I've just gotten out of a long relationship that ended rather abruptly and badly. My partner and I were together for almost 10 years, most of them wonderful and loving, but the last year was a complete nightmare. We both work in the same profession—academia—which is a small, small world. This means, first, that there is no real possibility of a clean or permanent break, as we will inevitably run into each other at professional conferences several times a year; and second, that we share many of the same friends and colleagues—most of our common friends are colleagues. The problem is that my ex has been airing our dirty laundry—or, more accurately, my dirty laundry—to many of them. I have refrained from doing this myself, in part because one of the reasons for the breakup was my ex's affair with a colleague, and airing my ex's dirty laundry would also involve damaging the reputation of the third party. [???] I have asked my ex to show me the same consideration, or at least to take responsibility for the affair in telling the story, to no avail. I don't want to engage in retributive gossip-mongering, but I also do not want to let an erroneous account of events circulate unchallenged. Also, I'm worried that this nastiness may eventually have some negative effect on my professional life and relationships. Please don't tell me that I shouldn't worry about what other people think or that "mature people will realize that this is just gossip and will not change their opinions of you on the basis of it." We all know that academics are not known for their maturity or social acumen. What can I do?
...You don't have to engage in character assassination when you say the breakup was painful for all parties, but ultimately you couldn't salvage your relationship once your ex started cheating on you. (If you want to then set off for a hike on the high road, you can decline to disclose colleague X's identity.) Mention this—reluctantly, painfully—to the most reliably gossipy of your friends...
Ann Slanders used to check such letters for New Haven postmarks, and write them off as creations of Yale frat boys, of whom W was one. He's moved on to larger forms of mischief...and much worse.