I have a friend, we’ll call her Jane. Several years ago, when I caught her first boyfriend making out with another girl at a party, I told her about it (I figured if my house was on fire, I’d want to know, right?). She claimed I was just trying to break them up because I was jealous (I wasn’t), told me to F-off and then just stopped talking to me.
Fast forward a year, Jane apologised for her behaviour and we were sort of friends again, and had caught up a few times. I saw her second boyfriend in a shopping centre with another girl, holding hands and kissing, and he saw me. Remembering how she reacted last time I tried to tell her her boyfriend was cheating, I said nothing to her. A few months later she somehow found out (I think it was from a message from his phone, don’t know and I suppose it doesn’t matter) that he was screwing around and confronted him, and he asked her why she hadn’t said anything about it earlier, since he figured she would have known for months after I told her I’d seen them. When she found out that I knew and had said nothing, she turned on me again, saying that if I was a good friend I would have told her and stopped her from being hurt etc. This time I decided to cut contact.
Now, just after the same apology/tentative friendship renewal as last time (8 months or so after the previous incident) I have heard from a mutual (and reliable) friend that boyfriend number 3 is also sleeping with someone else. At this point I am not sure what to do. Should I say anything, or keep silent? If I say something, what words do I use? I kind of feel like I’m in a no-win situation as she will hate me either way. I get that her relationship isn’t any of my business, but at the same time, if I had a boyfriend and he was cheating on me, I’d want to know about it.
This isn’t the first time she’s cracked it at me for something that wasn’t my fault, and she always comes crawling back a few months later, saying how sorry she was for the way she treated me, but she still keeps repeating the same behaviour. I just feel like I am being used as her emotional punching bag, and though we were close friends through high school, I am starting to wonder if the friendship is even worth maintaining.
Thanks for your help,
Catch-22 (aka Always in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time)
Dear Catch 22:
What if you asked the mutual friend (the one who told you the information) to tell Jane directly what’s up? Probably enough time has gone by since you first heard (this question has been sitting in the old inbox for a bit) that this option has gathered as much awkwardness as all other options, but if this ever happens again, keep it in mind. Script: “Whoa, that’s heavy news. Do you think you should say something to her?” “What do you think you‘ll do?” I put emphasis on the “you” in the scripts as a reminder not to let it turn into a forced teaming situation where now that it’s shared it’s a joint problem or let the mutual friend assume you’ll handle it now.
Honestly, I think you have enough of a track record with Jane around this topic that you get to decide to make her boyfriends and their cheating ways into Firmly Not Your Business. Since your information is secondhand anyway, I think you get to treat it like it doesn’t exist unless you witness something with your own eyes. It doesn’t make you the world’s awesomest friend, but maybe it’s time to categorize her as “a small doses friend, someone it is nice to run into periodically at parties” and keep deep talks or personal subjects out of it as much as possible. You don’t have to cut people off forever after an unpleasant interaction, but it’s good to know what they’re capable of and set your expectations and boundaries accordingly.
Say you do witness something, and you do know for sure that your friend has an expectation of monogamy and such behavior would not be cool with her.
If you know the cheater, one thing you can do is speak directly to them. “Hey, I wish I could unsee that, but I can’t, and I won’t keep your secret or lie to my friend about it. Unfuck your shit, bro.” (By the way, that one dude you saw kissing & flirting at the mall was a master of deflection and manipulation when he brought you into that conversation and blamed her lack of knowledge of what he was up to on you. Bravo, Darth! I hope no lady ever touches your special parts again.)
If you end up telling your friend, try, “I wish I could unsee what I saw, but I can’t. I saw ________ (what you saw). I told him directly that I was not going to keep secrets from you. Let me know how I can be supportive.”
It’s not cool for Jane to take things out on you the way she has been. I think you are correct that your friendship cannot survive any more travels through the cycle of blame and apologies. If she tries to use you as her emotional punching bag again, bail. And if she comes back and apologizes, it’s more than okay to say “Hey, let’s not do this again. Sometimes a friendship just runs its course as people grow and move on, and it’s time to let this one go.“
P.S. Poor Jane. Those are some gross, untrustworthy dudes and I really feel for her. It sounds like she’s pretty jealous and insecure in the way she treats you, but one thing that makes a person jealous and insecure is CONSTANT JERKY CHEATING BY PEOPLE YOU TRUST.