Last edited: 19th January 2020
This post links with If You Know, You Know; Dear Dubai Ex: Closure; Cyberstalking: A Protest; In Control: Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner; How To Date An Arsehole; It’s Not Me, It’s You; Get Lit (Not Gaslighted…); Invisible Scars and Gaslighting Survival Guide.
Watching the movie ‘Bombshell’ the other night, it got me thinking about the way women are often vilified when we have the audacity to say the things out loud that others don’t want to hear and the strength that it takes to stand up for yourself against vehement opposition. I can relate, though my situation was not as straightforward as the workplace sexual harassment presented in ‘Bombshell’ and unlike in the movie, there has been no ‘victory’ at the end of this story.
In October 2015, I agreed to a consensual relationship with my married boss. Yes, you read that correctly. Consensual and he was married. I told you it was complicated. I did not know that he was married when I met him but I did know he was married when we began the relationship a short while later. He was the initiator, beginning with flirtatious work emails, progressing with sliding into my FB DMs and later, asking for my phone number to chat on WhatsApp as FB was apparently not as discreet for him. After being called to his office for a work chat, he told me he had been happily married for 16 years and he was not leaving, but he had feelings for me he wanted to explore. At the time I was touched by his honesty. I know now it was manipulative bullshit, designed to get what he wanted without appearing to be an arsehole. That is the moment I entered into a relationship that took me a long time to get out of and nearly destroyed me. We agreed we would take things slow and thereafter messaged constantly. I struggled with the morality of the situation, disappointed with myself at being involved with a married man. For that reason I refused to sleep with him but we did kiss in his office. In a hot and heavy moment, he asked me to take things further but I declined. I was stupid to get involved with him but not stupid enough to do that – not with my married boss in Dubai, where adultery is illegal. We were off and on for years. One of us would get an attack of guilt, usually me, and end it. There would be periods of not speaking which probably would have led to the end of the relationship had we not worked together, but when you are seeing each other almost daily, within a few weeks, one of us would begin messaging again. It was an emotional affair. I was pestered for more intimate moments, with him messaging to ask if I was still at work as he wanted to see me but I never allowed myself to be in a room alone with him again without other people around to make sure we didn’t cross the line. I was loyal and faithful to him, and always understanding of his personal situation. I respected the times he couldn’t chat as he was with his family. I didn’t call him. We WhatsApped when in work then switched to work email out of work hours to ensure we weren’t caught. There was no intent to cause harm to his family or his marriage. It is a situation that should have fizzled out eventually with no consequences.
However, we worked together and over time, our personal relationship became toxic, which negatively impacted our professional relationship. He allowed his personal feelings for me to impact the way he treated me as a colleague and it is for that reason I reported him to our CEO and eventually went public. No one should tolerate working in a toxic environment. In the beginning when our relationship was good, he was very supportive of my teaching career aspirations. He was complimentary, encouraging, and spoke highly of me to others. I was on track for a promotion and he told me I was obviously next in line. But then there were times when he would bring his personal feelings into the workplace. For example, he would get upset with me if he thought I was being flirty with male colleagues and there would be some sort of punishment – a snarky WhatsApp or refusal to reply to messages. I had to speak to male colleagues for work but he would watch me when I was speaking to them, making me feel uncomfortable even though I was doing nothing wrong. Then there was the time we had a huge row as I had told him I wanted to end the relationship. A few days later, I needed professional support for a work matter but he completely refused to support me. Had that been any other colleague, he would have supported them. When I spoke to him about it, he admitted that he was upset with me due to our row, he thought I would know that, and he knew he had gone too far on the spectrum by not supporting me at all when he should have. Unfortunately this was not a one off. It became a pattern in the relationship. If he was upset with me, he would find a way to punish me at work and would undermine me to students, parents and colleagues. I felt I always had to keep him on side and please him to be able to work in a happy environment and progress in my career. In the final year I worked for him, there were work matters I needed his help with. He would give me advice, tell me he had my back, but then he didn’t. Contradictory statements were made which caused conflict between myself and my colleagues. He threw me under the bus with parents when there were issues. Nine years working in a school with excellent results for the subject I led gave me a certain amount of autonomy. In the final year it all changed. The quality of my work was questioned. I was told I had become difficult to manage and unsupportive of the kids – anyone who was not a yes person was perceived difficult to manage and I worked tirelessly to support my students. I had gone from being the golden girl on track for the top, to a problem that needed to be forced out. I was only a ‘problem’ because I knew my boss was not the good guy devoted husband and father he likes to portray to the public and I’m a strong woman unafraid to speak her mind. The constant rows and perpetual mind games I endured from my ex/boss took their toll and I had a breakdown, leaving Dubai for a week to get my head together. He had done something particularly cruel and when I asked him to leave me alone at work, he didn’t. I felt trapped. Like I was being smothered with no way out. The only way I could get some space was to leave for a week. He was full of apologies, knowing he had gone too far, but something had broken in me and I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to go back to finish the year for the kids I taught and to get the money I was owed to be able to go travelling – my ticket out. I resigned, intending to leave at the end of the school year and make a new life for myself. I didn’t make it through the year. His behaviour didn’t change, no matter what I did privately to try to sort out the situation between us. I was desperate for it to stop. For three years I kept my mouth shut (only confiding in a few close friends) and put up with his manipulative and controlling behaviour at work. I considered reporting him when I still worked for him but he is a very popular man and I didn’t think I would be believed, though I had collected evidence (emails, Whatsapps, a voice recording) throughout the relationship in case I needed it; I knew by getting romantically involved with my boss I had put myself in a vulnerable position and one day I might need to defend myself. I was right.
I wrote blog post ‘How To Date An Arsehole’, to get him to realise what he had put me through, to hopefully get him to stop (the original version included more specific details about the relationship). As a result of writing that post, I lost my job and home. I had to leave Dubai immediately to avoid arrest (for using inappropriate language and contravening the moral values of the UAE). I told the company we worked for why I had written the post and that I wanted to make a formal complaint about my ex/boss. He needed to understand that his treatment of me had been unprofessional and it’s not OK for a boss to abuse his position of power by mistreating a colleague due to an inappropriate relationship. I was asked to write down some details, ‘though you might feel differently about making a complaint once you go travelling’. It was clear from the get go I was being manipulated and fobbed off. I sent a long email attaching some screenshots that proved the inappropriate nature of our relationship, giving specific dates, details of incidents, and names of people we worked with who knew about the relationship. I was told by HR to ‘trust us to deal with him’. Despite the fact I had had to leave my job immediately after being suspended, I was open to agreeing to a fair resolution for my complaint. An apology from my ex/boss and his resignation (not necessarily immediate – I would have agreed to him working an extra year to wrap up his affairs) would have suitably dealt with the situation. However, no one called me. No one followed up my complaint. I was expected to shut up and go away. I didn’t. I stopped protecting him, for the sake of his family, when I realised he had lied and scapegoated me to keep his job.
Operation Cover Up went into action to try to stop me telling inconvenient truths and to let my ex/boss get away with all that he had done. Unknown to me at the time, there was a plan in place for his progression within the company and me opening my mouth was problematic. I was threatened with defamation (though I can prove what I’ve said), I was lied to (told they would deal with him) and I was forced to sign an NDA. To stand up for myself and protect other women, I blogged about my experience and publicly proved there had been an inappropriate relationship. He was excused and promoted; I was villainised just for telling the truth. It was all my fault apparently.
People hated me for going public and the online abuse has been horrific. They don’t seem to understand the ordeal that I have been through since I met this man. Getting involved with him was the biggest mistake of my life and all attempts to deal with him privately always failed. Even when I went public, he continued to find ways to contact me, and try to manipulate me until November 2019, when I changed my private email address. I didn’t even sleep with this man yet the relationship proved disastrous to me. I refused to suffer in silence and I will not apologise for that. It’s one thing to go through a bad relationship; it’s quite another experience for the person you loved to exploit his position of power and damage your career because you don’t want to be in a toxic relationship with them anymore. No one is above accountability. The relationship began consensually but it was not consensual by the end. I emailed him privately to ask for closure in July 2019 but I didn’t get it as I have written about in blog posts Dear Dubai Ex: Closure and Cyberstalking: A Protest.
So how did this story end? He kept his job and he is still married, living in Dubai, like he did nothing wrong. After a year of travelling, I am settled in London and have changed career from teaching to hospitality. No doubt his version of events is very different to mine. Evidence speaks for itself. Meeting with a police expert in cyberstalking/ coercively controlling relationships and a solicitor in the UK was a game-changer and confirmed for me what I always knew – that I was right to speak up and take a stand. I was brought up to have integrity; taught that when you do something wrong and cause harm to others, you have to take responsibility for that. I have made mistakes in my life and I own them, making apologies when necessary. Decent people don’t lie and talk their way out of situations they are responsible for or scapegoat other people. I am only responsible for my actions, not the actions of others. Everyone has the right to work in a safe workplace free from abusive behaviours and discrimination. If that is not your experience, speak up for yourself and for others. Even if you don’t get a ‘victory’, like we see at the end of the movie ‘Bombshell’, living your life free from abuse, knowing you told the truth, is the real victory.
The world needs to stop treating women like villains when they tell truths that are inconvenient. Stop expecting us to be good little girls who shut up and go away just because what we have to say does not suit your agenda. Don’t silence us with NDAs before listening to us; we will only shout louder to be heard. I rest my case.