Yesterday, I read an interesting article on Jezebel. A man wrote in to two advice columns (Salon and Slate) asking for guidance and the columnists published their responses on the same day. (One assumes by accident.) Here is his moral quandary:
Two months before I asked my wife to marry me, I cheated on her with a woman I met through an online hookup website. This woman and I met only once, proceeded to engage in oral sex, and left feeling awkward and guilty. I never saw her again.
I was consumed with guilt and confusion over my double life, and wondered if I would always be a liar and a cheat. At the same time, I was in love with my soon-to-be fiancée, and I made a decision to keep my mouth shut and go ahead with my plans to propose. We’ve been married now for nearly two years, and most of the time I’m happy. My wife is happy. And yet I still occasionally experience bouts of guilt and emotional pain, not to mention a secret fear that what I did as a senior in college will somehow be uncovered someday.
I’ve convinced myself that keeping the experience a secret is the best choice, especially now that we’re married. Furthermore, I resolved from that day to never do anything like that again. Have I made the right choice, or am I just making excuses for myself in order to not have to do the right thing? I’m tired of feeling like a bad person.
Did this guy do a terrible thing? Absolutely. Does the fact that he married her based on a lie (his perceived fidelity) make him an asshole of an unmeasurable order? Yep. But, for me, the to-tell-or-not-to-tell issue boils down to one simple question: Why does he want to tell her that he cheated?
Is it because he feels truly sorry and wants her to know the truth because she deserves his honesty? Or is it because the guilt is eating him up and he wants to lessen the internal turmoil by sharing the secret?
If it’s the first, then he should tell her. He should also be prepared to live with whatever she decides to do.
If it’s the second, then he should keep it to himself. He deserves to feel like crap, and causing her pain in order to alleviate his own would be even worse than what he’s already done. Because if the only reason for his sudden bout of honesty is so that he can sleep at night, then he should put the pin back in the grenade.
So what do you think: Does her right to know trump his selfish reasons for being honest? And if you found out your husband cheated on you, before he asked you to marry him, would you forgive him or leave him? Thoughts in the comments.
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Absolutely he should come clean. He should have come clean BEFORE the wedding. True she might have broken it off, but she might also have gone through with the wedding. Instead he robbed her the chance to decide for herself if this was the right path for her.
Dr. Jean Grey says:
At this point, he should keep his mouth shut. Go to counseling and figure out how to deal with it. Whatever he did as a “senior in college” isn't important as what he does as a husband. If he tells her, he'll probably destroy his marriage. I assume he doesn't want that. He deserves to suffer the guilt.
Having recently been in the woman's shoes on this argument, I believe he should come clean (and probably should have before they got married). Regardless of what his motivations are, she deserves his honesty. And if he does love her, telling her and being prepared for whatever action she chooses to take should be his punishment. I guarantee that whatever pain he thinks he will alleviate by telling her will only be made worse and only then will he be able to own up to his mistakes like an adult.
I took my boyfriend back after he admitted to cheating on me. And that was a hard decision. It required me to reevaluate the moral imperatives that I thought I had set for myself. And it takes courage to justify this in the eyes of all of my friends. Has it changed everything? Yes. But I did it because he told me and I could see how truly terrible he felt. Taking him back because I still cared for him has been a necessary part of me being able to forgive him. And I did that for myself because I couldn't live with the resentment.
I agreed with Prudence on this one; he should just stop thinking about it and let it go. Of course, I don't know this person, but it seems to me that he wanted to come clean to assauge his own guilt. I also think he should talk to a therapist about this, rather than taking the advice of two random columnist (who obviously gave him very different advice). A therapist would be able to help him deal with his bouts of emotional pain. Telling his wife may do the same thing, but it would also serve to unessecarily hurt her.
Kim & Dr. Grey, I wholeheartedly agree. He obviously needs to see someone to talk about this so that he can move forward and love her the way she deserves to be love. But what he did as a senior in college is much less important as what he does as a husband. Telling her will only serve to break her heart and if she decides to stay, she will spend a great deal of time, perhaps years, in agony, not being able to trust him.
I think that he should suck it up and deal with it himself – he made a mistake before they got married, discovered that he really loved his fiancee and got married. To tell her now would just make her feel terrible at the expense of alleviating his own guilt.
If my husband had done something like this before we were married or even years ago when we first got married, I would want him to take it to his grave. Why should I have to face the emotional turmoil of knowing that he was unsure at some point and cheated since it apparently had no impact (or even solidified) his decision to marry me?
If he were cheating now and was in love with someone else, then – yes, I would want to know that because it would impact my marriage today and I would need to make a decision about what to do.
Kim, Dr. Grey, Clare, and CW – I completely agree. He should suck it up and deal with it himself.
The major difference between this scenario and other cheating scenarios (like DB's – I'm so sorry about what happened) is that this happened years in the past, before the start of a happy marriage. It's not ongoing, and it's too late to take a course of action about it (aside from couples' counseling or possibly divorce, neither one of which seems appropriate as he characterized his marriage as “happy,” and the only issues he and his wife would discuss would be those that resulted from him revealing his dirty secret).
Should he have come clean at the time? Of course. But he didn't, and his wife shouldn't be made to suffer years later.
He should keep it to himself and let it go. If he can't let it go, then he needs to see a therapist. Once trust is broken it's next to impossible to gain it back. It doesn't matter how much you want to forgive or forget something like that, it'll always be in the back of her mind. For something so small in the grand scheme of things, it's better kept to himself.
First of all, why did he sign up for the hook up website to begin with? Isnt that the first thing to go when you become serious with someone? I think the issue lies way deeper than “should he or should he not tell”, its what circumstances put him in that situation to begin with???
While there's no excuse for cheating, I don't think it's unforgivable. It's natural to freak out before making such a big commitment, and sometimes people do drastic things. It's not an excuse, but I understand why. If the facts are actually how he says they are, then he should keep it to himself. It would only hurt her, and if he vows to be better from now on, then he should keep it to himself. He should be really honest with himself though… if he feels like it might happen he should probably come clean so she can either leave, or they can work together to strengthen their marriage.
If it were my husband, I wouldn't want to know. I know I'd forgive one transgression and we'd make it work, but it would definitely hurt our marriage and me. If it happened more than once, even once every two years or something, I'd feel like I should know.
A new point: There's a huge problem with “sucking it up” and staying quiet- these surges of guilt are inevitably affecting his ability to be fully present as a husband in the present. By keeping this from her, he only makes a terrible thing worse by persists in his dishonesty. Cheating can't be put in a closet and forgotten, and the only way to truly start new is to fess up… Even if it's only to make himself feel better. (Which makes him super-rotten anyway.) He's got to put the past to rest in to move in the future.
I was the hurt party in a somewhat similar situation, and I can't stress enough how much learning the truth affected me as a person. I consider it absolutely cruel and unnecessary that he told me. It put me in a terrible position, and trashed my faith in other people. Now, that's me, and I know that some people would have not taken it as personally as I did. But I think he should only tell the truth to a therapist for a while before deciding whether to tell his wife.
He needs to tell her. He already took away her opportunity to decide whether or not to marry him with complete information. She should at least have the opportunity to decide whether or not she wants him to be the father of her children. They have been married for less than two years. While he did irreparable harm by not telling her before he proposed, he does more harm every day he stays with her without allowing her to make the decision for herself.
An- That's a persuasive point. She should be able to decide who the Father of her kids is, and to do that she needs to know.
Amelia Bedelia says:
No. Just no.
Do Not say anything. Keep your guilt to yourself and don't do it again.
Trust me. Even if she finds forgiveness for him, it will do irreparable harm to her.
Nothing positive can come from telling her. It would only be selfish to tell her now, years after the incident. What is she supposed to do with that information? We are all fallible, and part of being a grown-up is not vomiting impertinent information because it makes you feel icky inside. To the man asking: You were a college kid – too young in my opinion to get engaged in the first place – and you weren't engaged (no formal commitment), suck it up and live with your mistake.
What if she finds out herself? I speak from experience – this summer I discovered that my boyfriend of nearly five years used an online dating service to arrange a few “meaningless flings”. He never planned to tell me, and I learned about the affairs by accident via email. I was angry that he had sex with someone else, but I was completely blindsided by his decision to lie to me and keep it all a secret. I really had no idea about his secret indiscretions, and since he had no intention to tell me, I wouldn't have ever known. Unfortunately, I discovered the truth myself by accident, and now I have to deal with not only his unfaithfulness, but his ability to conceal and lie with ease. She deserves to know the truth. She'll end up hurt eventually. It is impossible to keep a secret like this silent forever.