Last week, after almost a year of freelancing, I returned to a familiar position at the helm of xoJane's sister site, xoVain. Sure, I'd spent most of my freelance efforts writing and editing for xoJane, but now I'm actually sitting at a desk at the XO offices again, as opposed to sitting at my "desk" (the arm of my couch) at home.
Although I enjoyed the flexibility and freedom that came with freelancing, I'd recently ramped up my search for full-time editorial work after the sting of paying self-employment taxes for the first time ever and several months of paying for not-so-affordable health insurance from the New York Health Plan Marketplace. I even had Jane's and Emily's blessings to get out there and interview, complete with reference offers, because they're the best.
Last month, I had an especially busy week and found myself interviewing for three different opportunities with well-known web and print publications, one of which hearkened back to my time as an editor at a website for teen girls over a decade ago. Although the site at which I'd be interviewing had a broader demographic gender-wise and I'd been out of the teen content game for a while, the corporate recruiter thought I might be a good fit for editorial director, and I had to agree.
An hour into the interview with the two friendly and engaging people who'd be making the hire decision, I was pretty sure I had them agreeing, too. The time we'd set aside for the meeting had flown by with easy conversation, and they seemed interested in and pleased with my answers to their questions. When they noticed an hour had passed, they rescheduled their next meetings to keep talking to me. I even managed to resist scratching my super-itchy new tattoo!
Ass: I was kicking it.
As we entered into the interview's second hour, they invited me to ask them any questions I had. My first: How many editors report to the editorial director?
"Three," the male interviewer—I'll call him Steve—said. "There's Tammy, Carly," he said, giving me just their first names, "and the senior editor is Antonio Pepperpot."
A full name. A very familiar full name. (A full name that I changed to something kind of ridiculous for the sake of publicly telling this story.)
I tensed up. I noticed the interviewers noticing me tense up.
"Pepperpot with four P's?" I asked, even though his name was uncommon enough that I was almost certain I knew who they were talking about.
"Yeah. He was a comedian or actor or something," the female interviewer—I'll call her Debbie—said, confirming my suspicions. "Have you heard of him?"
My heart sank as I felt an overwhelming ethical obligation to say something that I knew would probably tank the interview. I dropped my head forward a bit, looked down at the table, and then looked in Debbie's eyes.
"I was married to him."
Here's a reenactment of Debbie's face when I said that:
"Seriously?" Steve said, to which I sheepishly nodded. "I didn't even know he was married before his current wife."
"Yeah, it's ancient history," I said. "We were only married for two years, and we've been divorced almost a decade."
"Are you still in touch?" Debbie asked. It seems like a silly question now that I think about it; I probably would've known he's an editor there if we were still in touch.
"Nah," I replied. "It was an amicable split, and we have some mutual friends still, but we're not in touch anymore."
In fact, my ex-husband is very actively not in touch with me. The last thing I'd heard about him, via an article I stumbled upon on an entertainment news site last year, was that he'd written a web series with a popular comedic actor. I had every reason to believe he was still doing the whole comedy thing.
Many years ago, after paying me back only a fraction of the thousands of dollars he owed me, he sent me an email saying he had no intention of paying back any more money. Unsurprisingly, this came right before he got engaged to his current wife—I imagine he would rather pay for a ring than pay back his ex-wife—and even though I told him I was more than happy to work out an even more lenient payment plan, he stopped replying. It wasn't long before I stopped trying. I just wanted to move on.
I emailed him before I moved back to New York in 2011 to let him know I didn't hold any grudges about the money or anything else, and I even sent him info about a social media gig I thought he'd be a great fit for, but I haven't heard from him since he told me he wouldn't be paying the outstanding debt. His wife has unsolicitedly sent me several short, friendly emails over the years—he introduced me to her when they started dating after our separation, and she seems like a genuinely nice, caring person—but he's been a ghost, which he has every right to be (even if the money thing is kind of shitty). In fact, one of our mutual friends recently pointed out to me that our marriage had been deleted from his IMDB page. He essentially pretends I don't exist.
I didn't say this to the interviewers, of course. All the positive momentum from the first hour of the interview had me in the mindset to keep striving to get the job, and I wasn't interested in badmouthing him to his employers.
"I realize this is awkward," I said. "I do want you to know, though, that it would be a nonissue for me to work with him." To be his freakin' BOSS, I heard in my head. "To this day, I still have the utmost respect for his talent."
And that's actually true. Dude's super-funny and smart.
But even though they seemed to believe me and the interview went on for another half-hour, I had a feeling it was in vain. Even if I was the best candidate for the job and they trusted I'd be very professional about being his boss, I doubt any employer would willingly invite that dynamic into a workplace. And if they respect and like him, I'm sure they'd ask him how he'd feel about it. I can't picture him being comfortable with the idea.
"Is it weird that I can totally see you two together?" Debbie said as we wrapped up the interview and she opened the door to the hallway.
Yep, kinda weird, I thought, but I said, "Nah, we had similar personalities. And we both wear glasses?" At that point, I was so nervous that I was going to run into him in the hallway that I'd ceased saying things that made sense. I thanked Debbie as I shook her hand and hotfooted it into the elevator, successfully avoiding seeing him for what would have been the first time in nine years.
As soon as I got to the sidewalk, I called my parents to tell them what happened. They seemed about as confident that I would get the job under these circumstances as I was, which is not very.
"If only they had said just his first name," I lamented.
"It's probably for the best that it's all out there," my mom said. And I agree. If I got the job with neither of us aware of what was about to happen, that would've been the craziest first day at a new job ever.
But I didn't get the job. Last week, I got a very nice email from the recruiter letting me know that they went with a candidate who has a "more relevant background." And that could totally be true! It's probably true. But it's hard not to wonder if the main reason—the real reason—is because of my history with one of the people I'd be managing, and if they even told him I interviewed.
Ultimately and understandably, they'll hire an editorial director with a background much less relevant to their senior editor.