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May 11, 2009 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend… Should he tell his girlfriend about his cyber fling?

I have a friend who has been dating this girl for a long time, several years. They seem pretty happy but my friend confided that they do not have sex often and he is frustrated. Apparently it happens about once every six months or something. He tries to initiate but gets shot down. (He said she doesn’t have body hangups or anything . It’s just a mental roadblock).

He met a girl online and started chatting. I guess things got sexual and he broke it off a few weeks later. They never met in person but did talk on the phone. He broke it off because he really does love his girlfriend and wants to improve their relationship. He wants to know if he should tell his girlfriend about this and if so, how? His main priority is the relationship so advice to dump her is not really helpful in this situation. Also except for this he is a decent guy and has never done anything like this before.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Your friend should tell his girlfriend and also dump her for being sexually incompatible.
posted by Electrius at 6:16 PM on May 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Does he want this on his conscience forever? If he thinks he could end up with this girl for the long-term (like marriage or whatever), he should tell her. It will probably not end well, and they may very likely break up.
posted by ishotjr at 6:19 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess things got sexual and he broke it off a few weeks later.

I don't know what this means. If it means he was flirting with someone online and the conversation turned to things that they'd like to do with each other, but he stopped, I dunno. Ancient norms would have it be incumbent to confess if you messed around with someone, but not if you flirted, and not if you had fantasized about them. Not clear to me where this fits.

Just as I would be wary of the impulse hereabouts to advise DTMFA, I guess I would be equally skeptical of those advising confession.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:28 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


A.) Never tell. It serves no purpose beyond the shelf impulse to clear one's conscience.

B.) At most your friend has committed a thought crime. He should really relax.

C.) Your friend has allowed his sexual frustration to get the better of him.

D.) Your friend needs to confront his gf about the lack of sex and say, "This is a problem. It's causing me to begin to think about other people. If we don't work toward a resolution I'm afraid that I may stray from you, emotionally if not physically."
posted by wfrgms at 6:29 PM on May 11, 2009 [32 favorites]


If his sexual advances are getting shot down he should seriously considering ending the relationship or opening it up to other partners.

Sex is part of most healthy, monogamous relationships. The only monogamous relationships without regular sex are those where both parties don't have a strong sex drive, and it's clear that's not your friend.

To your specific question? No, he shouldn't tell his girlfriend that he talked with someone online, jerked off, and maybe shared some pictures. He never met this person on the other end of the internet, which means this was more like porn that it was actual "cheating".

He should tell his girlfriend that their lack of sex is making him reconsider the relationship, and then have an actual conversation with the girlfriend about it where they both decide what to do about it.
posted by alan at 6:30 PM on May 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think this is the issue the guy needs to be concentrating on - the issue is really how incredibly incompatible his sex drive is with his girlfriend's. And she could be a wonderful, beautiful, inspiring person. That does not make her a good match for him. Is couple therapy or counseling of some kind a possibility? Because I can tell you right now, sex once every six months is very abnormal in a happy, stress-free relationship. He should control himself and not cross into cheating territory, but she needs to meet him at least half way. Sex is healthy, and very necessary for many people. We are, after all, very physical creatures.

They need to sort this out before it leads to more of such incidents.

As for this particular episode, he should keep it to himself. It won't make the girlfriend take any of his words from then on seriously.
posted by Bakuun at 6:32 PM on May 11, 2009


The cyber-fling is a symptom, not a problem in itself. I'll go with Dan Savage on this one and say don't tell. He knows what the problem with his relationship is, and that he needs to address it. Telling her accomplishes nothing other clearing his own conscience at her expense, and if it weighs heavily on him, tell him that's the penance he has to pay for (sort of) straying.
posted by fatbird at 6:33 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry, misread the question, thinking that a sexual drought occurs every six months. If they have sex only every six months, that's a huge incompatibility, and if there isn't an addressable cause in the girlfriend (e.g., depression) that'll bring them more in line, he should break up with her for sexual incompatibility.
posted by fatbird at 6:35 PM on May 11, 2009


What good will come out of telling her? He might relieve his guilty feelings about what he did, but this shouldn't be about making himself feel better. Perhaps he is looking for some sort of punishment so it will be over with and he will be redeemed for messing up, who knows. If he does tell her, it's going to hurt her. I can't think of anything good that would come from her knowing about this flirtation, except that maybe she'll know he's eventually honest.
Your friend should take all that energy he spent on his cyber-girlfriend and refocus it on his relationship. The lack of sex is a different issue entirely and shouldn't be an excuse on why he messed up. There's something they can work on together. Keep calm and carry on.
posted by idiotfactory at 6:37 PM on May 11, 2009


I know he didn't technically cheat, but the fact is that the only reason any of this is up for debate is that he was doing something wrong and that if his girlfriend knew, she would probably be hurt. He went looking for his thrills elsewhere, and realized that he was getting in too deep. It's not so much whether or not he should tell his girlfriend about this, as honesty is the foundation of any relationship, and keeping secrets, even if potentially painful, are only detrimental. It should be more about how he should tell her. An accusatory "You drove me into the virtual arms of another woman," will probably not go over well.

But a discussion about his sexual needs - and they are needs and should be respected, just as he is respecting her need not to have sex - is in order.

Perhaps if he explained to her that sex was a way for him to be intimate with her, and a physical release and that he sees its lack as a major problem. He needs to explain that he doesn't blame her for her lack of interest in sex, but that he is not a priest and had a moment of weakness. She may want to just break up with him at this point, which may be what has to happen, or maybe she'll compromise with him. Either way, the lack of sex and his consequent actions point to a disconnect in the relationship. He also needs to figure out why she isn't into sex. Maybe it's not pleasurable to her. In which case, they have some work to do to make it pleasurable.

But mostly, he should tell her, be open, and deal with what comes next. I seriously disagree with people who believe that sparing her feelings by not coming clean is the right way - there is no relationship without honesty. If you can't be honest, you don't have a real relationship anyway.
posted by anniek at 7:26 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've had a bit of a think about this one and while my first impulse was to say "no, don't tell her because it only serves to clear his conscience and nothing else", I've actually decided that the best thing he can do is tell her, and here's why.

1. Honesty. It's a conerstone of any healthy relationship.
2. Communication. Another cornerstone.
3. Telling her that he had a lapse in judgement because of a lack of physical intimacy from her might just be the best thing to happen to this relationship, and these two individuals. Consider the following scenarios.

SCENARIO 1: He tells her. She says that it was a minor crime as far as relationships go, and they talk it through. She realises something she may not have realised yet; that she is ignoring an aspect of their relationship that is hurting the person she supposedly cares for... enough to drive this person to make this mistake. Together, as a couple, they forge a path towards a place where they can both be happy and fulfilled, emotionally and physically.

SCENARIO 2: He tells her. They fight and get lots of things off of their chests. But after the initial anger boils over, she starts to realise something she may not have realised yet; that she is ignoring an aspect of their relationship that is hurting the person she supposedly cares for... enough to drive this person to make this mistake. Together, as a couple, they forge a path towards a place where they can both be happy and fulfilled, emotionally and physically.

SCENARIO 3: He tells her. She considers it a deal-breaker and the two seperate. It's a horrible, sad, scary situation for both of them in the short-term, but they rediscover themselves and they grow as individuals, learning from the mistakes each of them made in their relationship and using it to foster and nurture their coming, new relationships. Each embarks on a new path in life, one that does not involve the other (except, perhaps, as friends), and they potentially find new love with new partners who are closer to what each of them needs.

This is better than a fourth scenario where he dosen't tell her. Nothing changes, except he feels guilty for a thought-crime and, despite any real feelings of love he holds for her, he continues to build resentment deep inside him until, years later, he leaves her or cheats on her, resulting in a messy break-up and her asking him "Why did you never just tell me how you felt?" Years of their life, wasted, when they could potentially have been at the end of either Scenario 1, 2 or 3 now, had they just acted to fix what is a dysnfunctional relationship now.

So yes, in short, I think he should tell her. I personally think what he did was a misdemenaour as far as relationship crimes go, and it would be insane if they did break up because of it, but if they do, it's indicative of greater problems in the relationship. And if they don't, this may well be just the catharsis this relationship is crying out for.
posted by Effigy2000 at 7:32 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


So yes, in short, I think he should tell her. I personally think what he did was a misdemenaour as far as relationship crimes go, and it would be insane if they did break up because of it, but if they do, it's indicative of greater problems in the relationship. And if they don't, this may well be just the catharsis this relationship is crying out for.

Maybe. On the whole, this incredibly carefully thought-out set of scenarios seem Panglossian -- somehow this is a turning point, and if it's a bad one it's all for the best. Sometimes situations snowball, or fester, in ways that they need not.

A second, perhaps more important, counterpoint: nothing prevents this dude from talking to his GF about their sex life and achieve whatever improvements may be had. Of course, if she refuses to see that it's a problem, BF may introduce this little fact less as a confession and more as a symptom. Ah, the tactics of love.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:55 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Effigy, allow me to add a scenario:

SCENARIO 5: He tells her. She feels betrayed, blames him for wrecking the relationship, he tells her he did it because he's sexually unhappy, she takes that as blaming the victim, and they break up horribly. She plunges into a pit of depression and low self-esteem, and becomes self-destructively promiscuous as a way of getting back at him. Later, she gets hooked on crack.

Okay, it's not likely, but it's about as plausible as the rosey scenarios you outlined, and should make the point that it can go badly just as easily as well.

The root problem here is sexual incompatibility, and that's no one's fault, but it's THE thing that needs to be addressed. Telling her is a landmine that risks derailing any effort to repair that. If it's going to come out, it should come out in relationship counseling where a professional is able to deal with it as it is: a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.
posted by fatbird at 8:01 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, OK, maybe the scenarios are a bit more rosey than the reality may turn out to be... I guess I'm just an optimist like that. Perhaps my answer could have done without the scenarios, because frankly, I believe my underlying argument is sound.

Namely, there's a problem in this relationship and not confronting it head-on lets it continue to fester and remain unresolved and may lead to future 'relapses' on the bloke's part.

Telling her opens the lines of communication and demonstrates his honesty (two cornerstones of a healthy relationship).

The key, in my opinion, is how he tells her; the setting, the words he uses etc are all important. Perhaps a neutral, or a safe location. Perhaps in a couples counselling session? Whatever works best. The bloke would know.

Telling her the wrong way might lead to fatbird's fifth scenario, or a variation thereon.

Telling her the right way (in other words, communicating honestly and effectively, something I hope we can all agree is to be encouraged in any relationship) might just lead to the catharsis this relationship desperately needs.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:18 PM on May 11, 2009


I think that the pseudo-infidelity should eventually come out. But starting the "Honey, you don't put out often enough" conversation with "I sort-of cheated on you" seems destined for an early derailment.
posted by fatbird at 8:45 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


B.) At most your friend has committed a thought crime. He should really relax.

What? No. Implied in the OP's question is that things went sexual, online and on the phone. This isn't 'thought crime' -- the OP's friend did cheat. Cybersex while you're in a relationship is still cheating. Just because it wasn't physical doesn't mean that it wasn't sexual or emotional.

Treat this as you would with any other cheated-on-girlfriend situation, except considering that there are less real-life ramifications than in a physical cheating relationship: there are no STD worries, no shared friends, no bumping into the other person in real life, and so on. But that's the only difference; if he feels guilty, it's because he is guilty. I hope things work out with your friend and his relationship.
posted by suedehead at 8:53 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Arguably yes, fatbird. But the two issues are linked, aren't they? His sexual frustration led to his cyber-flirt.

If we can agree on that point, then the two issues need to be discussed in the one conversation. And as I said, how he communicates this will be of the utmost importance. "Honey, you don't put out often enough so I sort of cheated on you" would be an example of the wrong way to communicate what he did and what he feels.

Perhaps we could brainstorm a few ideas on how to communicate this. How about (for instance) "Honey, there's something I need to tell you. I recently started chatting online to a woman and we've had cybersex. We've even chatted a few times on the phone. But I want you to know that I realised this was a mistake, and that I love you more than anything and so I put an end to it before it went any further than that. I can understand that you might be upset about this, and if you are I think you're entitled to those feelings, but again, we never met and I promise you that it never went beyond online chats and over the phone conversations."

Notice how no blame has been imparted? How he controlled the initial burst of information?She might then feel inclined to ask some questions. Perhaps why he did this if he loved her? His response might go something like;

"As you know, we don't have sex very often. I think this led to a place where I was sexually frustrated and I made a mistake; something I wouldn't have done if things were different. This isn't me blaming you. This was my mistake and mine alone*. But I think we have a problem here which is hurting our relationship... a relationship I really want to stay in... and I think we could both benefit from couples counselling, or perhaps we could talk about our problems together, and work on a solution?"

These are just some jumping off points for how to frame the conversation. He might want to work from a script if he feels he'd be too emotional during what could be a high pressure situation. But again, I feel if he communicates his feelings openly, effectively and honestly, this mistake could be used to fix their relationship, and bring about catharsis.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:02 PM on May 11, 2009


I'm in the "don't tell her" camp. Let's say he tells her, in conjunction with discussing and working on their sex life. She takes it relatively well and understands that it was a symptom of a larger problem, he stopped before it got serious, he was honest with her, etc. They go to therapy, their sex life gets better, and things are going well. What if whatever was causing her frigidity (can I use this word in a non-judgmental way in this day and age?) resurfaces? I'm not sure what "mental roadblock" means: insecurity, religion-related guilt, trust issues, etc. She relapses a little and starts to feel like she doesn't want to have sex as often for a period of time, but now she has some coping/communication tactics that she's learned in couples' therapy. Except that she thinks back to the cyber-fling; now it's like a threat, hanging over her head. If she doesn't feel like having sex two nights in a row, will he be back online looking for other women to send pictures of his dick to? I can see whipping myself up into fears like that; if she already has insecurity issues regarding sex, she could get there easily.

He needs to talk to her about the sex, and explain what a big deal it is. This, and the fact that it took this cyber-fling (pretty damn close to cheating for me, btw) for him to recognize his feelings surrounding the lack of sex and that it is that big of a deal, tells me that they're pretty good candidates for couples' therapy. And if she isn't willing to work on it, and/or the therapy doesn't work, why bother trying "shock treatment" by telling her about the fling? Then he really is using it as a threat. Just break up at that point.
posted by thebazilist at 9:02 PM on May 11, 2009


Did sexual frustration dress up in a suit, put a gun to your friend's head and force him to talk to this girl? Did it wear an eye patch and threaten him and demand that he call this online fling on the phone and be "sexual"?

Your friend feels that he cheated on his girlfriend. He's blaming sexual frustration but rather than work on that, he actively went after someone else. It's nice that he stopped but it's not nice that he started in the first place. Why he did is important but WHAT he did is more important. He betrayed the trust of his girlfriend, of his loved one, and decided to cheat on her.

He needs to tell her and he needs to accept whatever SHE decides to do. They can work on their relationship after this but he doesn't get to behave as poorly as he did and get away with it if he truly does love her as much as he claims. It sounds more like he's covering his own ass more than anything else.
posted by Stynxno at 9:02 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Effigy, that's all fine in a relationship textbook, but I know more than a few people who, in the girlfriend's situation, would be stuck on the "cheated" part and feel any attempt to address the underlying issue was a distraction and a way of evading responsibility. It's all fine to say "I'm not blaming you for my actions", but whether or not she believes that is up to her.

It's difficult to propose strategies not knowing more about the why of the underlying problem. There might be a deep issue with the girlfriend; she might just have a really low sex drive. I still think that the pseudo-infidelity is the second, not the first, thing to discuss with her. And preferably in the context of a counselor's office.

Or, he can just confess what happened, and see if she approaches it as "it's over" or "why?" If it's the latter, he can start the discussion of the deeper problem. If it's the former, then the frigidity issue probably can't be addressed.

I agree that yours is the healthiest way to handle it Effigy. But a lot of people and a lot of relationships can't handle that level of healthy behaviour. A little insight into how one's partner will handle the situation can go a long way.
posted by fatbird at 10:18 PM on May 11, 2009


It is absolutely ridiculous to say that he did this cheating thing but it was the girlfriend's fault because she won't have sex with him. He made a choice, and he is a rational adult.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:23 PM on May 11, 2009


so_gracefully, I think we can agree he is a rational adult and I think the fact he feels bad, ended the cyber-flirting because he knew it was wrong and loves his girlfriend and is considering telling her is proof of that. But why do you so strongly deny a link between his lack of physical intamacy from the girlfriend and his decision to do what he did?

To me, this is like saying someone is dying of thirst but that's not why they had a drink of water.

I do agree that saying his actions were his girlfriends fault is wrong... this statement assigns blame to one individual and one individual only, when it is probably safer to argue that two people are to blame for what happened here. But to so casually dismiss his lack of physical intamacy having any link to his actions seems outrageous to me.

Not that I'm saying you're wrong, mind. You're a marriage counsellor, apparently and I'm not. I'm saying that I want you to tell me how you came to this conclusion.

"I agree that yours is the healthiest way to handle it Effigy. But a lot of people and a lot of relationships can't handle that level of healthy behaviour. A little insight into how one's partner will handle the situation can go a long way."
posted by fatbird at 4:18 PM on May 12

Agreed. YMMV, obviously. But in the context of an AskMe question which dosen't provide that insight, and only asks "should he or shouldn't he" with minimal background, I'm still sticking to "yes he should" with my afforementioned reasons.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:05 PM on May 11, 2009


It is absolutely ridiculous to say that he did this cheating thing but it was the girlfriend's fault because she won't have sex with him. He made a choice, and he is a rational adult.

No one's letting him off the hook. We all recognize that he did something wrong, and that he's fully responsible for it. But he didn't do it in a vacuum. He did it because there's a deep relationship incompatibility as things stand, and if he wants to save the relationship, getting over a misdemeanor infidelity is secondary to addressing that much more basic issue in his relationship.
posted by fatbird at 12:43 AM on May 12, 2009


If I were your friend, I would work on communicating about sex with the gf, and hopefully figuring a way to be sexually compatible. If not, he has to ask himself if this is something he wants for the rest of his life - and if yes, then he cannot e-cheat or even think about it. If he loves her and can do that and still be happy then great, if not, then he really has to explain to her that he loves her and she's sexy and he DOES want to have sex with her, so there's nothing wrong with HER and tell her that he wants more sex because she's sexy... and hopefully she doesn't get a complex and get all insecure and stuff about it. But chances are she will, because that's what we girls do. It sucks to give up a good relationship where you love someone, but you gotta think about your happiness in the long term.

Oh, and I wouldn't tell her about the cyber-fling, ESPECIALLY if he's gonna try to fix the sexual incompatibility, because that'll make the gf feel even worse (about 13985739x worse) than if he just said he wasn't getting enough sex from her, just don't do it again. Either fix the relationship so he doesn't have to e-cheat again, or break it off and have phone/email/real-life sex with whomever he wants. But even in that case, I wouldn't drive the nail in further and make the pain worse by letting her know that he already cheated, even if it's not as bad as cheating in real life.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 5:12 AM on May 12, 2009


Cybersex is just not really cheating. If they break-up over that then they would have anyway. how old are these people?

I don't think it matters that much. Talking onthe phone was probably taking it a bit far - but nothing REALLy happened. just donit' tell her and bring up the issues of sexual incompatiblilty.
posted by mary8nne at 5:33 AM on May 12, 2009


Wow -- interesting, diametrically opposed instincts on whether he is obligated to tell, even putting aside the tactical side. As I said, I don't understand what he did, except with this cyber stuff it sounds like it was from the adult version of The Jetsons. (Finally, maybe, I understand the salacious lyrics of Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah.)

But how do we resolve whether he has to tell? Whether something *really happened* seems to be one measure; this is clearly more than a mere fantasy, but something less than physical interaction . . . but I don't know whether flesh-related thresholds must still be cleared.

A second measure is whether it's going to gnaw at him; hard to say, as *he* is clearly on the fence.

A third and to me most important question is whether he is compelled to tell because his GF would want to know -- that is, whether his obligation should be derived from her right. On this last point, we seem to have provided the least info, but I would wager both that she would be interested to learn this and regret knowing it.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:13 AM on May 12, 2009


Count me on the side of the fence that expects, as a minimum, honest communication in a relationship. He cheated, he lied to her (by omission is just as bad as on purpose) and he knows things about their relationship that she doesn't. The sexual frustration part of the relationship is not a part of the cheating, except as an excuse for him to avoid responsibility for his actions. For all we know, she is frustrated that every time she wants sex he is on the computer and then he wakes her in the middle of the night demanding sex with no foreplay because he is all worked up. We just don't know her side of the story. Very few "she just won't have sex with virile me" scenarios are as one-sided as some men believe. He has lied to her and spent time with another person instead of wither working on his relationship problems or ending the relationship honestly.
posted by saucysault at 7:55 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


No, don't tell. But he should reconsider if he wants to stay with her, because the no sex thing will definitely prove to be more and more detrimental to their relationship.
posted by Simon Barclay at 9:04 AM on May 12, 2009


1) He should not tell her. I agree that that would only serve to alleviate his own guilt.

2) He should dump her so that she can stop wasting her time and find someone to date who isn't a lying asshole.

Whether or not this is technically cheating, lying by omission is still lying.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:27 PM on May 12, 2009


D.) Your friend needs to confront his gf about the lack of sex and say, "This is a problem. It's causing me to begin to think about other people. If we don't work toward a resolution I'm afraid that I may stray from you, emotionally if not physically."

No no no no no. This is horrible advice and it concerns me that it is so heavily favorited. He does need to talk to her about their sex life, but if he wants this relationship to continue, he should absolutely not "confront" her about it. And he should absolutely, absolutely not, under any circumstances, in this lifetime or the next, threaten her with cheating if she doesn't put out more. It is his fault that he cheated. It is not in any way, shape or form hers. If he's unhappy with her sexual performance, he needs to try to fix the problem or end the relationship. Her lack of interest in sex does not give him permission to cheat and ultimatums are never a good approach to problems between people who love each other.

As for telling her about the infidelity . . . I am a firm believer that complete and total honesty are necessary for a relationship. However, if he is completely sure that this is a one time incident and it will never happen again, the decision to tell or not to tell depends a lot on the specific dynamics between them. If she has low self-esteem or issues with trust or jealousy, telling her is probably going to do more harm than good. If he does tell her, he needs to be prepared to do a lot of work to repair the damage he has caused. He will have to commit to rebuilding her trust in him and accept that she might not be able to forgive him and move on. Infidelity is a tough thing to get past, but it can be done if both parties fully devote themselves to it. If he feels good about their chances of making it through, telling is the best idea for the long term strength of the relationship. Of course, if he does think there's a possibility of it happening again, he should end the relationship immediately.
posted by Dojie at 8:21 AM on March 16, 2010


Whoops - just got here from a metatalk link and didn't realize how old this post was. I'm sure it's all over and done with. Never mind.
posted by Dojie at 10:24 AM on March 16, 2010


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