Whom Should I Believe?
I encountered kind of a sticky situation at work. A colleague of mine, who is not a close friend but someone I’ve worked with for several years, recently told me that his wife had admitted to having an affair and is leaving him. Very shortly after he told me this, I was eating lunch with two other colleagues—also not close friends but people I’ve worked with for a while—and they started talking about the guy who had confided in me about his impending divorce.
Their story was a little different though: They were saying that he had a relationship with a woman he met online and was leaving his wife for this online girlfriend—even though he has never met this online gf in person!
I didn’t quite know what to say when they relayed this bit of gossip to me. On the one hand, it felt like none of my business, and I was inclined to say nothing. On the other hand, if their story is inaccurate and our co-worker’s marriage is ending because his wife is leaving—not because of his online affair—then he’s probably vulnerable right now and doesn’t need ugly office gossip spreading around. And, if he is about to leave his wife for someone he’s never met, someone needs to tell him that’s not a good idea.
I made a kind of non-committal noise when they told me this story and got out of the break room as fast as I could. Should I have corrected their story? Should I go back to them and correct their story? Tell the first guy that there’s some contradictory information floating around? And then tell him that he’d be crazy to end his marriage for someone he’s never met? Adding to the situation is the fact that we work in a very demanding field—both physically and mentally. There is a lot of stress in our work, and we all rely on each other on the job, so fissures among colleagues or a colleague whose head isn’t in the game is not a good thing.
The truth of your co-worker’s situation is probably somewhere in between the two stories you heard. His wife had an affair, and then he met someone online. Or he was dabbling online, and now his wife is leaving him. He’s told you the parts of the situation he wanted to share, and that’s fine. You can’t and don’t know all the details of his marriage and its dissolution. What you’re right about is that this is a difficult time for him, and ugly gossip will not help.
The difficulty with gossip is that it can’t really be stopped in its tracks. It has to be starved to death. And you did your part in starving it: You stayed quiet at lunch with your co-workers. If you had tried to correct their story, that would have given them more information to talk about. It also would have given them another, unflattering angle: This guy is getting a divorce and telling a false story about why the divorce is happening. If you go to your about-to-be-divorced colleague to report the other story floating around, you just run the risk of fanning flames between co-workers and adding more grist to the mill.
All this is not to say that you shouldn’t speak up for friends who are being misrepresented. Of course you should. But you don’t know that that’s what’s happening here. And this is a sensitive, salacious topic; your input will only fuel the gossip machine.
So, how do you help your co-worker? As usual, the best bet is to increase the amount of time you spend with him, talking to him, etc. It shouldn’t be a dramatic increase, but you can try eating lunch with him once or twice this week or seeing if he wants to go to the gym after work (or whatever it is you do after work). If he is struggling, you’re presenting an opportunity for some friendship and support. Ask consistently, even if he declines. Having those invitations is help in itself. And if he does take you up on it, you don’t need to mention the divorce or the gossip unless he does. Time with him and staying out of third-party discussions about his personal life are the best forms of support you can offer.
Whom Should I Trust?
A friend and I were at a local video store on the Eastside picking out DVDs to watch together. We picked up three, two of which we watched, and one of which he took home to watch, because he wanted to see it more than I did. All three were checked out on my account. Fast-forward two weeks; he hasn’t returned the DVD he took home, and I just had to pay the cost of the DVD to the store in order to be able to rent another movie. I’m super-annoyed by this but don’t want to ruin a friendship over it. Am I overreacting?
Twenty Dollars Poorer
Your friend was inconsiderate, no doubt about it. But, if the cost of a good friendship and a lesson about extending account privileges to others only costs you $20 over the course of the friendship, I think you got a bargain. Don’t give other people your ATM pin code, your Vision Video account number or your library card, and don’t co-sign loans. This $20 might save you a much more expensive mistake in the future.