Witness to an Affair
October 12, 2004 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Another question from the AskMe Anonymizer:

Two of my close friends, each married to other people, started having an affair about a year ago. One of them got caught and is now divorced. (That participant lied to me about who the other person was when they first told me about it. They also nearly got caught early on and lied to me about what happened. Also, one of their encounters was at my house without my knowledge.) They're still carrying on even though the other person says their spouse is the one for them. (More Inside)

I see the divorced participant often, and I've seen the other person a couple of times, but I haven't seen the other participant and their spouse for over a year because the participant feels uncomfortable (I used to see that couple socially at least once a week).

I had a very heated reaction when I found out that I'd been lied to, and I feel that the other parties are projecting their guilt onto me because I reacted poorly. I've since apologized for how I reacted, but I feel like I'm being punished because they did something wrong. (The married participant doesn't feel they have to apologize to me for anything.) Can these friendships be saved? Also, am I just supposed to pretend nothing happened if they end up together?
posted by headspace to Human Relations (14 answers total)
Can you draw this out? I'm lost. Seriously, it's like a bad GRE test question.
posted by mathowie at 4:25 PM on October 12, 2004

I think not...the friends used her, took advantage of her, and are now being bitchy to her. Why does this person even want to remain friends with them?
posted by amberglow at 4:27 PM on October 12, 2004

Just say no to everything.
posted by oh posey at 4:27 PM on October 12, 2004

Sounds like a [further] clusterbungle waiting to happen, with no apparent upside. If these people aren't critical members of your social network, you might want to distance yourself from them. (And if they are critical members of your network, you may want to think about refocusing and expanding the network.)
posted by spacewrench at 4:29 PM on October 12, 2004

I agree with amberglow and spacewrench. Distance yourself from these people, before they cause real trouble for you. I've had some friends who were into the whole lying, blame-projection, and behaving-badly-in-other-people's-houses thing, and I can tell you that my life has been a lot better since I've been rid of them. I was lucky: many of the people who stayed on with them have since come to regret it.
posted by vorfeed at 4:39 PM on October 12, 2004

Could you substitute the word "participant" for something a little easier to dilineate -- say, "John and Mary."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:46 PM on October 12, 2004

This anonymizer thing is difficult because there's a few questions I'd like to ask the original poster -- such as, what's making you feel as if your friends are blaming you? How are they projecting their guilt?

I was in a similar situation three years ago. I cheated on my boyfriend with a person from our close circle of friends and lied about the entire situation. It was a shitty event all around, and I deeply regret the way I went about things and the fact that I lied.

My friends were extremely upset because I had lied to them and they didn't view me as the type of person to cheat. A few said, straight out, "I don't think we can be friends anymore," and we aren't. There were some who I made amends with (including my ex), and now we're fine as friendship goes. There are others, however, who refused to hear my side of the story, immeaditely assumed the worst, spread rumors and made an already heartbreaking situation worse by involving themselves too much. I resent the people in the last group, to be honest. I didn't expect anyone to forgive me or be chummy with me, but I was shocked to watch these people become so intent on nudging in on my business. There's a big difference between "being there for someone" and complicating a situation with unnecessary rumors.

So. I suppose you should ask yourself: am I in this last group? If not, then I don't believe there's any reason your friends should be angry with you. You had an honest reaction -- your friends lied to you and performed actions you found morally questionable. That's human. I think the best route, if this is the case, is to say to those friends, "Listen, I want to keep our friendship. I feel like you're treating me unfairly," and go from there. If they remain defensive, then there's nothing else you can do. It's their problem now, and while you might feel helpless in this regard, if they can't own up to their own feelings, then you need to step back.

Also, am I just supposed to pretend nothing happened if they end up together?

I've been with the person I cheated on my boyfriend with for three years. This was awkward at first with my friends, but those that I remained friendly with, have seemingly accepted this fact. They see that I'm happy, and no matter the shady circumstances in which the relationship began, they can see the person I'm with was the better choice for me. With the closer friends, we've talked about the situation over the years. With the other friends, we haven't and while there might be awkwardness there, I can't sense it.

I don't think you should ignore the situation. If you're around the new couple and feel weird, I think you should say something like, "Wow, this is weird. It'll be hard to get used to you two together," and that might open the floor for discussion about the matter. The more communication, the less awkwardness. If you want to keep the friends and the friends want to keep you, you both should be open to lots of talking.

Good luck. This is a sticky, unfortunate situation.
posted by Zosia Blue at 4:50 PM on October 12, 2004

Clarification update on the Anonymizer: "I've known John (the divorced one) for almost 20 years, and Mary (the married one) for over five years. Until this happened I considered them my two closest friends, so they are critical members of my network, as spacewrench says. I was closer to both of them than I was to their spouses.

John and I have mostly patched things up, but have an unspoken agreement not to talk about the situation until it's resolved one way or the other. I'm mostly unhappy with Mary for not apologizing, and for cutting me out of her life.

I haven't spread rumors about them or anything like that. In fact, before this happened I would have talked to one of them if I was having problems with the other. That makes this especially difficult."
posted by fionab at 5:05 PM on October 12, 2004

In that case: I'd tell John and Mary those exact things. If both react negatively, then the ball's in their court. You can't make John talk about things or Mary apologize, and while it's unfortunate, it'll only cause more heartache in the end if you wait for both of these things to happen. Hopefully, the two will see what an awesome friend they're losing, and make amends with you. If not, as hard as it is, you need to take care of yourself first.

Again, I'm sorry this is happening. It's so difficult with your support system goes haywire.
posted by Zosia Blue at 5:10 PM on October 12, 2004

I would have talked to one of them if I was having problems with the other. That makes this especially difficult."

Tease apart the issues here. There seem to be a few

- cheating on marriages [esp one that the participant intends to maybe stay in]
- lying to you early on
- shtupping at your house in secret
- your little freakout
- their individual reactions to your freakout
- you feel you may be owed an apology
- Mary generally being unavailable for whatever reason

To this I would add
- you had two separate friends who are now one couple, more or less, this leaves you with fewer friend options to discuss this with
- ground rules are different and you may be expected to keep secrets you did not agree to keep, certain topics are "off limits" which may make you uncomfortable

It's possible the situation will work out like Zosia's and you may wind up with your two friends in one stable relationship together. Will that be okay? It's possible Mary may keep cheating on her husband until he comes to his senses, they work out some sort of arrangement, or she gets tired of John. It's possible that John will give up on Mary for not giving up on her husband. I think being a good friend in this case may be different from taking care of yourself, especially if you're not getting the feedback you need from these guys. You can be supportive of your friends and not get embroiled in their dramas but it may take some retooling of the relationship. That's the tough part, IMHO.

It seems like seeing John is working, seeing Mary is less optimal but she does have a lot on her plate. Do you see this issue as resolving soon, or as lingering on forever? My personal feeling is that someone asking you to misrepresent something to their spouse is pushing the limits fo friendship, though if Mary feels you are HER friend and not her spouse's friend, she may wonder why you had such a freakout, and feel that you're not being supportive. If John seems to think a resolution is in the works, patience may be the best thing you can offer, and maybe an olive leaf to Mary if you want to go that way. It's a mess any way you slice it but unless you feel that John or Mary needs some sort of punishment from you [and I would not go that way], I'd assume that they're just going through some stuff right now that [and this can be tough for a friend to take] has nothing to do with you at all except leaving you somewhat stranded support-wise. So, my answer is yes you can save the friendship, but possibly not this week or month. If you want to salvage this, I'd let them both know that you are available, are not going to freak out on them [and mean it] and understand that now might not be a good time.
posted by jessamyn at 5:29 PM on October 12, 2004

Your Cheatin' heart will tell on you.....
posted by jonmc at 5:37 PM on October 12, 2004

Be happy that Mary doesn't really want to see you while you have this knowledge but she is still married to a person she's cheating on. How much would it suck to see Mary and her husband often and know that you were lying by omission of never saying anything to the cheated-on-spouse? (You'd be coming pretty close to doing to the spouse exactly what your friends did to you, just less blatantly!)

Mary may or may not be projecting, but she is almost certainly worried that the closer she is to you, the more chance that you will reveal something, purposefully or accidentally, to her cheated-on-spouse.

It sucks that these people were your close friends, but I guess I would be careful about expending energy and time on a drama that's basically theirs, not yours. They *did* wrong you -- you thought you were all friends and they used your friendship at least once to further their illicit affair. That's not a really friendly thing to do, but they were caught up in themselves, I guess. I wouldn't pursue them. I don't think they can currently give you the friendship you'd want and deserve from them, at least in Mary's case. If she gets divorced you can try again because the elephant in the room would be gone. If you still wanted to.
posted by onlyconnect at 5:49 PM on October 12, 2004

I don't really see where the sex lives of these people is any business of this anonymous person. If these two friends choose to boff each other, it's their decision, and not subject to the input of a third party. Anonymous can choose to be bothered by other people's sex, or not, and choose to retain friendships in light of that, or not. But the right thing to do is to stay the fuck out of other people's sexual escapades.

Maybe I'm not understanding what the problem is, because the question is nearly impenetrable to the reader, but the answer seems obvious: Either remain friendly by staying out of it, or walk away if you're unable to control your judgemental urges.
posted by majick at 6:17 PM on October 12, 2004

I have received additional clarification, and as a result retract my answer. My new answer is this:

The problem that Anonymous is having has nothing to do with anyone else's escapades. The problem Anonymous is having is that the friends aren't acting like friends any more. Ditch 'em.
posted by majick at 6:41 AM on October 13, 2004

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