My boss wants me to apologize to his wife

He and I had an emotional affair, but it was never adultery, and it's over. What do I owe her?

By Cary Tennis
November 8, 2007 4:05PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I recently switched from a high-stress but very rewarding career to something a bit more my pace, with better pay. Although the burnout factor was one of the main reasons I left, another huge reason was that I became too close to my boss. We'd started out as peers, and soon he had been promoted to my manager. In the few years we worked together we began going out often after work for drinks, and eventually we got to a point where we were having an emotional affair. He's married, and I at the time was in a long-term relationship. He and I were never physical with each other.


Our relationship was rooted in the fact that we were both extremely unhappy with our significant others. I was with a man who had trouble expressing his feelings -- and this was never an issue with my friend/boss, who was young when he married and was going through a "what the hell did I do with my life?" crisis.

Eventually, it got to the point where we were both avoiding our own relationships by spending too much free time together. During that time, I ended my long-term relationship, and when I started dating again, my boss would make comments about the people I saw, saying things like "He's a bad choice," and "You're only going to get hurt." I told him it wasn't his business; he said he was just looking out for me.

The emotional aspect of our relationship came to a halt when he and his wife began talking divorce. I sat down with him and told him it was time we stopped seeing each other socially so that he could focus on his marriage. I yanked myself out of the picture, and told him he should consider therapy and spend time working on his marriage.


When I told him I was leaving my job, he became an emotional wreck, often having panic attacks, crying at work and asking me for advice about his marriage. It was uncomfortable, and I felt it was his way of guilt-tripping me for leaving.

In about a month, a networking event will bring me, my ex-boss and his wife together in a room for the first time since before I quit. My ex-boss and I have managed to maintain a friendly relationship, talking occasionally and refraining from getting too personal with each other.

What's bothering me is that he has asked me to e-mail his wife and apologize. He didn't say exactly what I should apologize for. My initial reaction was to say OK, I'll extend the laurel. But the more I think about it, the angrier I get. I feel like I became the scapegoat for all of their marital problems, and perhaps they took on an attitude of "Now that she's gone, we can get back to the way it was."


I feel like they labeled me the harlot who almost ruined their marriage, and I suspect he didn't fess up to his wife how emotionally involved he was with me. Although I don't want to apologize, I also feel an obligation to, just to smooth things over and make them feel better. But I'm uncomfortable apologizing because I feel like it gives them more fodder to use me as an excuse for their marital problems. Does my ex-boss's wife deserve an apology from me?

Not Sure if I'm Sorry


Dear Not Sure,

If his wife deserves anything, she deserves an end to the conspiratorial intimacy between you and her husband.

That is what has to stop. If you carry any message to her on his behalf, you are still engaging with her husband in a secret, intimate way.


So let it be over. Don't let him carry this thing on.

He is now trying to use you to manipulate his wife, as though you were currency. You are not currency for him to spend in his fragile marriage. You are not a messenger for his guilt. You are not a singing telegram he can send to his wife to say I'm sorry I was such an asshole.

You are somebody who got into something she should not have got into. And now you have gotten yourself out. So stay out. Be done with it.


Be truly done with it. Grieve it, mourn it, cast it into the sea, bury it, burn it, throw it in the trash and watch the truck carry it away. Be done with it!

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