special he finds you. And I think that is exactly why he targets the people he targets, because they're so much more likely to care about those things.

It sounds like you are really stung that those things are now called into question, that maybe his opinion of you in those areas isn't quite so high or he pumped it up in order to butter you up.

For those two things, I don't think you will get ANY good result that you are hoping for by talking to him. First of all, if he really cared about anyone he wouldn't be running around fucking with all sorts of people's lives like this. It'll be futile to try to get the validation you want from him, like trying to draw water from a stone. Secondly, you really have to find a way to take his opinion of those things WAY less personally. His opinion on your work is one thing to care about, but that's now been extended into caring about it in a very personal way and I think you can cut back on that, and it would be best for you to.
posted by cairdeas at 9:46 AM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

You are in the position of deciding whether or not completing your apprenticeship is more important than confronting him and taking a chance on preventing this from happening again. I would suggest that you feel foolish, which is informing your desire to talk to him, and I'd also suggest that you have a sense that doing something concrete to stop this in the future would actually be pretty hard. You seem pretty focused on finishing your internship successfully, and that you should really think about the potential consequences of both 1 and 2 before deciding to pursue either one. I would guess that either course would make your successful completion less likely.

I'm surprised by all the answers basically telling you that this is your fault. Yes, you made some bad decisions, and the consequences of those decisions continue to affect you. However, there is a very real power differential in the relationship you describe, one that is emotional as well as practical. Your own responsibility is mitigated by that power difference, though it is not erased. This guy sounds like a sleazebag who preys on people who are beholden to him. I don't blame you one bit for being pissed.
posted by OmieWise at 9:48 AM on February 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

I don't get this.

You had a (mostly) emotional affair with a married man, and now you're angry because he's a cad?

He's a married man that was cheating with you. Whether it was his first time, or his fiftieth, he's still a lying liar who cheats.

Your lesson here is not to get involved in shady dealings (like illicit affairs) where someone is being intentionally deceived (the wife) because when you knowingly engage in behavior that will hurt someone else were they to find out, the person you hurt most is yourself.
posted by jbenben at 9:49 AM on February 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

1. I have blinding rage towards him from time to time.

Your problem, not his. Do not discuss it with him, he's made it clear that he wishes all this to remain in the past. By all means, allow it to go away. What he has done or will do with other people is none of your business.

Swallowing your feelings and dealing with them privately is an unavoidable consequence of electing to get involved with someone in this way, and then choosing to stay in the job afterward. By all means, get help in dealing with your anger, but don't mistake it for a problem that needs to be shared with him or others in your department.
posted by hermitosis at 9:54 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find it weird when people act as though there are no power imbalances at work in situations where a boss initiates a romance with a subordinate over whom he/she has career power. So yes, fine, you made a mistake, but I don't think it somehow means that you are exclusively at fault but he is just some poor hapless married guy who got lured into your sexy, sexy snare.

I think our culture tends to cut men like this a LOT of slack, a gross amount of slack, and be kind of "What can you do, men be tomcatting around" and at worst benevolently frowny about it. But I think you can also think of this as:

This is a professional man with terrible boundary issues. This is a married man who is constantly betraying his wife and lying to her. First of all, these things will come home to roost at some point in his life. They just will. You do not have to be the person who initiates that, though.

Second, it may seem like he's getting away with something, but think of it like this: this is a man who routinely gets involved with his apprentices. What kind of person routinely gets involved with his apprentices? I have five bucks on "A person who is very unsure about his own power in the world". Getting a young person to look up at you in infatuation is a cheap thrill. Maybe for him it's the best he can do. That has to be a crappy headspace to be in, to feel so bad about yourself that you crave this weird kind of attention from younger, less-powerful people, to crave it so much that you are willing to really harm the boundaries of your marriage, and to risk your professional status.

So what I would do is try to talk myself into a place where I felt like, okay, I have to deal with this thing and just get through it until I can leave and go get an awesome job elsewhere, but this guy has to be this way until he decides to change (hah), who's worse off here?

Good luck. I hope you find peace about this. (Also, I hope that you move on and become incredibly successful.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:55 AM on February 27, 2012 [31 favorites]

Oh, whoops!!

I'm not trying to be all preachy, OP. Just hoping that if you take responsibility for your part, you'll stop feeling so angry and stop feeling like a victim.

He's a cad. You made a mistake and learned how much this type of thing hurts everyone involved.

If he lied about being married, that would be a different story entirely. But he didn't. You knew what the status was going in. You had a big flag that he was an opportunist and a liar - and you ignored it.

I have no career advice, but if you want to get over the blinding rage, accept that "doing bad things makes one feel badly" and get past this sad episode.
posted by jbenben at 9:56 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not really seeing the "parcel the blame out equally" that some answerers are. Both of you made a mistake, yes. But he has made a lifestyle out of that making that mistake again and again, and doesn't even clearly seem to see it as a mistake. In any event, "don't get involved with married men, that is sleazy" does not answer the question.

That said, I agree that there's just not much you can do as regards this particular bad actor. He just has too much power over you. What you can do is resolve that when you're no longer an apprentice, but somebody in a position of authority, you are going to make sure that your co-workers don't get away with behaving this way. You may not be able to help this guy's supervisees, but you will help others in the future. Maybe forming this resolution will help with the blinding rage.
posted by escabeche at 9:57 AM on February 27, 2012 [11 favorites]

Don't think about how you feel today, think about how you will feel 20 years in the future. What is more beneficial to you? Telling this guy off, which will make you temporarily feel a bit better..maybe? Or finishing your apprenticeship with good recommendations and getting a good career started that could keep you well off for the rest of your life?

Don't make the mistake of trading a little bit of comfort now for a lifetime of comfort later.
posted by Shouraku at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, I think one concrete and important thing that can be done is for you to get into a permanent power position in the years to come, and be part of creating a culture that absolutely nails supervisors who engage in this.
posted by cairdeas at 10:02 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're mad because he wasn't cheating with you ethically enough?

Take it on the chin and chalk it up to experience. Talking to him won't change anything for the better.
posted by devymetal at 10:19 AM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I found out recently that this supervisor has a history of doing this to his supervisees, and that he is well known in our small town for this type of behavior

I also just want to say, OP, that even though a lot of people are saying this is all consenting behavior by adults so there's nothing to be upset by, I understand exactly what there is to be upset by.

You know, these guys look for certain things, in their supervisees. Maybe they look for supervisees, as I said up above, who really really take his opinions of them to heart and are really vulnerable to being swayed by them. You also mentioned he looks for supervisees who are in relationships or won't otherwise reveal what happens because of their circumstances.

But in order to find these things that they are looking for, to suss out those traits, they have to kind of peck and poke at a lot of people, to see if the traits are there or can be drawn out.

And it is so incredibly uncomfortable, disturbing, disgusting, and humiliating to be kind of pecked at and poked at like that in that "plausibly deniable" way, when a supervisor is fishing around for that sort of thing. To feel yourself being prodded to see if you are a recipient for the kind of attentions they want to give you.

And that is completely leaving aside how it is to be one of the other supervisees, when the supervisor DOES connect with a target. And all the uncomfortable situations you are forced to be around, all the worry that you're at a disadvantage because you didn't do what was clearly desired of you.

So yes, I completely understand your anger and think it is completely, completely valid.
posted by cairdeas at 10:21 AM on February 27, 2012 [19 favorites]

It's kind of like saying your drug dealer ripped you off by doing some shady math. He is obviously unethical- why be surprised to find out he is EVEN MORE unethical? I don't get it. Not to be unsympathetic but maybe just use this as a learning experience and move on.
posted by bquarters at 10:47 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

thehmsbeagle is exactly right.

This guy is pathetic. I actually bet that your fears about him writing you a bad recommendation are groundless. I've known too many people like this, and there's not an unsignificant change that he would just crumple in the face of your demands. This is NOT to say that you should do anything about it- just to point out that he's wearing several masks here: the loving admirer was the first one, and you tore that one off and are looking at the devious manipulator. But that's a mask too. Underneath he's just a pathetic, sad man not worthy of anything but pity.

You're angry, and that makes sense- you were tricked and lied to, anyone would be. But you just need to follow it through to the conclusion and realize this guy isn't actually special or powerful at all. He's like a guy that comes up to people on the street day after day with a fake story about how his car broke down and he needs $10. Pity him, and don't waste your energy on him.
posted by stockpuppet at 11:01 AM on February 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

"I have no intention of finding a new supervisor -- this one does a good job, is attentive, is helpful, pushes me to work hard, etc. We have a very collegial relationship."

This doesn't square with the rest of your post. Why would you want to to continue with a supervisor who you are basically calling a predator?

No, I think there is more here than meets the eye. Seems like you are still emotionally drawn to him and maybe a bit jealous of his other "victims?" I don't know. I think you know you are too emotionally wound up in this situation and thus this is not a healthy situation for you to be in everyday. Wait out your apprenticeship and once it's over asked to be moved to another department at the very earliest conveneince. You don't need to be around this person everyday, not with all your "blinding rage" and all. Move on...
posted by GeniPalm at 11:10 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that your first priority in this situation should be taking care of yourself, and thus the answer to both of your questions is probably no. That said, if you don't find a good way to handle your anger, you may not be able to resist doing something which, ultimately, is only going to make your life harder. In the interests of helping you to get through the long haul, here are a few thoughts that I hope are helpful.

The anger you're feeling is actually a good thing. It'll help you recognize creeps like this in the future. It can also be fuel -- highly flammable fuel that must be handled with great care, but fuel all the same -- that you can use to learn and grow and improve your life. That said, in my experience, there are two things that can make anger hard to handle, and give it that obsessive, disruptive, self-destructive quality that you describe so well. Those factors are:

1. The feeling that you have no safe way to express that anger, and
2. The shitty, shitty feeling that it's your own fault that you were fooled.

Let me take those one at a time.

1. The feeling that you have no safe way to express that anger.
There's actually a lot you can do to find healthy, constructive outlets for your anger. Talk to your friends (ideally, those who live in another town or have another profession). Find a therapist and vent your rage. Write letters that you don't send (seriously, don't send 'em). Let that anger fuel your determination to protect yourself as much as possible -- can you find a new co-supervisor, or cultivate other mentors? Let the anger inspire you to make plans for your future: what will you do for yourself when you get out of this supervisory situation? What will you do to protect yourself in the future? When the day comes that you're in a position of power, what will you do to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone on your watch?

2. The shitty, shitty feeling that it's your own fault that you were fooled.
It sounds like you probably have a goading little voice in your head that's saying, "It's all my fault for letting this happen in the first place." If so, that little voice is probably a big part of why you're feeling so obsessively rageful right now. That little voice is maddening -- it can drive people to extremes of anger, depression, and anxiety, and eat up years of their lives. But it doesn't have to be that way for you -- you have a choice. You can choose to use this situation to learn and grow and improve. It's hard. Seriously hard. Ego-shatteringly hard. But it is possible.

If it helps, imagine yourself as a very wise, very compassionate forty (or fifty, or seventy) year-old, talking to the you of right now. What would you say to yourself? Imagine yourself on the other side of this experience -- what wisdom did you gain from it? What advice would you want to give the younger you?

I notice there are some MeFites in this thread that are coming down hard on you for the naive mistake you made. Perhaps these people have never made a naive mistake themselves; perhaps they've been lucky enough never to have to face the consequences of their naive mistakes. Let me tell you, though -- and I really, seriously believe this -- that anybody who has a little bit of wisdom and empathy and life experience will understand you and feel compassion for you. Mistakes are part of life; they're part of how we learn; and your mistake was not an unusual one. What you did was just a mistake; what this guy did to you was malicious. It was not right, and he should have known better -- in fact, it was his job and his responsibility to know better. Of course, you're not going to want make the same mistake again -- you can learn and grow from this experience -- but you don't need to torment yourself about it. Really.

Hope that all helps. Good luck!
posted by ourobouros at 11:22 AM on February 27, 2012 [22 favorites]

One thing that I haven't seen noted here, about how this is going to effect your future career in terms of his and your reputation. And, given the situation, I'd be most pissed about that.

You say that he's known in your field informally though gossip for having this reputation. This means that your reference from him may already be tainted, even if nothing did happen (although something did happen). I know a supervisor (in academics where this stuff is all over the place) who is known for having very attractive female students who think he's the bee's knees (no, not a hint about his field). Letters of recommendation from him carry less weight because there's this 'oh, he just hired them because they're cute not because they're smart or good scientists' gloss on them. Whether or not he actually dates any of them is almost beside the point. This isn't quite the same situation as "my supervisor had (and still has) a very public relationship with one of his supervisees" because that situation is ongoing. Still her(?) reputation is probably going to get hit.

Anyway, I totally understand your anger. You may have just messed up your future because you didn't have full knowledge of the situation. I'm so sorry.

You can't get your reputation back from him by confronting him (who would know?). Your reputation will probably suffer further if you make thing public (yes, totally unfair). But, that said, you need to get other people to give you recommendations. If you can get other people who are well known in your field to give you stellar reference letters or recommendations, you can start to get out from under this guy's shadow. And they don't even have to be well-known. If you can have a series of references repeating that you're awesome, you're going to be okay.

Anyway, to directly answer you questions:
1. Nope. Not productive.
2. Gossip. (and next time, listen to the gossip)
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:50 AM on February 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

1. You're going to get the same pushback from others as you got here, as though your poor judgment and inappropriate behavior in having an affair with a married man somehow cancels out his repeated inappropriate behaviors with you and other supervisees.

So there is just no point in your trying to call attention to his unprofessionalism and breach of trust, because it will become All About You And What You Did.

2. But what you can do is connect with his other supervisees and create relationships with them where they can be open with you. Yeah, maybe he didn't pressure you, but maybe he pressured or will pressure others.

Even if not, what he's doing is wrong, because it creates tensions in the workplace. People in positions of authority are not supposed to sleep with or smooch with or whatever gets them off with the people they supervise, full stop. Whatever you did that was inappropriate or unprofessional, what he did was a worse violation of the basic social contract of how supervisors are supposed to act.

You have every right to be angry, because as you see in this very thread, our society loves to focus the blame everywhere but on repeat offenders who take advantage of their positions to get sex or romance or egoboo or whatever from their subordinates. Ultimately, though, blowing the whistle will hurt you more than him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:08 PM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

Don't talk to him, it will only feed his ego. Don't worry about anyone but yourself. IMHO, given your rage, you're just trying to deny him the satisfaction of another conquest, rather than truly being concerned for another apprentice. Not to mention, another person might be able to resist his blandishments, and if not, hey, all life is a learning experience.

Put the energy you are wasting with your anger into furthering your career. Make sure your contact with him is professional and as minimal as possible. Don't engage him for ANY reason.

A few sessions of therapy might not hurt. It could help diffuse your rage and perhaps give you some understanding of why you chose to shoot yourself in the foot by getting involved with him.

In the future, don't engage with married men. Even if they don't have a history, you don't want to be the start of one for them. Given that nothing happened to him (the permanent employee) with regard to his employment, you (the temporary) are most likely the one that will be in the stink. "Never wrestle with a pig—you get dirty and the pig likes it”

You can console yourself that you didn't sleep with the jerk!
posted by BlueHorse at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't see how talking to him or about him would help you or future apprentices in any significant way. Re-direct your energy towards getting as much out of this apprenticeship as possible.
posted by sm1tten at 1:21 PM on February 27, 2012

It's true that if you hadn't gotten involved with a married man, this wouldn't have happened.

In this form.

As cairdeas points out, you don't escape the toxicity of this kind of bad actor just by refusing to cooperate with it. Normally I'd say that women who get involved with married men deserve all they get, but in the case of a supervisor whose department is constructed to feed his appetite for extramarital affairs, it's not enough to say you should have known better. It is a crime, whether or not it breaks any of the laws of the land. Even after taking the log out of your own eye, you have every reason to be angry.

I think you need to question your motives for continuing to trust and admire him professionally. This is someone whose lifestyle is built around betraying the trust of many people who depend on him.

You should also realize that it's not an accident that he went into this profession. Just as alcoholics find work as bartenders, womanizers seek out jobs that supply them with a continuous turnover of young women. He may be adequate at his job, but I doubt his addiction leaves him much headspace to be anything more than adequate, because it will be skewing his thinking and behaviour all the time. The analogy of a grifter or panhandler is very accurate in describing how he is as a person; the reality is that someone who has to live like this is quite a pathetic figure.

I think that a change of cast and scenery would make it clear to you that you've been overestimating him. I urge you to change jobs.
posted by tel3path at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. Should I talk to him? I think he has no empathy, since his wife knows about his indiscretion and he does it anyway. I doubt that my feelings matter at all. But I feel very stupid because he lied to me and assumed I would believe it. Intelligence is a very important part of the work I do, and if I think he believes I'm stupid, then I don't see the point in continuing.

Absolutely not. This guy is a dick, which should have been obvious the moment he started pursuing you, but if not, I hope is obvious to you now. And really, what possible reaction could he have that would make you feel any better about everything that went down? I doubt there's any, which means that this course of action is all downside for you with no chance of any upside. If you need to talk about this, talk about it with a close friend or better still, a therapist.

About your concern that he thinks you're stupid, he probably doesn't. From the way you describe him, he doesn't seem to be the type who would bother forming an opinion one way or the other about your intelligence because of this.

2. Is there any way to prevent this from happening to any other supervisee without publicly tipping my hand?

Not that I can think of. I mean, if a lawsuit didn't stop him, I can't imagine what you could do to make sure this never happens again. I mean, you could murder or castrate him, but I don't recommend either of those. :)

There's one more thing I'd like to say and I hope this doesn't come across harshly. I read a board that's populated by women who are involved with married men. With very few exceptions, it's pretty clear that the typical guy cheating on his wife is a scumbag and once the shit hits the fan, it's the other woman and the wife who end up most hurt. It's hard to have much sympathy for the other women because they participated in the deception and in most cases, the scumbag married guy is just doing to the other woman what she was complicit in his doing to his wife. I think that's a big part of why people are unsympathetic in their answers and why I think you should not want this to become public knowledge. In any event, for your own sake, use this as a learning experience and avoid married men in the future.

Good luck, OP.
posted by Maisie at 2:14 PM on February 27, 2012

It's hard to have much sympathy for the other women because they participated in the deception

This is a bug, not a feature.

Seriously, yeah, whatever, sure the OP was wrong in what they (we're presuming "she" but I'm not sure we know that?) did. But this guy does the same thing, from his position of authority, repeatedly. I think our society is fucked up in that somehow the negative energy goes to the subordinate who engages in an inappropriate affair rather than the supervisor who does it repeatedly.

Also, why is everyone so sure that the OP isn't angry at the supervisor who acts sexually/romantically inappropriately with subordinates? It's not like once you kiss someone, it breaks the seal and then you are never allowed to be infuriated by their shitty and unprofessional behavior.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:22 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're in grad school, right?

You should really think very hard about finding a new dissertation supervisor if there's any way you can. It may not be possible, but if it is, it's the single best thing you can do. Having a bad relationship with your advisor is less like having an ordinary garden-variety bad boss, and more like being stuck in an abusive marriage. If you won't do it for the sake of your own sanity, do it for your career — I don't care how famous he is, it's hard as hell to do good research under an advisor you can't stand, and ultimately what's going to get you a job is doing good research. (Also, as hydrobatidae points out upthread, if he's got a reputation for sleeping with his advisees, a letter of recommendation from him might not be as big a favor as you assume. You want an advisor who everyone knows is focused on your scholarly potential and not on your looks.)

If you're really and truly stuck with him, try to start up a side project that involves some sort of collaboration with someone who isn't a total shit. Ideally, it would be with a researcher at another department or another institution altogether. Basically, make sure you've got some research project going that doesn't fill you with murderous rage, and that lets you interact with other people in your field in ways that are basically sane and healthy and non-exploitative.

As for protecting the other students in your program — unfortunately, if the last lawsuit didn't do anything, then you're probably right that going public with your story won't do any good either. But you can at least keep people aware of this guy's general reputation as a vile womanizing fuckwad. (If anyone asks, you say "Luckily, one of his other students warned me about him, and I've always kept my distance.") If your program is anything like mine, there will be lots of private conversations about who makes a good advisor and who doesn't, and incoming students will really be paying close attention to that information. You may as well share what you know when the subject comes up.

In the long run, there's one more thing you can do, which is remember this incident when you end up on the faculty somewhere, and use your position to agitate for stronger and better-enforced rules against sexual misconduct.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:15 PM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

It's hard to have much sympathy for the other women because they participated in the deception

This is a bug, not a feature.

Seriously, yeah, whatever, sure the OP was wrong in what they (we're presuming "she" but I'm not sure we know that?) did. But this guy does the same thing, from his position of authority, repeatedly. I think our society is fucked up in that somehow the negative energy goes to the subordinate who engages in an inappropriate affair rather than the supervisor who does it repeatedly.

Also, why is everyone so sure that the OP isn't angry at the supervisor who acts sexually/romantically inappropriately with subordinates? It's not like once you kiss someone, it breaks the seal and then you are never allowed to be infuriated by their shitty and unprofessional behavior.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:22 PM on February 27 [+] [!]

I'm not getting that anyone thinks the supervisor is anything other than a complete douchebag. I myself referred to him as a dick.

In any event, I want to make sure the OP understands what I'm trying to say in my answer:

1. Don't talk to this asshole about your feelings; you'll get nothing out of it other than more heartbreak;
2. If you must talk to someone about it, be very careful who you choose to talk to because a lot of people will judge you harshly;
3. There's probably no realistic way to make it impossible for him to take advantage of the power differential with future subordinates; and
4. As a general rule, the types of men who behave this way are bad news, so avoid them in the future.

That's really it. OP, feel free to memail me if you'd like to discuss this further.
posted by Maisie at 4:18 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Assuming that you are an academic, I'd consider finding a new advisor. Perhaps even at another school.

Once word gets out that he has these kind of relationships with his advisees, all advisees suffer. I have a lesbian pal with a male advisor that has a reputation for sleeping with his advisees and even she's worried.

People jump to the conclusion that you passed quals/defenses because of relationship. The letters are meaningless.

And word always gets out.
posted by k8t at 4:56 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have no intention of finding a new supervisor -- this one does a good job, is attentive, is helpful, pushes me to work hard, etc.


if I think he believes I'm stupid, then I don't see the point in continuing.

I don't know if he thinks you're stupid, but no, it doesn't appear that he respects you much. Or at least not enough not to treat you as one in a series of ego-boosting playthings. I mean "attentive," yeah, we can give him that; but I don't see how you can consider his behavior toward you as "helpful" or doing a "good job." His relationship with you could have at worst involved you in a scandal and at best (as is happening now) created a distraction for you from your work. The way he's treated you has been unprofessional, unhelpful, and disrespectful.

Who all was at fault in the relationship is a red herring with regard to what you should do going forward. Take a look again at the two quotes above from your post, and have a good honest think about how this supervisor regards you. Then go find a new supervisor. Once you've done that, you'll be out from under the power dynamic that keeps you from confronting him, if at a later time you still wish to do that. If nothing else, it might help you get a little self-respect back to draw a line through this guy's name and stop relying on him for any future professional advancement.
posted by torticat at 6:50 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think you're going to stop being struck by bouts of blinding rage until you fix stuff that's inside you - you can't fix him, don't even try (you lack pretty much every single necessary prerequisite and anyway you can't fix other people.)

I think it's a really, really, really bad idea - in terms of your mental health - to still work with this person, especially if he is in a position of power over you (but even if he's not.) I can't tell whether you're a chemical engineer on an oil rig or a grad student or what, but years more of this is just not going to work, in my opinion.

Oh - and the very best signal you can possibly give to the universe about how other people should refrain from being under his power (and the best signal you can give his wife about what is really going in) is if he keeps losing. Supervisors who drive away all their subordinates? Everyone knows about them, and everyone warns others away, even if they would never, ever take action against the supervisors in any other way. I work in HR. This is one thing that people (eventually) stop ignoring, even when they ignore all kinds of other things that they know they ought not to.

(Short answer: no, and no - but as to question number 2, there are ways of tipping your hand that make you look strong and capable and retain plausible deniability for the win.)
posted by SMPA at 7:07 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are three smart things you can do in this position. You can leave for another apprenticeship or job, you can migrate to another supervisor, or you can let it go. You are unwilling to do #1 or #2, so you do #3. Any further pursuit will imply unwise stubbornness. If he thought you were stupid, it would have been clear long before this. As for letting others know, he likely knows you're displeased and would suspect you if someone was informing those under his charge. Again, not wise and not good for a professional relationship.

Chalk it up to your own stupid mistake as you put it and leave it behind you. If you can't let go of your anger, you should leave this apprenticeship before you poison it to the point that your supervisor's decline of a positive recommendation will be more troublesome than having left the apprenticeship in the first place.
posted by Saydur at 9:28 PM on February 27, 2012

So you made out for a bit - and it seems that there's at least a likelihood that perhaps he has an open marriage - and he has no ability to fire you and you're leaving in a couple of years?

Psychologically move on and get back to your work. You can feel as stupid as you like, but I'd feel worse about making mountains out of molehills.
posted by mleigh at 10:37 PM on February 27, 2012

A couple of years is a very long time to be stuck working for a sleazebag who takes advantage of his subordinates. I think you should find another supervisor, or at least find someone else you can appoint as co-supervisor so you aren't just stuck with Mr. Sleeps-With-Students. Don't waste your time talking to him, it won't change who he is.

They say the best revenge is living well- do you know what would feel great? Moving on, doing quality work for another supervisor, and paving the way for a successful career in a manner that doesn't involve this guy at all.
posted by emd3737 at 2:10 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. Should I talk to him?

That depends on what you want from the conversation. Do you want him to apologize? Acknowledge the relationship? Acknowledge that he lied and/or played you for a fool? All of these things are valid, but unlikely to go the way you'd want them to go.

The important thing to keep in mind is that he hasn't hasn't had conversation with you about this. Mentally and emotionally, he's in a different place than you about what occurred and clearly he was never in the same place as you when it was occurring.

Lots of people have already said "No, move on". I'm saying, sure, go for it, just know what you want from the conversation and don't expect to get it.

As to him possibly giving you bad recommendations in the future, I don't see that as a problem if you know he's been cheating on his wife. But that piece of knowledge requires you to play hardball, to verbally let him know you have no problem using the information if he messes with your life. But as you can surmise, going that route requires a certain amount of interaction with him, along with mental and emotional resources. Do you really want to commit to doing that?

Finally, in my singular opinion, were I female and in your shoes, I would say something to him. It would go something like this, said after the apprenticeship was over:

"That shit was wrong. The messing with me and telling me things and leading me on. Totally fucking wrong. Mind you, I was wrong too, for getting involved with a married man. But you, as my advisor, with a serial history of doing this, you were majorly wrong. You hurt me and caused a lot of mental anguish, which again is something I foolishly walked into. But make no mistake, your ass wrong and you shouldn't have done that me and you shouldn't have done it with the other girls you were overseeing and you should not do it the future. Your're preying on people who you know are naive and lesser positions and you're choosing really carefully in order to protect yourself."

"But." (at this point I would step closer to him, almost eye to eye)

"You can not keep fucking with people and not expect one or more of them to fuck right back with you. So knock that shit off."

Then I would leave. But again, that's just me.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:36 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another note: It should be clear that conversation above is for you, a way of getting what happened out of your system, for your benefit. An alternate and less confrontational way of doing that is to simply write a letter to him, expressing what your thoughts and feelings and then not sending it. You get it off your chest, avoid any nasty blowblack or publicity and get on with your life.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:17 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nothing will be accomplished by you talking to him about it. You won't feel any better, his behavior will not change. You're angry, and I get that. Fair enough. That sucks. But what do you hope will happen if you talk out this anger with him? Do you just want an excuse to tell him what a jerk he is?

He's a jerk. We all have our Lothario. You just have to learn to deal with that anger. I'm willing to bet you're more mad at *you* than you are him; because none of us like to admit that we can be fooled by a charismatic destructobot. But we can. It's a learning experience. Take it for what it is, and move on.
posted by dejah420 at 5:45 PM on February 28, 2012

Several people have mentioned that these occasional feelings of blinding rage against him so long after the fact indicate that something else is going on here. I agree, but not in the same way.

Rather, I strongly suspect that those feelings, being apparently disproportionate to how you view the experience, indicate that there's a mismatch between the narrative you're telling yourself about what happened, and what you emotionally feel happened. In particular, I think it's possibly the case (but not necessarily the case) that this rage you're feeling is a signal that the kinds of things that previous answerers have discussed about sexual harassment in the workplace are operative in your circumstance. That is, this sort of extreme rage directed against someone often has a lot to do with feeling extremely powerless relative to that person and extremely vulnerable to being hurt by them (or having been hurt by them).

This isn't the same set of feelings you'd have, in my opinion, simply from having fooled around a bit with someone who lied to you and that you realized you couldn't trust. There's more going on here, and I think it's that this is a sexual harassment situation and continuing environment. As others have said, even though you're no longer romantically involved with him in any way does not at all eliminate the sexual harassment context. Sexual harassment poisons the entire environment and all interactions before, during, and after.

Finally, also as others have mentioned, this is actually a worse situation than it might seem at first glance for sexual harassment because of the whole mentorship thing and how, as you've explained, this person is playing a foundational role in the entire rest of your professional career. The stakes for you, at the beginning, and during, and now afterwards, have not just been keeping a particular job, they've been your entire planned professional career. Even if his ability to affect it is being overstated by me, and overestimated by you as you describe it in your question, it's still the case that these are pretty high stakes, all things considered. A romantic relationship in that context is no small thing. It's a huge thing. This, I think, is where all the mysteriously disproportionate feelings you're having originate. Maybe not, but I think this deserves some consideration from you and perhaps you ought to discuss this with someone in a counseling context.

Good luck.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:08 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The way most people learn to deal with the anger towards Lothario is to go no contact with him. Still being in his presence day in and day out, combined with the perception if not the reality of being totally dependent on his good opinion for your entire future - it's not surprising that you're like a kettle about to blow its lid.

Of course you should Get Over It Already. I don't see how you'll do that without removing yourself from his physical presence and reducing your dependency on him for your reputation and livelihood. You may have been conditioned to think you have fewer choices than you really have.
posted by tel3path at 3:53 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

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