DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been in the US for a study abroad for nearly 5 months now and I have a friend-who-is-a-boy (as opposed to a boyfriend). He’s very cute, friendly and I’m quite interested in him, but the problem is that he has a girlfriend. Making matters more complicated is that my friends just told me that his girlfriend is cheating on him. Everyone knows that now, except him.
My friends told me not to tell him but I can’t help wondering. He’s very nice guy. I don’t know why she is cheating on him. Sometimes I think I’m gonna tell him the truth soon but I’m not sure that’s a right decision. I don’t know if we would be friends anymore if I told him and what he would think about me afterwards. Besides, he’s my crush so I think that I am trying to kick her out of their relationship and it makes me so confused.
Can you tell what I should do in this situation? I really like him, though. On one hand, I really want him but on the other, I don’t wanna be a person who destroys that relationship. If you could give me some advice, I’d appreciate it!
Thank you so much
Love Is The Universal Language
DEAR LOVE IS THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE: Right, this is one of those times where my opinion makes people angry.
My general position on “do I tell someone that their partner is cheating on them” is fairly simple: stay out of it. It’s advice that a lot of my readers don’t necessarily agree with, but the fact of the matter is that there really is no way that telling him is the winning play.
Let’s start with the obvious: you don’t have any proof that there’s any cheating going on. The only reason why you know about this is because “everybody knows”; you’ve been handed third-hand information at best. This is literally “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night” but with illicit smoochies instead.
You have no idea whether his girlfriend is actually cheating on him or not. For all you know, he and his girlfriend have an arrangement. Maybe they’re in an open relationship. Maybe he gets off on cuckolding scenarios. A lot of couples are socially monogamous and keep the true nature of their relationship under the radar. If someone happens to stumble across one partner on a date or making out with someone else… well, to folks not in the know, that can look an awful lot like infidelity.
But for argument’s sake, let’s say she is. You don’t know whether he knows and they’ve already worked things out. In this case, then he probably doesn’t want someone else coming along and re-opening old wound. Alternately, it’s possible that he already knows and is too humiliated to say anything. In that case, he almost certainly doesn’t want someone coming up and rubbing his face in the fact that everyone knows his embarrassing situation. And if he DOESN’T know… how happy do you think he’s going to be when he finds out from you that everybody else knew about this?
How do you expect him to react? Is he going to thank you? Or is he going to get angry and freak the hell out instead and blame you, even when it turns out that you were telling him the truth? No, it’s not logical for him to get mad at you… but emotions don’t follow logic.
And let’s be honest: you’re not a neutral third-party here. Your motives may be as pure as the driven snow, but you do have a vested interest in this rumor being true; after all, it does mean that a break-up is imminent and you’ll have a chance.
But what if it’s not true, and you go tell him? Now not only do you feel foolish but you look like you’re trying to create trouble between the two of them. Again, even if your motives are perfectly good and true, it’s STILL going to make you look bad.
There’re no good endings to telling him. The only way to win this particular game is not to play.
Sorry, LITUL. The best thing you can do right now is sit back and let their relationship take it’s natural course. If the rumor mill is right and his girlfriend is cheating on him, then it’s GOING to suck when he finds out. But your getting involved is only going to make things worse - for him and for you.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I started writing to an older married man on the internet–he read some of my writing & left intelligent comments. We basically became pen-pals, then started talking on the phone and then…I was in a tight spot financially and he gave me 10 K, unsolicited, no strings attached. I knew there would be strings (at least, I would feel guilty about taking the money), but it was hard to say no to. And I did not say no.
I’m in a long-term, 10 year relationship with my boyfriend. We’re happy with each other and have been talking about getting married.
Last fall, my internet friend convinced me to come with him to Las Vegas. I knew that meeting him in person would be a bad idea – Long story short, I made it until the end of the trip, then drunkenly had sex with him. I’m not even sure why. I wasn’t attracted and it wasn’t enjoyable. He gifted me another 10 K, afterwards, just because (which made me feel whorish, because it was, well, whorish–but as a grad student, it was hard to decline & it was after the fact anyway).
I came home and just wanted to not feel guilty and forget. However, I felt… emotionally responsible for my internet friend because he’d opened up to me about being abused as a child / other stuff. Part of it was also that I felt like a user for taking the money and desiring to end contact afterwards. I finally cut off contact with my internet friend via text.
He voiced understanding and I optimistically thought this would go away. However, yesterday (a month later) I received a whole string of texts from him. He wants closure, but I don’t really think there is anything I can say which will give that to him or make him feel better. My honest inclination is just to ignore the texts, but I feel like doing so might intensify his attempts to contact me (and/or piss him off enough that he tells my boyfriend what I did). I want to handle this in a way which sends a clear message I cannot continue to be in contact, without being unnecessarily hurtful.
One Bad Decision
DEAR ONE BAD DECISION: Before I get to this, I’m going to address the obvious, because people are going to call it out in the comments: this is a fantastical story. A lot of the elements are so over the top that it seems too dramatic to be real.
And hey, maybe it IS completely made up. It wouldn’t be the first time. But whether it is or not, the scenario is common enough (if not quite as extravigant) that there’s still plenty to talk about, even if it’s completely fictional.
And honestly? I’ve seen some things go down that would make giving a relative stranger 10k look like a drop in a bucket.
So for all intents and purposes, we’re going to work under the assumption that OBD is telling the truth and work from there, ‘k?
So with all that in mind:
OBD, you have two problems right now. The first is your “friend”, who doesn’t seem to be taking “go away” for an answer. The second is the guilt you’re feeling about the fact that you cheated on your boyfriend. Let’s deal with the latter first.
Here’s my take on the cheating issue: it sucks that it happened. But it DID happen, so now you need to process things. Part of that processing means forgiving yourself for sleeping with this guy. The fact that you slept with him doesn’t make you bad or evil, to be followed around by crowd ringing a bell and calling out your shame.
One of the things I always want people to understand is that monogamy is not easy or effortless. Humans are a novelty-seeking species, and that includes in our sex lives. Even in our fantasies, we look for the new and different. People, for example, don’t watch one porn star exclusively…
When we make a monogamous commitment, we’re fighting against the fact that we still want to sleep with other people; we’ve just promised not to. This doesn’t mean that monogamy is bad, wrong or to be avoided, mind you… it’s just very difficult to perform perfectly.
And to be quite frank: not all infidelities are the same. There’s a difference between, say, a regretful moment of weakness and someone who casually betrays the trust of someone who loves them.
You had a one-time slip up, under circumstances that are incredibly unlikely to ever crop up again. This doesn’t say anything about your goodness as a person, about the strength of your relationship with your boyfriend or anything else. What it says is that you’re a human being, with the same flaws and weaknesses as the rest of us. The best of us make mistakes, and none of us can predict with perfect accuracy how we’d react in the exact same circumstances.
Now complicating this already unpleasant situation is your “friend”. I put “friend” in scare-quotes because, quite frankly, I question whether he was ever a legitimate friend to you because quite frankly the whole thing feels like somebody manipulating the hell out of you. Let’s be honest: there may be angels out there who are both so generous and so flush with liquid capital that they’ll spontaneously give someone they never met in person $10,000 dollars with the purest of intentions, but they’re rarer than hen’s teeth.
(And usually they’re falling victim to online dating scams…)
Robert Caldini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion talks about what he calls the pillars of persuasion. The first of those is reciprocity: the idea that someone doing something for you makes you more likely feel obligated to do something back. Doing things like, say, giving you $10,000 out of the “goodness of his heart” is going to set up a hell of a lot of reciprocity. So, yeah, I’m willing to bet that there were always strings on that donation, even if he insisted there weren’t. He knew damn good and well that you were going to feel a sense of obligation and he was willing to let that percolate in your brain until he was ready to use it.
The manipulative aspect of this continues with his convincing –key word – you to go to Vegas to meet him. It’s not impossible that he just wanted to meet up with a friend he’d never met in person, but the cynic in me says he was planning to make a move. And you knew too – you said it yourself that you thought meeting him was a bad idea. And then once alcohol was involved… well, yeah. Wouldn’t be the first time that very bad things happened in Vegas because of the intersection of booze and a manipulative guy.
(And to be perfectly blunt: once alcohol was involved, things go from sketchy to potentially illegal. That’s a detail that sets my Spidey-sense tingling like crazy.)
Now you’re wracked with guilt on multiple levels. You’re feeling like you shouldn’t have taken that money in the first place, especially not the second time. You’re wishing that you hadn’t slept with the dude. And now he’s refusing to go the hell away because he wants “closure”. There’re a lot of people who’ll be happy to verbally smack you around and tell you that this is a hell of your own making and that you deserve to suffer for what you’ve done.
I’m not one of them. It’s a f
ked up situation and you made some bad decisions, but they’re understandable ones. Yeah, taking the money was a stupid decision but seriously: if a potential $10,000 windfall with (nominally) no strings was waved in Joe or Jane Random’s face, they’re going to be thinking long and hard about how much that would help them pay down their school loans. They’ll be thinking about the car payments, the rent, the electricity bill… and I’m willing to bet many if not most would take it.
Principled stands are great as long as they’re theoretical; when real life gets in the way, suddenly those lines get awfully blurry. Show me somebody who says they’d never ever ever consider taking the money and I’ll show you a lying liar who lies.
The second time… well, that line is less blurry, but it’s also understandable. It’s the first step principle; once you’ve taken the first step, it’s harder to resist the second. It’s the sort of thinking that says “I ate that pizza/ smoked that cigarette/ took that drink, and since everything’s ruined, I may as well just keep going.” It was a stupid decision, but it’s coming after a series of bad decisions and weapons-grade levels of guilt and shame. In a way, it’s almost like punishing yourself after the fact; yeah, that’s a lot of money, but it’s money that comes with guilt. No matter what you do with it or how it may benefit you, it’s still going to be a reminder that you f
ked up and that’s going to haunt you.
To be clear: this was a bad situation. One that you admittedly walked straight into. But what’s done is done and unless you’re hiding a flux capacitor somewhere, there’s nothing you can do to undo it. So the only way to go is forward.
Which raises the question: what do you do?
And the answer is simple: tell him to go the hell away.
Lots of people who want “closure” actually want validation. They want confirmation of the rightness of their cause, that they were wronged and they want the other person to admit it. And honestly, that’s never going to happen. You can’t “give” someone closure. Somebody gets closure when they decide they’ve had closure.
But I don’t think this guy wants closure. I think he wants to keep things going. I’m willing to bet that second 10k that what this guy ACTUALLY wants is another toe-hold into your life. If you still have the second 10k still sitting in your bank account, then the best thing you can do is send him a check for the full amount with “closure” written in the memo section.
But whether you do or don’t have the money, send him one text: “I told you I don’t want to talk to you any more. Please do not contact me again.” And then leave it. Block his number if necessary. If things get bad enough then it may be time to consider a restraining order. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
I can’t make any guarantees that he won’t try to spill the beans to your boyfriend. I have no idea whether he’s the kind of person who would try to blow things up if he can’t get his way. Considering that he was willing to blow an obscene amount of money over this, he certainly seems like someone who thinks that he can get what he wants, when he wants and damn the cost.
But until he does… I don’t really think there’s any value to confessing to your boyfriend and a lot of reasons why it would make things worse. Telling your boyfriend about it advance isn’t likely to defuse the potential bomb. All it will do is detonate it early.
This ain’t going to be a popular suggestion - in fact, I’m sure a lot of folks will get upset over it - but I think the best thing you can do is stuff this down the memory hole.
I know a lot of people think radical honesty is key in a relationship, but all confessing in advance is likely to do is to cause a lot of hurt feelings and needlessly damage the relationship. Everybody says they’d want to know… right up until they find out. And in the aftermath, they almost always wish they didn’t. It’s the sort of thing that a lot of folks would rather be ignorant of, especially if it’s a one off, a freak event that never happened again. And in this case, the odds of your making those decisions ever again is so astronomically low that I don’t think scientists have numbers that can quantify it. Blowing up a 10 year relationship - or your boyfriend’s feelings - on the basis of something that is so far out of the ordinary that it may as well have been a lightning strike isn’t going to make things better.
Look: you made a string of bad decisions, prompted by someone who took advantage of your being in financial distress. I know you want to forget it; you can’t, and you shouldn’t. You were manipulated into a bad spot, but you still took part. If you let yourself forget, then you can’t learn from this, grow from this and - most importantly - not f
k up like this again.
But while you shouldn’t forget, you CAN forgive yourself. You made mistakes. That happened. But you can move forward from there and be a better person. The past is in the past. Best to leave it there if you can and work to a better future.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)