DEAR AMY: Recently, a close mentor of mine was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct in the ’90s. The accusations (many of them quite graphic) were made public in a national and highly respected publication. I was absolutely devastated. He is a relatively high-profile figure, and I looked up to him. Within 24 hours of the public disclosure, he had stepped down from his job without any investigation or even a chance to respond to the accusations. I am a man who considers myself a feminist, and I wouldn’t for a second want to question these women’s accounts just because they pertain to someone I know and trusted. At the same time, it is extremely surprising to me that this person, who from my immediate experience and that of many others (both women and men) was a genuinely good person with a solid set of ethics, would do such things. My head is spinning and I have a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings. This person gave me guidance and support when I was in a very dark place in my life, and reignited a passion for my work that burns even stronger now. In a weird way, I feel like my trust has been betrayed, or that I didn’t choose the right person as a mentor. We haven’t been in touch since this news broke. I don’t know if I should maintain a relationship, or if doing so would suggest that I tacitly condone his (alleged) behavior. What should I do?
DEAR CONFUSED: Your reaction to this is a perfect example of how the consequences of this sexually aggressive behavior radiates outward, affecting all other relationships, until YOU are left feeling bewildered and guilty, and are now questioning your own judgment.
I think we have all seen how complex this can be, and how someone who can hold positions of trust and responsibility can abuse that trust with some, and keep it with others.
I hope you will find a way to accept that you bear no responsibility for not knowing about this behavior. Abusers seem to choose their victims carefully, understanding that their abuse of power wraps those they abuse in a veil of secrecy and shame.
You should contact your mentor, express your confusion and dismay and ask for answers. I doubt you will receive them. If he admits this to you, you should sever your ties with him. You will have to use your own discernment and decide on the most ethical path forward, but believing the women is a place to start.
DEAR AMY: My ex-husband told me he wanted a divorce over a month ago. I did not want to split, but he insisted — so I moved out. I did not contact him after leaving, but he has been calling me almost every day. We keep the conversation light and have not spoken about us as a couple — or about what happened. How do I broach the subject without him shutting down, as he so often did when we were together? I get the sense he wants to get back together, but he’s not mentioning it and I am too worried to bring it up myself.
Worried in Hartford
DEAR WORRIED: If you two can’t communicate about your relationship, even to the point of you asking him if he even wants to be married to you, then your relationship is destined to carom along in this cycle.
And if you can’t muster the courage to ask your husband if he wants to be married to you without fear of him shutting down, then you probably shouldn’t be together.
You might start by asking, “Why are you (really) calling me?” No matter how he responds, leave some silence around it. Tell him, “I’d like to talk about what happened between us. If you’re not ready to do that now, let’s take some time off until you are ready.”
DEAR AMY: “Broken-Hearted Niece” wondered if she should invite her toxic aunt to her wedding. I couldn’t believe that you suggested that she should! A wedding is the worst place to try to repair family relationships. It should be about what the marrying couple wants, period.
DEAR DISAPPOINTED: I suggested that this niece should invite and confront her aunt over the aunt’s behavior. Laying out clear expectations and consequences: “If there is a problem at the wedding, you will be asked to leave,” should put the niece firmly in charge on her wedding day.