Q. I’m a guy in my mid-30s. About 10 or so years ago, I foolishly got involved with a very attractive married woman at work. She was a bit older and in a higher position at the college where we were employed. I was single and attracted to her looks, and because of my immaturity at the time, I was also attracted to the intrigue and danger that a married woman was interested in me. She said she wasn’t happy with her husband but couldn’t leave him because of family and the stigma of getting divorced. Thinking back, it didn’t bother me much. I was able to have a sexual relationship with her and I didn’t want much more than that at the time.
As weeks turned to months, she and I started spending more and more time together and it started to feel more like a relationship. To the best of my knowledge at the time, her husband never knew about the affair. He traveled often and they had no kids. After a year or so, I started to have moments of clarity and I started to feel that I needed to end things with her. Around the same time, I started looking for a new job and as fate would have it, I was offered a position over two hours away. It was a great career opportunity so I accepted it and ended things with her. She took it very hard.
Ultimately I cut off all contact when I moved and that was the last I heard from her. This was well before social media existed so it was easier to run from your past. Time moved on and feelings on my end subsided. I excelled in my new job, met new friends, and I am now a newlywed. I think of that time with her as one of the biggest mistakes of my life — a learning experience that I blame on being young and ignorant. Not long ago I accepted another position and I moved again. My marriage is great but I never told my wife about this affair I had when I was in my early 20s.
Now the boom: This woman was just hired at the college where I work. She won’t be directly supervising me but she will be involved in my job. I’m not clear if she knew I was now working at this college when she applied but I also don’t think this is a fatal attraction thing. I have seen her since she was hired and we exchanged some small talk but nothing about our past. She looked happy. This past weekend she sent me an e-mail and asked if I would meet her for coffee off campus. She said it would be for the best to resolve issues and that her husband was not very happy that we were working together again so we needed to talk about that among other things. So at some point I assume he found out about the affair.
I am in such a different place in my life right now and have zero interest in her. I also don’t think she has any interest in me. I am so in love with my wife but now I feel this dirty secret is the elephant in the room. The whole situation is uncomfortable. What do I do? Do I tell my wife a married woman I had an affair with more than a decade ago is now a co-worker or do I just let the past be the past?
YOU CAN RUN . . . , Mass.
A. Tell your wife. She needs to know what’s happening. If you have a bad day at work, you have to be able to go home and be honest about it. You can’t keep this kind of secret.
After you tell your wife, set some boundaries with this woman. E-mail her back saying that you’re happy to have coffee, but that you can’t get into any discussions about her marriage and how her husband feels about you. It’s none of your business, and talking about the details of their relationship probably won’t make anyone feel any better. Tell her that you’re excited to work together as two grown-ups who can start fresh.
If you do meet up with her, stay close to work. No need to drive far. And keep the conversation about the present. Talk to her about her new department. Let her know that you’ve let this go.
I don’t think that this is a fatal attraction thing, but at the very least it’s uncomfortable. You’ll do yourself a favor by keeping your wife in the know and by telling this woman that you’re working with a clean slate.
Tell your wife. Do not have coffee. There is nothing for you two to “resolve.”
I’m probably going to be the contrarian this morning but I wouldn’t tell your wife. This happened before you met her; you were young and foolish and did something you very much regret. Fine. We’ve all made mistakes that we regret later on. You don’t need to confess all of your sins to your loved ones.
If you weren’t back working with this woman, I would say don’t bother dredging it up to your wife. But now that she is around and e-mailing you, you have to be honest with your wife. I don’t think I would meet with this woman. Maybe you can handle it in an e-mail . . . you’re married, happy, etc. It really isn’t your problem that her husband is upset.
Didn’t Michael Douglas & Demi Moore do a movie about this???
Be honest with your wife, but make it pretty darned clear this was an episode in the “way past.” And I don’t see the need to meet up with your former “flame” again. Sounds to me she is still carrying a torch for you. . . .
If my husband told me this it wouldn’t change my opinion of him. If he felt the need to meet up with the woman so they could work together without issues, I don’t see the problem.
Let your wife know what’s going on regardless, but why even spend time with this woman at all? It sounds like you’d just be asking for trouble.
Pssst . . . I’ve got a secret to tell you: Your wife already knows that there were other women before her.
Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at email@example.com.