My belief about infidelity never waved, never once, until the day my best friend dropped a bomb into our friendship. She confessed to cheating on her husband. Now I had to decide if and how I'd support my cheating friend.
The first man I married treated infidelity as the rule, rather than the exception. We hadn’t even reached our first anniversary when I found myself sitting in a restaurant across from one of his friends as he tore apart my world simply by telling me the truth. It was, and still is, one of my worst days. His infidelity changed me and left with me with a very strong opinion of cheating and those who cheat. For me, infidelity is unacceptable, no matter the circumstance, regardless of the reason. In my world, if you are unhappy enough to be unfaithful, you are unhappy enough to leave the relationship. Period. I’ve honestly never understood why people cheat.
As I got older, this belief guided me well. I never dated anyone who wasn’t single, and without question, I turned away the advances of married men. I knew what it was like to be cheated on and I was never going to be responsible for causing someone else that kind of heartache.
The Pink Elephant
My belief never waved, never once, until the day my best friend dropped a giant pink elephant into our friendship. We were having lunch when she let me know that she was involved with someone at work. She said she hadn’t told me before because she knew how I felt about cheating, but that last night her lover told her he was in love with her and she thought she might be in love with him too. She didn’t know what to do and she wanted to know if I thought she should leave her husband.
As she spilled her secret, the pink elephant decided to sit on my chest. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. Even though it wasn’t happening to me and even though it had been more than a decade since I learned of my own ex-husband’s infidelity, all the feelings I experienced that day came flooding back.
I was shocked that my girlfriend, someone I knew to be nothing but wonderful, could do something I found so terrible. I was confused because she knew the damage her infidelity could do (would do) to her marriage, and she did it anyway. And I felt betrayed because her husband was like a brother to me, someone I’d known longer than I’d known her, and by doing this to him, it almost felt like it was being done to me.
Once the shock subsided, I got mad—really mad—mad that she could be so selfish, that she would risk her marriage, and that she would hurt a man who had been nothing but good to her since the day they met. I got mad because by telling me, she was bringing me into the middle of it, telling me something I could never un-know. And I got angry, because with this one revelation, I didn’t know her anymore.
I admit, I feigned a text message from my son so I could make a hasty exit, telling her we could talk about this later. I bolted from the restaurant and walked until I found a park where I sat down to sort through all the things I was feeling. I wasn’t sure where my feelings about my cheating husband ended and my feelings about my cheating friend began. I just knew I needed to separate them so I could make the decision about what to do next.
Passive Complicity or Just Bad Friend
You see, this is a very difficult situation and here are the reasons why.
1. She is My Friend
There was a part of me that needed to be supportive of her, even if I couldn’t be supportive of her actions. She was obviously having some issues in her relationship, and she was confused and worried about her future. A part of me kept asking what kind of friend am I if I am not there for her when times are the hardest, when things are the worst.
2. But He is My Friend Too
Coming to terms with the idea that inevitably I was going to have to pick one side or the other, even silently, was more than heartbreaking, especially when I considered that both sides are populated with people that I love dearly.
3. No Matter What, I Am Now a Bad Friend
Given the situation, there simply wasn’t any way for me to continue being a good friend to both of my friends. If I told the husband about the affair, I was breaking my friend’s confidence and betraying our friendship. If I didn’t tell him about the affair, I was betraying his trust and his friendship.
I felt passively complicit in the affair, and trapped in a no-win situation, torn between two options that were each right and wrong in their own ways. In truth, I began to hate her a little that afternoon because of the moral dilemma she forced on me.
My Decision: Cutting the Slack
I decided to be a good friend, the kind of friend I would hope to have in my corner if I was the one struggling. I let her know I didn’t approve. I encouraged her to end the affair and come clean with her husband. And whenever we were together I pointed out the pink elephant that had taken up residence in our relationship.
I kept hoping she would tell me it was over and that we could roll our eyes and talk about that time when she went crazy and thought about leaving her marriage. I did what I could to be a good friend right up until the moment that she asked me to “cover for her … in case her husband asked”.
Without my permission and within a flash, my friend had moved me from passively complicit to actively involved, and any moral ambiguity I had been feeling was gone. Instantly I was clear about what “the right thing” was.
Sometimes you need to cut your friends some slack when they make choices you don’t agree with and sometimes you need to be supportive solely because you are someone’s friend. And sometimes you need to decide that what is okay with a friend is not okay with you, and that because of these different definitions, the friendship has changed—perhaps even ended.
Whether this means cutting your friend some slack, or simply cutting the slack that is no longer a friend, at the end of the day, you have to live with yourself—which means every time the only right answer is the answer that is right for you.
* * *Do you agree with the author, or how would you handle a similar situation? We'd love to hear from you.