Welcome to our new column, Ethical Dilemmas, where we hope to give you clear-cut answers for complicated problems. While “Jude” is keeping her identity a secret for now, we can assure you that with a PhD in Ethics, she’s a pro at examining two sides of a story carefully and weighing each move with a cautious code of morality.
I am moving to another city in the summer, and I need to get a job until I leave. It will be hard to find something for just six or seven months because most places want you to be there for a year or more. Is it wrong to not tell my new employer that I’m moving?
[female, 24, Toronto]
The answer depends on what kind of work you do. If it’s shiftwork or another type of work in which a commitment isn’t assumed, then I wouldn’t feel too bad. But if your new employer is investing a lot of time and energy into training you and preparing you for your new role, then I think it would be wrong to dupe them into thinking they are investing in a long-term employee.
Also, think about what the implications of not telling might be on how your employer perceives you, and what that might mean if and when you ask for a reference letter/recommendation. Will there be any impact on your future career? Remember that people talk and word can get around your industry. Again, if this is short-term shift work or something that usually has quite a bit of turnover, then I wouldn’t worry. But otherwise, it would be good to let them know. Maybe they’ll reward your honesty and integrity?
For the past year I was dating someone. It was never all that serious, but we had amazing, long, intense conversations, and the sex was the best I’ve ever had. She challenged me to think in new ways and to try new things. The entire time we were together, she encouraged me to see other people, but I didn’t want to. She didn’t ever want to marry or have kids.
Eventually I got frustrated because I wanted to have a more committed relationship with her, but she didn’t want things to change. She is very focused on (and overwhelmed by) her career and friendships, but it also felt like she was being disrespectful to me. She would change or cancel our plans last-minute, she was always very late to things, and in general she was pretty flaky. I was really unhappy at times, so I broke up with her a few weeks ago. But now I regret that. I miss her like crazy and I think I’ve realized what we had was better than not having it at all. Maybe I thought I wanted something different, but now I feel like what we had was what I truly wanted. I asked her if we could talk and she said no. I’m lost and heart-broken. What do I do now?
[female, 36, Toronto]
On my way to work today I was listening to Florence + the Machine’s “Shake it Out.” That song helped to get me through an extremely dark time a few years ago, and I’m wondering if it may help you too by letting you know that you aren’t alone. Many have been in the painful place you are in right now, feeling lost and heart-broken, second-guessing themselves and wondering if they should have done things differently. As Florence says, “Regrets collect like old friends; here to relive your darkest moments.” Breakups are hard. Learning to live without someone can feel like learning to walk again. It is a brutal, slow process.
Your ex has made it clear that she does not want to try again, and you have to honour her wish. So now is the time to let yourself start grieving this relationship. Feel all of the emotions you need to feel, without adding a narrative to them. Experience the sadness or anger, but don’t tack on the “because…” or “and so…” or “therefore…” part. This is a mindfulness practice— observing the emotions as they are, without layering on additional thoughts and beliefs. For example, “I feel sad” is quite different from “I feel sad because she rejected me and I ruined a great relationship, and so I’m a loser.” For the moment, just go with the pure emotions without the judgmental inner voice whispering after them. Once you’ve given yourself time, you can move on to the next part.
The next part is to reflect on what happened between you and her and see what you can learn. It may not seem like it now, but you are being given an opportunity to re-orient yourself and to focus on your well-being. And I think that may be really important for you, because it seems you need a bit of reorientation.
I say that because—from your letter—it appears your ex made it pretty clear from the get-go that she did not want a “serious” relationship. She wanted non-monogamy and was happy to keep things fairly casual. Her flakiness is not admirable, but putting that aside, she made it clear that her priorities were career and friendship, and she’s 100% entitled to do that. The problem is that you didn’t listen to her, and eventually you started asking for something she didn’t want to give: commitment. Her trajectory never really changed, but yours did.
I’ve been doing some online dating lately—fairly unsuccessfully. And I keep thinking, “They’re just not buying what I’m selling!” (Umm…not literally.) But in your case, she wasn’t selling what you wanted to buy—but you tried to buy it anyway. You wanted monogamy and commitment, and it seems you wanted the relationship to build towards end points that weren’t on her radar: marriage and children. Let me be clear: it is completely okay to want those things and for her to want different things. But those differences make you fundamentally incompatible in a very real way. It’s like Cinderella’s step-sister cutting off her toes to try to fit them into the shoe. IT’S JUST NOT THE RIGHT FIT, and you’ll hurt yourself if you try to force it.
This brings me to the whole “opportunity” part of this. You said you feel lost, and—believe it or not— that is actually a very creative space to be in. You can re-focus and re-build yourself. From the ashes rises a phoenix!
When you’re ready, I’d recommend you take a step backwards and ask yourself some difficult questions: Why was I attracted to someone who clearly wasn’t able to give me what I was seeking? Why did I choose to ignore the boundaries she set? What kind of love do I want—and what does it look like in practice? Write your answers down. Think about them and fine-tune them. Cross things out and then add new ones. Get angry and write things like “I JUST WANT SOMEONE TO FUCKING LOVE ME UNCONDITIONALLY AND TO WANT TO BE WITH ME ALL THE FUCKING TIME IS THAT TOO MUCH TO FUCKING ASK.” And then calm down and add some details of what “loving me unconditionally” might look like to you. Be brutally honest, even if it’s scary to do so. You mentioned you liked the fact that you two could have long, intense conversations, and that she challenged you to try new things. Add those to your “what I want from a future partner” list.
I’m asking you to try to figure out what happiness looks like to you, and what role loving relationships might play in that overall happiness. I’m also asking you to be prudent: to determine what is in your best interest (or would likely promote your best interest) in love and in life, and to act accordingly. Which loves will strengthen you, and which will destroy you? How will you learn from this relationship and not be destined to repeat it?
Aristotle believed that experiences allow us to have knowledge of the Good, and for him, the Good that trumped all others was eudaimonia (translated from Greek to English as happiness/flourishing). To him, each person should (must!) seek her/his own happiness, and it is our life experiences that provide us with an opportunity to acquire practical wisdom. Practical wisdom then allows us to improve our own well-being—we learn from our successes and failures and re-orient ourselves towards happiness accordingly.
This horrific breakup you’ve gone through is exactly that: it is an opportunity to learn about what a good, loving relationship looks like for you. Aristotle also believed in order to DO right, first you have to KNOW right. Repeat that to yourself: “In order to do right, I must first know right.” You are slowly learning what is right for you, and that is invaluable.
Let’s end with another quote from “Shake it Out” (note the optimism!): “It’s a fine romance but it’s left me so undone; it’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Do you have an ethical dilemma you need help with? Send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.