Smash Talks: Caught in the Middle

Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your queries through our anonymous contact form here.

Dear Smashera,

A while back I found out that a friend of mine cheated on his girlfriend. This knowledge has really tainted my view of him and I no longer trust him. I did end up confronting him about it, and he basically told me that it’s none of my business and he won’t talk about it any further. I told him that I would keep his secret, because I don’t want to tell her and completely ruin her ability to trust, but that if she asks I will tell her. I feel awful and I don’t know if I did the right thing. Should I have confronted him at all? Should I tell her?

Caught in the Middle

Dear Caught in the Middle,

It comes as no surprise that infidelity makes a huge mess out of the relationships it occurs in, but it can really muddy the waters for people’s entire friend groups as well. There are a couple key points in this situation — the fall in perception regarding your friend, and the ethical dilemma you find yourself in.

It sounds like you idolized your friend in some ways, which is why this revelation is so shocking and hurtful to you. Had you previously regarded this person and/or their relationship as perfect? It’s natural and normal to admire others, but at the end of the day we gotta stay cognizant that everybody is flawed. I’m not excusing their behavior or saying that you’re not allowed to have feelings about what transpired. I’m suggesting that it could be helpful to tease out exactly what you’re feeling and to examine what those emotions are rooted in. Being disappointed in a friend’s mistakes is vastly different than grieving a relationship that has not ended, or projecting hurt from infidelities and betrayals in your own past. It’s very possible that this person is a good friend, but a lousy partner.

That being said, you have been put in a bit of a pickle, especially if you consider the unknowing girlfriend as a friend as well. I think that you set a very appropriate boundary with your friend by acknowledging that you know what happened, but will not insert yourself in the situation unless directly confronted. People outside of the situation will often say, “Well, I would like to know if my partner cheated on me,” but such a sentiment is very rarely true in practice. The old adage “shooting the messenger” is very, very real, however, and a receiver of information could very easily make the news Your Fault. Unfortunately, this really needs to come from the person who has betrayed their trust, as a third party is just going to add an entirely new dynamic to the shit storm.

A qualifier is the dynamic of your relationship to them. If you had been a really good friend to her for a long time and he was the auxiliary person in your relationship, then it would be more prescient to tell her. Basically, if she were more likely to hear the weight of your words and consider that you wanted the best for her, perhaps it would be best to insert yourself.

But what if she asks? What if she finds out you knew? As Taylor Mali says, “I have a policy about honesty and ass-kicking, which is, if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.” If she directly asks, that’s indicative of a toxic dynamic and you are in no way beholden to keeping this dude’s lies for him, so spill it (gently). She may be mad that you did not tell her immediately, but as I said before, you are not her messenger and you are not out to get shot for someone else’s dirty deeds.

It’s also possible that you don’t have all of the information. Seeing as you confronted him with the revelation of the news, I’m assuming you found out through the grapevine. For all you know, the girl already knows this information and it’s being dealt with. They may have a dynamic that you’re not fully aware of. Third party information about others’ sexual predilections is not always totally factual.

If you’re having a lot of feelings about this situation and the people within it, maybe it’s time to step back from them for a while. This is not your circus, your monkeys, or your fight.