Our resident agony aunt, Rhona McAuliffe has some interesting points for a reader agonising over revelations about a friend that she wish she didn't know.
I introduced two really good friends of mine to each other – one I’ve known since I was seven, the other I met in college –and they’ve been in a relationship for about five years. They talk about getting married in a few years when they’re forty (they’re gay men so biological clocks are not an issue) and seem fully settled with each other. I’ve found out via an acquaintance who works with my college friend that he is having an affair. The acquaintance was at an event I was at and was telling a group of strangers about this guy, whom she named, and what he’s getting up to with his lover, which was classic Fifty Shades. She didn’t know I knew him. Now I don’t know what to do. If I had to pick allegiances, in terms of my friendship with both guys, I’d be more loyal and close to my childhood friend. I’d hate to see him get hurt but I also think he should know. I haven’t approached my college friend as I’m not sure where to start and am so angry I also don’t want to give him an opportunity to lie his way out of it. Technically, I know this is none of my business – I’m expecting you to say that– but I’m so torn about what the right thing to do is, I decided to write to you anyway. Stuck in the Middle, Cork
Ouch, the classic ‘should I tell’ bind! I wish I could say that none of it is your business but unfortunately as soon as you were made aware of the ‘alleged’ affair, you were rudely thrust into their world.
I’ve been on both sides of the fence here, as I’m sure many have. In my early twenties I was elected by some of my closest friends to tell our mutual pal about her serial-cheating boyfriend. I was compliant and performed my duty but was the last person who should have been sent to the frontline, with little or no emotional intelligence at the time. My friend didn’t want to know about it, didn’t ask any questions, stayed with her boyfriend and pulled back from me. Not too long after that, another friend knocked in to me to spill identical dirt on my then-boyfriend of about a year. The difference was, I was hopping; I would have atomised him in an MMA cage fight, given the chance; taken a high-flying crack at his meaty shins. Luckily, for both of us, he lived about an hour’s drive away and the fury quickly dissipated. Though not enough to salvage the relationship, that was clearly done.
My point here is, whatever way you look at it someone is likely to get hurt. So, the first thing you need to establish is, is College Boy having an affair? Is your acquaintance a reliable source? Is it likely she was entertaining a captive crowd and being irresponsibly loose with the truth? Bar setting a 24-hour PI on College Boy, you have no way of knowing unless you ask him directly. I know you’re less than keen to start with him but it at least gives him the opportunity to handle the situation himself, which will be better for Childhood Friend in the long run.
There are lots of possible outcomes here: College Boy might flatly deny it; he might tell you he’s in love with his new lover and ready to leave his boyfriend; he might be hugely remorseful, recognising all he has to loose; he may tell you that they have a DADT (don’t ask, don’t tell) arrangement where they are allowed to have other partners as long as they’re discreet about it. Which is the secondary issue here: he’s apparently shouting about it at work. That is arguably more immature and disrespectful to Childhood Friend than the affair itself, even if they’re all over the DADT pact.
It’s not your responsibility to school or judge him but you will at least contextualise his actions, reminding him that there are real consequences to his deception. If he admits an on-going affair but refuses to tell his boyfriend, you have a scorching issue on your hands. I would be inclined to give him a deadline, maybe one week, to mull it over before you open it up. Try not to talk about it with any other mutual friends as the feeling that you are the last one to know is torturous. There are so many mitigating factors here but ensuring that you are doing the ‘right’ thing by telling your friend is less important than weighing up what is best for him. What would you like your friend to do in the same situation? That’s always a good place to start.
It’s also worth remembering that infidelity is not the end of the world. Dan Savage, the renowned US sex columnist and relationship guru, treats infidelity as an opportunity to address problems in a relationship. His GGG philosophy – that a lover must be good, giving and game – acts as a benchmark for future negotiations. If your needs are not being met by your husband/ wife/ partner/ primary lover, Savage encourages you to negotiate a more flexible arrangement, whereby everyone is satisfied. Married to his husband since 1996, they enjoy a ‘monogamish’ set-up, meaning they are each permitted to have occasional, discreet affairs. This works a treat for them, with Savage attributing the health and longevity of their marriage to intermittent adventures.
Maybe this affair will prompt them to really examine their relationship and broker a new way of being together? Or maybe you will be left to pick up the pieces. Good luck.
Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart. If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it. Write to Rhona at firstname.lastname@example.org.