#490: Should I tell my friend her boyfriend is cheating on her? She has a history of shooting the messenger.

Hi Captain,

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.

162 thoughts on “#490: Should I tell my friend her boyfriend is cheating on her? She has a history of shooting the messenger.

  1. Ugh, poor LW and poor Jane. To build on the Captain’s closing comment and a few things in the letter, it sounds like you’re acting as Jane’s punching bag when her relationships fail, as if your witnessing bad behaviour makes it happen in the first place. I’m pretty sure that’s not how causality works, but I can kind of get why Jane feels that way. From her view, things in these relationships looked good UNTIL YOU OMG. It’s totally misplaced, but in the context of a messy breakup she probably isn’t at her best, most logical place.

    That does not mean she gets to keep treating you that way, though. Understanding someone’s actions does not mean forgiving or accepting them.

  2. In my opinion, the moment you begin to feel like an “emotional punching bag” it is a good idea to take a step back from the relationship. Either they’re emotionally punching you–not cool!–or you’re feeling hurt and upset enough that stuff is coming across as disproportionately hurtful (not what seems to be going on here, but included for completeness’ sake).

    LW, you have one free Permission to End This Friendship coupon. Hint: it is infinitely re-usable, and can be used on as many customers as you’d like.

    1. Hey, that just got through my thick head. It doesn’t matter if the other person is being nasty or if my perceptions are out of sync – it hurts, something’s not right, make some distance first and sort out details later. I don’t have to justify taking steps to protect myself. I wonder how long my therapist’s been trying to tell me that. I wonder how many shitty human beings I’ve known who’ve taken advantage of that particular logical gap. “The problem is at least partially your thoughts/feelings/behavior, therefore you have to stay here and keep feeling shitty.”

      One embroidered pillow, coming right up…

      1. 🙂

        One of the most loving and respectful things you can do for another person is to deny them the opportunity to hurt you.

        1. I am seriously going to embroider that on a pillowcase, staranise! It’s good sense to step off the tracks when you see the train a’coming, so it’s even better sense to stay out of the way of an opportunity for someone to hurt you. Everyone wins.

      2. My mother said a version of that statement during a huge confrontation/argument I had with her, basically “You have mother issues [because I treat you so horribly],” like it’s all my fault that I feel this way, and her history of abuse has nothing to do with the resentment I harbor towards her.

    2. This, LW. And if you’ve felt like an emotional punching bag more than once, it’s time to accept that you’ll continue to be one as long as you stand close enough to take a hit.

      I’m reacting a little strongly to this because Jane sounds a lot like a girl I know. She’s more extreme–a Darth Jane–and I’ve watched her pull the punching bag routine with anyone willing to get close enough. While I know enough about her life and circumstances to empathize with why she acts the way she does (a perpetual victim), it doesn’t excuse the way she treats people or the fact that she’s so rooted in her behavior she’ll never change.

      Jane has established a pattern of behavior where she irrationally takes things out on you (and probably other people too). You’ve “broken up” with her multiple times already; maybe the next one should be the last? Do your best to keep her drama and personal issues at an arm’s length, and if she tries to drag you into it (by blaming you for whatever) it’s time to use the script the Captain provided. You don’t necessarily have to cut ties, just take a step back and see whether she values YOU enough to respect that distance. And go from there.

    3. Yeah, that. If someone’s taking out their feelings about a third party on you, that is unfair to you, and you don’t have to just take it.

      1. (Actually, I think “You never have to be someone else’s emotional punching bag” is a good response to a LOT of questions….)

        1. I like your point, but I know that for me, it wouldn’t be very persuasive. The problem around “have to be” is that some people deliberately choose to be. I’m an emotional punching bag professionally, but I used to do it for fun. (Er… I’m a therapist who used to want to “save” her friends.) Because we care! Or we know that if Darth just had people who looooved them, they could change! Or a person’s in a lot of pain. Or we’re trying to convince a three-year-old that no, they really do have to wear a snowsuit before going outside. Sometimes it’s something you legitimately want or need to do.

          In that case it gets more complicated, a lot more complicated. The Captain Awkward community is all for liberation from relationships that have unhealthily weak boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that always strong and rigid boundaries all the time ever is a great idea either.

          But, as someone who does the work: being somebody’s emotional punching bag is rarely actually useful or helpful. If it’s a chronic pattern of Jane being unable to manage her anger or disappointment, then it’s up to her to learn how to regulate her emotions; friends and onlookers just get to decide whether they want to be around her or not when she does it. Support and sympathy won’t make her feel better, nor inspire her to get a better handle on her reactions, and she doesn’t need pity-friends. Asserting boundaries and saying, “Hey, it’s not cool when you flip out at me” may cause more immediate fracas, but it’ll have better effects (her changing or the LW leaving) in the long run.

          1. I certainly did not mean to imply that my flippant summary was sufficient advice for anyone in toto!

            Although if you volunteer to absorb someone’s emotional problems punching-bag-style, it’s still true that you don’t *have* to. You might choose to; you might choose to and never regret it; you might choose to and find it entirely worth the pain. But it’s still not a “have to.” I think it is still safe to say that no one should feel required to be a punching bag.

    4. So I’m totally going to start making those coupons and giving them out. 😐

      I think a “one way ticket to Fuck-Off-Ville” would be good, too, for those peeps that need a slightly harder push out of your life.

  3. I think a lot of the issue here revolves on how close Jane and the LW are.

    If they are not that close, and I was Jane, I would feel humiliated to have some busybody warning me about how awful my boyfriend is, and would probably be upset with the LW too. And in the second instance, in which the LW didn’t disclose what she knew, I would feel that I had been the subject of gossip and made a fool for not being in on my own public humiliation, and would have felt humiliated then too. Which I suppose means that the LW can’t win, but I I kind of think that nosying into other people’s relationships is not a situation in which one is supposed to win. If you’re not close, then stay out of it. Otherwise it just seems like you are stirring up drama over something that is none of your business.

    But if you are close, then I think the discussion should not be about rushing to inform Jane that she has hooked up with another cheating scumbag, but a more heartfelt reaching out to a friend who appears to have some kind of issues that are causing her to get into relationships with unreliable and dishonest guys over and over.

    If the LW feels too emotionally drained by the way that Jane has treated her in the past, perhaps she does not need to take this upon herself, and could just bow out.

    But my general feeling about this is: why is it so important to tell Jane that she is being made a fool, rather than focusing on offering support and friendship?

    1. My issue with this is the assumption that the LW is only telling Jane to hurt and humiliate her. I mean is that the only reason? Could the LW care about Jane and doesn’t want to her be hurt by these guys?

      The LW wasn’t butting into to her relationships the first two times. She caught the guys with their pants down and their behavior is their responsibility not the LW.

      And I’ve always felt part of friendship is being willing to tell someone something tough. Ignoring serious issues doesn’t strike me as something that should be part of a healthy friendship.

      1. Ditto. It’s not pleasant, but I’d want to know, and coming from a *friend*, my first reaction would be that they have my back, not that they’re vulturing my relationship.

          1. But Jane also got mad at the LW for *not* telling her about cheating.

            Meh, getting mad at your friend either way sounds dumb to me, but getting mad at them for doing something both ways after you flipped out at them the first time sounds totally ridiculous.

          2. To clarify, I meant from a friend as in “someone I know platonically”, vs. “someone who I know has a thing for me.” The latter I would be a bit suspicious of.

          3. Handle what? The LW was just telling Jane what she saw. And when she didn’t tell Jane still got mad at her so I’m not sure what the LW is supposed to do, unless you want her to walk around with a blindfold and earplugs whenever Jane has a relationship.

          4. @H.Regalia and Jenn

            I’m saying it’s possible than Jane doesn’t value the LW as much as the LW values Jane. And some people only want to hear bad news from people really close to them. It’s like a tier of friends and acquaintances.

            Even if I’m right, this would be impossible for the LW to know unless Jane is cruel enough to tell her to her face. I think it stands clear that Jane treats the LW and probably others unfairly in any case.

      2. Yeah, agreed. I’m a huge proponent of “get your nose out of their business” a lot of the time, as an introvert who values privacy. But… this seems like less a “my nose is in their business” and more “their business has set up camp on my doorstep and is having tuba practice at 6am” situation. Particularly as the LW’s friend was upset with her for *not* interfering in the second case–I don’t know how she could have butted out more short of going to the mall with a blindfold on just in case she happened to see friend’s boyfriend when he happened to be cheating.

        1. “Seems like less a “my nose is in their business” and more “their business has set up camp on my doorstep and is having tuba practice at 6am” situation.”

          Exactly. She wasn’t peering in their windows or reading someone’s texts, she was in a public place and happened to see the guy cheating. That’s like the opposite of nosy.

    2. I can’t put my finger on why exactly this comment is putting me so on edge, but it is. So, rather than go off half-cocked and angry and try to start some poorly defined internet argument, I think I’m just going to give a different take on the themes of this comment.

      I have never, ever understood why people see informing a friend, however distant, that you know has an expectation of monogamy, that their partner has been observed being nonmonogamous is somehow “nosy.” Just, Jesus, when someone doesn’t ask to spot someone cheating, but does, addressing it is not “stirring up drama.” The cheater is the one doing that, by cheating, in public. Generally friends don’t take information like this to friends for attention, or to hurt… rather, they do it because they care, because their friend is being put seriously at risk by the actions of someone they trust and doesn’t know it.

      But, given that there are people who *do* feel that ignorance is bliss and they’d rather not be told by anyone, or anyone other than their nearest and dearest… perhaps the best course of action in this situation is to feel them out first, with a question on whether they’d want to know or not know a partner’s relationship transgressions, asking it philosophically instead of pointedly. If they say they wouldn’t want to know, then you take them at their word, respect their emotional landscape, and leave it lie.

      Regardless, the LW here seems to have tried both ways — telling and not telling — and gotten the response from her friend that both are wrong. Well, that’s terribly unfair to her, and is the main point that the Captain’s response addresses.

      I do think that there’s a pattern to “Jane” dating three Darths in a row. That, however, does seem like a conversation I would feel absolutely unqualified to have with someone who wasn’t my dearest friend, whose emotional world I knew backwards and forwards. Any less than that and I wouldn’t know how to approach the topic without feeling condescending, like I was telling her she doing her own life wrong. Even with abuse situations, which this blog has discussed before, the most ultimately respectful way to help a friend in an abusive relationship seems to be to let them know, once, that you feel their relationship has become damaging and abusive and they deserve better… and then drop it. Let them make their own decisions. Support them, let them know they have a bed or a loan if they need it, keep “that doesn’t sound okay” in a neutral tone of voice in your back pocket… but mainly just be their friend, modeling the respect and human decency they’re not getting elsewhere. Laugh and smile with them. Love them. Don’t keep sitting them down for emotional interventions, because you simply cannot make them leave until they’re ready to, and it sends the message, however incorrect or unintended, that you don’t trust their decisions, just like their abusive partner.

      So. To bring it back to the LW, if Jane has shown that she reacts poorly to both possible responses to learning her Darth has been cheating, it’s not up to the LW to try and magically discern which one will be less wrong this time. It can be not her problem because Jane has said she doesn’t want to hear it. It’s okay for the LW to draw a boundary where the friendship just doesn’t touch those topics, because Jane can’t be trusted not to fling misplaced anger all over the place. Therefore I don’t think LW should try to bring up Jane’s pattern of relationships with Darths… because Jane’s said she doesn’t want to hear it, and LW doesn’t trust Jane not to displace anger at her.

      Be her friend, yes, to the degree that’s comfortable for both of you. But maybe be the jokes friend, the cookies friend, the affection and support friend, instead of the emotional heart-to-heart friend. It’s okay, and it’s respectful to both of you.

      1. This is a very thoughtful, great comment. Thank you!

        Definitely do not have a “Jane, why do you think your asshole boyfriends always cheat on you? Could it be some pattern you have or something you are doing?” conversation with Jane or, really, anyone ever. Jane may be going after a particular type of dude because a certain set of quirks and issues seem attractive or familiar or comfortable, but that one is for Jane to figure out. When someone is suffering because they’ve been cheated on, the “What could you have done differently?” conversation is not nice, supportive, or welcome.

        1. I suggested offering emotional support, which can take many forms. I didn’t suggest that anyone should sit Jane down and say, “Why do you always pick such losers? There’s obviously something wrong with you.”

          I’m not sure why it should be up to Jane to figure out on her own why she’s getting hurt, and allow her to continue getting hurt because it’s no one else’s business, but perfectly okay to take it upon oneself to offer up a painful and unexpected piece of information — and then to suggest that it’s okay to withdraw one’s friendship because she didn’t react well to hearing it. That doesn’t seem particularly supportive.

        2. Hey Captain, I think my comment got caught in moderation or spam, but basically: yeah, this. Also, if you’re hoping that your friend will catch onto the fact that her partner is cheating by having a sit-down where you ask her to consider her relationship choices, that seems pretty roundabout.

        3. Dear Captain, I would like to disagree on this one point, because having someone point out to me that I was consistently getting into one kind of relationship and that there were other types of relationships available I believe saved my life. More the emphasis on ‘not everyone acts like this’. Sometimes we have to learn that what we learned is normal is not in fact the only way things are. Maybe it is not a conversation to have with everyone every time but sometimes it is really really necessary.

          1. Yes, I think if someone had told me years ago, “You know, that kind of behavior is really not okay and many other people expect and have better” it would have spared me an awful lot of pain and misery. I might not have acted on it right away, but it would have lingered in my brain and I probably would have believed it much sooner than I did. But as the Captain says, it’s the kind of thing you say once and let go, unless the other person wants to talk about it more

          2. Good point. For so long, my concept of “normal” was warped — especially with regards to various kinds of relationships — because it was my normal. I knew I was unhappy, but I had nothing else to really compare it to.

          3. I think there’s a pretty important, if delicate, distinction between pointing out a pattern of behaviour and suggesting to a friend that they are responsible for people hurting them. And I think that the distinction lies in whose behaviour you discuss. A helpful discussion might involve pointing out that your friend has dated three people who acted in a way that good partners do not act, and xyz is what good partners do, and your friend deserves a good partner. A hurtful discussion veers into “why do you think you keep dating these jerks?” territory. It’s still delicate territory, but please, PLEASE, don’t ever suggest to someone that they are to blame for someone else hurting them.

      2. What bothered me about the comment was that there seemed to be an undercurrent of blame. Like it’s somehow the LW’s fault the boyfriends cheated because if she didn’t see it then it didn’t happen. And the implication that the LW was only doing this to hurt Jane, not that she had the bad luck to be the person who got an eyeful.

      3. I think what put me on edge about the comment was that I perceived it as judging the LW for being “nosy”, while blaming Jane for being cheated on. Maybe the LW cared about Jane and didn’t want her to feel hurt even more further down the road, when she’d invested even more time into the relationship. Maybe Jane has exceptionally bad luck (there are a lot of people who cheat out there, even though there are lot of people who don’t, and I think that if a person flips a coin enough times, its quite possible even the best person at partner selection/magnetism ever could wind up with a cheater. We like to think bad things won’t happen to us and we make up all sorts of rationalizations why it won’t (well he/she did x, but I will never do x), but bad news, I’m not sure anyone is immune. We can just do the best we can at communication and boundaries and reasonable safeguards that will not be perfect, and know what we want, and hope for the best), more so than that she’s actually doing something wrong to “cause” her partners to cheat on her or select those that might. I felt the assumptions were hurtful, not helpful.

        The comment started out okay, because it’s one thing to hypothesize about why Jane reacts the way she does although we will never know for sure), because it might give us some empathy, but that empathy doesn’t excuse Jane treating the LW poorly because she dared to break some bad news (and then didn’t the second time, because Jane obviously didn’t want to hear it the first time) out of concern for Jane’s emotional or physical welfare being put in greater jeopardy. I could argue that Jane thought, because LW disclosed cheating the first time, that she’d automatically do it again, and was angry about it. Jane may have whatever emotions she pleases, even be angry if she wants to, but that doesn’t mean she can’t expect consequences if she uses that anger in a negative way towards the LW or another friend. Yelling, accusations, and freezing a friend out twice shouldn’t lead to an expectation that friend will last through round after round of apologies. The LW has the right to say “enough is enough”, or “I don’t know what you want, so I’m going to (whatever the LW feels right doing here)”, or to stay or exit the picture gracefully. The LW is not bound by a shackle or ancient spiritual ritual to stay by Jane’s side forever and read her mind or know how she’s going to react in advance. Jane might have felt the LW was being a busybody, or been more invested in believing her boyfriend wouldn’t cheat on her than believing her friend, but that doesn’t necessarily make what Jane felt a truth about the LW, nor should the LW spend her entire life tiptoeing around out of fear of upsetting someone. I don’t know what gender the LW calls home, but women get enough of that smooth things over/ don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers/ everyone else’s feelings are more important than yours stuff as is.

        1. I guess I should add that not everyone who cheats once will cheat again, and that, at least from personal experience, having made a personal choice to be strictly monogamous and once decrying cheating when there has been an explicit choice between two people to be monogamous, my judgment was thrown in my face with a vehemence when I became tempted myself. I had never thought of myself that way, and it turned my world upside down for a long time. I can say that I never did anything physical with that person, but it was a very close call and emotionally I was more attached than I should have been, and it is much harder for me to say “I would never do something like (fill in the blank)” now, just as it is much harder for me to believe that x bad thing would never happen to me because it was supposedly someone else’s fault that bad thing happened to them because of x, y, or z. In that small way, I don’t regret the experience. Cheater does not equal evil person, although the action itself is hurtful.

          1. I agree with you. I actually really dislike the phrase ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’ because it, to me, is basically throwing people away after what might’ve been a one-time mistake (not talking about their partner, it’s absolutely fine to not give them another chance). I know people who say it really self-righteously, along with a side of ‘*I* would never do that’ and it’s just…ugh. I *do* believe there is are serial cheaters, who will just do it if the opportunity arises, and have a great track record of ‘creating’ opportunities’. (I know two of these, one male and one female–luckily neither dated either!) But, this isn’t the only kind of cheating that ever happens ever.

            I think sometimes people put ‘cheating’ as The Worst Possible thing that can happen in a relationship, and thus put anyone who’s ever cheated as ‘horrible person’. But I think that’s pretty simplistic–there are plenty of things my partner could do it to me that would be on a level with cheating, if not worse. If he, say, took my credit card and ran it all the way up, I would be many times more horrified than if I found out he slept with someone else. Also, ‘slept with someone else once at a party’ is a far different animal than ‘had an affair that lasted for 2 years’, and I think putting all cheating=equally awful makes it harder to look at each individual situation.

          2. Excellent point! Imagine if we used the “once a cheater, always a cheater” line on every mistake that people made. “Once a liar, always a liar.” “Once a shoplifter, always a shoplifter.” Etc. I don’t know a single human being who hasn’t screwed up somewhere along the line. It shouldn’t be held against them for life.

      4. Somewhat bluntly, LW has evidence that one of two things is likely.

        1- Tell Jane in an awkward conversation. Suffer recriminatory rant. Suffer awkward make up conversation later.

        2- Don’t tell Jane. Suffer recriminatory rant. Suffer awkward make up conversation later.

        With 2, you have one awkward / recriminatory conversation less. Pragmatically, if I’m going to get grief either way, I’ll take the path of lesser grief.

        1. to take this one step further:
          LW can decide to not have the awkward make up conversation afterwards.
          Past experience suggests that the recriminatory rant may be inevitable, but none of the rest of it needs to be.

      5. “I have never, ever understood why people see informing a friend, however distant, that you know has an expectation of monogamy, that their partner has been observed being nonmonogamous is somehow “nosy.””

        I would bet there’s an element of the toxic “don’t be a tattletale/dobber” thinking involved.

    3. See, I was actually about to praise JenniferP highly for NOT telling the LW she shouldn’t disclose cheating when she witnesses it, regardless of the level of friendship. I’ve actually seen that quite often in other advice columns, and it always really, really bothers me.

      Not so much because of the morality issue of cheating, but because cheating can actually have physical consequences for the person being cheated on. If someone is willing to cheat, I would question if they were being careful with protection. I would absolutely want someone to tell me this Very.Important.Information if they knew, because I’m very protective of my health. It might be easy to say, well, the cheated upon should also be using protection, but protection is not always effective and hey, sometimes people grow to trust their significant other before they perhaps should. Or, as happens so often, the cheated open genuinely had no reason to suspect what was up.

      This is actually one of the reasons I don’t date. Cheating is way, way common behavior on both sides of the gender divide. I could ask my partner for proof of STD status, but if they cheat and I don’t know…that proof isn’t much good then, is it? It sucks that Jane mistreated the LW for doing her a solid, but that doesn’t mean the LW was in the wrong. The fact that the advice NOT to disclose such info is so common is another reason I don’t date…if I can’t trust my friends to have my back in potentially protecting my health, then I’d rather just not take the risk at all.

      1. Yes, very much that. Speaking for myself, even though it might break my heart, I would rather a friend tell me than not because if my partner is cheating it could have serious and potentially irrevocable consequences for my physical health. To a significant extent, I make decisions regarding safer sex based on who (if anyone) my partner (or partners) might also be sleeping with. If I make decisions because I am assuming certain things (monogamy, sex with other partners who I know use condoms, etc.) and those assumptions are wrong, I want to *know* so that I can protect myself.

        This is also why I tend to err on the side of telling people about cheating (assuming I am actually confident it’s happening–I don’t act on hearsay or gossip). Because they have the right to make health decisions with all the relevant information in front of them.

        1. You can’t always know when people are non-monogamous, not everyone is openly poly or in a scene or whatever, but a “I don’t want to be up in your business, but I saw (your partner) (making out with) someone. If that’s something that you guys have discussed and agreed is cool, I don’t want to make trouble, but if it isn’t, I would feel horrible if I knew and didn’t tell you.”

          If it’s something they’ve discussed and decided is cool, then you as a friend telling them won’t rock their boat. If it isn’t cool, the boat is rocked no matter what you decide.

          There is this perverse side of me that often thinks “God, cheaters, BE BETTER AT IT. Hide your tracks better. Clear your internet history and log all the way out of shit you don’t want other people to read. Watch out for mentionitis. Stop doing that thing where you’re always laughing at your cell phone and saying ‘oh, nothing’ when your partner asks you what you’re laughing at. Keep your adventures out of the brunching circle and don’t go to places where you might run into someone you know. Don’t engage in PDA. If you really want zero ripples from this to affect your “normal” life or hurt your partner (until, that is, you’re ready to have whatever uncomfortable conversations you’re avoiding by burying your attention in someone else), then tighten up your game. Because being heedless and careless and selfish is not cutting it. SLOPPY.”

          Obviously that’s not the most ethical stance with respect to STIs, etc., but I’ve been cheated on, I’ve been the cheater, I’ve been the person cheated with – not all relationships start and end perfectly cleanly and when you’re dumb and horny and 23 you believe in a lot of things like “it just happened” and “maybe if we just do it we can get it out of our systems” and “things will totally work out just as soon as he breaks up with her so we can be together!” and “Oh, that’s just my roommate, don’t worry.”

          1. Yeah, I mean, I have seen people bring life-threatening (or not life-threatening but life-changing, such as fertility-threatening or even just requires-a-lot-of-maintenance-for-the-rest-of-your-life) diseases home with them after a “harmless” affair. Life can be messy, and that’s understandable to me–as you say, there are not always clear-cut starts and finishes to these things, and it’s easy for even otherwise ethical people to justify things when in the grip of pantsfeelings.

            But “life is messy” is not an excuse to endanger people around you. And if I see a friend being endangered, I’m going to tell them.

          2. From a physical stand-point though, you can’t have sex with multiple partners and not inform all partners of that fact WITHOUT the risk of ripples even IF your partner never learns you cheated. And in fact, the risk to the partner is much higher with a wily cheater, because then they may not learn of potential infection until it is too late to be easily treated. So I’m glad most cheaters are sloppy (and it does seem that most are.)

            Again, for me it isn’t an ethical issue…well, it IS, but my ethical issue with it is specifically risking MY health without my consent. I engage in a lot of conversations about consent, but this particular form of it seems to get bypassed. It’s using my body in a matter I didn’t consent to, and in fact specifically said I did NOT want my body used for when informed my partner I wished to be monogamous or aware of all sexual partners. I have the right to make health decisions and risk assessments about what I expose my body to, and by cheating my partner denies me that right.

            Please understand I’m not saying any of this to make anyone feel bad. I just feel super-strongly about this issue, strongly enough that it has altered my life choices. I don’t think someone who cheats is a SUPER.BAD.PERSON. Shit happens, bad choices happen, that’s just life. But I do think someone who informs the cheatee that cheating is happening is a SUPER.AWESOME.PERSON who should feel GOOD about it, even if the cheatee responds with verbal slings instead of the deserved accolades.

          3. I don’t think you are wrong about any of that, I just think, man, I have definitely made choices (and had people close to me make choices) that did not either prize honesty or pristine sexual health above all. You definitely have all of those rights! I am super into monogamy now and would definitely want to be told/tell! I just wanted to be clear that I am not coming from some pedestal of perfect behavior in my past.

          4. Jen, I just wanted to say that your last paragraph really impacted me. I’ve been the cheated-with, which blew up because the cheater was careless and the cheatee found out. The ‘maybe it’ll go away if we get it out of our systems”… been there done that. There was also a lot of coercion on his part masquerading as kink. I didn’t see how awful his refusal to take no for an answer from me was until I read this blog.

            Needless to say I have a lot of scars from all that. But I wanted to.thank you for your compassion and empathy, and your sharing of your own foibles, in that post, as well as thank you for championing the right to set boundaries… because I know I’m not the only one who first learned that lesson from.you. ❤

          5. I don’t know. I mean, you can be dumb and horny and 23 and still be honest. If my partner cheated on me, I’d want to know immediately, because, well, lying is disrespectful, and I don’t want a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect me.

            I don’t think a partner ever has a right to manipulate someone like that, keeping them in the dark about something they know would upset them just so they don’t have to deal with their reaction. I’d much rather have the messy, painful thing out in the open where everyone can deal with it on an equal footing because we’re all informed.

          6. I’m not saying any of that was a GOOD idea or GOOD impulse, I’m saying, it’s been a REAL situation for me (and many others, I imagine) and I learned how to be honest with myself and others and choose people who were honest in return.

          7. I think most of us do have our “well, that was not my finest hour!” moments. It’s part of how one learns that failing to live up to our own standards has a cost in self-respect. I have found “I never want to feel that way about myself again!” to be a great motivator.

          8. Man, I have that reaction to stupid criminals and things all the time. Like, I’m glad that they got caught, especially if it was something really awful, but the stupidity that made them get caught frustrates the hell out of me. It’s a weird mixture of reactions to experience.

          9. Yep, I’ve been in my share of messy situations. Being lied to. Lying to myself. People getting hurt all around.

            When I was first dating my abusive ex, who was a serious alcoholic, I got warnings from one or two friends as well as one or two complete strangers about his problem drinking. Since I am close to a teetotaller, I had no frame of reference to put his volume of alcohol consumption in perspective and didn’t even know how to recognize signs of tipsiness. I didn’t forget those warnings, but they weren’t enough to convince me to dump the guy. Actually, what made me try to break up with him the first time was some homophobic comments about some people I knew (and the irony was that one of them had made a homophobic remark of his own during that gathering)–the sheer prejudice and being so woefully wrong about these people was a bit much for me. And yet, I didn’t make it stick, took him back, and went on for a few more years. To get back on topic, I appreciated the warnings even though I didn’t heed them in the moment.

            Later, after we moved across the country and settled in with a friends group, he was publicly drunk at a gathering. It apparently made quite an impression on people. Mind you, this is a group that does quite a bit of social drinking, and even conscious get your drunk on get-togethers. Well, a couple of friends took me aside and asked if I was alright. and what could they do to help me? I was touched by their concern and sincerity. And that may be a constructive approach to intervening with Jane: I noticed X behavior by your partner. How are you doing? Can I do anything to help? That might even deflect some of the anticipated negative reaction and redirect it into thoughts of self-care. It’s a hope.

          10. I have the same reaction! Like, the cheating is disrespectful enough, the apparently not even TRYING to cover it up is just EXTRA disrespectful, like either they think their current partner is thicker than two planks or they just don’t care if they find out.

          11. Weirdly enough, I have very similar feelings about academic cheaters. “Dude, you just answered the questions from LAST YEAR’S homework assignment. Some of those questions do not appear on this year’s assignment. If you’re gonna cheat, at least be marginally competent at it.”

        2. Re: health stuff – This too. I have more than a few friends who found out their partner was cheating because suddenly they had an STI and hey, where did that come from? Oh . . . .

      2. Where I’ve seen this recommended, though, I think it’s less of a ‘do not get involved lest you get yelled at’ response, and more an acknowledgement that although you personally might think you want to know, and indeed might know from past experience that you DID want to know, what matters is whether the person in question wants to know, which you will likely not be aware of unless you are very close to them. Couple that with a helping of ‘life is complicated, few of us are blameless, and you very rarely know the workings of another person’s relationship’.

        I don’t think this question can be answered with an absolute either way, and I think the relationship with the cheated-on is an important factor in any approach.

    4. If they are not that close, and I was Jane, I would feel humiliated to have some busybody warning me about how awful my boyfriend is

      Which I suppose means that the LW can’t win, but I I kind of think that nosying into other people’s relationships is not a situation in which one is supposed to win. If you’re not close, then stay out of it.

      I know this attitude is common, but it makes no sense to me. In the latter case you’d be mad she didn’t do anything, but you describe not saying anything as nosying into other people’s relationships? She quite specifically did not spread it around.

      It’s not being a “busybody” to have an ethical dilemma over something you saw through no choice of your own, that is hurtful to someone you know. She didn’t hang around waiting to see this person’s boyfriends, in the hopes they would be cheating. O_o

      In the case of the OP, I vote for fading from her life, basically, because the whole thing sounds like an unhealthy dynamic. I wouldn’t bring up something someone else told me, and I would urge them to tell them, because that becomes a case of stirring up shit when you’re not even sure it’s true (I had the latter happen, and I see no reason for the friend who told me to lie but I wasn’t comfortable saying something I didn’t know for sure was true) *unless* we were super close, in which case it would probably come out because I share preeeetty much everything with close friends.

      Hopefully the OP’s friend can find someone who’s not a cheating liar, and grow up enough to be able to take bad news without being nasty to someone who’s been put in a really crap position.

      1. Yeah… LW pretending it never happened is hardly everyone gossiping behind Jane’s back. “Knowing and not acting on” really doesn’t imply “making Jane the subject of gossip” or “public humiliation” to me.

    5. Yes, it sounds like LW can’t win no matter what she does here. Yes, Jane will feel terrible no matter what, but…. seriously, LW didn’t want to get involved in this business on round 2 and still got dragged in. What’s she supposed to do, poke out her eyes? But shoot, it isn’t always about “being a fool.” Everyone gets fooled sometimes. But in this case, it’s about what would a friend do. And it sounds like there’s no not-awful answer to that question.

      If it were me, I think I might say to Jane, “Look, I told you and you screamed at me and dumped me. I didn’t tell you and you screamed at me and dumped me. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT ME TO DO in this situation next time?” Because, seriously. Other than “stop dating cheating scumbags,” which Jane clearly has no radar for, there’s no good friend solution to this problem other than to friend-dump Jane. Which I think its gonna happen anyway.

      1. Actually, I think that’s a really good idea — sadly, it sounds like it might be too late for the OP to do it casually, but around the time of either of those awkward make-up conversations, it might have made sense to say, “So, I tried to guess what you would want me to do with information like ‘your boyfriend is cheating,’ and it seems like I was wrong. Obviously I hope the situation never comes up again, but… what DO you want me to do if I find out something like that, and I’m pretty sure that you don’t know? Is there a better way you’d want me to handle it?”

        Of course, there’s a pretty good chance that the honest answer would be, “No. There is no good way to handle that situation. All of your options suck and I will get upset about whatever you do” — because, well, there really is no good way to handle that situation, and sometimes we humans do irrational shit like get upset at everyone who was near an upsetting situation whether they had anything to do with it or not. But I do think there’s a slim chance of getting actual useful information out of that conversation.

        1. I suspect as soon as the LW goes anywhere near that topic of conversation, Jane’s obvious question would be “Why, why, why do you ask me this?”

          It’s not one that can really be done casually.

          1. Yeah, that’s why I think it’s too late now — it might have worked right at the time when they started picking up the friendship again, but once you’re past that point it would absolutely come off as, “So, in this TOTALLY HYPOTHETICAL situation that IN NO WAY is going on right now, definitely not, nope, nothing to see here…”

          2. I dunno. I can’t imagine how “hey, I caught your last two boyfriends cheating on you and things got really awkward between us as a result, how do you want me to handle that kind of thing in the future?” could go well. There is just no way to express your desire for guidance on that point without implying an expectation that she’s going to get cheated on again, and you’re going to find out before she does again. And really, that should be such a long shot that asking her to help you plan for that would seem totally inappropriate… until it has already happened. Some kinds of awkward there’s just no preventing.

          3. It might be possible to remove some of the negative charge from the conversation by framing it more generally, like “if I learned something that wasn’t good news, but it might benefit you to know, would you want me to tell you?”

            Then again, as I’m writing this I’m realizing that it’s probably not possible to remove the question from the context of cheating at this point. No matter how hypothetically the LW phrases it, there’s a good chance it will be heard as “what do you want me to do the next time your boyfriend cheats on you.” Especially in this case where the friend has a history of handling difficult conversations badly.

          4. Sure, but I am pretty certain that starting the conversation at all IS telling her. Or will shortly lead to telling her.

            There are some questions that are never hypothetical.

            “Have you ever thought about seeing other people?” —-> Because I am, and I have one in mind.
            “If I knew something that wasn’t good news, but would benefit you to know, how would you want me to tell you?” —-> I know some stuff.

    6. If you want to have a conversation that will seriously help someone learn about and change their ingrained relationship habits and self-esteem, just be prepared for it to take, oh… between three months and two years. That kind of stuff is way above an old college friend’s pay grade. (Therapist hat off now.)

      It’s more important to tell Jane than to nurse Jane through an emotional crisis, because right now, the LW is only one of two that we know of (other than the cheating BF) who can tell Jane this information. Even delegating that task could be potentially explosive. On the other hand, there is a wide, vast galaxy of people who can get Jane through the pain and upset of learning the BF has cheated: Jane herself, for one. Team Jane, for two. A local community of mental health and helping professionals, including crisis lines, for three. Just because the LW has a friend/acquaintance in pain does not mean the LW has to be the one to alleviate that pain.

      1. Okay this is tangential, and I apologize if this is derailing, but: what is the protocol when you repeatedly find yourself in one of those conversations (about relationships and self esteem) with a close friend who really needs the help, but without having a therapy background yourself? I have had some scary communications from a friend recently that I feel ill-equipped to handle but she is very resistant to the idea of therapy. Is it reasonable to get therapy myself? Is this the sort of thing an HMO will even cover?? “I’m actually fine but my friend is scaring me”?

        1. Jane Doe, that’s the exact reason that I started going to therapy, and I’m not a health insurance expert but I’m pretty sure insurance will cover therapy for that. A situation of “my [friend/partner/family member] is doing this scary thing and I am upset/stressed about it and I need tools to help me deal with it” is a very appropriate situation for therapy. (I wouldn’t say there’s ever really an inappropriate situation for therapy.)

          That said, you don’t have to be your friend’s therapist, or convince her to go to therapy. If you feel ill-equipped to handle stuff, it’s ok to say that: “Friend, I care a lot about you, and I want to be here for you, and I am out of my depth. If you had malaria, caring about you wouldn’t make me a qualified doctor who knew how to treat malaria. It’s the same with this: caring about you doesn’t make me a trained therapist who knows how to help you deal with this. Because I care about you, I want you to have help from someone who knows what they’re doing, which is not me.”

          1. I love the malaria analogy! Thank you! This is helpful.

            As a matter of fact I recently did tell her that I feel out of my depth, and I have not had any scary notes in a couple weeks now. It is hard to know whether that is because she feels better, or because I successfully reset the boundary a little bit and she is finding another way to manage her pain. Maybe part of the deal with boundaries is that is I don’t necessarily need to know? In any case I may still call that therapist, because I doubt the issue is really gone for good.

        2. Totally get therapy yourself. The therapist will find some way to bill it. That is scary as hell, I know. I first knew I wanted to be a therapist when I was in the middle of talking a friend through something and went, “I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing, and that could screw both me and this person up. I need to go to school for this.”

          The thing to remember is: your friend is a tough, capable person who can take care of herself, even though she’s in a lot of pain. She’ll deal. And yet, if part of how she deals is by being self-destructive, you can’t stop her if she’s determined enough. You can be an awesome friend and resource for her, but at the end of the day she is her own responsibility. It’s natural for somebody in that much pain to fervently wish someone could come in and save them and make it all better… but sadly, that kind of total rescue isn’t really possible, and having that as a strategy keeps her from building her own resources to cope. It can be helpful to let her know what the supports out there for her are, but it’s up to her to decide what to use.

          Things to say:
          “I have faith that you can get through this.”
          “I hope you’ll find a way to take care of yourself.”
          “You know how to decide what kind of help that you need.”
          “That sounds awful. What are you going to do?”`

        3. This situation is basically my life. My mother has a whole mess of chronic health conditions and over this past year has become progressively more irrational in her through patterns. I got her to go to a therapist for three visits before she refused to ever attend again.

          Not only is dealing with this kind of thing really scary, (she likes to threaten suicide a lot) it’s also really exhausting. I spend so much emotional energy talking her down that I have none left over for myself.

          I think therapy is an excellent idea. But I also think a some point it is appropriate to say “I love you and these conversations are difficult because I hate seeing you in this much pain. Can we talk about other resources to help you?” And maybe come prepared with a list of therapists or hotlines.

          I will straight-up tell my mom “I love you, but I cannot be your sole source of emotional support. It is not healthy for you and is not healthy for me….we need a different solution.” Not that it does any good in my case.

          1. And I think sometimes it’s easy to judge people who won’t see a therapist as stubborn or trying to be stoic or whatever, but you can’t know what their experiences are. I have an irrational fear of therapy because the last time I saw my brother before he killed himself (the night before my 10th birthday) was in a therapist’s office (family therapy). Even though my rational mind knows the therapist didn’t MAKE him commit suicide, my emotional self struggles with that. When my husband convinced me to go to couples counseling with him a while back, he mentioned to the therapist that I really dread therapy and asked him to be considerate of that. The therapist had us both take some personality test before our visit and then when we got there he informed me, “Oh, I know why you don’t like therapy. You’re a SEVEN!” I was so hurt and angry that he trivialized my very fear based on a personality test score. This same therapist also blurted out things to me that my husband had told him in confidence. I know that a good therapist can be worth their weight in gold, and have many friends who’ve had great experiences with it, but bad therapists can do real damage, and when you open up to someone and are vulnerable and they kind of screw you over, it’s just not that easy to trust the process.

            Sorry, I feel like I veered way off topic here, but sometimes it seems like people always say, “see a therapist!” like it’s the easiest thing to do, and like finding a really good therapist who is a good fit for you (and who takes your insurance) is a simple task. I’ve found it to be insanely difficult (although I did eventually find a therapist I liked–not ecstatic but I like and trust her) and for many people the emotional and financial roadblocks may just be too much. It’s not an automatic fix.

          2. It is definitely not an automatic fix, it is hard to find a therapist, there are roadblocks for sure. But it *can* work, and sometimes supportive friends can get really drained by listening to someone’s jerkbrain cycle.

            I know it comes across sometimes as dismissive, like, “go fix yourself,” especially when someone is in the middle of a spike and every message sounds like rejection. But, I’ll take my boyfriend as an example. Dude is bipolar. He needs pro help. He needs meds. If he has pro help and meds, he is totally functional and fine. There is no amount of friendship/patient listening/vague supportive noises that could have helped him figure that out or get through it – he needed pros. Good friends were ones who listened, and then said “That sounds really not okay. Let’s go to the hospital. No, let’s go RIGHT NOW.”

            I don’t think it’s a friend’s responsibility (or my responsibility) to only recommend things that are guaranteed to be accessible and perfectly suitable by the person who is in crisis. “This sounds serious – I think maybe you should look into therapy.” “Well, what if it’s a bad therapist?” “Um….I can’t solve that for you.” It is on some level possible to read a friend’s “Please call a therapist” as “Because I can’t talk to you about this anymore, I am out of patience/time/sympathy/this is intersecting with my own issues in a way that is bringing ME down”….because sometimes it means that. But it also means “This sounds really serious, but you’re probably not alone in feeling like this, and somewhere someone can maybe help you sort it out for real in a way that I am not equipped or prepared to do.”

            There’s no perfect way, because mental illness/sadness/poverty/crisis/trauma are fucking insidious and complex. For interested folks, there have been a couple great roundups of non-therapy mental health help for people who are having brainweasels:

            1) http://keelium.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/how-to-keep-moving-forward-even-when-your-brain-hates-you/
            2) http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller/2013/03/12/brain-self-help-an-incomplete-list-of-resources/

          3. Seconding redgirl’s comment.

            I saw a counsellor for my depression when I was eighteen; my psychology tutor (the first person in my life to realise what was up with me) specifically recommended her.

            Her conclusion was that Iwas depressed because I was fat and should get me to an eating disorders clinic. Note: I do not, and never have had, an eating disorder.

            After two months of counselling, I had improved to the point where I had a breakdown after every session. Oh, wait, not ‘improved’, the other thing.

            I haven’t been to any kind of therapy since (my depression was fixed years ago by an extended time on SSRIs, plus avoiding hormonal contraception), and I would also be highly resistant to anyone suggesting I go. Because when you trust in someone’s expertise and open up to them, and they screw you up, that is a BIG THING.

            …obviously, I am not down on therapy in general. When it goes well it seems to be a very good thing. But not-good therapists can do a lot of damage, and few people know how to tell which they’re talking to…

          4. In my mother’s case, she LIKES therapy. She even likes the particular therapist in question. Her refusal to go is based more on her pattern of irrational thinking than any fear or anxiety.

            But on the subject of therapy in general, sometimes suggesting a professional is the ONLY option friends and family have when a loved one is in trouble. My mother’s issues are so far beyond what I can deal with, and I’m not saying that just from a burn-out level (though, hey, burn-out is absolutely happening too.) There is no action I can take or magic words I can say to help her feel better. As someone said, it’s like a diagnosis of cancer…i can have great sympathy for someone with that diagnosis, and I can be supportive and help in small ways…but I will never be able to treat the actual disease.

            So take this person who has cancer, but for whatever reason they won’t go see a doctor (lord knows there are plenty of bad doctors around!!) What can I do but suggest a doctor I’ve researched or had experience with? Very little.

            Another (strained) metaphor…it’s like watching someone sinking in quicksand and you have no rope, no branch, NO WAY to pull them out. All you can so is stand on the side-lines shouting encouragement and maybe toss some drinking water over once in awhile. But there are ropes and branches out there, and people who can hold them…and yeah, some of those ropes and branches may be rotten, or the people holding them may be too weak to pull. But there’s still more of a chance of escape with them than with the friend who’s holding nothing.

          5. @Tired Caregiver:

            That’s very close to my own go-to analogy, which is this: if a friend of mine smashed their leg, and was sitting there with an open wound and bone splinters and whatever, I would tell them to go to the hospital.

            I could not promise that the ER intake nurse would not be a jerk. I could not promise that the doctor would not also be a jerk. I could not promise that they wouldn’t get MRSA while they were there. I couldn’t promise that their insurance would pay it. I couldn’t promise ANY of those things. I could hope–and I know that there are good doctors and nurses who are caring and careful, so it’s not a totally ridiculous hope. But it’s *possible* that any of those things could happen.

            But… I can’t fix that smashed leg. I just can’t. I am not competent to set a bone, let alone restore a shattered femur. I am not competent to keep a wound reliably clean as it heals. I am not competent to stop the flow of blood. I *cannot* be responsible for it. The only thing I can do is tell them that they really, really need to see a professional, because it is so far above my pay grade that it isn’t even funny, and I might very well make them dramatically worse if I try.

            That’s not a very fun thing to realize. But mental health issues are real, genuine health issues. I wouldn’t try to fix a friend’s smashed-up leg all by myself; even knowing perfectly well that going to the hospital is imperfect and can cause problems of its own, I would tell them “please go to the hospital, I can’t help you.” And in a similar way I can’t try to fix someone’s serious mental health issue. It is just as much a real issue and therefore it is just as much above my competence to try to fix.

            (Obviously, for less-serious stuff, it *is* possible to help. I would offer a friend a bandaid and some Neosporin if they cut themselves chopping onions, and I would offer a friend some Benadryl or Sudafed if they were sniffling all day. In the same way, I would happily hold a friend’s hand while she made a difficult phone call, or let her cry on my shoulder over some temporary blues. But once it hits ‘serious, long-term, potentially detrimental/dangerous,’ then I stop offering bandaids and start offering to drive them to the ER. Metaphorically speaking.)

          6. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that people should never suggest therapy at all. I’ve done it myself, when friends have come to me asking for advice on things that are way out of my league.

            What I was really trying to get at was the attitude I sense sometimes of, “I’ve suggested therapy a million times and this person won’t go! They are stubborn and don’t want to help themselves!” I totally understand feeling like, “You keep complaining to me and I’m getting tired of it. If you won’t take the advice I give you then you need to quit talking about this.” That’s setting boundaries and completely appropriate. But “not seeing a therapist” =!= “doesn’t want to help themselves.”

            I kind of liken it to the advice the Captain gives when dealing with someone in an abusive situation. You can tell them, “Hey, this isn’t right. You don’t deserve to be treated this way and you have every right to leave.” But when someone doesn’t take that advice, it isn’t because she’s stupid, or stubborn, or just doesn’t want to be happy. It’s not actually a simple thing to do, and she may have extremely compelling reasons for not doing it. As a good friend, you should respect that decision and still let her know you’re on her side, even if you do (for your own sanity) have to say, “Look, I just can’t listen to you talk about this anymore.”

            If you’ve gone through a trauma in life, and you open up about it to a therapist and make yourself vulnerable, and that therapist ridicules, shames or blames you for that trauma (or simply tells you it doesn’t exist), then it’s ANOTHER trauma on top of the first. And it’s completely logical and reasonable not to want to repeat that experience. While therapy can be extremely useful–even lifesaving–to many people, it’s also important to realize that psychology isn’t an exact science and in fact it has been really damaging to some populations. Homosexuality was listed in the DSM-IV as a mental disorder for a LONG time. So there were therapists out there (and still are, actually) telling people that being gay was a problem to be fixed, causing untold damage. BDSM is still listed in the DSM-IV as a disorder.

            I guess my long-winded point here is, if you know someone who won’t go to a therapist, have some faith that their decision truly might be the best decision for *them,* even if you can’t understand it and don’t agree with it.

          7. Hi Tired Caregiver,

            you may be aware of this, and things may be different in the USA (I’m UK-based) but if I were working clinically with an older adult with a number of chronic conditions and an overwhelmed and exhausted family, I would be involving the Older Adult multi-disciplinary team rather than offering individual therapy, as MDT input is much more likely to be helpful. So, Occupational Therapy assessment to check how the person is occupying their time, what aids they might need to be able to get out/access community/bathe etc., nursing/care assistant input for daily care/meds management/continence needs etc, and physio support to help the person retain/increase their mobility. Meds help from a psychiatrist might also be appropriate, as you’ve suggested, and linking the family into community support/carer’s organisations/respite care. For a psychology intervention-we’d be thinking systemically about what practical help can improve life for this person and their family, and whether there are any psychological barriers to engaging with this that we can address clinically. I’d also wonder about whether a pain management intervention or a health psychology/adjustment to chronic health conditions would be helpful. In the USA Jon Kabat Zinn has written some great books and run courses for mindfulness-based stress reduction in people living with chronic health conditions.

            I don’t know if that’s helpful to you as I appreciate that the USA systems are so different, but if you can find a way to access some of the resources I mentioned I wonder if it would be more helpful then individual therapy for your mother. These are generic thoughts about working with older adults, not advice/an attempt to diagnose through the internet, so please take this with a pinch of salt!

            best wishes,


          8. Thank you for all the great information, Pink. I really appreciate the effort and energy…I mean that quite sincerely.

            Unfortunately, my situation is complicated because my mother refuses to admit she is at a stage in her life where she needs help. She refuses to even admit that I live with her as a caregiver…she will admit in one breath that she can’t live without me, and in the next say I only stay with her to say money (which makes no sense since I can’t work while caring for her and I’m eating through my savings!)

            In order to get her the kind of help you describe, I would have to pursue getting full medical power of attorney. This is something I am very much am considering at this time. We had an incident a few months ago where her behavior was completely irrational and came very close to being full-out abusive. She is now back to ‘normal’, which means she’s still not rational, but not as aggressive. Right now I’m not sure I could get POA if I tried…her behavior in front of professionals is very different from her behavior at home. I am talking to some lawyers and a senior care hotline to see what my options legally are. I do know that if she reverts to how she was a few months ago, I simply cannot stay in this situation and I will have to pursue moving her (voluntarily or not) into assisted living.

        4. I have been in this situation for a LONG TIME (I’ve been telling a friend of mine that I’m pretty sure she has seasonal depression and anxiety for over two years now) and I have no real answers for you. I spent a lot of time telling her she needed to go to therapy, and then I stopped because it was exhausting to deal with the ‘they’ll label me crazy and ruin my life’ and ‘it might be OK for you but I can’t do it’ conversations that resulted. We had a conversation where I said ‘you know I think you need to go to therapy to get some help but I trust you to do what is right for you’ and she really appreciated it. Since then I make generic ‘oh man that sounds really tough’ sounds when she talks about being suicidal or severely depressed or unable to cope with being in or out of a relationship. It’s still very very hard to deal with, though, and I’m terrified that one March I’ll get a call from her parents saying she’s dead or in hospital. I keep trying to remind myself that all I can do is offer comfort and support and look after myself.

          1. Your friend has a potentially fatal illness (depression) which you cannot cure. She may recover; she may live many more years without receiving treatment; she may not. That shit is hard. Sometimes it’s as hard as knowing a friend has cancer. (Sometimes it’s harder, because the number of people who think they can cure cancer with positive thinking, while sadly still non-negligible, is lower than the number of people who think they can cure somebody’s depression by loving them enough; so then you can get to blaming yourself or feeling blamed for their disease.)

        5. It’s okay to get therapy for yourself! Really! You don’t have to be completely out of touch with reality, or going through the worst time ever, just to see a counselor. Therapists get therapy with other therapists all the time, even, just to debrief and deal with their own issues, because while they may love helping people, it can take a toll/be difficult to figure out how to self-care.

          Also, even if you had a therapy degree, most would advise you against giving therapy to a friend. There are those helpful boundaries, for one thing, that are meant to keep the therapist in a safe, not involved sphere where trust can be developed and the therapist themselves is less likely to become part of the problem. That doesn’t mean you can’t help your friend, if you want to, and it’s very likely that a therapist could help you establish what sort of help you’re comfortable giving, where your boundaries are, how best to be supportive/non-judgemental (not that you would do that on purpose, but sometimes misunderstandings about where the other person is coming from can come off that way). Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with someone who can help you set up a plan for your own self-care, so that you’re on better ground to help her, if you like.

          I don’t know what you mean by scary communications, or where you live, but if your friend is threatening to hurt herself/already hurting herself, or disclosing current or previous assault or abuse of some kind, it’s also perfectly okay to make a third party call to a suicide/mental health issues/sexual or domestic assault line (actually you can do this with some hotlines just because you need to talk to someone not involved with all of this). Some (maybe many or all, even?) can also help you figure out the best ways to talk to her, express your concern, and maybe suggest (gently) that therapy is also for perfectly awesome sane people who have an issue that they don’t quite know how to handle on their own. If you’re worried about disclosing anything that might cross into illegality/send the cops to your friend’s door (it’s way better if they make the decision to call/see someone themselves, by the way, but if it’s gotten really bad for your friend, and they, say, call you and say that they have x plan and they are going to do this thing that will be forever right now, at midnight, etc., that’s a tough call you might have to decide if you’re willing to make). In the meantime, emphasize that you care about her and trust her to make good decisions.

          1. I can’t reply to redgirl, but she also has a valid point. Some therapists can do a lot of damage. I KNOW there’s a post or two here within the last few months that talks about how to find and select a good therapist/find a hotline, and that it is okay to find another therapist if that person is dismissive, you can’t trust/talk to them, or you just feel off with them for whatever reason. I’ve seen several. One was awesome from the get go, and I’d go back to her any day, a couple were okay, but didn’t do much for me, and could have listened better, and at least four or five were downright offensive/damaging. Oddly the best psychiatrist I ever had had been sued for malpractice years before and no one would recommend him. Therapists who do not listen/respect your boundaries/are more interested in pushing their preconceptions on you no matter what you say are bad news. I worked with a few who were the staff for a hotline, and I feel confident that I can say from watching them first hand, and going through training with them that they got it and were generally anywhere from decent to awesome with their clients.

        6. Replying to myself because I can’t reply to redgirl. The point that therapy isn’t a panacea is interesting and it’s a fair one. If I’m honest, I have to admit that part of what I mean when I say “you need to see a therapist” is “I need to not deal with this anymore.” And it just feels heartless to leave it at that.

          1. Listen, it’s okay to not want to deal with all of another person’s problems anymore. Depression is contagious, in a strange way. It’s a selfish, horrible, personality-stealing disease that can really suck in surrounding people. You can be supportive, but you don’t have to take on the job of fixing your friend, and you don’t have to be an endless ear. Staranise said it best – your friend might not get better. Or not all the way better. You’re not heartless for not being magical.

          2. It feels heartless because you’re a caring person, but there’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries that keep you healthy. Really. It’s okay to feel “I need to not deal with this anymore.” It’s okay to say it too.

            On another blog somewhere I read an analogy that helped me a lot: Say you have a close friend or loved one who broke their leg, but they refuse to go to the doctor. Maybe they have a good reason for avoiding doctors, like a traumatic experience with a quack in their past. The result is that they never get better, and you have to help them with everything while they scream in pain at you. Of course it’s not their fault that they have a broken leg. But how long would you allow that to continue? At what point do you tell them, I can’t force you to see a professional and I also can’t fill all the needs in your life that are caused by your refusal.

            You’re right, it does feel heartless to put limits on someone who’s in pain. But sometimes it’s a good thing to do, for yourself and maybe for them too.

          3. Oh god do I understand the “feeling heartless” part. When someone you love is depressed it can feel like such a failure not only to be unable to fix them, but also to need to back off from them for your own good. And of course their jerkbrain often *will* blame you for that, so it’s that much harder.

            I’ve been in the position of trying to “help” a depressed person to the point where it turns into nagging–“See a therapist! Get meds! Get some exercise! Meditate!” and I end up frustrated and they end up resentful and nobody wins. And then I take all the guilt I feel at not being able to “fix” them and throw it on their head. “You don’t care how much you’re hurting everyone else! You don’t WANT to get better!” I’m slowly learning to trust other people to make their own decisions about their health, while also protecting my own even when it seems cruel. But it’s really hard when there’s still a grieving 10-year-old inside my 42-year-old head saying, “You could have saved his life if you had just loved him BETTER!”

          4. It’s like the airline instructions: Put on your oxygen mask before assisting others” Or lifeguard instructions that tell you to rescue a flailing swimmer by getting close then starting to swim backwards so they follow you rather than grab onto you and drag you both down.
            You can’t be there for your friend if he or she is drowning you too.

          5. This so very much…it’s so hard to just say “I can’t deal” and offer nothing else.

            I also feel like the suggestion of therapy can be a form of self-defense, and that may be why it can come across as frustrated and “gosh, you just don’t WANT to get better!” even if that’s not how it’s meant.

            When person is hurting, just not talking about can be pretty much impossible. To use Badger Rose’s excellent analogy…if someone breaks a leg, they’re going to scream. If they don’t get it treated, they’re going to need help with certain things. They’re going to talk about how difficult it is to get around and how much pain they’re in, because their life is being severely impacted by these things.

            A person dealing with serious depression or mental illness is in the same kind of situation. They may really want to respect the boundaries of their loved ones, but when you hurt, it’s really hard NOT to talk about the pain. So that boundary of “I love you, but I can’t help with this and I can’t keep hearing about it” is really difficult to stick with on both sides in this situation. “Get therapy” can become a default response then because you feel so compelled to offer SOMETHING and it’s so hard to just watch a person suffer.

            I know in my situation therapy isn’t even a terribly helpful suggestion…with my mother’s memory loss, she’ll just forget everything she talked about with the therapist as soon as she leaves the office (I’m not being sarcastic at all…that’s the reality of the situation.) But I have simply nothing else to offer, and it is impossible for her issues NOT to impact me on a daily basis no matter what boundaries I attempt to set. I myself would likely benefit from therapy, but I don’t know how to seek a ‘talk therapist’…someone who wouldn’t just offer drugs after a 15 minute session.

            Also, some of the mental health issues can make it very difficult for a person to make rational decisions about their health needs. I’m not saying that all people with mental illness can’t manage their health…not at all! But it can be difficult for lay people on the sidelines to know when intervention is absolutely required and when it isn’t

          6. Tired Caregiver: Start with someone who isn’t capable of prescribing medicine. A psychiatrist has an MD, is a medical doctor, and can prescribe. In very few/almost no jurisdictions can anyone else do that. Therefore a psychologist, counsellor, or social worker would not be able to offer you drugs, and would only provide talk therapy.

          7. Thank you, staranise…funny thing is, I know my mother’s therapist can’t prescribe because she’s not an MD, but I am never thought of how that would apply to my own search! I feel rather silly now, in fact!

    7. Whoa. I have a lot of sympathy for Jane, but the LW’s feelings count, too. The LW is in a position where they cannot win. If they tell, they’re blamed, accused of lying and jealousy, and cut off. If they don’t tell, they’re accused of being a bad friend and cut off. After awhile, it’s exhausting.

      “Which I suppose means that the LW can’t win, but I I kind of think that nosying into other people’s relationships is not a situation in which one is supposed to win. If you’re not close, then stay out of it. Otherwise it just seems like you are stirring up drama over something that is none of your business.”

      So, the LW is either a busybody who’s butting into the LW’s business if she tells, BUT according to Jane, she’s a bad friend if she doesn’t tell. What, exactly, would you suggest the LW do? If she tells, she’s a busybody. If she doesn’t, she’s a bad friend.

      And let me tell you something–if you think Jane’s reaction was bad when the LW told/didn’t tell, just watch how nasty it will get if the LW was to take your advice and engage in some smug amateur psychoanalysis. In such a case, Jane would be perfectly justified for going off on her. I could understand the quandry a friend felt if they knew a boyfriend was cheating on me. But I would be beyond livid if someone who was not my therapist had a heart-to-heart with me about What I Was Doing Wrong.

    8. So, if telling Jane about the cheating is nosying into her business, and not telling Jane is also nosying into her business, exactly what is the LW to do? Wear blinders in public places? Also, why the assumption that telling Jane was not in a heartfelt, supportive manner?

    9. Nothing in the letter indicated that the LW talked about, much less *gossiped* about boyfriend #2. She did exactly what you are recommending (“stay out of it”) and still got slammed.

    10. ‘But if you are close, then I think the discussion should not be about rushing to inform Jane that she has hooked up with another cheating scumbag, but a more heartfelt reaching out to a friend who appears to have some kind of issues that are causing her to get into relationships with unreliable and dishonest guys over and over.’

      For me I would see the reaching out about my issues of selecting jerks as much more invasive and all up in my business than someone telling me a partner was cheating. The latter is just information. Unpleasant information, but it still leaves me with the autonomy to decide how to respond. Deciding not to tell feels like making that decision for me and reaching out about my issues feels more like an intervention. This may be appropriate depending on the friendship, but I just wanted to point out that there are several ways of looking at these potential responses and it is not the case that action a is better than action b in any definitive sense.

      Personally I would want to know. Cheating for me isn’t about whose bits are where, but about the lack of honesty in a relationship, and because that by definition includes partner lying, then you can only know about it if you find out some other way. I think I have a right to that information so I can decide if I want to be in that relationship or not.

      Others may disagree. From a practical point of view, I would suggest a conversation about what each of you would like in the hypothetical situation of cheating occurring. You can then fall back on that as a reason for why you are telling/not telling them. My bestie and I have v different views on whether we would want to be told, but we also respect that what we would want in that situation is not the litmus test for each other’s wants.

  4. IF, IF IF… If Jane was still an everyday part of your life, and you were having a conversation specifically about her relationship, and she had concerns and was looking for validation of those concerns, then I’d say tell her.

    Otherwise, run far and fast from this situation. Jane has an unfortunate streak going on right now.

  5. Hey mbkl, I get your point on how close they really are– I would be super embarrassed to have a mere acquaintance tell me I was having the wool pulled over my eyes. But I also get how the LW is torn between not wanting to stick her nose in other people’s business on the one hand, and on the other not wanting to let her friend (close or not) get played. It seems like a situation where the only victory is to disengage from this particular friend.
    Also, can we tone down on the judgment just a bit? I don’t know this lady’s life and I don’t know how she picks her boyfriends. I’m pretty sure none of us meet someone and think to ourselves, “This guy seems like he is going to stomp my heart into the dirt and undermine my faith in people. Let’s DO this.” Maybe this is part of a pattern of poor partner choices. Maybe her friend is just having a horrible, horrible run of bad luck where she is getting screwed over by people she thought she could love and trust. Either way, I totally agree with your thought about offering support and friendship– but if “why are you picking these assholes?” is meant to be a way to side-step saying “I saw your bf kissing another lady,” that seems… unhelpful.

    1. I was also thinking “maybe they’re all in high school and are getting it out of their system”. It’s not that I think cheating is OK when you’re fifteen, but the stakes are lower even if the heartbreak is as acute, and it’s a better time to learn why cheating is a really bad idea than when you’re thirty and there are kids and contracts involved.

  6. So it seems to me that part of the problem, LW, is that Jane is holding you responsible for her reactions to other peoples’ behavior. That’s what “shooting the messenger” generally boils down to: the person is not upset with you per se, but they’re upset about a thing that you brought to their attention, and they lash out at the nearest person… ie., you. Sometimes this is a temper thing (the anger boils over in the moment onto whoever is nearby, whether they’re responsible or not), and sometimes this is a deflection thing (it’s emotionally difficult and dangerous to feel angry and betrayed at a boyfriend, so you redirect that feeling onto a “safer” friend), and sometimes it’s just plain a spite thing (you did a thing that made me upset so I am punishing you).

    If this person is not a very very very good friend, I agree completely with Da Captain when she says “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” and “If she tries to use you as her emotional punching bag again, bail.” Even if Jane is genuinely feeling like crap and lashing out because of crap feelings, you are still not required to hang around to be the eternal sponge for her anger. It’s okay to say, “This person treats me badly when she hears bad news, and that isn’t the kind of friendship I want.”

    If Jane *is* a super awesomely good friend such that you don’t feel like you want to step back, then it might be a good idea to just straight-up lay your cards on the table and say something like, “When I found out that X was cheating on you, I told you, and you were furious and accused me of lying and cut me off. When I found out that Y was cheating on you, I remembered that and didn’t tell you… and you responded the same way anyway. I can’t control what your boyfriends do, and both of the things I tried before pissed you off, so what do you WANT me to do? Because this is clearly not working.”

    The thing is, the answer may be, “I want you to tell me, but in some magical fairyland way where I completely believe you and am not hurt and everything is wonderful.” Or, “I want you to make sure this doesn’t happen to me in the first place.” And if that’s the answer, then I kind of have to go back to “take a step back on the friendship” as my suggestion. Because if someone expects their friends to be able to wave the magic wand of Making Everything Better Forever, and punishes their friends for their inexplicable lack of magic wand… if you’re their friend, you’re going to get punished a lot unless you are hiding a magic wand under your mattress. Which I’m guessing you’re not.

  7. I think Badger Rose has made the suggestion most likely to save the friendship if it can reasonably be saved, and let you learn if it cannot. I was going to write something similar, if someone else had not already done so.

  8. When I was at university, I was told by a near-stranger that my boyfriend at the time was cheating on me. It hurt, but I didn’t blame the messenger, I blamed the boyfriend. I wanted to say this with particular reference to mbkl’s point above; the girl who told me barely knew me, but I understood that she told me out of some kind of support/solidarity and not because she was a “busybody” who wanted to humiliate me. If I can get that about a person I hardly knew, then Jane (in an ideal world where people behave rationally, obvs) should be able to understand this about a friend like the LW.
    I second the point that Jane won’t be happy whatever the LW does, but also feel bad for Jane and her trail of terrible boyfriends. I hope things work out for both of them eventually.

  9. I think it’s understandable to lash out at terrible news, but then you apologize right away. You acknowledge that you were wrong to shoot the messenger. You don’t take a few months to apologize. That’s not the kind of friendship I would want. YMMV.

    LW: you’ve tried it both ways. Jane doesn’t react favorably to either way. You’re ultimately blameless here. There’s only so much you can do and I think it’s maybe time to cut your losses and invest more in some other friendships. You’ve tried your best and what have you gotten for it? Look at her actions now. Are those okay to you? I think you deserve better.

    If you want to stay friends, I suggest not saying anything. I second CA in her idea to encourage your mutual friend to bring this to Jane’s attention. Not because you approve of cheating, but because Jane has shown you that she doesn’t handle the truth well (hey there, Jack Nicholson) . I wish you all the best.

  10. My husband was cheating on me, and all my friends knew. We were a very tight circle, like sisters. Not a single one of them told me. They all claimed “it wasn’t my place.” Needless to say, I’ve not had any contact with any of them for over 10 years. It was horrible going through a divorce and having no friends to lean on. I mourned the loss of them at the same time.

    If you know my SO is cheating and you don’t tell me, you are no friend at all. Period.
    I know others will say it isn’t that black and white. It is.

    BTW I found out because a co-worker had the nerve to tell me. I have the utmost respect for her for doing so.

    You can’t control the person’s reaction, but you need to tell.

    1. In this particular case, the LW does not actually know that Jane’s boyfriend is cheating. The LW has been *told* that Jane’s boyfriend is cheating, but that is not the same things as in the first two instances, where the LW had certain knowledge.

    2. Conversely, My partner witnessed a groom cheat on his fiance at his bachelor party. (With the dancer, because stereotypes.) He told the fiance, because he wasn’t really friends with the groom, and that’s the sort of health related stuff you should know.

      No one else from the party backed him up, citing “Man code” or “None of my business” bullshit. So of course, she was furious at my partner. He’d never liked the groom and she accused him of being jealous or something? We had another wedding to go to with them and spent the whole night dealing with stony silences and awkwardness.

      Fast forward to a year later. He was still cheating with dancers, and she has moved to Arizona during their divorce. Before she left town she told a mutual friend “I’m glad that Sean told me, but he should have been more insistent!”

      I’m not saying that this is what would have happened in your case. And I know that the awkwardness and hate we received from acquaintances were minor stuff compared to the importance of his friends health and happiness. So we’d do it again.

      But I can see why some people wouldn’t.

        1. OMG TOTALLY.

          (The rest of that story also involves the aforementioned dancer breaking another guy’s ribs and kicking my partner in the balls. When he called to tell me I thought he might be calling me from prison. There aint no party like a Hoosier bachelor party.)

  11. Honestly, LW, Jane’s put you in a position where you cannot win. I feel a lot of sympathy for her but at the same time, you count too. Maybe she’s scapegoating you instead of focusing her anger at the people she should be angry at (the skanky creeping boyfriends). Still, it’s exhausting to know that whatever you do, it won’t be right and you’ll get yelled at and blamed. I don’t think there’s any shame in putting some distance between yourself and Jane.

    I think Badger Rose and Jen Full Moon have some good advice if you want to save the friendship–basically call Jane on this bullshit and tell her she’s putting you in a position where you can’t win–what does she want you to do? But if you want to take a huge step back (and it sounds like you aren’t as close to her these days anyway), I think that’s perfectly valid, too. We’ve all been through terrible things and have had our own issues. It doesn’t mean that others are obligated to take our shit.

  12. What I’m thinking is, if the friendship is doomed either way (and frankly, with the whole emotional punching bag aspect, and the increasing distance, it doesn’t sound like that great a loss, no matter what Jane’s finer qualities are), the LW may as well do what feels right to her. Which, based on what the LW says, is to disclose, because if it were her she would want to know.

    I would, too, because of the whole STI issue, and because of the extra pain that comes with discovering that there were months when you thought everything was fine and you were in a healthy, loving relationship, only to find out afterwards that it was a fraud. That adds a whole layer of feeling blind and foolish on top of the betrayal and loss, and makes it all the harder to trust either your partner or your own judgment next time ’round. Plus, there’s the whole “who knew and for how long?” question that adds humiliation and undermines your relationship with your support network. Better to know as soon as anyone in your circle of friends knows. (Or at keast when maybe one or two people know, as opposed to you feeling like the very last person to clue in).

    I’d go with, “listen, I heard something about your boyfriend that may not even be true, but that if I were you I would want the chance to check out. Me telling you stuff you didn’t want to hear hasn’t always worked out the best, though, so if you want me to MYOB and take my second-hand info the hell outa here, I’ll respect that, and no matter what I promise you are the only person I’d repeat this rumor to.”

    If she blows up, she blows up, and like I said it seems like maybe not such a loss, if after both prior incidents it is still her instinct to flay you for doing unto her as you would have her do into you.

    I would also be prepared for her to wail “why does this keep happening to me????” But no, this is not the moment to critique her relationship choices! Go with something like “I don’t know! You don’t deserve this! It isn’t necessarily anything you’re doing; it could be just crappy luck.”

    IF the friendship survives that conversation, and IF she sincerely asks for insight into why this keeps happening, and IF you have some that isn’t just victim-blamey, you could say that she seems to have a certain type of guy she’s attracted to, which puts a premium on x and y over kindness or respect for women, and suggest she watch out for that in future. Or you could say sometimes it seems like she doesn’t see how great she is, and maybe she could talk to a therapist about why she doesn’t realize how much better she deserves. But that stuff does not belong in the first “oh, by the way your boyfriend is cheating on you” conversation.

  13. Also, I think there are two separate things going on here. Maybe if we separate them things will be a bit clearer for the LW, No 1 is the cheating, We all have our own views on that.What’s right for me is awful for someone else.

    No 2 is Jane’s reaction to unwanted news, That one I think we can all agree on needs a bit of work.

    The LW can’t affect whether or not Jane’s BF is a stupid icky cheater. But she CAN affect the second part by setting boundaries and learning from the past. And chosing how much to invest in the future of their friendship.

    Hope this makes sense to you.

  14. I don’t comment very often because I usually agree with what the Captain is saying, but in this case I’d suggest something slightly different – I don’t think it’s usually a good idea to inform someone you see cheating that you are about to go tell their SO. It gives that person a chance to try to come up with a good explanation or to attack/discredit you to your friend. And I think it’s not unreasonable that a person in that situation might go into instant denial, believe Cheating Asshole at least temporarily, and say bad things to you that will be hard to take back/forget later. It just… opens up badness, I think. And in general, I don’t think I’d personally feel obligated to a person cheating on their friend to inform them that you’ll be exposing them. Just IMO. Otherwise – I like the idea of staying out of this one given the history here, and think I’d cut this particular friendship off if her bad behavior happens again, like the Captain suggests.

    1. Very much seconded, I think “I’m going to tell on you!” should probably be left out of this advice equation. It gives Cheating Asshole time to lie, twist the truth and discredit you and you still end up getting dragged into the drama, because just you know you’re name is going to come up in that conversation, in the form of “I just want you to know that anything LW tells you about what she saw last week is totally false because of Screen of Plausible Deniability that I have had time to construct since she warned that I was busted.”

      1. Or worse yet, a counter-attack like “Dearest Janie, this is ever so awkward for me to bring up but your friend LW hit on me the other day. I shot her down, of course, but she was pretty pissed. I think she might be trying to break us up so she and I could get together.”

        1. And this may well have happened the first time LW told Jane about her cheating boyfriend, might explain why she was so upset. If I were Jane after that first time LW told me, I would expect LW to tell me if it happened again. I’d be very interested in whether Jane told LW why she was so upset when she didn’t inform her of the cheating. Convoluted that was – was Jane upset because with the history they had she expected LW to tell her about the cheating and maybe we could cut her some slack on that count.

        2. I don’t know, if it was a friend of mine I’d take that risk. I can’t know my friend’s partner is cheating on them and do nothing, so assuming they are halfway decent “You tell her or I will” seems like the best option. If they’re manipulative and abusive enough to attempt to destroy the friendship and my friend believes them over me, that’s a level of fucked up that I can’t do anything about.

          1. I wasn’t saying “do nothing,” just that telling the cheater to fess up or you’ll tell doesn’t seem like the best strategy. A lot of the time, despite what they’re telling the person they’re cheating with, cheaters actually want to preserve the earlier relationship — that’s why they haven’t just broken things off with that person in the first place. So if they hear they’re going to get busted, their instinct is damage control, ranging from spin to “it wasn’t what it looked like” lies to counterattacking the person who is doing the telling-on. If your priority is the friend, why not just tell the friend?

          2. I guess because I think the experience of finding out that your partner’s cheating on you from a third party is significantly worse than your partner personning-up and telling you themselves, and quite often the cheatee-thirdparty friendship doesn’t survive just because it’s so horribly awkward and humiliating. In my experience, only a small subset of cheaters are also manipulative, abusive assholes: the vast majority are idiots who are kidding themselves that it’s somehow going to be OK or that they are in an impossible situation or they’re resolutely not thinking at all. When someone else knows and the game is up, many cheaters will finally do the decent thing and save their partner the humiliation of hearing from a third party, and if I were a cheatee I’d certain rather hear it from my partner.

            In a specific situation I’d probably make a judgment call about how much I trusted the cheater and how they responded to being caught. But I think cheater and manipulative abusive asshole are different categories, so I wouldn’t automatically proceed on the assumption that just because someone’s the former they’re also going to be the latter. (I also wouldn’t blame anyone who *did*, mind – this is a what-I’d-do, not what-I-think-everyone-should-do!)

  15. I’d like to agree with the Captain’s suggestion to avoid forced teaming.

    In the past two instances, the LW knew (with her own two eyes) that the boyfriends were cheating. In *this* instance, the LW has been told by a third party. All the LW has here is hearsay.

    In this instance, I think the right thing to do is for the LW to get the person who knows (if they know, and aren’t also repeating hearsay) to deal with the situation. Because the LW does not *actually know*, in this case. No matter how much they trust the source of the info!

    Like, suppose my good friend L told me my sister’s husband was cheating on her. L has no reason to lie about this or spread rumors; in fact, L’s social life would be negatively impacted quite strongly if my sister’s husband was cheating on her — L’s husband, sister’s husband, and my husband are close friends. I would absolutely believe her! But it would still not be the same as me seeing my sister’s husband out with another woman. I would try to get L. to tell my sister, and I would be fully willing to team up with her in this situation (because OMG MY SISTER, not an old college friend, you know?) but *I would still not be the one with certain knowledge.*

    The responsibility to Jane here belongs to the friend with certain knowledge.

    1. I think this is a really good point!

      Sometimes we here at CaptainAwkward get all caught up in the theoretical and broadly-applicable aspects of a question, and that results in an excellent conversation in the comments… but a detail like this can get skipped over, so that the specific LW’s situation is not being directly addressed by our broader conversation. Which is okay, of course, but it’s good to note when it happens.

  16. Tired Caregiver – you have made my day. I was the one being cheated with. The cheater wanted to NOT play safe. (I said no!) I told the girl after agonizing for months. I have no idea what happened, but at least she has been warned of the risk of being with this partner.

    LW – tell your friend and let the cards fall where they may. Both times you have been present in some really difficult days. Not many of us can react well under those circumstances. Be the friend YOU would want to be friends with.

  17. Personally, unless I thought the receiver of the bad news was going to be abusive towards me, I would have to tell them. Regardless of whether they ended the friendship (or reacted poorly enough that I needed to end the friendship), I’d be torn up with guilt from the knowledge and would have to get it out there. It’s a horrible situation to be in, and I actually did almost lose a friend once over something similar. We were 18, I had been dating my boyfriend for 2+ years, and a new Darth friend she brought into our circle started claiming to other people that she had slept with my boyfriend. My best friend thought it was her duty to tell me, which I agreed with and appreciated. We looked into the claim together, and I decided I didn’t believe the “other woman,” I believed my boyfriend when he said it didn’t happen. (I think I determined that I actually had spent the night with him when the other girl claimed it had happened? And it just never seemed true. Oh well, irrelevant.)

    My friend decided that she couldn’t deal with my decision to stay with my boyfriend, who she believed was a cheater. She said it was painful to see me degrade myself by staying with him, or something to that effect, and gave me an ultimatum – her or him. I respond very poorly to ultimatums, as well as people who don’t respect my judgement, so I picked him. We reconciled later, but ultimately our friendship didn’t survive because we didn’t respect each other’s choices and our ideologies were in constant conflict. It sucked. But I was still glad she’d told me what she’d heard and given me the chance to investigate and help myself. Even with that bad outcome in my past (although I did continue to trust that boyfriend and date him for 3 more years), I’d still want the same thing to happen. And I’d do it for anyone else, even at risk of their friendship.

    The health issues pointed out above are especially relevant, I think. Not to mention the fact that marriage and children could eventually come into it if the affairs/serial cheating goes on long enough. Better to get it out in the open and deal with the fallout, which will definitely sucky but probably never as bad as the consequences of a longterm affair that you lived with the knowledge of the whole time.

  18. To me the most important ethical reason to tell a person about cheating is that they are spending their most precious resource with the spouse, their time. We have limited time on this planet and lying to me in this regard steals from me the one thing I can never get back, my time, my very life. In my case, many years of my time are gone, time I could have spent with an honest, respectful person. Oh, and he also gave me an STI.

    1. THIS! Thank you for articulating so clearly what was coming out all jumbled in my mind.

  19. I wonder how we can deal with cheating without completely rejecting people who have screwed up and cheated in the past, and who have learned better. “Cheater” is a heavy label, frequently including ideas like “disease-ridden” and “once a cheater, always a cheater” and so on.

    Both cheating and paranoia about cheating are toxic to relationships, though. And lots and lots of people have cheated at one time or another.

    I wish there were more to the discourse about this.

    Anyway, LW, your friend is not likely to welcome anything you have to say, so I am with the people who tell you to stand aside and put a mental None Of My Business field around her relationships. Someone tells you something? None of your business! Woohoo! Anyone tries to make it your business, you can just lay down that boundary and then change the subject or walk away.

    1. This will be unpopular, but I actually find we deal too lightly with cheating as a society. I absolutely don’t think people should be branded with a scarlet C for the rest of their lives, and I fully understand things happen that no one expects.

      But I do view it as a consent issue, and believe it should be treated on some level (not ALL levels) as just as serious as any other consent issue. I see SO OFTEN in advice columns not to tell, it isn’t your business…would we say that about any other consent issue?

      I’m a big believer is not engaging in magical thinking. That means I try really hard not to think that my life is special and will be a statistical anomaly. Since statistics suggest the majority of partners will cheat or be cheated on, I just don’t engage at all. I don’t WANT to be one of those people who constantly doubts their partner and wants to know where they are at all times. I find that kind of thing unbelievably boring. At the same time, I believe in statistics more than I believe in what people say (like promising not to cheat) because ALL of the people who made up those statistics made the same promise.

      I wish cheating in terms of how we speak about it in society was framed as a consent and health issue, not just a moral one. Most of the time conversations about it on advice columns don’t include those aspects AT ALL, and it’s just bizarre to me because that seems like the most important bit.

      1. Tired Caregiver, I think consent is so spot-on. It’s why you can “cheat” in a poly relationship too. Cheating is going outside the rules of the relationship your partner has consented to.

      2. I think that possibly, if it were reframed as a consent issue, it may be placed in a better position than if it remained moralized. I… well, part of what I object to is how BUT YOUR HEALTH is the one of the first thing anyone says, because everyone knows that STIs are terrible and cheaters are going to catch something and give it to you. I understand that there are real issues about negotiated health risks — but I do not think that most people are reacting from “OMG they just did something outside the thing you negotiated”, I think most people are reacting from “DIRTY DISEASE RIDDEN BAD EVIL.”

        Definitely, though, I am with you that it is a consent thing. I think the health issue is a subset of that, and should be framed as a part of that, especially since some people define cheating to include activities that are not going to spread STIs, like porn or phone sex.

        Focusing on cheaters == STIs is part and parcel of slut shaming.

        (Also, there are people who don’t cheat, and you can have a whole life of partners who don’t cheat! You can also recover from having a partner who cheats, and have happiness. You don’t have to want partners, it is your life and you get to live it however you want. But if you want a partner, it can be done.)

        1. “Focusing on cheaters == STIs is part and parcel of slut shaming.”

          I would have to strongly, strongly disagree. Every person gets to make a choice of how much risk they want to take when it comes to their body. That means I have the right to honest answers about my sexual partner’s STD status and current habits.

          I don’t care about their history. I don’t care if we’ve negotiated an open or poly partnership. I care about knowing MY risk level, and part of my risk level is my partner’s risk level. If they aren’t honest, then I can’t make informed choices. That’s a consent issue, and it’s one that entirely involves my health.

          Someone could have sex with hundreds of partners before they met me, and hundreds of partners while they’re with me…so long as I know about it. But the moment they step outside our negotiated boundaries, they’ve violated consent when it comes to my rights to my health. It isn’t slut shaming to say any of this…it’s not a value judgement on sex, it’s a value judgement on consent.

          1. I love this comment, Tired Caregiver. And I’m sorry for whatever situation is making you so tired.

          2. Yes. The reason that I think it makes sense to see this as a consent issue is that I know that a lot of people have agreements that boil down to, “I am having sex with you on the understanding that you will not have sex with anyone else” or “will talk to me first before you have sex with anyone else” or “will disclose what’s going on so we can have the safer sex talk with regards to adding someone” or whatever (depending on whether they’re mono/poly/open/whatever). Or sometimes, “I am having condomless/dental dam-free/whatever sex on the understanding that you X” or “I am having sex without birth control on the understanding that you X.” And the caveat is that if condition X is not met, they may want to stop having sex with you, temporarily or permanently.

            If someone agrees to the above, either by agreeing to blanket monogamy or via a poly negotiation, and then they break the agreement, and then they lie about it and continue their original sexual relationship, what they’re doing is having sex under false pretenses. They’re failing to tell an important fact and because they are failing to tell an important fact, the person they’re having sex with is having sex with them that they might very well choose not to have if they were fully informed. They’re lying and their sex life is continuing at least in part because of that lie.

            And that, to me, is definitely a consent issue. If you take away an important piece of information that I could be using to make a decision, because you want to influence my decision and you feel I might decide something you don’t like if I’m fully informed, that is taking away my choice. It is both deeply upsetting and a consent issue.

            It is removing agency–the ability to manage one’s own life and set one’s own boundaries–by deceit, and it upsets me deeply that objecting to that removal of agency is frequently pained as “being judgmental” or “slut-shaming” or “STD-shaming.”

          3. Completely agree, TC. I was wigged out when I found out my gf had been cheating on me for a year, and lied point-blank about it, without any friend giving me the least heads up about it. But I was much more wigged out when I later found out the person in question was also fucking half the campus at the time, including junkie students. I know the way gf justified it to herself was a Clintonian “it wasn’t really sex”, and didn’t take any precautions. I could have had some really nasty surprises there. My next gf could have had some really nasty surprises too, if I hadn’t insisted on safety, since it took me 2 years to get all the info. I’ve seen too many people die from cheating to ever think it’s really harmless..

        2. I agree with’ this comment totally. I’m not so sure how I feel about framing it as a consent issue–I see that reasoning, but I also feel like..welll, just about everything bad we do to someone else could be framed as a ‘consent issue’, couldn’t it? But, I also object to the ‘but your health’ phrasing many people jump to. I think that is *very* dependent on the situation. It also frames ‘genital contact’ as the only form of cheating, which I disagree with. Making out is cheating if that’s outside your agreement–so is cybersex.

          If there *was* sexual contact that was unsafe and passed on an STI that is a terrible thing on top of the betrayal that’s already happening. And I think conflating them is not always useful. There are so many kinds of betrayals that can happen in a relationship. And it’s up to the people involved to decide what they can deal with, and can’t.

          As for telling the person if you find out–I think it is an easy moral choice when it’s your friend who is being cheated on, and someone you don’t know/like who is cheating. But, what if it’s your friend who is the cheater? Or you’re friends with both of them? When I was cheated on, a couple of casual friends knew, and didn’t tell me. They were better friends with the girl he was cheating with. One of them apologized to me way after the fact, but I had actually never even thought to hold it against them for knowing. I also would be *far* more likely to tell if this was an ongoing affair, rather than a ‘I saw your girlfriend in a possibly-sketchy situation with someone at a party’. Particularly if the one I’m telling is not a very close friend.

          1. @twomoongles I can absolutely see it being a 100% consent issue. I was, without my *specifically informed consent*, involved as the “other woman” in an online drama llama “relationship horrifically broken, add more people, and pile in some abuse” scenario. My physical health is but one single component of that. My emotional health is also part of that, as is the potential undermining of my socioeconomic situation in some way, given some of the damned debris a cheater can bring into their house.

            I do agree that we need to handle cheating with rather more force, at least as part and parcel of the slow rejection of the overall “no doesn’t mean no” culture.

        3. I primarily think that when the health thing is brought up is that most of these folks think they are in a monogamous/closed relationship, and thus are probably not using condoms every single time any more. Which is to say, they are more at risk for catching STI’s (and of course, some of them are not curable) than they are aware of. So I think that’s a fair thing to worry about. It’s not so much “diseased whore” so much as “this wasn’t what I signed up for in this relationship after we got tested and stopped using condoms.”

      3. To me, the difference lies in how someone feels about their own cheating (or being the person cheated with).

        Some people are like, “I was so unhappy before and/or the sense of magic and pantsfeelings was so powerful my better judgment got swamped and I acted in a way I am not proud of and I am so sorry I caused someone pain by doing what I did, and if there’s a next time I want to make sure I behave in a way I can look myself in the mirror after and that breakups happen before hookups do because I don’t like feeling that way about myself.”

        Some people are like “it’s a dog-eat-dog world, everyone for themselves/everyone does it, monogamy is a false construct (but I can’t be expected to go to the trouble of doing poly/open relationships honestly), if you can’t keep your man/woman satisfied enough not to cheat that’s on you, the other relationship was dying anyway and what difference does it make whether you start up with somebody new before you finish with the old or you finish the old then start the new?”

        As long as the first kind of person doesn’t keep “getting swamped” and thinking it exonerates them of responsibility for their actions, I think they’re entitled to earn back their own good opinion, and the good opinion of others, including the trust of a partner. The second kind of person is just icky, IMHO.

        1. I’d have to disagree. The motives or feelings of the cheater has no bearings on the possible disastrous health consequences for the cheatee. Again, we wouldn’t frame any other consent issue as something where the severity depends on how badly the person violating boundaries felt about it.

          Let’s say a person KNEW they had STD that had serious health consequences and withheld that information from their partner. Would we frame a discussion about that in terms of their motivation, or in terms of the consequences for their partner? We might very well do both, and that would be a good thing, but we would certainly not ignore the health ramifications or tell the affected partner to consider the feelings of the person who exposed them without consent.

          1. “we wouldn’t frame any other consent issue as something where the severity depends on how badly the person violating boundaries felt about it.”

            This really struck me in the gut. Thanks for putting it so clearly.

          2. The amount of remorse the cheater feels might matter to their next partner. It doesn’t change the risk to the one who got cheated on.

          3. Hmmmm. It feels a little like you’re using the label “consent issue” to leverage some extra moral condemnation for the anti-cheating cause. At first, I agreed with your using the term, because I certainly see cheating as betrayal, and violation of the terms of a relationship. So yeah, one party to the relationship has not consented to their partner having sex with someone else (or they have, but this is outside the bounds of what they consented to). And there is that transitivity issue: in terms of STIs, you are having sex with everyone your partner has had sex with, so the fact that they’re introducing new partners to the chain without your consent matters enormously.

            But I can’t quite equate sex with someone else, without your relationship-partner’s consent, with sex without that partner’s consent, or with withholding STI information. One, you’re violated trust. The other you’ve violated their body. Both, obviously, are very bad! The person to which any of those things has been done has an absolute right to label them unforgivable. But they are not the same in terms of what they say about the person who has done them, and it now feels to me like calling them all “consent issues” blurs an important distinction. (Though if they’re not diligent about protection, the line definitely evaporates, because then they’re exposing you to STIs without your consent).

            For what it’s worth — please understand that I mean this in the manner of two friends talking out an issue, not an “I’m right, you’re wrong, fuck you, you evil bitch” sort of way. You are, of course, entitled to your perspective. There’s just something about condemning the offense versus condemning the offender that seems relevant here.

          4. “At first, I agreed with your using the term, because I certainly see cheating as betrayal, and violation of the terms of a relationship. So yeah, one party to the relationship has not consented to their partner having sex with someone else (or they have, but this is outside the bounds of what they consented to)”

            See, that’s not the consent issue for me. That’s a moral issue like lying always is…yeah, it’s bad and a betrayal and needs to be worked out, but if the lying were the ONLY issue at hand, I wouldn’t feel nearly as strongly as I do. I wouldn’t be HAPPY if my partner betrayed my trust, but I wouldn’t necessary see it as a relationship ender if, as you say, they took responsibility and it didn’t seem like something that would be repeated.

            .”And there is that transitivity issue: in terms of STIs, you are having sex with everyone your partner has had sex with, so the fact that they’re introducing new partners to the chain without your consent matters enormously.”

            This (and this alone) is the actual consent issue IMO. It’s violating my right to protect my body and to make decisions about my risks. Maybe I only feel so strongly because I’m very, very big on risk assessment. I’ve always joked that it would be impossible for me to take a leap of faith…I want to measure that shit, yo, and I want at least two safety ropes!

            So the idea that someone could take away my right to make that risk assessment and safeguard my health in the way I see fit is not just a betrayal, but a violation of consent in my eyes. And it confuses me that this aspect of cheating is one that gets pushed to the side or gets at most a passing mention. It can have huge, life-altering consequences, and the only person who gets to make huge, life-altering decisions about me is me.

            And with those consequences, the motives or morals of the person who inflicted them become irrelevant. Though again I’m not saying they are a terrible, rotten person who never deserves to be trusted again. I’m saying that in terms of the way we frame it as a society (not so much individuals), I get frustrated that the consent issue when it comes to health doesn’t come BEFORE the lying issue.

            “But I can’t quite equate sex with someone else, without your relationship-partner’s consent, with sex without that partner’s consent, or with withholding STI information (though if they’re not diligent about protection, the line definitely evaporates). One, you’re violated trust. The other you’ve violated their body.”

            No, they don’t equate, I absolutely agree! That’s why I said earlier that I think it’s a consent issue, but not on ALL of the same levels as other consent issues. I don’t at all think cheating is just the same as something like sexual assault, and I wouldn’t want it treated the same in terms of consequences.

            But where we disagree is that I do think cheating is violating MY body, again because it violates my right to set my own body boundaries when it comes to health issues. So I can’t agree that they don’t share any similarities at all, and that violation of my body boundaries is why I feel it’s a consent issue. Having sex with another person by itself doesn’t violate consent because my emotions are not my body. Having sex with another person (without my knowledge) and then having sex WITH ME does violate consent because, as you say, in terms of health consequences I’ve now potentially had sex with that other person as well. Does that make any sense?

            “For what it’s worth — please understand that I mean this in the manner of two friends talking out an issue, not an “I’m right, you’re wrong, fuck you, you evil bitch” sort of way. You are, of course, entitled to your perspective.”

            No worries!! I hope you’ll take the reply the same way. 🙂 I’m very capable of disagreeing or having a conversation without taking things personal!

          5. I wouldn’t say “they don’t share any similarities at all,” either. I suspect that you and I are only a hair’s breadth apart.

            Let’s hear it for a civil, respectful exchange of ideas!

          6. Now that you’ve nailed that issue, what do you think on the other half of it? Spending your time/your life with someone who violates your agreements? I felt completely violated by the sex my ex insisted upon, while swearing he’d never actually fucked the OW once I knew. I found that out because he gave me an STI, total violation yes. But I felt more violated by the betrayal of my trust, the lies for years that meant I spent so much of my life with someone that didn’t reciprocate my feelings. I was operating with false knowledge and so I made the wrong choices. and that means I missed many chances of finding someone with whom I could be happy.

          7. datdamwuf-

            First, I’m really sorry you had that experience!

            Your question strongly reminded me of the book Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. It’s a fantasy novel in the ‘weird SF’ genre, and one of the characters is a sort of bird/man hybrid (bear with me, I do have a point buried somewhere.) These bird hybrids don’t share our laws…they only have one crime, and that’s choice theft.

            Aside from the consent issue when it comes to health, I think cheating is choice theft for exactly the reason you describe. It’s a form of dishonesty, and what dishonesty inherently does is prevent the one being lied to from making informed choices.

            The most important thing we have in our lives is our ability to make our own choices and shape our own futures. I still don’t consider this aspect of cheating to be a consent issue…if only because I don’t think that word needs to be muddied by intangible things. In all other cases, consent is about a violation of the body, not the emotions, and I feel that’s true for cheating as well. If my partner, say, came home and admitted they cheated immediately, without engaging in sexual actions with me before I knew of the cheating, I wouldn’t say they had violated consent.

            But would they did do is steal my choice to be partnered with someone I could trust, and just because it’s not an consent issue doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be incredibly difficult to deal with.

            Also, the two (consent and emotional betrayal) almost always go hand in hand.
            Loss of consent is never JUST about what happens to the body. When it’s done by a partner, it also violates trust…not just in them, but in yourself and your own choices, and that’s so very painful. Whether or not loss of consent is involved, cheating causes many of the same emotions (but not necessarily all of them) because many of the choices being stolen are the same. And yeah, theft of the choice where to invest your time is a HUGE one, because time is LIMITED and where/how you invest it is IMPORTANT. A partner who lies FOR WHATEVER REASON is interfering with your ability to make informed choices on that investment. It’s not a consent issue, but it’s still hurts! And again I’m so sorry you experienced it!

            But the good news is you DID eventually get the information you needed to make an informed choice…and now all your choices are yours again. In the end, we RARELY have ALL the relevant information when we make choices The only thing we can do is make the best choice we can with the info we do have, and if it doesn’t work out, focus on the next choice in front of us. Even when someone steals some of our choices, more choices always remain…and that’s a wonderful thing!

  20. My thoughts, as someone who would very much want to know if I were being cheated on:

    As the Captain said, I think the best solution would be to get the person who saw the cheating to handle the problem. However, I can see how that might not be possible. If the evidence is compelling and the person who witnessed the cheating doesn’t want to deal with it, I can see how LW would be tempted to tell Jane.

    I wouldn’t blame the LW for keeping quiet. Jane has shown that she doesn’t like being told, and LW has the right to not deal whatever hurtful shit Jane is likely to fling. But in LW’s place, I would tell.

    LW, if you tell, make sure you have an easy way to end the conversation. Have it somewhere you can leave quickly or even over the phone — although, beware, if she blows up she’ll almost definitely be angry at you for not breaking the news in person. I don’t think that particularly matters, because if she blows up she’ll be mad about everything you’ve ever done.

    She may surprise you. The last time you told her about a cheater was several years ago and it was her first boyfriend, which implies that she was pretty young at the time, possibly in the throws of first love, which is well-known for making people utterly delusional in unfortunate ways. “You’re jealous and trying to break us up!” sounds like a really high school sort of response. I think there’s a good chance she’s gotten more rational with age.

    If she starts flinging accusations, say, “I’ve tried telling you and I’ve tried not telling you and you’ve gotten mad at me both times. I told you this time because I felt you deserve to know, and I’m sorry that it sucks, and I don’t mind being a shoulder to cry on but I’m not going to be your emotional punching bag just because I’m the one who delivered the news. I hope you feel better soon. Good bye.” And then leave.

    If you’d like to continue the friendship, maybe text her to check up on her once she’s had time to cool down.

  21. I feel like a lot of people have said a lot of things (many of which I’m not going to read), but I will just say: I am basically with the Captain. If it were me, I would not tell her about the “hey I heard from someone that maybe this person is doing something (but I don’t actually know).” I would advise that person to do something as they saw fit.

    If *I* came to know, personally, that this person was cheating, I’d tell her, and then step away from the relationship at the first sign of “OMG YEAH RIGHT LIAR, U JUST JEALOUZ,” and not resume any kind of ties with someone who made it clear that they had such a low opinion of me and my friendship.

    1. Life is awfully complicated when you try to negotiate mutually exclusive needs of many people and competing moral principles while trying not to be an asshole. It really is simpler to always think that what you do is perfectly right, and don’t worry about pissing people off.

      There are a lot of other words for that, but “simpler” is the one I’ll use.

      On the other hand, “godly” isn’t.

  22. That sounds like the kind of friend you can do without. Even if she’s just redirecting her upset at you instead of taking it out on the guys who deserve it, it’s unfair and not right of her to do, regardless of whether or not she apologizes later on. This is a pattern she’s repeating, and it hurts you. You need to break the pattern…either she needs to realize what she’s doing and stop, or you need to cut her out of your life.

  23. Oh, LW, what a horrible situation for you.

    Regarding Jane, is she a good enough friend that you want to salvage the relationship with her? Because, with a caveat that people are people and do not always react in a way that is Super-Rational, maybe it’s something you could say “Hey, Jane, can I talk to you about something?” and then just lay out that she reacted badly when you told her and when you didn’t tell her and that doesn’t leave any course of action open to you. Ask her how she would like you to act in this circumstance.

    If she starts screaming at you and crying or blaming you and being nasty, then she’s obviously got some issues around it (which is completely understandable! Being cheated on is horrible) but at the same time it is Not Your Fault and Not Your Problem.
    Which is what you ultimately need to decide if you feel you can tell her. The way she treated you is objectively bad, and friends shouldn’t treat each other like that.

    Which is where you have to decide whether her friendship is worth her treating you like this. I hate conflict, so I would probably “peace out” of the conversation and just not hang out with her so much. If she called me, I’d either make it a group thing or just be unavailable. However, you could see if stating a boundary of “Hey: I understand that you’re upset, but you are being nasty to me. Please don’t treat me this way.”
    If she doesn’t respect that, well, it’s sad, but you do not need a friend who treats you that way.

    I wouldn’t tell her about the hearsay cheating. I would absolutely tell her about anything I heard DIRECTLY from the cheater or if I witnessed it, but hearsay? Not so much.

    I’m sorry that you’re in this situation.

  24. Would you want to know? I say, tell her. I’d want to know if it were me. And if she does fly off the handle at you then maybe it’s time to ditch the friend. (but let’s keep it in perspective, a little anger is a given)

    I had a friend who would do the exact same thing to me. She would accuse me of lying basically or start interrogating me. I don’t mind questioning me about what I saw but she would question to the point of making me doubt my sanity.

    At the end of the day…she turned out to be a toxic friend who didn’t believe in two way streets.

  25. My very-soon-after-ex-husband cheated on me with a close friend. “Oh, close friend you have flu and you live alone come stay on my sofa and I’ll feed you soup” close. My other, Closest friend knew “Oh closest friend, you have lost your job, come live with me and I’ll pay the bills” close. We even all traveled away for a weekend together and commiserated with close friend about her “difficult relationship that she couldn’t talk about”.

    I eventually found out when another member of the group told me. Closest friend’s reaction “Oh, why couldn’t he keep his mouth shut? You didn’t need to know.”

    So, in one fell swoop I lost my husband, whom I loved, and both my closest friends. The times, they were dark; the children, they were very little. I survived thanks to the women of the preschool who ensured no day went by without someone in my house, just being there for me. We’re all old now and they probably don’t read this . . . . but. . . . anyway . . . thanks for being Team Me all those years ago.

  26. ” 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.”

    My very thought. Is there anything in the friendship that makes it especially worthwhile? From reading your letter I’d say no, if Jane’s repeated mistreatment of you is its strongest feature these days. I had a couple of school friendships that were strong at the time. One felt like I was being used even then, in primary school; the other wasn’t like that but our lives and interests simply moved apart, and there was nothing to base further friendship on.

    Jane’s been treated really badly by her boy-not-really-friends-at-all, yes. But she’s shown a pattern of blaming you for it regardless of what you do; you’re in a no-win situation and that doesn’t read like a friendship at all. It reads like she has nil insight at best and is doing low-level manipulation/emotional abuse at worst. Either way, not good friend material anymore.

  27. LW here. Thanks for all the responses. To those who were asking about how close we are/were, “Jane” and I were best friends through all of high school and several years afterwards (for what it’s worth, I am also female), and only really started to drift after the first “Blame game” incident. When I told her what I had seen the first time, it certainly wasn’t because I wanted to upset or humiliate her. I just thought that if I were in her position, I would rather find out now rather than 6 months down the track when any emotional pain and/or humiliation would likely be exponentially worse (especially since in my one relationship I had, I WAS cheated on – technically I was the other woman as I didn’t know about the long term girlfriend – and I would definitely rather have known about it long before I found out). Yes, it was incredibly crap luck for me to happen to see it happen both times (I guess the odds were higher since we all live in the same town), but the only way to make sure I never see anyone cheating is to just never leave my house; it’s not like I deliberately wandered around town waiting to see if her boyfriend was hooking up with someone else.

    I haven’t really heard from her much since I submitted this letter, but I have basically decided that this time I’m not going to say anything, given that a) past history shows that I will cop it either way, b) after thinking about it for the last few weeks, I have come to feel that the friendship is no longer close enough for me to risk further emotional abuse over it, and c) this time I wasn’t personally the one who saw it.

    I don’t really know whether she keeps ending up in bad relationships through pure bad luck or because she is somehow drawn to characteristics in men that are common to unfaithful partners, but as I don’t have a degree in psychology, I don’t think it’s something that is my business or my duty to try to work out. I figure that if she continues to press for a friendship I will just say that I don’t feel comfortable keeping her in my life given how she keeps treating me, but otherwise my strategy at this point is to just gradually decrease contact until communication dries up on its own.

    I do feel bad about cutting contact with someone I have been friends with for more than ten years, but at the same time I feel like I need to look after myself.

    Thanks again, Awkwardeers 🙂

Comments are closed.