Behind a cut for mention of consent violations.
I (she/her) divorced my ex (he/him) a year ago. There were a lot of reasons, but one reason was constant sexual pressure to perform and do things I don’t enjoy. This pressure usually took the form of guilt trips, but once escalated to a situation in which I felt I couldn’t safely say no.
With a few exceptions, I told everyone that we grew apart, he’s a great guy but we just didn’t work out, etc.
I haven’t talked to him about this post-divorce. It seemed stupid to fight about it when I was done with the relationship. We sometimes exchange brief texts and very occasionally get together so he can see our pet. I’m always polite, so he probably thinks we’re fine. He thinks of himself as this great feminist guy who was very patient with my low libido.
Unfortunately, the ex keeps gnawing at the edges of my life. He attempted to befriend basically all my local friends in the months following our divorce: I got really mad about that and he said he’d stop, even though it was unreasonable. Then he became a regular at a place I used to work and befriended everyone I know there.
I’ve learned to live with this low-level awkwardness, but now I am considering returning to that old job. The job is of a sexual nature (I strip) and I do NOT want to run into him there or talk about him with our now-mutual friends. I have asked him to find a different place to go (there are many options) and he said he’d stop temporarily but not permanently. He also told a friend that he’d like to help me out by buying lap dances from me, which makes me want to puke.
Any ok-ness we might have had is officially gone. The obvious answer is to go work somewhere else, but I don’t want to keep shrinking my life to avoid him. I want to tell him how angry I am about the way he treated me and the way he’s treating me now, but maybe that’s foolish too. I’m tired of pretending he’s fine to the people we know, but if I don’t tell him it feels like gossip. I hate how much of me he’s still consuming, and I hate that he’s still making me feel like a piece of meat one year later.
Dear You Are Obviously Cool But Your Ex Is Not,
Your ex is showing incredibly poor boundaries – which is now about to follow you to work – and I think it’s time for a few steps:
1) Stop replying to communications from him and stop the pet visits.
You don’t have to explain or notify him that this is what you are doing, just stop replying when he contacts you. Be perpetually too busy and unavailable to even check your texts. You’re not friends, you’re not going to be friends, you tried to be civil and friendly, but it’s not working. So stop giving him attention and access to your life in a way that you can control.
I recommend this above trying to explain anything to him or somehow “make him understand.” He understands fine, he just doesn’t think your “nope” means anything if it’s in the way of what he wants. So withdraw your attention from him and let him go find someone else to bother. Hopefully time will do its work and he will get bored and fade away if he doesn’t get the little nuggets of attention from you anymore.
If he tries to force an explanation for your lack of response, I suggest texting one time (so there’s a written record), “Look, being friends just isn’t working for me. Let’s give ourselves a clean break and a fresh start for 2020. I wish you well, but I don’t want to text or hang out anymore, so please stop.”
Once you’ve made that clear, do not reply to anything he says or sends, even to ask him to stop again, to not come by work, etc. He might escalate his efforts, try to get at you through mutual friends, show up at your work, make it seem like an emergency, try to get at you through the pet, or insist that you meet face to face and provide “closure.” Get ready for him also to demand a reason “why,” when, he knows exactly why, he just wants to push you to either say it (so he can punish you and blame you for it) or strategically refuse to say it (which is a power trip for him, it lets him keep his idea of himself of a cool sex positive feminist guy who doesn’t violate women).
This is all depressingly predictable, it’s not uncommon for people to have what’s called an “extinction burst” when their object of obsession cuts off contact. If you can anticipate it, the hope is that you can hold fast when it happens. No answer is an answer. Silence is an answer. “Don’t text me anymore” is an answer. Your signed divorce papers are an answer. “Don’t show up at the club where I work,” is an answer. These are not arcane hieroglyphs which can be read only by wizards. He knows you don’t want to talk to him or see him, especially at work, so why is he being difficult? It’s not because you explained it wrong.
Additionally, lock down your social media accounts, change your important passwords, and think about the security of your home and car – are you sure he doesn’t have keys (“for the pet”), do people in your building know not to buzz him in anymore, etc.
I would 10,000 times rather have you take what feels like extreme measures and not need them than find out after the fact that you needed them. This guy is creepy. He is creepy wrapped up in “nice” and “affable” but he’s still creepy as hell.
2) Tell some trusted people what’s up so they can support you.
You don’t owe your ex a story about what happened between you that makes him look good. You don’t owe everyone in your life all the details, either, so it’s up to you what you share.
Does this ring true as a version of events you could share with people that doesn’t necessarily reveal details you are not comfortable sharing?
“Ex could get very pushy when we were together, it’s one of the reasons we got divorced. He’s not good at taking no for an answer, at least not when it comes to me, and we’ve had to have several talks since the divorce like, ‘no, you can’t keep hanging out everywhere I hang out, or make all my friends your friends, it’s over, please give me space.’ Every time I think he gets the message he shows me he doesn’t, so for my own peace of mind I’ve asked for a clean break, which means no texting, no calling, no visiting [Pet], and definitely not showing up and asking for lap dances when I go back to work, which he has described as ‘helping me out,’ can you even believe it.”
(Important Note: If you are comfortable sharing, and the person is okay hearing the details, IT IS OKAY TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU. You are not being mean or unfair by relating true experiences from your life. I can think of 11,000 reasons not to disclose because our culture is so bad at believing sexual assault survivors and it can add a whole fog of other people’s issues to something that is already painful enough. But you do not owe him, or anyone, your circumspection or your silence about this. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ <3)
Sometimes people get real nosy and like, offended that you haven’t shared every detail of your troubled marriage with them before now. I direct you here, with a script like “Listen, when we were still trying to keep the marriage together it felt wrong to tell the world our private business, and by the time we split up I was ready to leave the past in the past and give everyone a chance to start fresh. I’m telling you now because you know him, too, and I need a little help making this a clean break.”
Let’s talk about what that help looks like, specifically:
What you don’t need: Your mutual friends to “talk to him for you,” threaten him to back off, or otherwise intervene in the situation. You’re telling them this in confidence because you need them and trust them, not so they can be ambassadors or life-bouncers. This kind of “back off from my friend or else” behavior, while a tempting instinct of righteous fury, can escalate an already troubling situation. You want to give this dude overall less attention, and de-escalate a situation, so make sure your friends get that and treat you like the absolute boss of what you need.
What you DO need: Your friends and family to know how it is between you, so they can not invite you to the same events, warn you in advance if he will be somewhere, and help support you (especially if he shows up unannounced). You also need them to be mindful of what they share about you publicly on social media and to not give out information about you to your ex (or anyone, really, since you’re going back to work), even if they think it’s a reasonable request or seemingly innocuous. Some people really love to be self-appointed peacemakers, and harassers and stalkers expertly manipulate this instinct with a lot of “But if she would just tallllllllllk o me I know I could make it right, you’re so good at understanding her and she trusts you, can’t you help me?” flimflam. But you did “talk to him.” There were legal documents and everything. You need your people to know not to give out info about you and to be inoculated against “There is a Middle Path Where No One Is The Bad Guy and I am the one who can find it!” temptation.
3) Take concrete steps to minimize your risks at work.
Your boundary-pushing loser creep of an ex husband is absolutely not allowed to purchase lap dances from you or otherwise bother you at work. Can he still come to that club? Technically, he can. When he does eventually show, would I believe his aggrieved “It’s a free country, I’m not here to see you specifically, so get over yourself” act for a hot second? What is a hot second minus a hot second? Showing up places where he’s likely to encounter you and knows that it bothers you is kind of his whole pathetic deal since the divorce, so his benefit-of-the-doubt meter is fixed at zero. Hopefully he will do the right thing and stop hanging out there as you requested. If he bothers you, use whatever powers you have with your employer to get him barred, permanently and absolutely.
My information about strip clubs comes primarily from watching Hustlers and Magic Mike and the background of every single HBO show so forgive me if this is naive, but it seems to me strip club management the world over discourages partners and exes of dancers from hanging about the place and doing weird possessive power play tricks, and “I asked my ex to stop hanging around here so much and he made it clear that he plans to not only stick around but also to buy lap dances from me, which is 100% not happening, so, how do we make it so I can do my job without hassle from him?” will not be a brand new conversation to anyone at the venue. Yes? I hope fiction matches truth here.
Additionally, put in place whatever safety measures you use with potentially rowdy clients with him, make sure someone walks you to and from your car, make a policy of watching each other’s backs with your fellow dancers, and otherwise do all the safety things you doubtless already know from working in the industry. Hopefully you won’t need them specifically for him and this will die down once he stops getting attention from you, but if it doesn’t, let’s be like Girl Scouts, i.e., prepared.
If management is unsupportive, that is a strong sign that you should look for somewhere else to work. That’s not just him pushing you out of one more space, that’s your employer saying, we don’t give a single shit about you, so find somewhere that does the basics right.
If management, etc. try to give you the “but he’s such a nice guy, I just can’t think that he would be a problem” talk, maybe tell them this:
“I get why you’d say that, he can be a really nice guy, but ‘nice to you’ and ‘respectful to me’ aren’t the same thing at all. The good news is that if he is really that nice guy you know and I used to know, none of this will be necessary, because he won’t show up to bother me at my job. Believe me, I’d love that to be the case, nothing would make me happier than to know he’s moved on and that I can relax at work and make us all lots of money.
But you know that in this business we can’t bet on everyone being nice, and I need to know that if he follows through on making things awkward for me, you have my back the way I’d have your back or the back of any of my fellow dancers in the same situation. We lose nothing by being careful about safety and potentially a whole lot if he’s allowed to come in here and harass me, so can I count on you?”
I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this, I think you tried to do a kind thing by being basically friendly to your ex and telling a face-saving “we just grew apart” story about your divorce. The same dynamic exists now as it did when you first split up: 1) He obviously doesn’t deserve you 2) If he could just be cool for once everything will be cool, he will never know that you told the club to keep an eye out or have your friends on alert and will get to keep on thinking of himself as a “nice guy.” The best way to show someone you are a good, cool, nice, safe person, etc. is to take no for an answer the first time they ask you. If he keeps failing this basic test? That’s not on you. 3) Since he usually refuses to be cool, you get to take steps to minimize the impact he has on your life. In the past you bent over backwards to be nice, and just because you can doesn’t mean you have to do it forever for this pushy chucklefuck.
❤ ❤ ❤
Comments are open. I want to hear from:
- Adult industry/entertainment workers and sex workers who feel comfortable sharing thoughts about the best way to ask for backup from employers in situations like this and reality checks on what the Letter Writer can and should reasonably expect there.
- People who have successfully defused a situation where an ex who can’t let go keeps showing up places, especially work. What worked for you?
Comments concern-trolling about the Letter Writer’s profession will be sent to the trash and possibly the sea, as in, “Get In The Sea (and take your judgy comments with you).”