Ask Athena: Coming Clean

How to stop faking it. and when to spill someone else’s tea.   

Q: Years ago, when I first started working where I am now, I accidentally got into a flirty relationship with one of my coworkers who’d misheard something I’d said. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it at first and by the time I did, it just seemed easier to play along until he lost interest — which doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon. What do I do now? Is there any way to stop this without looking like a jerk for letting it go on all this time without saying anything?

A: This has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the present. You are allowed to stop flirting with someone now, regardless of your history. So now you just want to be a colleague and not a flirt friend. It’s simple: just tell him that you are tired of flirting. You can throw in that he is a good guy. Of course you’ll want to apologize for any confusion or misunderstandings you may have promoted.

Forget about the past and how you got to this point. There is no reason to rehash history and make him feel bad about the fact that YOU played him for years. This is your time to bow out gracefully without trying to make him responsible for YOUR choice in fake flirting. You did started this (and kept it going). Now’s the time to wrap it up decisively and with as positive a spin as possible.

Next time the vibe comes up between you, take the opening. Thank him for playing along with you all this time, let him know it’s been fun but it’s time to move on. There are obviously legitimate reasons for wanting to curb even the appearance of hanky-panky at work, so lean into that instead of potentially hurting his feelings. Say this sort of personal stuff at work can breed rumors/doesn’t look professional/concerns management/etc — whatever feels most authentic to your particular situation.

And now resolve to hold these new boundaries firmly and politely from here on out.

Q: Should I tell my son’s fiancée that he’s been cheating on her? I have definitive proof he’s been seeing other women. When I confront him, he tells me it’s none of my business and has absolutely forbidden me to mention this to anyone. I think he should pay the piper but I would like to know what you think before I talk to her.

A: No, no, no. Do not, I repeat, do NOT butt in on your son’s relationships. You are not the Fairy Godmother of Truth to expose other people’s bad choices, even your own son’s whose best interests you clearly have in mind. I do have one major caveat, though.

If your son’s fiancée — or anyone else, for that matter — were to ask you point-blank if he’s a cheater, I think you should tell the truth. This doesn’t mean you should offer all the gory details, or spout off your feelings about his behavior or his fiancée’s gullibility. And don’t speculate on whether they’ll remain together, or why your son is catting around, either. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to stay mum, Mom!

He and his fiancée are both adults — for all you know, they could have an open relationship that they prefer not to discuss with you. Not all couples are monogamous, after all. Even if they are exclusive, your son’s behavior is a crisis they will need to figure out together in due time. Any interference from you will be a pointless distraction (it’s not like you can fix someone’s relationship for them).

Finally, I think you should make sure your son knows you will not cover for him. While it is not your job to police his behavior, neither is it his to “forbid” you from speaking the truth, if called upon. He does not get to pull you into his web of lies! If your future daughter-in-law asks you directly if he is cheating or if she can trust him in this matter, answer honestly and then encourage her to speak to him asap.

Bottom line, don’t go looking for an excuse to meddle but don’t participate in your son’s ruse, either. Stand firm on your personal integrity, and hope for the best.

AGREE? DISAGREE? Please leave your remarks below in the Comments.

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Read last month’s Ask Athena here.

About Athena 44 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to

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