First, I love this: How do work up the courage to kiss the girl I like?
Second, a letter:
Hail to thee, O Captain,
Perhaps I’m taking a different approach than other letter writers, but I would like your thoughts and judgment on events that quickly transpired this weekend. I had little time to deliberate, and ultimately chose my course of action without advice from others, and now I would like to know whether I was justified in my actions, or whether I erred.
To briefly explain my circumstances, I’m a professional student in my mid-twenties, and was in a passionless long-term (three years) relationship until last year. Following that commitment ending, I’ve sought to expand my opportunities at meeting new partners in the adventures of the online world. I don’t think my experience there was atypical, and I met many nice people, but few who would commit to anything beyond one or two dates.
A few months ago, I met a professional student (hereon referred to as X) with a similar background to myself. We hit it off quite well, and began seeing each other. Unfortunately X has been having trouble with her family, and will be returning home soon until circumstances pan out and are resolved. Considering the circumstances, she was unwilling to commit to anything too official, and so we agreed to see each other exclusively yet nothing too serious. We agreed to be monogamous, and I specifically gave my position: As a casual partners in a relationship, there isn’t anything binding beyond the monogamy conversation, and so I just ask to be told if the agreement is broken. All I ask for is openness, and the chance to reevaluate if circumstances change.
Time passes, and things are going well. The two of us are getting closer, and I’m considering options to make things more “official”. Last I saw her was Tuesday night, when we had a work date and spent the evening together.
How prescient I was with my planning and openness conversation, it turns out. X calls me to ask to get together on Saturday (it’s Monday as I’m writing), but lets slip (with a bit of asking, not necessarily straightforward) that she slept with the neighbor after drinking too much the night before (when I was about ten minutes away with my friends). This neighbor has previously been hanging around (I’ve met him a few times), but has been playing both the “nice guy” and the “slut shaming” roles, more or less insulting X to her face and calling her a slut for sleeping with me. Needless to say, I was unhappy, but mostly with her choice of partners. She apologized profusely, claiming that she’s a “trainwreck” and feared all along of hurting me.
I have a history of depression, suicide attempts, mental illness, and partners cheating on me. X knew about this, although I’m relatively well composed now. I feel very much hurt by her actions, which I – in my own twisted mind – turn into an evaluation of myself. However hurt I am, I don’t want to project my own illness and difficulties, and least of all do I want to repeat the hurtful words of the neighbor. I gave myself the afternoon to think, but decided I couldn’t stay with X any longer.
Basically, I chose to separate from this relationship without inflicting unnecessary harm (it’s not place to “teach a lesson”) or reinforcing slum-shaming sexist norms. I’m a very progressive individual, and I really try to hold myself to high standards of equality. I feel I was wronged, which is justification for ending things, but nothing else. We agreed to monogamy, and when that was broken I decided I couldn’t trust her any longer and don’t want additional emotional pain or drama. I told X that she did nothing wrong, but had violated my trust. She asked if things couldn’t just go back to how they’d been before, but I felt they could not. I’m disgusted that the neighbor’s game effectively paid off, and I feel like he took advantage of her. Regardless, that’s her concern and not mine, and from my part in all of this I can only react. I told her I didn’t want to see her again despite how well everything had been going up until this point.
Last night (Sunday) she contacted me asking if I’d meet with her. I politely declined (“No thanks”). When she pressed, I politely declined again (“I’m in the middle of something” – the truth).
I’m unhappy about the circumstances, and I wish it had not panned out in such a manner. Did I do the right thing? How can one react to “cheating” without reinforcing sexism or slut shaming? What could I have done differently? What should I do if she contacts me again?
I’d appreciate to hear your thoughts on this situation and my actions.
– “Unhappy is He”
Ha, actually many people who write to advice columns are looking for justification that they’re already doing the right thing, so good for you for owning it! It’s just, most of them write to Dear Prudence.
You want to know if you “erred,” but I don’t understand what you mean. You asked for monogamy and a chance to re-evaluate the whole relationship if she didn’t want the same thing. She asked to not get too serious right now and slept with someone else and told you about it (as you agreed), and you dumped her (as you agreed you probably would). I mean, when someone self-describes as a “trainwreck,” maybe it’s a good idea to believe them instead of signing up for a long future of being cheated on or worrying that you will be cheated on every time she gets drunk? Early in a relationship, even if you were thinking of making things “more official,” is a good time to evaluate whether it’s working out for you and to bail if you find out that it’s not. You get to break up with people who don’t make you feel awesome, and you don’t need to follow an “Is this breakup justified?” checklist.
You are a bit judgy about the whole encounter with the neighbor when you frame it as him taking advantage of her vs. something she did. There is a thread of I AM NICE AND HE IS NOT NICE WHY DID SHE SLEEP WITH A SEXIST JERK WHEN I AM SO NICE AND PROGRESSIVE and I TOLD HER SHE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG. ANGRY? I’M NOT ANGRY running through your letter. Hey, just admit it. You’re angry. A thing you thought was going well turned out to not be going well. You feel angry and like she let you down.
What you have here is information. What you have here is a glimpse into the future. If you get back together with this lady, you’ll be full of judgy judgment and wondering when the other shoe is going to drop (again), and you’re going to put her through some gross gauntlet of having to “prove” herself and second-guessing everything and keeping an eye out for cock-blocking neighbor and you’ll never be fully comfortable. If she’s getting drunk and sleeping with people she doesn’t want to be sleeping with and torpedoing her relationships, that’s a problem for a therapist. Just reiterate “I’m sorry things didn’t work out, but I need to end this.* Good luck with everything,” and break off contact.
*OWN it. No more excuses about being busy.
I think your boner is the one feeling the regrets here, which, again, understandable, but listen to your head. You seem like a pretty level-headed guy who used his words and asked for what you wanted. You didn’t get it this time. You are smart to disengage now before you got more involved. She’s moving back with her family anyway, yes? So pretty soon she’ll be out of sight if not quite out of mind. Lick your wounds and go out on some more dates.
And you may find this helpful: As you date more people? Do yourself a favor and DON’T tell all the stories about how you are Unhappy, The Guy Who Is Cheated On By Cheating Ladies, So Please Don’t Be a Cheating Lady? right off the bat. This sets up new dating partners to have to prove that they are Not That Lady, and since they are not that lady (literally – it’s a Brand New Lady!) it’s unfair to put them in the position of managing your feelings around past cheating. Way better than the “Please let’s be monogamous because of (cheating ladies of my past and I can’t handle it)” discussion is the “Hey, I like you, and I don’t want to see anyone else besides you. Do you feel the same? Can we DO this thing?” talk. Do you want to talk about rules and broken promises or do you want to talk about fidelity as the next step in a shared adventure?
That second kind of talk is pretty great, I have to say.