Dear Rocky Road,I recently went to a wedding in another neighboring town and ended up having a hook-up session with a guy I met at the bar after the wedding. We would have sealed the deal but neither of us had a condom. Well, the next day I was chatting about him with a friend and she asked what his name was. She then pulled him up on Facebook, only to discover that he had just posted an “in a relationship” status four days prior. She then went to the girlfriend’s page and found she and I have several mutual friends. I immediately felt terrible and am now plagued by the question: do I say something to one of our mutual friends or go on letting her think she has found this terrific, wonderful man?Feeling Guilty
Dear Feeling Guilty,
I have a question for you: why are you feeling guilty? In my estimation, you did nothing wrong. As far as you knew, you were just two consenting adults having a good time. That’s the upside of being unattached – you get to do that. That he was doing it while also, quite recently, having graduated to Facebook official with another party means that he is the one is this situation who should be feeling guilty. And I hope is he is.
For a minute (a second, really), I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and theorize that perhaps he and the girlfriend have an open relationship. But even if we grant him that improbability, Mr. Lothario ought to have clued you in. The existence of an outside entanglement, even a permissive one, might have changed your mind, and that makes it relevant. Let’s look at the more likely scenario, which is that Lothario’s girlfriend believes she and he are in an exclusive and committed relationship. Assuming this, I actually see two separate issues in your quandary: should she be informed, and, if so, how should she find out?
Let’s argue that she should be told. If he has led her to believe she is it and she wants him to be her one and only, then this new information could very likely change her mind. He can’t very well be a “terrific, wonderful man” if he’s also cheating and lying, especially at this early stage. By learning this now, she would be saving herself the heartache of continuing under an illusion, only to have it shattered further down the road. Here’s another test: if you were her, would you want to know?
So, proceeding on the assumption she should know, how then should she find out? This to me is the more problematic part. Telling mutual friends could actually put her in a more difficult spot by adding shame to the betrayal. Perhaps these mutual friends are not the confidants she would choose to let in on her struggle. If they are FB friends but not cry-on-their-shoulders-in-the-wee-hours-of-the-night friends, it could be awkward for them and deeply embarrassing for her to have them involved.
To be honest, I don’t see a viable intermediary for the information, which puts you in the position of passing it on directly. You would be justified in feeling that such a thing is a lot to ask. He behaved badly and now you’re having to deal with the consequences. There is also the possibility that she won’t believe you. If you decided to do it, you would have to divest yourself of any expectations about how she might react. Your side of the street would be clean, and that’s what matters.
I would like to circle back to your prerogative as a free agent. I mentioned that hook-ups are one of the available benefits, and that is 100 percent true. Your problem is that you have scruples and that complicates matters. I’m not saying you shouldn’t cash in, but perhaps a little more vetting might save you getting crosswise with those scruples next time. As you’ve seen, social media is your friend in these situations.
I also don’t want to leave the topic of cheaters without giving a nod to Esther Perel, the preeminent authority on the subject. Perel is a relationship therapist who gave a riveting 2015 TED talk entitled “Rethinking Infidelity.” She’s also the author of several books, including “Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.”
She argues that there is inherent tension between love and lust.
“Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery,” she writes. “Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. … Love is about having; desire is about wanting.”
If Perel were to put our Lothario on the couch, she would probably ask him if he saw any connection between his decision to commit to his girlfriend and his subsequent fling with you. His lack of imagination had likely convinced him that his days of wild sex with her were over.
“When you pick a partner, you pick a story,” Perel writes. “So what kind of story are you going to write? You are the editors of your life stories. Write well and edit often. And remember ... a life story is not a love story. You can love a lot more people than you can make a life with.”
KEEPERS (the part in which I share snippets of life I’d like to remember):
I recently had to apply for a passport renewal, which set me back a chunk of change ($110 to be exact). But when the freshly minted document, with its laminated hologram and blue filigreed pages, arrived in the mail, I was stuck by the power I held in my hands. That document (and a credit card in good standing) will get me into almost any country in the world, many without so much as a visa. Countless refugees die each year for nothing more than the lack of such a document. In that light, the fee is pretty paltry.
My other keeper is you, my dear reader. I really enjoy this time we have together. Please send me more questions so we can continue meeting like this. I hope it’s been as good for you as it has for me.
Katie Burford has worked as a social worker, journalist, university instructor, nanny, and barista. These days, she’s a mom, professional ice cream maker, and writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, @rockyroadadvice (Twitter) or Rocky Road, 1021 Main Ave, Durango, CO 81301.