Quel mess. I'm wondering at the wisdom of your roommate showing you those e-mails in the first place. Must everyone see everything? If she was going to show them to you, it seems a bit rich of her to imagine—as Joy seems to imagine—that you'd be able to continue your hunky-dory relationship with the guy after reading about the various pornographic things he longed to do to you on top of the water cooler …
As for my feelings about the e-mails themselves, assuming they were a) not group e-mails but intended as the private correspondence of two grown men and b) written on a personal, not company account (you don't specify), they're really nobody's business but Stew's. Yes, ideally, heterosexual men wouldn't be fantasizing about their hot young co-workers in their off-hours, but they're also human. The issue, to me, is whether any of this fantasizing affected Stew's behavior in the workplace. You say that before reading his private e-mails, you thought he was a great guy. So apparently the answer is no. The guilty party therefore is your friend, Joy, who got exactly the punishment she deserved (for snooping)—and also, unfortunately, managed to punish an innocent party (you) at the same time.
I think you need to sit Joy down and tell her that if she didn't want you to be upset or freaked out, she should have made those graphic e-mails her own cross to bear—not yours. As for confronting Stew, you can be sure he'll die of shame and embarrassment if you tell him what you saw. He'll also, yes, probably break up with Joy because he can't deal with the whole subject. But I wouldn't bother, unless you're itching for a scene. All you'll ultimately gain is a skulking co-worker and a weeping roomie, neither of which will make your life any more pleasant. Instead, I suggest rolling your eyes at both of them and saving money for your own place.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
"Hunter," who is like a sister to me, has been in a psychologically abusive relationship for two years. After months of counseling her through a tearful and difficult breakup, I invited her to stay with my husband and me for the summer, across the country from where she lives. I found her a summer internship—she's in law school—as well as a cheap plane ticket.
When Hunter arrived, I found out that she'd gotten back together with her ex. Although upset, I tried to stay unbiased. But within a week, she became erratic, cold, and impulsive. One time, she showed up in the middle of the night after wandering lost and drunk through a dangerous neighborhood. Soon, she began leaving for several days at time without communicating when or if she'd be back. After a 10-day absence, she told me her ex had dumped her again and she was having a difficult time. She packed all her things and left without so much as a goodbye or a thank you.
That was three weeks ago. I've tried to reach out to her, texting, IM'ing, and e-mailing. Hunter has either ignored my messages or been noncommittal. I'm frustrated by her lack of responsiveness, but I also know that extending myself was my own doing and that I shouldn't be asking for anything in return. Nonmutual friends I've told about the situation insist that she's resentful and jealous of my stable career, relationship, and new home, and that I should just let her go. What, if anything, can I do?
Breaking Up With Friends Is Hard To Do
There's not much you can do that you're not already doing. Which is to say, letting her know you're there if she wants to talk. Hunter is clearly in some kind of pain. Whether it's the boyfriend's doing or whether her problems precede him, I can't say. But I don't see that your nonmutual friends' reading of the situation is helpful or even necessarily accurate. It seems just as possible to me that Hunter is so inside her own problems right now that she can't be a friend to anyone, stable or unstable. It's also unfortunately the case that having leaned on you during the earlier breakup (and, most likely, gotten you to corroborate how rotten the guy is), she feels like she can't turn to you now for further solace regarding her most recent breakup. "I told you so" is probably the advice she least wants.
You're not getting anything out of the friendship right now. So you might as well leave it alone for a while. If Hunter is really like a sister to you, try again in six months (or a year). Here's hoping that by then, she'll be hot and heavy with a nice young "third year." Maybe, by then, she'll also be ready to say, "Thank you."
Friend or Foe
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