Dear Captain Awkward,
My husband (“Mike”) has been married before, but he and his first wife (“Sarah”) divorced many years before I (she/her pronouns) met him. Mike has never given me any reason to be jealous of Sarah, and for the first several years of our marriage I made a point of being friendly with her. As might be expected of two women who married the same man, she and I have similar personalities in some ways, so it wasn’t difficult to hang out with her. And besides, it seemed like the right thing to do for my husband to foster friendly relations with someone with whom he was partnered for many years. They never had any children, so really this wasn’t very complicated, especially as Sarah was as gracious and cordial to me as I was to her. She and I even got together without Mike there sometimes. (In case it matters, I should say that we never discussed how she and Mike broke up or the details of either of our marriages with him.)
But then something weird happened. Last year I found myself in an unhappy professional situation, and Sarah offered to recommend me to her employer. I enthusiastically accepted her offer. While this would have been a new field for me, the company sounded like a nice place to work and had a mission with which I felt comfortable aligning myself. At her request, I gave Sarah my resume and then revised it slightly on her suggestion. A while later she ran into Mike downtown and told him I would be receiving a call from someone at her company and that they would ask me my salary requirements. Although under company rules she was not supposed to reveal it, she confided her salary in Mike so as to give me an idea of what the company paid.
I got really excited and discussed with family what I should ask for. I settled on a number that was about 2/3 of what Sarah had said her salary was (for a position with responsibilities that would grow to be like hers). The salary I wanted to ask for was well within the range of what I have earned in previous positions, but when Sarah heard my number she said it was too much, since I didn’t have a background in this field. I pointed out that I had other professional experience that would serve me well in this field and expected to work long hours that would justify premium pay. But I also asked her what I should say instead — like, if there were a magic number that I should be considering if I really wanted this(?), but she refused to say. And then . . . I never got a call from her company.
After that she was kind of vague about what had happened, but when I finally cornered her (by sheer chance, I ran into her downtown) she said she had decided I probably wouldn’t really like the job, so she had told her colleagues not to recruit me after all. I told her she was wrong, that the job really appealed to me, and that I hoped she would correct the record with her colleagues. She grudgingly agreed to do so, but then she disappeared for a few months — as in not responding to Mike’s birthday wishes and dinner invitations. Then just recently she suddenly turned up in our email as though the whole thing had never happened. She said she had been quiet so long because of being busy at work; and asked if we wanted to go to a show with her.
My problem is that I feel humiliated by what happened. She put me in a position where I was making a case to her that I was very unhappy with what I was doing at the time (and am still doing) and would love (love!!!) to work at her company. After I confided to her that my whole career wasn’t as fulfilling as it appeared on the outside, she basically withdrew her help. She indicated she didn’t think I was worth the salary I wanted to propose, a salary that was tens of thousands of dollars less than hers. And maybe that’s true, maybe the company could find someone with superior skills who would ask for less money. On the other hand, maybe the whole thing was a set-up for her to convey to Mike and me that her s**t is far more together than mine. I feel as though she encouraged me to be vulnerable with her and then found a way to use that vulnerability to undermine me.
I should note that Sarah did something similar once before. She offered Mike and me a valuable gift and later withdrew the offer with the explanation that she had the impression I didn’t really want it. But I did want it! And I argued hard that I would love the gift, but she refused to be convinced. The incident was annoying, but since Mike believed in my sincerity I wasn’t really harmed so overlooked Sarah’s odd turnabout.
Mike says this is just kind of the way Sarah is (and one reason he divorced her), but I know he would still prefer to have all of us be friends. On the one hand, I feel guilty and petty for not being able to forgive and forget this job debacle; on the other, I feel too embarrassed by the whole episode to be able to hang out with Sarah anymore. I can’t say for sure that she set out to hurt me. It’s possible she meant to do me a favor and then realized she had promised more than she could deliver and couldn’t find a graceful way to stand down. But that’s not what she chose to indicate to Mike and me, and I’m afraid if I give her another chance to socialize with us it will ineluctably lead to more of these (passive-aggressive?) incidents. Now I just want to be done. Am I justified in saying I’m finished being friendly with the ex-wife, or should I suck it up for Mike’s sake, or is there, perhaps, a third way?
Thanks for reading this and also for all you write, which has been incredibly helpful to me in rethinking my issues with my faaaaaaamily-of-origin.
Best wishes always,
Dear Wife #2:
Sarah WAY over-inserted herself in the whole entire job application and negotiation thing. Like, you wouldn’t even have applied there without her suggestion! And, I think it’s actually pretty great to be transparent about money when you’re trying to hook a friend up in your industry or with your company, even if it’s just a “from what I can tell, their range is a-b, after 5 years there in a similar job I make closer to b, good luck!” reality check, but what’s deal with criticizing you for asking for too much money? She wasn’t the hiring manager, your salary wouldn’t be coming out of her pocket, why would you try to get someone you call a friend to be paid less than they are worth?
Then there’s this:
“she said she had decided I probably wouldn’t really like the job, so she had told her colleagues not to recruit me after all.”
What? How is this her decision?
This is fucked up. It’s bad friending AND unprofessional, and in your shoes I would not be all “oh yes let’s get drinks jolly good” with Sarah right now.
At this point I have two questions for you:
- What’s the worst that could happen if you told Mike, “If you want to still be friends with Sarah, cool, but after that whole thing with the job I’d prefer to keep my distance.”
- And what’s the worst thing that would happen if you stopped making any effort where Sarah is concerned? Like, don’t email her back. At all. Unless or until you feel like it (if ever). Let Mike do the “No, we don’t want to go to the show” honors now and forever.
My read is: She knows exactly what she did, and she hasn’t apologized. She set you up and then she sabotaged you. That’s fucked up. If she does apologize someday down the road, and it is an actual apology and not an attempt to justify herself, a that point you can consider then if you even care.
You tried to be friends with this lady, it sounds like it didn’t work out. It’s okay to leave it there! “I tried. It didn’t work out.” Your husband is a grown-ass adult who can choose and manage his own friendships. He can handle a “Yeah, I don’t really like her, so if it’s the same to you, I’d rather not” from his wife. And if he can’t, that’s a MIKE-problem, not a Sarah-problem. As you say, there’s a reason he’s not married to her anymore, feel free to invoke that anytime if he’s a pill about this.
I think your brain is trying really hard to make sure you avoid any “jealous wife” stereotypes here. I absolve and pardon you! Even though you have committed no crimes! You tried your best! This lady was crappy to you and you don’t have to give her another chance to play Lucy with the football to your Charlie Brown, especially since she’s not even trying to apologize.