All the things I thought when it happened to me

In the moment I thought

Wait is this really happening right now? What do I do? What should I say? Did my other coworkers hear it? Oh no. No. This is wrong. Do I laugh it off? Do I act like I think it’s funny? Do I get serious? What if that ruins the night for everyone. Everyone else is having fun and if I say the wrong thing right now, it’ll make things sour. What if this is the moment when my career is over. What’s going to happen tomorrow? Am I going to have to talk to HR?

The next day

I waited. I felt like I was holding my breath the whole day. I thought for sure that at some point my manager and good friend, who was there and seemed to have heard, would pull me aside and say “look, we need to talk about what happened last night, what he said to you.” So I braced myself all day for the conversation, to have to decide what to do. To be put to the real test. The managing within the law test. The female lead who stands up for what is right test. But it never happened. All day I wrestled with what to do and what was going to happen next but in the end the wrestling match only went on in my own head. I began to wonder if any of the other guys who were at the table had heard or remembered. I waited to see what they would do. Most of all I dreaded seeing him. The one who said what he said and did what he did. But I didn’t see him all day. And then the day ended.

The next week

I felt like there was some kind of loud music playing all around me that I didn’t know if only I could hear, because no one else was saying anything about it. I needed to talk to this guy about something related to a presentation we were preparing. So I sent him a message. A normal message. A totally normal message like nothing had ever happened. And he replied. Like nothing had ever happened. I felt so relieved. Like I guess this whole thing was just going to go away. No one seemed to remember. Because if they remembered, they would say something right? For sure my friend, my manager, would have said something. He’s such an honest and upstanding guy. He’s protective and kind and caring. He knew his responsibilities. So if he didn’t say anything, that meant he didn’t remember. But what about the others? There were others, but they were all drinking too. No one except me must have remembered. I couldn’t ask them because asking would be telling. And they were all managers too so they would have to report it. So it was up to me what to do next. It was totally up to me. I could just pretend that nothing happened. I thought, maybe this would make the guy trust me more if he knew I was not going to tell on him. Maybe that would help me form a stronger partnership with him. I mean what other choice did I have? If I told anyone about it, then there would be no hope for trust. There would be no hope for partnership.

The next few months

The music got quieter but it kept playing. The more time passed, the more confused I felt. Was I doing the right thing by not saying anything? What was the right thing? What were my options? I felt like to tell anyone, anyone at all would be detrimental. I knew if I told my manager, who I trust with just about anything, he would have to tell HR. And then there would be an investigation, and then I could only imagine what awful and embarrassing things would happen after that. I would be excluded from everything. No one would trust me. No one would feel like they could even tell a joke around me. And I love jokes. I love being funny. I love off-color humor. I don’t want to be that person that everyone feels like they have to be careful what they say around.

Six months later

I dreaded being in meetings with him. He criticized everything I did, every meeting I did or didn’t attend. Every decision I made seemed to be the wrong one. I couldn’t get him to trust me, or to respect me. I declined to go on a strategic trip with the rest of the leadership team because I was scared of being in a situation that would give him another opportunity to drink a lot and say gross things. I labored over the decision but the risk of being around him was worse than the risk of missing out on key strategic planning.

One year later

Despite another strong performance review, I did not try to get promoted. I left the team and I started over. I left so many people I care about and projects I was passionate about, and I couldn’t even explain why. I told them I was looking for a new challenge. I lied to protect myself and to protect them. I couldn’t explain how I was running away from him, because we’re not supposed to run away from our problems — we’re supposed to stay and fix them.

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Anat Deracine

Anat Deracine

516 Followers

Author of "Driving by Starlight" https://goo.gl/N35aS1 and “The Night Wolves” http://bit.ly/TheNightWolves I'm on Twitter at @anat_deracine