Roughly 1 year ago I told my previous employer that I would take him to lunch in a year. Now I'm really struggling with the question of whether or not to keep that promise, and how to keep my cool for the entire duration if I do keep it.

Background:

  • Worked my ass off for a previous employer for more than 10 yrs.
  • Was paid well below market rate the entire time, with a soft promise of being rewarded "when the company succeeds" (but of course I was too timid early in my career and my boss was too unavailable in later years for me to negotiate any actual equity in the company).
  • Was loyal to a fault.
  • Boss effectively did not allow me to take vacation, and anytime I did manage to pull myself out of the office to go on a trip, I was forced to work anyway. If a deadline was missed, my boss would angrily ask me why I didn't work twice as much overtime in the weeks leading up to the trip, and why I didn't cancel the trip if the deadline was in jeopardy. (And I never even got a chance to tell him all the times I did cancel trips and personal commitments, or the damage it caused to my relationships.)
  • After I told my boss I was contemplating another employment offer, he took me out to lunch. It started off ok, then--per his typical pattern--he got around to insulting my intelligence. After he finally settled down and admitted he should have found a way to compensate me better, he repeated his soft promise of wanting to make things right "when the company succeeds" and told me he would like me to take him out to lunch in a year. Like an idiot, I said yes.
  • Like an idiot, I worked my ass off in my last 2 weeks, putting in 20+ hrs/wk of overtime.
  • Like an idiot, I did not realize that my employer was going to screw me out of my unused vacation.
  • At some point during my last 2 weeks, we had another conversation in which he destroyed any remaining thread of credibility he still had with me.

Fast-forward 1 year:

Just thinking about the work conditions at my old job infuriates me. The lost opportunities infuriate me. It infuriates me even more to think that I allowed myself to be abused in that way for so many years.

I cannot think about any of the discussions with my old boss in my last 3+ years of working there without becoming angry at him for abusing my loyalty and trust, not to mention the numerous times he insulted my intelligence, saying that I was "not thinking logically" or saying that every decision I had made was a bad one, including my decision to leave. And obviously it pisses me off that they did not work with me to arrive at some sort of compromise regarding my unused vacation, which I earned 10 times over by being one of the incredibly tiny minority who actually spent most of his time at work working.

So my dilemma is this:

On the one hand, I don't want to break my word and burn any bridges professionally. At this point I really don't expect my old boss to make good on his soft promise, especially given that I'm 100% certain he does not have any legally binding documentation stating his intentions in the event that something happens to him or he cedes control of the company. However, it's entirely possible that I may bump into one of his connections at some other point in my career. I don't expect any help from him, but I also don't want him to say something negative about me if it comes up. I would like to think he would not hold a grudge, but I feel like our relationship went so far downhill that I honestly don't know what to expect from him.

On the other hand, I don't know how I would spend an entire lunch with him, let alone 2 minutes of the requisite chit-chat littered with uncomfortably long silences, without either venting at him or having an aneurysm.

I've thought about emailing him or sending a message indirectly through one of my former colleagues stating that I'm just not comfortable speaking with him because of some of the things he said to me in our last several interactions, but that I would buy him lunch to make good on my promise if he insists.

My wife thinks I'm foolish to even consider making good on my promise. She doesn't see any possible benefit to following through, and I'm inclined to agree with her, though I cannot discount the possibility that I'm overlooking something.

What, if anything, should I do to resolve this situation?


ETA

One of the most difficult parts of working there for the past several years was that I shared many of my concerns with others and nobody else could relate to any of these issues aside from their having to put in extra hours to meet a looming deadline. I'm aware of the persecution complex and really don't want to think I was the only person being abused, but in all my discussions with colleagues at various levels throughout the company, I could find no evidence that anyone else was remotely undercompensated, repeatedly set up for failure, blocked from opportunities for professional development, and generally treated as poorly as I was. I had the feeling I was pigeonholed with little or no support so that I was still generating enough revenue to cover more than my salary and benefits, and my boss was content to forget about me until I inevitably missed an impossible deadline.

I admit I have nobody to blame but myself for remaining in a bad work environment, and in my 20/20 hindsight I can see I should have left after the first year. The fact is, at the time I was young and inexperienced, and with the dotcom bomb and the great recession I was just thankful to have a job.

Though I have pretty much painted him as a conniving and merciless tyrant above, in his mind he thought he was doing a decent job and that he was saving me from a worse fate. He had many sides to him that seemed to be in conflict: the savior who saw it as his duty to help broken, screwed up individuals find their way; the cocky intellectual who presumed his sense of logic to be superior to others' even when he had zero information; the clueless novice entrepreneur; the human being who shared some very personal stories at various points.

For those who have asked: when he asked me to buy him lunch in a year, he explained that he hoped I would be doing well and that we could have a happier conversation. I think his motive for this was one or both of the following reasons: so he could clear his conscience of any obligation to me (his soft promises), or so he could legitimately try to help me if I managed to totally screw up my life without his guidance.

closed as off-topic by gnat, Masked Man, IDrinkandIKnowThings, JakeGould, Chris E Sep 21 '16 at 16:26

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", or "what skills should I learn?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do. For more information, click here." – gnat, Masked Man, IDrinkandIKnowThings, JakeGould, Chris E
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  • 108
    That dinner agreement sounds like a typical American "we should meet sometimes" which we Europeans often mistake for an actual invitation. – Dmitry Grigoryev Sep 14 '16 at 21:02
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    I give you permission to safely forget your meaningless obligation. You are free now, enjoy life! – Mark Rogers Sep 14 '16 at 23:08
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    Yeah, if it's poisoned :) Seriously, I can't believe you even lose a minute's thought over this based on what he did. Stop being a sucker, bro. How many promises to you did he break and what was the total cost of those? – smci Sep 15 '16 at 3:29
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    Forget it. He already has. – Igby Largeman Sep 15 '16 at 4:34
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    You are just plain thinking about this way too much. It seems almost to the extent of being obsessive about it. Just forget about that whole episode of your life and move on with what comes forward from now. The longer that you hold onto your feelings and tendency to obsess on the subject the longer that you will be holding yourself back from making forward progress. – Michael Karas Sep 15 '16 at 6:43

17 Answers 17

up vote 291 down vote accepted

Two things can happen:

  1. Your old boss emails/phones you and asks about the lunch date. Go! Tell him how much happier you are now. Don't diss him or the old company but tell him how efficient your new company is, how you like your new job, all that stuff. Also use it to be introspective. Figure out why you stayed at that place. Figure out why the old boss was grinding you so hard. Let him talk about things and say his piece.

  2. Your old boss never contacts you. Then who cares about lunch. You said you would take him to lunch. You didn't say you would court him, plan the date, and send a telegram. He doesn't contact you = situation is dead. If you contact him this really sets you up for a negative experience. He could say yes but be completely hostile the whole time.

The big thing is if the old boss wants to see you, don't wimp out. Also don't get angry. You are the one that put up with that crap. Figure out why. Figure out how that will help you make better decisions in the future. If he does contact you, you don't want to think about what it would have been like.

  • 87
    I bet it will be scenario #2! I know the kind of people OP's old boss is: they say something they need to say at time T, and then they completely forget it. They never consider themselves being bound by any promise/announcement/word/moral contract/etc. They don't remember (shirt-term) past, and they don't consider future, they only care about what you want to hear right now. And they never realize some (honest) people remember and do care about given word. – Evariste Sep 14 '16 at 9:42
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    GO! Tell him how much happier you are now. Bad idea. The OP is a pushover. He allowed himself to be manipulated by this person for 10 years. This person is toxic and might start pulling on the OP's puppet strings again. OP, you should stay away. – user2023861 Sep 14 '16 at 13:42
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    However, OP may have difficulty with this approach if he is Feeling type over Thinking type (Carl Jung's Four Preferences). – ldog Sep 14 '16 at 23:35
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    I see absolutely no reason to prove anything to the toxic manipulator, if he manipulated that person for 10 years, obviously this narcissist/psychopath/whatever can read any co-dependent or compulsive personality who tries to restore his/her self esteem like an open book - the best way is to keep no-contact rule. Nothing will change the manipulator anyway. It's a waste of time to explain the basic principles of dignity to an adult person. – Boris Treukhov Sep 15 '16 at 23:31
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    I know exactly why I stayed for so long--I thought I was lucky to have a job despite the dotcom bomb and the great recession, and I was complacent. It was too easy to just keep going into work day after day, instead of working to improve my situation. – Hugh Sep 16 '16 at 0:04

My wife thinks I'm foolish to even consider making good on my promise. She doesn't see any possible benefit to following through.

What, if anything, should I do to resolve this situation?

Listen to your wife. She seems like a wise woman.

Almost certainly, this idiot of a former boss doesn't even remember this year old promise. While it may be weighing on your mind, I'd be willing to bet that he hasn't thought about this even once.

And in the unlikely event he does contact you about getting his "free lunch", just make excuses about your availability until he gets the hint and goes away.

It's been a year. Let it go and move on.

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    "Listen to your wife" ... good advice always. :-) – Dan Esparza Sep 14 '16 at 14:01
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    "She seems like a wise woman" - and she often reminds me of it. – Hugh Sep 15 '16 at 4:23
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    @Hugh I like this answer better than the accepted one. The old boss was obviously toxic -- he always made excuses why you couldn't take vacation and constantly impinged on your availability; now you have the power to tell him "Oh sorry, I don't have the time, I'm very busy with my new job... I'm sure you understand." There is no professional bridge-burning here, because you're not attacking him or your old company. If he tries to use your bailout as an excuse to actively smear you professionally, anyone whose opinion you actually care about should be able to see right through it. – Doktor J Sep 16 '16 at 0:04
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    Hell, put your wife onto the phone and let her go off. Nothing is more dangerous than an angry woman defending her husband, and it sounds like the guy deserves a verbal bollocking. And remember, shes had (up to) ten years of not getting the time with her husband that she deserved too – Shayne Sep 19 '16 at 7:24

tl;dr version: Don't contact him.

In all probability he's forgotten. Lots of people say "sure, let's have lunch on me some time" and it never happens, and no-one bats an eyelid. There's a small chance that he'll remember and talk about you to his friends, and a tiny chance he'll remember and call you up to claim his lunch - in which case the best move is to tell him that you consider that his continuing to screw you over post-resignation invalidates any promise you may have made. If he is that big a jerk, it's going to be apparent in his social circle and anyone who takes him seriously when he badmouths former employees is not going to be a person worth working for.

Whet you do need to do, though, is find a way to move on from all this. For ten years he exploited you, yet you still can't let go of him and are even contemplating doing him favours even after you've severed your contractual ties. You're never going to put right those wrongs and get what was due to you. Find someone who can work with you to prevent the same pattern happening again, to prevent you sabotaging your current position, and get this guy out of your head.

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    With the OP boss's behaviour, if that kind of ex-boss contacted me year on, that would be slightly unusual if I were not in touch (for whatever reason) with said individual for close to a year after leaving. – Cthulhubutt Sep 14 '16 at 9:34

Let's start by summarizing some of the highlights of your past 10 years:

  1. Your boss repeatedly ordered and/or guilt-tripped you out of taking vacation time which you were fully entitled to take.

  2. You made a regular habit of putting in lots of overtime (I'm assuming without receiving any extra compensation for it? If so, make that unpaid overtime), but that still wasn't enough to stop your boss from holding your vacation days hostage. Or enough to stop him from berating you when you told him you were leaving (or at other times during your employment).

  3. Your boss/employer shortchanged you on all of those vacation days that they bullied you out of using, when you left the company. Note that depending upon your locale, this may actually be completely illegal.

  4. Your boss made vague promises of equity or other compensation in order to keep you on a wage that you both knew was too low.

  5. For 10 years your boss was "too busy" to actually flesh out or make good on those vague promises (but still had plenty of time to talk you out of taking vacations, berate you about deadlines/for not putting in enough overtime, and so on). Let's be clear, this didn't happen because you were too young, or because you didn't fix terms in advance, or because he was just too busy. It happened because he had no intention whatsoever of ever making good on those vague promises.

In short, you were being taken advantage of. For a long time, and in a significant way.

You desire to keep your word is admirable. But it's also completely wasted in this case. Your former boss probably doesn't even remember that you promised him a free lunch a year ago. If he's going to badmouth you to his colleagues, it's not going to be because you forgot to take him to lunch that one time a year after you quit. It would be because you quit and he's the sort of person who takes that as an affront.

It's also clear that you don't feel you'd gain anything from doing the lunch. I don't blame you. And your former boss doesn't deserve any more freebies off your back.

My advice: Listen to your wife, for she is wise.

There's no reason whatsoever for you to go and reestablish contact with someone who was happy to sit there and take advantage of you and your loyalty for 10+ years. The only possible exception I can think of would be if you do happen to live in a jurisdiction where shortchanging people on accrued entitlements (like vacation days) is in fact illegal. Then by all means inform him that he still owes you your entitlements.

But only if you're prepared to have him slander you up and down to anyone that will listen. Because based on how you've described him, he'll almost definitely do so. Otherwise, just let the past stay in the past, and get back to focusing on building a better future. Going back to your former boss won't help with that. Some bridges aren't worth maintaining. You don't have to burn it, nor do you have to cross it ever again.

  • 2
    If he's really busy exploiting his new employees, he may have already forgotten that "this other guy left last year"... – Alexander Sep 14 '16 at 13:07
  • I don't think he has exploited anyone else even remotely close to the way he exploited me. Aside from working overtime sometimes, nobody else in the company could relate to me at all when I spoke with them. I learned that the company was paying for others' professional development even to the degree of retraining them for completely different positions, and when I commented that I felt my skills were stagnating, I was flat-out shut down. – Hugh Sep 16 '16 at 0:16

Auuuuuuuuuugh! You are an approval-seeker. As a matter of fact, you'd rather have approval than acknowledge your own pain. But this trait follows you until you deal with it. You're going to encounter it again, and again, even on your new job. You don't love yourself, man!

Your boss was a jerk to the very end, but here you're worrying about him being disappointed, or what he'll say or think. Trust in that little voice inside yourself that's telling you that this is a bad idea. Actually, trust in that little voice for this situation and always. You have some history somewhere that has extinguished your belief and put other (unreasonable) peoples' needs above your own. This is imbalance, and you can change that. You may be a codependent.

So no - don't go. And kudos to you for reaching out, above your hesitation, and asking reasonable people if this makes sense. Keep up the good work.

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    This. OP needs a backbone. – maple_shaft Sep 14 '16 at 16:51
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    Honor? Hogwash. Honor is a two-way street. Funny - in America, Marine vets got taught about honor at Camp Pendleton before Vietnam, but learned a new lesson when their mentors on the subject left them high and dry with Agent Orange afterwards. Ego will put you in an early grave. Your relationship with your boss has been abusive, and in legal terms, an unconscionable arrangement. law.cornell.edu/wex/unconscionability – Xavier J Sep 15 '16 at 5:34
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    Even the courts recognize a person's right to "tap out" of a no-win situation. – Xavier J Sep 15 '16 at 5:36
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    @Hugh Honor is what you are telling yourself. Its a lie to protect your ego from Fear. Be honest about what you are afraid of. Own your responsibility for the last 10 years. – maple_shaft Sep 15 '16 at 11:06
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    @maple_shaft (sigh) I recognized my mistake, took ownership, left, and I'm much happier with my career now. A year ago I was curious what he would say, and got to hear his twisted rationalization that totally justified all his actions in his mind. Caring what he thinks would be pointless. I wanted to keep my word because I felt it would bother me if I just blew him off. This exercise (posting here) has been helpful to me and now if he does try to collect, I will be better prepared. – Hugh Sep 16 '16 at 1:52

In a nutshell, no. And here's why.

His suggestion that you take him out for lunch in a years time was based upon the premise that things would be better, and that you would feel differently when that time came. One year has gone by, and despite his admission of guilt he has done not a thing to rectify the faults he recognized in himself. Not only that, but presumably the company is still yet to succeed. This tells you two things depending on how positive your outlook is, and neither are great.

  1. As the leader of the company, he has failed in his attempt to take the company to a new level.
  2. He was dangling the future success of the company as a carrot-stick for you to stay, knowing full well that he would be unable to enact the decisions needed to see it through. People like himself value the kind of employee you were because they know your resistance to their demands are little-to-none.

The point is that he did not hold his end of the deal, you can't trust him and would not touch him again with a stick. Keeping your word is an honourable trait, but to dignify him with your honour would be an insult to yourself. Not only that, but nothing good would come out of that encounter because there is nothing good to be said. It also wouldn't give you closure, what would give you closure is a vow to yourself never to settle for that behaviour from anyone again, to forgive him and move on. As long as you harbor those regrets in your head the anger will just continue.

So to conclude, keep your word for the people who deserve it. Not taking him for lunch in no way blemishes your honourable standing.

he would like me to take him out to lunch in a year

He was your boss, and yet still the penny-pinching ass-hat wants YOU to take HIM out to lunch?

Honestly, I would take him out. I'd spend a very long time gleefully considering options for the best place to take him out. Somewhere I know that he hates? Somewhere really expensive, then leave him with the bill? Somewhere that a whole bunch of his other ex employees will also be dining per arrangement? Choices are endless.

You say you don't want to burn bridges, but I'm honestly not sure what bridges you'd want to retain, there.

But to maintain the moral upper hand, I suppose you could, if he contacts you, tell him that he'll be picking up the check.

Or just say "until unpaid my dues are paid, I can't afford to take you out to lunch."

After he finally settled down and admitted he should have found a way to compensate me better, he repeated his soft promise of wanting to make things right "when the company succeeds" and told me he would like me to take him out to lunch in a year.

The way you put that, it sounds like you're saying he implied that he would arrange a way to compensate you one year on from that point. If that's the case, The lunch itself seems irrelevant. What seems more relevant is

  1. Whether that statement was made while he was still trying to convince you to stay, or after it was clear you were leaving, and
  2. Whether there's any chance he would deliver on his promise.

If 'the latter' for 1) and 'yes' for 2), you could consider meeting him and pick up the stack of cash/other 'reward' he's going to give you. If 'the former' for 1), then the offer probably became null anyway when you actually left. If 'no' for 2), then of course the words were meaningless as soon as they were spoken.

  • 1
    I has a similar (shorter & gentler) situation. Some bosses/owners focus more on the (perceived) company needs more than needs of individuals, and I doubt that mindset has changed in a year. There will be no "stack of cash", at lunch or anywhere else, ever. This is an employer who doesn't know how to run a business and likely never will, who will never think the company is "sucessful enough" to share profits, and who sees employment as "ownership" instead of "partnership". If the OP was ever going to be compensated, it would have been on the way out the door (including the unused vacation). – brichins Sep 16 '16 at 17:53
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    @brichins Agreed - "the words were meaningless" is the 95% probability. Including the word 'lunch'. – user45019 Sep 16 '16 at 23:05

I was taught that when you give your word, you keep it. Consequently, I rarely give my word for anything.
Contrary to what some others have said, I think you should keep your word. a good deal can change in a year, and perhaps something changed or didn't. In any event, an hour of your time is something you should sacrifice to be a man of your word. If you can't keep your word when it's difficult to do so, you can't be trusted to keep it at all.

This isn't really about the old boss, but about you. Could it damage your career? Possibly, but ethical standards have dropped over the years, so the corporate risk is small, but there.

It comes down to what your word means to you. I say go because you will learn something from this, if nothing else, that it's a good idea to be discriminating about who is worthy of your promises.

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    I to am a word keeper, but to my mind he forfeited it when he ripped of OP for unused vacation. – Joshua Sep 14 '16 at 15:35
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    @RichardU No, it really isn't. Promising someone compensation that you never actually deliver is fraud. Shorting them out of their accrued vacation days is fraud. Intimidating them out of taking vacations is manipulative. And verbally attacking their intelligence is abuse. The old boss is a bully and a fraudster, not some long-lost friend who wants to sit and have a cup of tea. Only a fool would keep a promise made to such a man. He ceded his right to honorable treatment when he spent 10 years failing to treat the OP honorably. – aroth Sep 16 '16 at 0:38
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    I do believe in keeping my word, just not to the extent of making it a blind absolute that you do without regard to context or consequences. I have my principles, and they've been tested. Having been in a situation that's similar to the OP's, I learned that when you're confronted with someone who's willing to defraud and disadvantage you, continuing to play the honorable nice-guy-who-absolutely-never-reneges-on-a-promise-once-given will do nothing but perpetuate your own victimhood. – aroth Sep 16 '16 at 13:54
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    There's a big difference between a pinky promise or swearing on your mother's life, and casually saying "yeah let's meet for lunch sometime next year" (which in all likelihood was merely empty pleasantries anyway). – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 16 '16 at 15:56
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    The actual description of the event reads "told me he would like me to take him out to lunch in a year. Like an idiot, I said yes." I interpret subsequent uses of the term "promise" to be a sort of hyperbole or misuse of the word, and I don't think that's a reach – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 16 '16 at 16:45

Disclaimer: sorry for sounding like a shrink wannabe from teen broken heart advice collumn.

You need to forgive and move on.

From your post it seems that you hold much anger against your previous boss. It's never a good thing. It only burns your energy and brings you pain. People often mix up forgiving and forgetting - one should never forget. Also, there is misconception that forgiving is some kind of favor towards the offender - it's a favor to YOU. The anger is keeping you from moving on, and as long as you're emotionally attached, that person can still hurt you (like you wrote he did). That hard years made you who you are now, and made you appreciate your current life. You recognize the abuse now, so you won't let it happen, you're stronger. But if you really consider that time of your life as "lost" you need to accept that loss and make peace with it. Obviously, the time alone haven't done the trick, so you should try actively working on it. Maybe even use professional help. Remember, it's for YOU, not for him.

I believe that once you move on, a lunch with your ex-boss can be a good thing. But not yet, you're obviously still vulnerable. Don't reach out to him now, let's hope he won't either. If he does contact you, reschedule. Just try to remain neutral in that case. He'll may try to insult you, don't let him provoke you, don't try to be witty, just reschedule. But do meet him, eventually, I think you need the closure - that's the benefit.

Yeah, I know it looks like a dating advice - but dating is yet another relationship, just a very intense one. From your words it seems that your previous employment was also quite emotionally intense - or at least it is now when you look back at it. So bad breakup advice may somewhat apply.

Many answers have already been given, but I would like to point out why you should maintain a complete contact prohibition with this person and why those suggestions and reasons to hold to your word are in my opinion misguided. I say in advance that I will very strongly criticize the conciliatory response of AnoE.

As user2023861 already pointed out, he is toxic to your person. To exploit someone for 10 years to such an amount you are describing needs either a master manipulator or a codependent person, very probably both. That other persons have not been (so they claim) manipulated to such an extent rings all warning signs to me: Instead of being hated and feared like a pointed-hairy boss such a reaction means that he is actually aware how much he can manipulate a person. That's very bad news.

The way you asked your question already told me that you not only sustained enormous emotional damage, you are still struggling with all the suppressed feelings over the time. In short, you are very vulnerable. In contrast, your former boss is completely unfazed, he holds every advantage (he has still your payment, your time).

Now to the other suggestions: blackip made the suggestion to simply go and have a little nice chat to find out more. That is the same advice to visit a white shark in the basin to find out if his teeth are really the same as yesterday. You cannot win this situation. In the very best case nothing happens and you are still struggling with the loss of your money and your lifetime. In the worst case he will try to manipulate you again, diss your company (you cannot believe how bad he can make you feel to work there even if you know better), tell lies and exaggerations to bait you again (I have a little project, if our firms work together etc. etc.) and push your buttons to destroy your self-esteem again (make you angry to make a scene, he plays innocent victim and you are ashamed of yourself because you flipped out).

While the course of action may be appropiate if two people are "normal", in this specific case I think it is completely inappropiate.

Tell him how much happier you are now.
Oh yes. After you left prison, you have the desire to meet your ward again and tell him how nice your new dwelling is in contrast to your cell. And tell him that people can choose what to eat...unbelievable! Wait, you think he actually knew that?! The subconscious reason to meet your wrongdoer is very likely to indicate that you still need him for self-confirmation of yourself. You are really a nice guy, please, feel guilty.

I never understood why people would look astonished if you tell them: "Hey, I want to see my old prison and the ward" but find it strange that you do not want to meet bullies again.

I will now criticize the points made by AnoE because the answer contains many hidden barbs.

"He did what he had to do (due to his genes or whatever).""People like you get abused by people like him. It's not their fault and not your fault, it is just the way it is.""Your relationship could not have developed differently (or it would have), so nobody is at "fault" here.""You might not like the reasons you find, but reasons they are."

What AnoE is doing here in the first sentences is essentially denying the responsibility for the actions of the parties involved. If that is really is what AnoE means, he/she is denying the ability to change (It will always be the same !) and the concept of guilt. This is all in stark contrast to the claimed openness that the questioner has gained wisdom or can grow (if he could do that, why not the perpetrator?!). With the last sentence AnoE is claming that there must (not may, must) be reasons on the side of the victim of abuse. And this "He did what he had to do". Hello ??!!

If someone felt uneasy with this answer, this may be the reason. The answer is delicately poisoned to absolve the perpetrator, but still poisoned. The reason might be that AnoE intends that it is easier to cope if abuse has no target (like a hurricane destroying the home) or cannot be prevented, but it is still dishonest and it puts a disproportionate amount of responsibility on the victim.

  • Opportunity to grow: Growing is a state which can only happen from a position of stability. We do not expect that someone who lies in a hospital with a broken bone will skiing again better than before nor do we expect a depressive person to have more friends than before. Stability always needs a completed phase of regeneration and I do not have the impression that the person is ready for that. 10 years of abuse need an amount of time and trying to accelerate the process will do no good.

  • Understand him. While I agree that he may not be inherently evil, he has with almost absolute a lack of remorse. It is a very good clue how people are if they are acting from a position of power and see how they use it. And it does not exclude the possibility that people are really that plain mean. There is nothing to gain and much to lose by meeting him.

  • Promise: Unfortunately noone told the boss about the strongest thingamagic part, likely because the boss thinks it is a pile of dung. Promises are given because it is a value of acknowledgement and ease (I give her/him a promise because I like her/him very much). While not intended, it also always triggers the law of reciprocity: If a promise has any worth, I am only honor-bound to hold a promise once the promises of the other person are fulfilled. Actually for a codependent person breaking promises are a necessary step to learn that the world does not stop to exist when this happens.

My advice: Stay out of contact and "let go" which is much easier than to "forgive". Let time heal your wounds and enjoy your life. Does not let him in your life, don't talk, don't greet, ignore him. Good luck.

  • 1
    Thanks; pretty much everything you've said here resonates very strongly with me, and the part about just ignoring him if I bump into him sounds very liberating. – rob Nov 10 '16 at 2:42

I realize that there are several answers already, and one of them has even been accepted, but sadly, a few key points need to either be addressed or at least addressed more completely.

[ I ] Was loyal to a fault.

No. You were not loyal at all. Loyalty is something that is earned, and so needs to be given, and can only be given freely. You were in an abusive relationship and hence were obedient, which is different.

After I told my boss I was contemplating another employment offer, he took me out to lunch. It started off ok, then--per his typical pattern--he got around to insulting my intelligence. After he finally settled down and admitted he should have found a way to compensate me better, he repeated his soft promise of wanting to make things right "when the company succeeds"

How is this scenario any different (from a psychological perspective), than:

PersonA is a relationship (type doesn't matter: dating, marriage, best friends, etc) with PersonB. PersonB slaps, or even punches, PersonA whenever PersonA does something that PersonB doesn't like. PersonA keeps trying to "do better" to not incur the wrath of PersonB. But PersonB keeps hitting PersonA. And each time, after PersonB expresses their "disappointment", PersonB apologizes for the hitting, explains how it was really PersonA's fault for doing something upsetting, and restates how much they love / care for Person A.

You have already detailed in the Background section of the Question how you were systematically abused. For years! And this final lunch episode is no different: you did something displeasing by finding a new job, your boss abuses you again (and you take it, rather than getting up and leaving), and then "apologizes" and tries to show how much he cares by repeating empty promises. This was just their last chance to abuse you before they find their next victim.

and told me he would like me to take him out to lunch in a year. (emphasis added)

How does this not send up red flags? How does this one statement by your boss, since it doesn't end with you telling him to f$%@ o$*, not scream: "Everything is wrong with this picture!"? Who in this world, being in a position of authority and better paid, tells someone to take them out to lunch in a year? Oh right, an abuser who knows that they can get away with such a ridiculous thing. Unless he said it jokingly, in which case there is no question here in the first place since he wasn't serious about getting together for lunch.

Like an idiot, I said yes.

No, not "like an idiot". This has nothing to do with intelligence. Nothing at all. That is simply you, sadly, internalizing all of those times that your boss insulted your intelligence. Regretting not leaving sooner is one thing, but you use the phrase "like an idiot" a few times. This is not healthy.

On the one hand, I don't want to break my word ... I've thought about emailing him ... stating that I'm just not comfortable speaking with him ..., but that I would buy him lunch to make good on my promise if he insists.

You have said that you "promised" and "given your word". Ok. Let's please get clear about something right now: neither of these statements are true. Did you suggest going to lunch in a year, and offer to pay? No. You were commanded to and you acknowledged that command. There is a reason why the law has terms such as "valid informed consent" and "of sound mind": willfully agreeing to something is different than acknowledgements made while under duress. The fact that you interpret being commanded to do something by your old boss as being something that you promised to do is, again, not healthy. This is another indicator that you have not fully moved passed this. And if it is not obvious, going to lunch with this person prior to getting the help you need is ill-advised and potentially dangerous.

However, it's entirely possible that I may bump into one of his connections at some other point in my career. I don't expect any help from him, but I also don't want him to say something negative about me if it comes up.

Sure, you might bump into one, but you can't control this situation now anymore than you did years ago. Your boss hasn't changed. He is still an abusive person who thinks very little of you. It's possible that your boss has already said negative things about you to his friends. It's possible he will tell them to hire you because you are a pushover who will work tons of overtime for no extra pay, and can be controlled, and who won't take vacation time. Going to lunch with your boss will only refresh his memory regarding how much control he had over you, and give him one last opportunity to see if he still has that control.

when he asked me to buy him lunch in a year, he explained that he hoped I would be doing well and that we could have a happier conversation. I think his motive for this was one or both of the following reasons:

What does you doing well have to do with paying for his lunch? You have already stated that you were underpaid, worked overtime on top of that, and didn't get unused vacation time (potentially illegal, and some states in the U.S. have a "Department of Labor" you can call to report such things and get that money!). All he is doing here is shifting your attention away from how much he didn't pay you by getting you to think about shiny money somewhere over yonder.

You mentioned in a comment on another answer:

[ I ] already grew one a year ago and left. As one other commenter so eloquently put it, this question coming up now is about honor.

This question "coming up now" is not about honor. This is about whether or not you have dealt with the past abuse: have you acknowledged it, are you now in a better place mentally / emotionally where you have a good sense of self-worth and are not susceptible to getting into another abusive relationship, and have you freed yourself from this past. To help answer that, I direct you to the statements you made below:

Just thinking about the work conditions at my old job infuriates me. The lost opportunities infuriate me. It infuriates me even more to think that I allowed myself to be abused in that way for so many years.

So no. You are still stewing in this. On the other hand, do you think your old boss has lost any sleep over this, at any point in time?

My wife thinks I'm foolish to even consider making good on my promise. She doesn't see any possible benefit to following through, and I'm inclined to agree with her, though I cannot discount the possibility that I'm overlooking something.

Again, you didn't promise anything. And she is right that there is no possible benefit to your continued obedience to your former abuser. That being said, there are two things that are being overlooked:

  1. while you did manage to take a large step forward in finally recognizing the abusive situation and removing yourself from it, it is clear from this question that you still haven't truly worked through this experience. And you need to. Whatever time and money you were considering spending on this lunch should be put towards the first few sessions with a proper psychiatrist / therapist. This is not something that just goes away. The way that you interact with the world and other people (including your wife) has been affected by this experience. This is not something that you can just "talk out" with friends. Please get professional help.
  2. related to the point above, but important enough to mention separately: what are your actions telling your wife? If you love her and want to maintain a good, healthy marriage, you need to consider how she will feel about you spending more time away from her (someone who loves you) in order to be with an abuser (someone who considers you to be, at best, a 2nd class citizen / peasant). Do yourself and your marriage a favor and please talk to a therapist about this situation with your boss.

Good luck!!

  • Well, when you put it like that, I guess I'm a textbook case. We've got plenty of things to work on in our marriage so this may very well come up at some point in a therapist's office. – rob Nov 10 '16 at 2:49
  • @rob I hope it came across that I am not trying to be negative here. Hopefully it is clear that I am trying to be very positive by pointing out things that can be improved :-). I have certainly learned from my marriage (and other relationships) that our actions communicate quite a lot, and that a person (your wife) needs to feel confident that their spouse (you) is someone they can respect and will be there for them. Listen to her because it will show her that you are more self-confident and trust her, which will allow her to trust you and trust that you will be there to support her. – Solomon Rutzky Nov 10 '16 at 3:43
  • 1
    It all seems like a pretty fair analysis of the situation to me. I did end up listening to her. – rob Nov 10 '16 at 5:56

Invite him

This advice is for you. The reasoning being that you have the obligation towards yourself (I don't care a bit about your old boss). The topic is eating you, and doing nothing will not stop the gnawing.

"Hello $OldBoss- a year ago I promised that we'd meet again; let's do so! I've reserved a table at $Restaurant at $Time hours, please drop me a mail ASAP if you can come." You give him an obvious way out ("sorry, I can't make that date"). If he is interested in meeting you, he will continue "but how about on $OtherTime"; and from that point on it's his reponsibility. If he simply tells you that he can't make the date (or even that he is not interested at all), then you have fulfilled your obligation and can move on without anything on your conscience.

Promises

A promise is indeed the strongest thingamagic that a human being (especially one with so much self-concern as yourself) can give to another. Holding a promise should rightfully be extremely important to you.

The way out is to not give promises that you do not really want to keep. That can be hard as well, but can (and should) be learned.

Don't wait for him to pick you up on your promise.

Mindset

You are wiser now than you were a year ago. Treat this as a game, or as an opportunity to grow. Go into it with roughly this mindset:

  • Understand him. Why did he act like this? It is not hard to find objective reasons which do not amount to "he is an inherently evil person who deserves to rot in hell". You might not like the reasons you find, but reasons they are. Hint: the reasons may be somewhere in your own behaviour. Objectify them, do not wrestle with them.
  • Forgive him. Just like that. He did what he had to do (due to his genes or whatever). I do not mean that you should go to him and say "I forgive you", but that you convince yourself beforehand that you have understood why he did it and that he was not intentionally malevolent to you just because he is the devil and wanted to destroy you personally.
  • Understand yourself. Per your OP, you're already pretty much there.
  • Forgive yourself. Stop the self-hate. You are what you are. People like you get abused by people like him. It's not their fault and not your fault, it is just the way it is.
  • Get rid of the concept that you can "lose time". It looks to me like you needed that 10-year-long wake-up call, and it took the time it needed to take, for you. You reap the benefits now (hopefully) by being aware of your own limitations and avoiding unlucky engagements in the future. You (hopefully) got stronger for it. It could have turned out much worse.
  • Get rid of the concept of "fault". Your relationship could not have developed differently (or it would have), so nobody is at "fault" here.

The actual invitation you then extend is a kind of benchmark which tells you if you were successful in setting your mind right.

Talk

When you meet, simply do small-talk. Prepare a long list of things you can talk about, from the weather to local sport events. Talk freely about your current situation (only the positive things of course, and no secrets or things too close to yourself or your new company; no comparisons). Don't initiate talk about anything from a year ago. Pick any opportunity to let him talk about his company (but don't encourage him if he starts talking about you).

Prepare yourself for topics that relate to the time that infuriates you, and prepare your opinions so you don't have to think about them in the heat of the moment. Ask yourself what you would want to do if he asks you to return to his company ("thanks for the offer, but I'm really happy at my new company") or whether you want to have compensation when his company finally gets well ("ah, come on, forget about it") etc. Make it so that your answers are not just there as a stop for the huge pressure you feel inside, but that they are truly what you think. The mindset you have put yourself into, before, should make it so you do not need to lash out at him massively. Make 100% sure you do not need to lie to him or yourself.

Oh, and by the way, please don't bring your wife. This would only transfer responsibility away from you. She was not there in the office the last 10 years either, I assume.

Move on

If he turns into his usual awful self, set yourself free from any personal feelings. Stay aloof, stay like a 3rd person watching a video of your conversation. Relax very consciously; breathe slowly and deeply. Think a few seconds before you answer anything. Have compassion, he is a poor guy who is probably hated by many, and he is probably not very happy. Ride it out, be polite, say good bye and be done with it. You have fulfilled your obligation.

If, instead, by some wonder, it turns into a wonderful, relaxed evening, feel free to just let your relationship with him fizzle out like that. Take it as a closure, make sure he knows it was one ("it was nice to meet you one final time after all these years - good luck in your future" or something like that without making it sound snide or sarcastic). Firm look in the eye, firm handshake, separate taxis.

I think you now know that it would be a bad idea to promise to meet him next year again. ;-)

Good luck

And let us know how it turned out. This is not an easy task you have before you, but failing will not hurt you more than you already are, and succeeding will boost you immensely.

  • Excellent advice. Either do it this way, if you can pull it off (e.g. staying aloof, friendly but detached, is very important) or don't do it at all. – reinierpost Sep 18 '16 at 10:02
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    I do not think it is good advice (to say the least) and I explained the reasons in my own answer. – Thorsten S. Sep 18 '16 at 17:27
  • Thanks for the thoughtful suggestions. I ended up following the accepted answer, letting him contact me if he was really serious. He did not. If he does in the future, I may politely decline. What he wants out of this interaction is validation that he did what was best for me, which is absolutely false from my perspective. The way he absolved himself of any wrongdoing was just twisted. I don't want to speak with him unless he opens with a sincere apology or wants to give me a pile of money for my past efforts and many years of unwavering loyalty and dedication. I'm not holding my breath. – rob Nov 10 '16 at 2:46
  • Fair enough, in the end you have to decide your own actions. @rob – AnoE Nov 10 '16 at 8:55

It's obvious from your description that you are aware that the meeting would most likely not have a healthy outcome. Unfortunately, most answers and comments here just reiterate that point which I believe is not addressing your actual dilemma.

That dilemma is that on the one hand, you really don't want to go while on the other hand you gave your word.

Therefore I'd like to take the opposing position to most other people here. I think there is an argument to be made for following through and actually asking your ex-boss for a lunch. The reason is solely that the thought obviously bothers your that you gave your word and now might not be willing or able to hold it. That shows that you apply high moral standards to yourself, and because of that if you don't keep your promise now, it might haunt you later.

Additionally, I could imagine that if you contacted him and asked whether he's still interested in that lunch you promised a year ago, the answer might not be 'yes' anyway. But even if you end up going for that lunch, I think you're in a sufficiently different/distant position now, that you don't have to worry being affected by anything he says. He has no power over you any more, so you can simply smile anything away he might say that you don't like.

I think you should keep your word and inquire about the lunch, and if it happens, just go through it. Stay calm, don't try to explode, and simply walk away after one hour knowing that you've finally reached full closure.

This ex-boss of yours sounds like a horrible person. What's worse is that you had to suffer ten years of workplace bullying, and that they pressured you into abandoning holidays, which negatively impacted your personal relationships outside of work. This is not normal, this is not trivial, this is probably not even legal.

If I were you I would get a legal consultation to see if you have a chance to get compensation, because it sounds like there's grounds for it. In most places the law requires employers to not bully their staff. There are also laws about working hours, and questions of how this relates to the contract you signed, and promises that were made to you. Would you have done so much overtime if you weren't promised fair compensation? Would you have abandoned holidays if you weren't pressured into it? Was the boss sincere in his promises or claims that the company wasn't making enough to justify paying you more?

You say this is an issue of professional communication, I disagree. He's a bully, and if he bullied you then he's probably done it to other people, and others will know what he's like. If they condone his behaviour they're not worth knowing. Most will not. The question is why would you honour commitments with such a dishonourable person? What do you possibly have to gain? Your wife is absolutely right. There's no reason to meet him again, he has caused you a great deal of psychological distress and manipulated you.

The world is better when people like your ex-boss are ostracised. If you agree to meet him again, if he does come back to ask for the lunch, then you're just condoning his behaviour. He should be legally punished for it, not given a free lunch. If you want to know what is professional: it's not professional to encourage or accept a culture of bullying. There can be no respect for such people, or you are encouraging them.

You should treat the boss as "well" as he deserves. Which in most cases means not having lunch with him.

Most likely (about a 90% chance), he's forgotten the "promise" that you made to him in the "heat of battle." If he doesn't bring it up or call you on it, neither should you.

Possibly, he'll call you for lunch, but make it clear that he wants a "freebie." In that case, remember all the "free" overtime and vacations that you gave him, and turn him down this time. I'd rate this chance at just under 10%.

There's a small chance (less than 1%), that the boss will call, get on his hands and knees (verbally), apologize for his previous mistreatment of you, and ask to "make a fresh start." If that's the case, by all means take him to lunch to try to repair past damages.

The last is unlikely to happen. I posted it as a form of therapy for you, so that you'd have the option of meeting with your boss again if things actually went in your favor, for a change.

I think you should talk to your old boss and tell him how i am happy with my new job but if he still insisting then you can sit and talk for new conditions.

  • 3
    Sure, amazing conditions... "when the company succeeds". – Guillaume Sep 14 '16 at 13:26

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