Advice: Her Cheatin’ Heart

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I have a friend named “Mary”. Mary and I have known each other for ten years now; we met as freshmen in college and have seen each other through a lot of things.

In my case, I have mostly seen her through breakups. And new hookups. And breakups again.

Mary is not one to be single for very long, and every time she starts a new relationship it’s with the most fabulous guy she’s ever met. Of course, she’s sure that this time around, she’s finally met The One, at long last. At least, that’s how it is for the first month, and then she starts having random hookups.

It’s never cheating. It’s just exploring. She says she’s getting this wild stuff out of her system before she settles down. Or sometimes, “something” just happens with a friend while they’re hanging out and she said she couldn’t help it. But it’s not cheating, ever, as far as she’s concerned. It makes me feel really bad for the men in her life when she tells me about her latest rando. And somehow, the boyfriends are seemingly oblivious, so I end up feeling even worse, because they’re being played.

Recently, Mary has gotten engaged, again, and she’s asked me to be her maid of honor. Again. As a person, I feel like I can be friends with her because she’s never done anything to me. Still. I do feel kind of like a dirty accomplice, and I’m a little put off at the thought of standing at her side on her wedding day, knowing what I know. She swears that once he’s put a ring on it she’ll be faithful to her future husband, but I don’t really think I believe her. What should I do? Should I tell her fiancé what’s going on? Do I cut and run out on a ten-year friendship? Or do I keep quiet and accept her at her word, that she’ll cut the cheating out when she’s finally a Mrs.?

Signed,

I See It, But I Don’t Like It

Dear Don’t Like It,

BnP: Well. Wow. It’s hard to know where to start on this one. But we’re going to start with… Yeahhhhh…we don’t like it either.

P: There’s the cheating. There’s the lying. There’s the demanding you be an accessory. There’s the whole “I’m just a girl who can’t say no,” or is it “the devil made me do it.” And then there’s the what in tarnation kinda friend is this?

I might start with the lying and asking you to lie. Which she does, every time she introduces you to a new BF and then proceeds to cheat on him and tells you and expects you to “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”

Why would you choose that option? How is she your friend? Granted, your letter’s all about her cheating, but I don’t see one way you’re anything more than an accessory, or maybe a walking dispenser of absolution. Check your resume to see if the title “Mother Confessor” has been slipped in on your job description. Once she involves you, you start lying to the boyfriend. Granted she was your friend first, but if you like them at all, you’re helping her hurt him. And them. You’re lying too. Is that what you want?

B: I can’t help but feel that she’s coming to you to be absolved. Like, if you nod and metaphorically pat her on the head and tell her it’s OK, then it’s…you know. OK. Is that what you want to say? Is that the message you want to send? I agree with Ann, even though you’ve not said a word what you’re doing is lying right alongside Mary. Inaction is an action, people.

P: Now, for the cheating thing. Actually, none of us are perfect. Too many of us have done things of which we’re ashamed, especially when we were younger. We don’t know what we want. We don’t know how to ask for what we want if we do know. And all too often, we don’t know how to be honest about our misdeeds. These are the lessons we spend our 20s learning. You do lots of silly things early in life that you don’t do later in life because you learn they’re not good for us and they’re not good for people we know and love.

Cheating is one of those things. She’s a serial cheater. I don’t know whether it is an addiction. But I do know she’s not going to stop doing it until she admits that she’s a cheater and gets help figuring out what she’s looking for and why she’s destroying other people’s lives. Because that’s what she’s doing. And ding, ding, ding… if “things just happen” can we trust that she made sure that her surprise partner wrapped that rascal, or is she risking passing some dread disease on to her so called beloved? She’s not just risking giving her partner a broken heart in that case.

B: What I hate about “it just happened” is…well, yes, she’s not admitting to her behavior, but more explicitly, she’s not owning her sexual autonomy. You don’t “whoops” into bed with someone, it’s not like she slips on a banana peel and falls naked onto her paramour du jour. Engaging in sexual activity with another person requires a decision-making process, and unless she’s being forced into bed (which is another, far more dire letter) then she is an integral part of that process. She CAN keep her clothes on and prioritize her relationship with her fiancé. She CHOOSES to cheat on him.

P: I don’t care about her promiscuity. I care that she seems to have the need to do it within what she would call monogamy. Have (safe) sex all you want. But don’t rope some poor suspecting other into your life. People get to say whether they want to be in a threesome. And you are agreeing to hang out and be the voyeur. How’s that feel? Don’t you have better things to do? Do you have a partner? What does she or he think about your tacit approval of your friend’s cheating. It would make me nervous.

B: Yup, I also don’t care about whether or not she’s promiscuous, in that there are all sorts of sexual agreements that couples make that work for them, and they can certainly include other people in their beds. But the key word here is that it’s an agreement, mutually reached by both partners. Everyone has to be on board for an open relationship to work. Her fiancé is anything but. Mary can tell you all of her details, all she wants, and it doesn’t change the fact that she’s not telling the one person she should.

Which isn’t you.

P: We probably haven’t seemed really supportive yet, have we?

I think you need to decide what you think friendship is and what you want it to be. And then you get to be that friend. Being her friend may mean not being in relationship with her — because she’s not a good friend. I don’t want to hear the “she’s a good person.” She’s hurting people. Again and again and again. As the Wedding Priestess, I made my couples state their intentions to love one another for the rest of their lives and then I made their community sign up to love and support the couple and their intentions. I once did a series of three couples’ weddings. By the time Couple Number Three was getting married, Couple Number One was getting unmarried. Couples Two and Three came to me and said, “we went to talk to Couple Number One and asked them what they were doing. We reminded them what they had promised. We pointed out that it made mockery of the promises we had made to them and the promises we were all making to one another.” I was so proud of them. It took great courage. Nothing changed, but they were good friends. And the husband leaned on their love as the wife went on to the new life she’d already created.

But their actions were honest friendship in accordance with what they believed about loving coupledom and loving friendship. What kind of friend do you want to be? And what kind of friend do you think you deserve?

B: I think you need to spend some time deciding who you are. You wrote a letter asking us what steps you should take in managing your relationship with Mary, who exhibits behavior you no longer think is justifiable or can condone. And—I can’t believe how often I have to remind people about this—the only behavior you can ultimately control is your own. So who do you want to be? How do you want your behavior to be perceived? Your reactions help tell your story, and in your letter, in your own words, you say this situation makes you feel like a “dirty accomplice”, you’re “put off” by the idea of being in her wedding, and you “don’t really think you believe” she can be faithful after her wedding day.

Side note: “don’t really think you believe” is a wishy-washy way of calling her a liar. Can we please just say the words?

P: And she wants you to be her Maid of Honor? Um… whose Honor? How can you have honor if you’re not being truthful with the bride or the groom? Marriage isn’t just about having a great wedding. Marriage actually matters. What if she does this once she starts having babies? And let’s be clear, why would we think she wouldn’t keep cheating? Because, trust me, babies add stress to a marriage. And what does she do when there’s stress? Mess around. That’ll be great for the kids. Wanna be the aunt who tells the five-year-old that Mommy found someone better to do? Want to testify at that custody trial? Who better than you?

B: Should you tell her fiancé about her activities? No, I don’t think so. He’s in an unenviable position but it’s not your job to manage their relationship. Or, essentially, tattle on her. But good friends find the courage to have difficult conversations when they’re necessary. Good friends make room to care about the legitimate well-being of a friend. They don’t take the option to look the other way when they know their friend is making serious, potentially dangerous, mistakes. Can this lead to a friend-breakup? Maybe. Mary hasn’t been a good friend to you, as Ann has pointed out already, but you’re not being a good friend to her by holding your nose when her behavior stinks. And you’re not beholden to the acceptance of behavior that at one point you were kind of OK with, but now don’t think is quite so cute or funny. People grow, and change. It’s what we do. She might not like hearing what you have to say, but really…too bad. So again, I ask you: who do you want to be? The dirty accomplice? Or the good friend? It’s up to you.

Hey, Old Pal. Looking a little rough around the edges, there.

Hey, Old Pal. Looking a little rough around the edges, there.

The Old Pal

  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce Campari
  • Garnish: lemon twist

Fill a mixing glass 2/3 full with ice. Add whiskey, dry vermouth, and Campari. Stir until well chilled, about 20 seconds, and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink and use as garnish.

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Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

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Advice: He Cheated Once. Now What?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

Some years ago, my husband was unfaithful to me with a co-worker. We decided we still loved each other enough to stay together and put this nastiness behind us, and have managed to rebuild our marriage since then.

But. Of course there’s a but. He used to work with this one woman that he’s still friends with. When they worked together they often exchanged conversation during their down times (mornings before work, or during a coffee break), and from what I understand nothing ever came of it. She has taken another job at a different company, but they maintain their friendship. She’ll send him emails asking how he is, or forward jokes to him.

I can’t help but think that he’s connecting with her through his work email to keep this relationship secret from me. Why not just use our home email account? Am I just paranoid, or insecure, or what? This is driving me crazy. If their friendship is just platonic, why try and keep me from knowing about it? Why not just tell me? My guess is he would say he is keeping this friendship from me so I wouldn’t have to endure the knowledge that he’s friends with her. But why all this going behind my back?

–Fretting and Fearful

 

Dear F&F,

P: I think there are a lot of questions to be looked at here. Marriage. It’s complicated.

I guess the first question I’d want to know is what kind of work did you do to put the “nastiness,” or as we like to call it infidelity behind you? Did you actually do therapy and talk about what happened or did you just pave over it? Because (am I really going to use a paving analogy here?) roads crack if the road bed isn’t solid. (I guess I am.)

If you’ve done the work, and somehow I’m not hearing that in your description, then it should be fairly easy to enter into an ongoing conversation.

B: My initial question is: How long do you plan to conduct a relationship with someone you don’t trust?

The unfortunate thing is when a relationship suffers a betrayal, and the parties agree to stay together, it inherently requires that both parties work to move forward in that relationship. Which means leaving the past in the past and facing the future together. Which is, of course, easier said than done. You don’t mention whether you two went to marriage counseling.

It is entirely understandable that you are gunshy about your husband’s making friends with a woman at work. It’s also understandable that you spend more than a reasonable amount of time thinking…and thinking…and thinking…about his history and how it matches up with his present.

It’s understandable. It’s not acceptable. Note the distinction.

Hmmmm…conducting this through his work email, so you don’t find out about it…

Does that mean you’re snooping his emails? Going through his phone while he’s in the shower, hacking his work email account when he goes out to run errands?

P: I also noticed that you don’t say how you found out about the email relationship he’s having with this former co-worker. You don’t make it sound like it was through a conversation you had with your husband. If you’re snooping, and perhaps not without reason, then you haven’t really put the past behind you. We all need our space in relationship, but when there’s been infidelity, some things, more than others require disclosure so as not to arouse suspicion. He was the one who was unfaithful, he needs to avoid certain behaviors, honoring you, your relationship and your realistic fears.

That said, snooping raises another flag. I would find it difficult to be in a relationship where I was tempted to spend my time keeping tabs on my partner rather than reading or writing the next great American novel… or even playing solitaire on line.

B: Seriously, honey, if that’s the case then you need to settle down. First of all, if you’re compromising his work email, you may place him in a precarious position at his job, since there may be sensitive business information there that is only meant for employee access. And secondly, his cheating on you does not immediately void him of any sort of privacy. He has a right to a personal life that doesn’t include you. Would you like it if he read your diary? Or hacked your email, or scrolled your phone? Of course not, it’s your private stuff, your inner life. You deserve that much, right? Why doesn’t he?

Take our advice, friend!

Take our advice, friend!

P: But snooping is an awful waste of your time. You deserve a relationship where that’s not necessary. And you deserve to be a person who isn’t constantly suspicious. You’ve got some of your own stuff to deal with — which doesn’t in any way negate his responsibilities!

B: There are three elements in every relationship. There is Partner 1. There is Partner 2. And there is the relationship. Both partners come to the relationship with baggage, and history, and quirks, and humor, that have been formed and are independent of the formation of said partnering. Being in a relationship doesn’t eliminate the boundaries between one person and another; you are still separate, distinct creatures. Your husband, independently of you, can be friendly with other people, particularly ones that he’s had to share a third of his waking life with. That share at least a nominative professional interest.

Then you say, “I can’t help but think…”. So, you assume. You are finding him guilty every day of a past offense, and not even giving him the benefit of explaining himself. Is it because you ARE snooping and don’t want to admit that to him? Regardless of why you’re doing this, the thing is, you’re having entire conversations with him INSIDE YOUR HEAD that he’s not even aware of. Partner 1, Partner 2, the relationship. You’re having your relationship without including Partner 2, which is no relationship at all. If you choose to stay in a relationship, then choose it in all its fully-formed, three-pronged messy glory. Tend to it. Have the difficult talk wherein you lay out your fears and concerns and insecurities. If he’s hiding an innocent friendship from you then believe me, he senses this already.

P: We don’t know what kind of relationship he’s having with her. If he’s on a list of people she emails jokes to, then that’s one thing. If it’s a deeper friendship then that’s another.

Responses would be different depending on what they’re doing. People don’t need to be doing the bed mambo to be unfaithful to their vows and relationships.

So, I’m never buying the “but we’re not sleeping together.” Sex? It’s sex and it’s complicated. But emotional infidelity? If he’s sharing with her, he’s holding back from you. And if he’s hiding that he’s sharing with her, he’s holding back from you and she’s… oh, right we don’t care so much about her.

B: The fact is, your husband has a job which involves him going out into the work force, and unless he works at the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, he’s going to encounter female co-workers. Also, people tend to try and get along with—even befriend!—people they’re in an office with for forty hours + per week. I would worry that he wasn’t making any sort of friendship with female co-workers, because when people work together that’s a normal thing to do.

P: In healthy relationships, you don’t always gauge the people according to whether your spousal unit will like them, but you pay attention, especially when they’re the opposite sex. Generally, it’s good when we say, hey, I know this great woman from work, let’s make a double date and go out with her and her husband, I think we’ll get along.

But if that didn’t get suggested when they were working together… you’re not wrong to ask questions. And the oh, I wouldn’t want to hurt you? Um… too late. You are. Lying to me hurts me. And this is lying. Omission, commission, schmomission… Lying!

Because, if you develop a friendship with someone your partner doesn’t particularly want to hang with, you find something in the relationship with this new friend to share with your partner. Share the jokes or progress on the joint project. All of us, if we’re healthy, have friends with people of the opposite sex. Certainly my husband and I do. But we know what’s going on in one another’s lives. We know who the friends are and why we’re hanging out. I don’t want to go to his music meetings. He doesn’t particularly want to go to my ministerial stuff. Both of us have challenging and interesting relationships with other people outside our marriage… and we’re glad to share that with one another. This doesn’t sound like that. Sure, one of us may forget to mention we had lunch with so-and-so, but that’s really different that hiding that we’re talking to someone by private message every single morning.

B: While all that is true, the only behavior you can ultimately control is your own. How do YOU want to handle this? Do you want to confront him about his friendship and explain—calmly, with reason on your side—why you don’t like it? Or do you want to be tense in your guts and hope to that he just figures it out on his own? No matter what you think he might think, he’s not a mind reader, and neither are you. I can hear you right now…but he..! But he..!  Yes, but he. I know, right? He did it. He cheated. And years later, he is still being tried daily and found guilty of an offense he committed, by your own admission, years ago. Two? Ten? I don’t know. But you haven’t moved on, since you’re living in his betrayal every day.

Sure, I would most certainly have things to say to him about this, too. But I’m talking to you.

P: So, I want to know are you getting counseling? In a healthy relationship, it’s good when we want more than for our partner not to fool around on us. What do you want from this marriage? Is that realistic with this partner. Because his lying and cheating negates he knows how to build an addition on your house. One you can hire out for… the other, not so much. And if he’s NOT lying and cheating, you’re wasting precious time and narrowing what you are getting for one another.

B: I almost think you have the harder job than he does in the recovery of an affair, because you’re the one whose feelings were trampled on. If you want to function more healthily, you’ve got to learn to let your anger and resentment go, and put your trust in someone who has already violated it once. That’s tough, I get it. But right now, the options before you are A) living with stress-inducing, crazy-making insecurity or B) agreeing to find a way to put this past in the past and truly, as partners, move forward together. Or C) splitting up, if neither A nor B are feasible options. You may want to find a marriage counselor to help guide you through this rocky time. But the sake of your health and your heart, find a way to live in the present, and come to understand the husband you have now, not the one who betrayed you then.

P: I’m just big on people’s being happy and healthy. Sneaking peeks at the relationship is like sneaking chocolate. Sneaking and good health and good relationships are not compatible. (I know. That is so not fun to hear.) If he’s going to have these relationships while being in your marriage, are you willing to accept that and develop other interests? Or are you going to set some firm boundaries about what’s ok and what’s not — for you?

That's how it is.

That’s how it is.

 

Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photography!

Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for location, location, location!

Thanks to glamorous model Marjorie for joining us on our photo shoot!

If you want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

Got a question? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. If you are a non-human spambot, remove spaces and insert punctuation. All questions are confidential.

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