This week, I accidentally sent a sexually explicit text to my employer.
She is one of my tutoring clients, the mother of one of my students. I have my own business as a tutor for elementary-age children. I love kids, and it’s one of my side hustles to keep me out of debt.
It was an ordinary Wednesday morning. I woke up, rolled out of bed, and looked at the clock. When I saw it, I instantly panicked. I had overslept for my 9:00 tutoring lesson. It was 8:58, and I was still in my pajamas with crazy hair, no Zoom meeting scheduled.
I texted my student’s mom. I am so sorry for the delay! I told her. I will start the Zoom meeting shortly! I tried to make my texts sound bright, enthusiastic, and genuine. She quickly typed back, No biggie! We are ready whenever!
Thankfully, I was able to get the Zoom meeting up and running within seconds. I went over to the meeting window and clicked on Invite Participants so that I could copy and paste the Zoom link for her. I usually send it in a text. I clicked the “copy” key shortcut on my computer, then pulled up our texting conversation and swiftly clicked “paste” into the message box and without even thinking about it, in my haste, I clicked SEND.
And then something awful happened. I watched in horror as my screen filled with a gigantic blue text bubble. I had failed to copy the link correctly (probably because I was working so fast), and I had accidentally sent her a paragraph. The most-recently copied paragraph on my laptop — which was a sexually explicit paragraph about an experience that I had with a boyfriend years ago. In fact, I had been writing it for Medium (for a piece on intrusive thoughts), and while I was editing and moving paragraphs around, I had copied and pasted it so as not to delete it too soon.
But this was unconscionable. And this thing was inappropriate. Like, detailing each touch, each thought that went through my head, each word. Maybe for a platform like Medium it would have seemed mild, but for an employer? Not so much. I was horrified. I panned my eyes across the screen, reading the words through again. I knew she had probably already seen it, had already clicked on the text, thinking it was me sending her a link.
I stared at my laptop, speechless. The only thing I could think to do was be honest and move on. What else was I supposed to do? I couldn’t cancel a whole session because of a stupid, unprofessional mistake I had made. I typed a quick text. This was the gist of it:
“OMG! I am so sorry. It appears that I pasted the wrong text and I accidentally sent you a personal piece of writing that I had not meant to share. Please disregard the last text if you haven’t already read it. I am so embarrassed!”
I couldn’t lie to her — I had to be transparent, otherwise it would be worthless to try to explain myself. There was no white lie I could tell, no excuse, no way to get myself out of this. So I just told her, point-blank, that I had made a mistake. I apologized. And I confessed how embarrassed I was. After I sent it, I breathed deeply for a few seconds, begging the Universe that she didn’t already read it. Except I was pretty sure that she did.
My student joined the Zoom meeting, turned his camera and mic on, and said hello. His mom is usually there to greet me at the beginning of our sessions, though, and she was nowhere in sight. Shit, I thought. She read it and now she can’t face me. She probably thinks I’m a terrible influence.
Still, I couldn’t let my student down, and he had absolutely no idea that anything had happened, so I tried my best to proceed as normal. We talked, laughed, and worked on his essay about rodents. He went off on tangents. He even started schooling me on crocodiles, and we giggled together. It was productive, and it helped me get my mind off of things. But not fully. In the back of my mind, I was still thinking about the text, and the previous events of the morning.
But when our tutoring session was almost finished, when we had about five minutes left, I received a text from his mom. I wanted to cringe as I opened it, but I kept a straight face, not letting on that I was nervous. She is a kind, friendly, forgiving person, so I didn’t expect her to hate me or anything. Mostly, I was afraid she’d look at me differently, and that she’d somehow think that me writing about these matters made me unfit to spend time around her kid (now that I’m writing that, it sounds totally silly, but this is how my brain thinks when it’s anxious).
Her reply, though, was unlike anything I could have expected.
Not to worry, said the first text, This has actually happened to me before! I know how it can send you into a panic. I promise I will not read your personal writing! She then sent an emoji with a warm smile. The next text said, I just put it in the trash, so it’s gone forever! All is well!
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I wondered if she saw even a snippet of it. I still dwelled on the fact that she might have gotten a glimpse, and understood what it was about, but this was something I had to move on from. She had already said it was fine, had deleted the text, and moved on. And apparently, she knew what this felt like. I was glad she could understand where I was coming from. And she certainly didn’t seem to view me differently.
I thanked her profusely, then apologized again. She responded with, I know you’re trying to be professional, but you don’t need to apologize! I’ve been there…I get it! She was being so gracious and nice to me. I was in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that this situation had managed to work out OK and not end in extreme awkwardness.
I walked away that day feeling warm inside at her sense of forgivingness and empathy. She knew how it felt to make this mistake, and instead of faulting me, she made me feel better. She made me realize that there was nothing to worry about.
And that day, I learned something. Although it was a very random experience, in a weird way, it helped me have faith in the world again. I had faith that people could be good and respectful and that mistakes could be rectified. I had faith that not everything is meant to turn out badly, and sometimes our slip-ups can be addressed, forgotten, and moved on from. I am a person that dwells. This experience taught me that not everything needs to be dwelled on. Some things really do turn out fine, and we can walk away without a scratch.
It also taught me how valuable it is to be honest, even with an employer. Being honest with her is what allowed her to empathize with me and identify with my experience, share her own similar experience, and then act accordingly. If I had tried to come up with a lame excuse or fib my way out of it, I would have probably just gotten myself in deeper and deeper until I was doomed. (Plus, what kind of excuse could I have possibly come up with to explain that anyway?)
And lastly, it inspired me. Her kindness inspired me. Everyone deserved to be treated this way, to have their privacy kept, to have someone comfort them and make it a “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing. I was surprised, but so glad, at her reaction. And if this ever happens to me, I will do the same exact thing she did. I will be vulnerable with them, share my own mistake, and let them redeem themselves with theirs. I will honor their privacy and brush it off so that they know that their worth is not based on one lousy misstep.
We all deserve that. And up until now, I thought we lived in a world where that was too much to ask for. But I was wrong. She proved me wrong.
And I’ll always be grateful for that.