More past indiscretions have come to light - should I be bothered, or let it go because we've worked on moving past that?
September 27, 2011 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Should I forgive infidelity because we were long distance??

My boyfriend and I dated LD for a year before I moved back to be with him. We met while we were living apart and the relationship started LD. Anywho, at one point he said he didn't care what I did as long as he didn't know about it, to which I was like ummmm, well I would prefer monogamy (and he agreed).

So, when I moved home I found sexually flirty emails with an old flame, and a few other guys, and called him on it. He eventually apologized and said I was numero uno and the most important thing to him, and we reconciled.

I've had trust issues ever since (I had a few to begin with due to being burned a few years earlier in my previous relationship), and it's a rollercoaster for me a lot of the time. I'll feel confident in our relationship and then if we don't have sex for a while (or some other trigger, like him taking forever to call me back or doing something with a friend he doesn't really tell me anything about) I'll kinda spiral down into anxiety/paranoia again.

Well, my phone broke so he gave me one of his old phones to use. I decided to try out a different phone he had that he had been reluctant for me to use, and while I was checking out the phone what did I find?? Really graphic sexual texts from his old flame while I was living abroad. I couldn't see what my boyfriend wrote (his phone didn't show sent texts for some reason), but while I was living abroad they had a couple hot and heavy sexting sessions culminating in the other guy being like "Come over." Shortly after that text I saw that my boyfriend called it. At 11:30pm on a Thursday night. He had previously sworn up and down that nothing physical had gone on between them, but I can't help but think he went over and met this dude.

So anyways, I also saw that he had taken X-rated pictures of himself and sent them to another guy, about six months into our relationship. One of his bulge, and then a second one of, ahem, what was making the bulge.

My thing is this: I already ripped him a new asshole for the sexual emails and flirting I had found out about six months ago. We've reconciled and gotten past it, and he treats me so well in general. My friends have a super high opinion of him, even the ones that know about this previous infidelity. He takes care of me and is affectionate, and is an excellent boyfriend in a ton of ways. So, do I just let this go as water under the bridge, and something I've already dealt with, or do I confront him about not being honest to the full extent of what he was doing behind my back?

Another twist is that I had a slipup (not to the same extent as his) when I was living abroad, so I feel like a hypocrit judging him for his. However, I feel like his were premeditated and conscious, whereas I just got drunk one night and made a mistake. I am not trying to be holier than thou, and infidelity is infidelity, but part of me thinks I shouldn't care, and the other part of me has to fight down a rising anger similar to what I felt when I first found out about him leading on other boys.

What do you think??
posted by yummywaffles to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When you start getting worked up and jealous, please remember that he cares about these boys as much as you care about your foreign fling. If you two are the most important people in the world to each other, that's what matters.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:42 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, and I should probably mention that we were living on the other side of the world from each other. We didn't get to see each other for three or four months at a time, sometimes, which was SUPER difficult. And I want to touch other boys sometimes too, so I can't really blame him for having the desire to. But I do value monogamy and feel like I should be the only person he gives his sexual energy to.
posted by yummywaffles at 5:44 PM on September 27, 2011

Response by poster: Yea, Juliet, I do try that. But it seems to have a life of its own sometimes. I know I shouldn't feel a certain way but it bubbles up and I can't control it. I don't think I've fully let go what happened the first time around, and now that I find it was worse than I thought I'm like... you douchebag :( But then again, who would be like "Oh hey, you caught me, and also I banged this guy and then messed around with this guy too... just thought you should know."

I let him have it super bad, broke up with him even, so of course he wouldn't tell me about the other stuff, as he obviously wanted to save the relationship.
posted by yummywaffles at 5:48 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is your guy a Serial Cheater or not?

That is the real question, and none of us internet strangers know or not. Because the rules of LDR are so ambiguous at times, and so individual to each relationship.

Either you catch him up to no good, or after a privately-with-yourself agreed upon timeframe you do not - and then you stop worrying.
posted by jbenben at 6:06 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to question whether the amount of happiness you're getting out of this relationship is worth the drama. This all just strikes me as high-effort/low-reward activity.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:09 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

No. Anyone can be faithful when it's easy. That's no test at all.
posted by dobbs at 6:30 PM on September 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

You should forgive him if you're ok with forgiving him the next time it happens, and every time thereafter.
posted by auto-correct at 6:48 PM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sorry that this happened. I kind of have something similar, but the differences, in case it helps at all, are: it wasn't an LDR at any point, it was a drunken make-out session that was initiated by the other party, and he confessed a few days later (realized it was such a mistake that didn't mean anything, didn't want to ruin things).

For myself, those differences are a little more bearable (but I still find it really hard at times) than what you have to deal with, especially the honesty part. But, I agree with jbenben, you kind of have to figure out if he's a serial cheater or not. Because I do think it can happen once and never again, but I do also realize some people are just going to keep doing it.

If I'm honest with myself, I think that if it were me, I wouldn't be able to handle it. But that's not to say I think it's a hopeless case. I do think that maybe you will have to at least talk about it to find out why he wasn't upfront about it and to find out what really happened. Maybe he called and it was a dirty phone call and he really didn't get physical with anyone. Granted, it's hard to trust what he says, so only you can gauge the situation and know whether or not to believe him.

If after all that, it still feels like maybe it was a one-time offense, then it might still be worth it.
posted by lurking_girl at 7:06 PM on September 27, 2011

Only you can decide if this is a dealbreaker--certainly there are long-lasting couples that weather or have room for outside relationships. But the key is honesty, and that's not here, and I think that's why you are (justifiably) anxious and hurt.

What makes me concerned is that he knew you preferred monogamy, and disregarded your feelings without giving you a chance to weigh in. He didn't discuss opening up the relationship--he had no intention of telling you until you found out (or passive-aggressively let you find out). This is uncool. He was dishonest. He should have told you that he wasn't interested in making the commitment a monogamous LDR requires, and given you the option to either break up or sanction outside relationship. He didn't. Not only was he cavalier with your emotions, he was reckless with your health. Did he use a condom? I presume that since you live together, you two don't. Have you been tested for STDs? This is the part of cheating that I find unforgivable. You can get over cheating, but if he made you sick? That's no different than abuse.

I don't think the reason he didn't tell you was because he wanted to save the relationship. The reason he didn't tell you was because he wants to keep doing it. The fact that you were away for months at a time is not an excuse. If the situation was untenable for him, he had an obligation to TALK TO YOU ABOUT IT.

Your friends may like this guy, but they're not dating him. There are guys out there who are genuinely interested in monogamous relationships. If you were one of my girlfriends, I'd say this guy was bad news. Trust your gut.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:33 PM on September 27, 2011

I don't think that cheating while the relationship was long distance makes it any better, and I don't think I would be able to move on if I found out about it. But if, as you say, you've already brought up your feelings about his past behavior and things are better now, and if you want to stay with him, I think you will have to let it go.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:00 PM on September 27, 2011

my instincts say: These are the ones you have found out about. These do not include random hookups he didn't use technology to get. I, of course, know nothing beyond what you have posted. But, again, my instincts say hes done bad things more than once.

You cannot punish yourself for your drunk fling by staying with him if he is a cheater. If you do decide to stay with him, do not base it on your mistake. I respectfully disagree with Juliet- We don't know if possible serial cheater BF feels bad, remorseful, guilty, happy, sad, excited or what have you by the possible cheating. OP is likely to never cheat again; bf... I have no idea.

Why do you want to stay? Why do you want to leave?

What decision will hurt you least in the long run?
posted by Jacen at 8:52 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Infidelity is yours to forgive or not, as long as you're comfortable with the fact that if it's already happened on more than one occasion, it's almost certain to happen again.

A pattern of deception and dishonesty, though? That's more troublesome and more inevitably toxic to a relationship.
posted by dersins at 8:58 PM on September 27, 2011

I found sexually flirty emails with an old flame, and a few other guys, and called him on it.

You "found" or "tried out" or "saw" a lot of stuff. To be honest, I think it sounds like you went digging and you dug up some stuff. Because of this, and the fact that you don't seem to trust this guy (maybe because of your trust issues, maybe because of this guy, maybe both), I don't think you should continue this relationship.

I did long distance with my partner for over a year at one stage, and damn skippy it's hard, but I never went through her phone/s, emails, whatever. It never even occurred to me that I would or could do that.

For whatever reason it occurred to you, a lot. That doesn't sound like the kind of relationship you want or need with those trust issues. Whether other relationships will be like that is on you, but yeah that seems not a great basis to go forward with.
posted by smoke at 9:22 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

This guy is showing through words and actions that he's not capable of being monogamous with you. Even if he says he really wants to save the relationship and promises it won't happen again this time (and he might even believe it when he says it!) it's going to happen again.

Long distance or not, if you want monogamy this isn't the guy for you.
posted by 6550 at 9:24 PM on September 27, 2011

Argh, this isn't healthy for your brainmeat and you should move on. Trust is like the thing in a relationship and if there's no trust you're wasting one another's time.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:26 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I say it's worth another chance - has anything happened since you've been non-LDR that gave you genuine cause to suspect he was cheating?

I was once in your shoes and grudgingly gave my consent for the other person to sleep with someone, and was told a thousand times it was nothing to worry about, but it still ate away at me. Until, years later, I got around to doing the same thing and realised they were quite right - it's entirely possible to love someone completely and still be attracted to or sleep with someone else. It doesn't have to be either/or.

That being said, it's certainly not always the case. But it's possible that this guy meant nothing to him, and that he loves you completely, and that he kept it a painful secret because he loves you too much to risk ruining things. Not guaranteed, not by a long shot, but for me that chance would be worth enough to ask him about it rather than ending it immediately.
posted by twirlypen at 11:08 PM on September 27, 2011

But I do value monogamy and feel like I should be the only person he gives his sexual energy to

Let him go. You guys are incompatible on an fundamental level.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:00 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dude, let it go.
posted by tonylord at 12:56 AM on September 28, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, I snooped the first time, about three months after I moved back from being abroad. Was it right? No. Did I take responsibility for it? Yes. I know I violated his trust as well, but I could tell something was not right with us sexually and there was emotional distance. I got suspicious. So, when I came over to his house at work one night he was asleep and his facebook messages were open.

Well, I found the sexual flirty messages with one of his old flames (not to mention a couple other "friends"), and a lot of emotional stuff with another guy - almost like a courtship. So, of course I freaked out and woke him up at 4am and was like, what the fuck is this? Anyways, that fight didn't end well but he eventually came back to me asking for me to forgive him and I was the most important thing in his life; saying that some of the things I read were taken out of context, but also that some of it was inappropriate. He promised never to do anything like that again, and that nothing physical had happened with anyone.

Well, that was the first incident. This last one was pretty much me checking out his old phone to see if I liked it. It was a piece of crap (earlier type of touch-screen phone) but I did see his old friend's name in the texts so of course I looked at what he had sent. And BOOM, super graphic sexts (this all happened when I was living abroad, remember, over a year ago).

So anyways, I feel like... I love this guy, but I'm starting to feel that distance again and whether it's a relationship lull or he's up to his old tricks, I have no way of knowing. We have moments, like last night, when we are cuddling in bed and he kisses me and tells me he loves me. Tells me he's going to miss me on his week long business trip (which he left for today), and asks me if I'm going to miss him. He's made plans for me to attend his besties wedding with him next month, and mentioned we need to get a better fan for his room for next summer, since I get so hot sleeping at nights. So it's not like I feel like he's going to break up with him tomorrow, but part of me wonders if I'm just a convenience for him, and he's putting the majority of his emotional and sexual energy into other people or places.

I have known for a long time that he's a porn addict. And I love my porn, don't get me wrong, but sometimes I don't think he wants sex because he's wanked the day before, or even earlier that day. But it's complicated. I work in a bar and get home at 3am usually, and he has an 8 to 5. So we get to see each other after his work maybe for two hours once a week, sometimes twice if we're lucky. Then we maybe have Saturday day time and Sunday to ourselves, if we aren't busy with work or other things. I think the sex part would be a lot easier for us if we had similar schedules.

Our relationship is good in a lot of ways, but his super social nature and flirty past and my latent trust issues make it so complicated sometimes. And I don't know how much of this is me being psycho boyfriend, and how much is my gut feeling telling me something's wrong. I've been looking into counseling at the gay and lesbian center near my neighborhood, so I think I might do that in the next week or so.

The responses I've read here have made me think a lot today about breaking up with him, and honestly... the idea of living without this paranoia is so attractive, but the thought of living without him is devastating. He's referred to me as his other half, recently, and I kind of feel the same way. He's the only person I've ever been with who I can vividly see a future with. I can see us living together, and having a place together, having kids and a dog and a life. And I want that so badly with him, but I think about living for the next 10 or 20 years with this awful suspicion and distrust festering inside me and it scares the living shit out of me. It's depressing.

He's mentioned us going to couples counseling, because he wants to make it work apparently. But part of me is like, how serious is he about that? Is he just saying that because he thinks it's what I want to hear? I actually wasn't as receptive to the idea when he first brought it up, because I saw it as a sign that our relationship was failing. But I have since then become really interested in the idea, and think it's a good idea. I've been trying to resolve all of this internally though, because I don't want to freak out on him and turn into pyscho boyfriend again. Sigh.

Part of me feels like this relationship is a lot harder because I am just not relaxing and letting it happen, and another part of me feels like I can't trust him. It sucks.
posted by yummywaffles at 1:51 AM on September 28, 2011

Best answer: Two things jump out at me, and neither is directly tied to questions of fidelity or the lack thereof.

First: You're spending a lot of time judging both him and yourself. Instead of trying to understand your boyfriend's and your own needs, and looking for healthy ways to get those needs met, you're trying to figure out whether he's a jerk, or whether perhaps you are being a jerk. Labeling someone as the jerk might seem appealing -- if he's the jerk then you can dump him and stop worrying (except that you might worry the same way about the next guy), and if you're the jerk then you can just ask yourself to relax and 'let things happen,' (as if this were realistic). I don't think the judgey approach is helping you here at all.

Second: You seem to think that when you've established that he's the jerk, the appropriate response is for you to 'rip him a new asshole.' In fact, ripping your loved one a new asshole is no way to nurture a relationship no matter what they've done. Flying off the handle is a good way to train other people to hide things from you instead of being open. Intimacy demands safety, and you're tossing safety under the bus every time you lose your shit. It also seems likely that tearing into him is a way of displacing your guilt over your own infidelity (which, BTW, you don't seem to have confessed to him).

Clearly this is not a perfect situation. The potential for infidelity is an emotional soft spot for you, and neither your boyfriend's personality (highly social, overtly sexy and flirty) nor the nature of your relationship (long distance), is reassuring. Your BF's personality is not going to change, so as long as you're super-sensitive about the possibility of being cheated on, you will not be able to relax and this relationship will be a source of pain and anxiety. On the bright side, it seems there's reason to think he might actually be a decent guy. The fact that he wants to go to counseling with you is a good sign. If you can accept that getting better is going to demand a lot of work on your part and not just be a matter of he-understands-how-he's-hurting-you-and-changes-his-ways, then I'd definitely suggest you give counseling (private and/or couple's) a serious try.

Secondary thoughts:

I know I shouldn't feel a certain way but it bubbles up and I can't control it.

Of course you can't control it. Feelings are not behaviors; that's why we prosecute people for committing murder, not for feeling murderous. Feelings just are. Surpressing them doesn't work. This is not a personal failing.

I actually wasn't as receptive to the idea when he first brought it up, because I saw it as a sign that our relationship was failing.

You do realize that you're just shooting the messenger, right?

posted by jon1270 at 4:07 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you do trust him, though you'd like to. It's a really hard thing to overcome, if you can, and really takes a lot of time. With time, and his continued and sustaining loyalty, attention and fidelity, you might be able to trust him again. Getting there is really hard, though, and every time you have to be apart for any length of time you'll feel nervous; this is already happening, as you said.

Your boyfriend has proven that he will seek out sexual attention elsewhere when you aren't around. He may have done this in the past because this is just the way he is and, at some point in the future, he will be tempted to do so again and possibly will do so again. He also may have done this because, at the time, he did not take your relationship with him as seriously as you did. You said that you both sort of agreed on monogamy, or at the very least, he knew that's what you wanted, and he quite clearly decided to disregard that. If he did this because he didn't feel the same way about the relationship then as he does now--well, that is horrible, but it does mean that he might not want to cheat on you again. This is what you need to figure out.

If he is someone who will continue to seek out other people, or if you simply can't get over what he's done, then you should just break up and let him know why. If you think he is taking the relationship seriously now and you think you can get over it, then I would really only bring up this cheating that you discovered if you want to calmly talk about it. I wouldn't bring it up to pick a fight or just to express anger; I really think that will only further damage your relationship. I do think it's okay to bring it up if you want to discuss it and discuss why he thinks this sort of thing isn't going to happen again, despite it happening in the past. If you have that conversation, you will want to do it when both of you are calm and have time to discuss it; you will need to be very calm and very clear that you aren't breaking up with him, you aren't starting a fight, that you would just like to talk about this. If he gets defensive and you end up feeling worse, it might be time to break up.

(And as far as your hypocrisy goes--yes, you do need to behave the way you expect others to treat you in a relationship and it's not really fair to expect fidelity when you aren't providing it. I don't think this means that you then need to automatically turn a blind eye to your partner's infidelity, though. Your indiscretions and your partner's also do not sound equivalent.)
posted by Polychrome at 5:09 AM on September 28, 2011

Also, you will bring you and your issues into this and any future relationship. I DO suggest working on that.

However, again, i'm picturing you as this 1950's housewife working at home while your slightly alcoholic husband goes to the playboy club. again.
posted by Jacen at 6:12 AM on September 28, 2011

We can't answer this accurately. It's not abuse or anything worth calling the cops over, but for some people it's a deal breaker. That's the thing, though - for some it's a deal breaker, for some it isn't.

This is a very personal choice. I think you should try and figure out why you're asking us to give you an answer that's going to affect your life in a huge way.

FWIW, I think some people cheat for the thrill of possibly being caught, but getting away with it in the end. There's also the attraction that comes with "new/temporary" relationships, versus the steady commitment needed for long term relationships. Maybe he's really enjoying the fact that he knew you would be coming home, and that any interaction with the old flame would be short lived. Or, maybe he had a moment of weakness while the person he loves miles and miles away.

It's a difficult decision to make. Good luck.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 8:41 AM on September 28, 2011

He handed you his phone. To me, that says he's not worried about what you will find.

And he volunteered to go to couples counseling.

I can't tell you that you should trust him again or that you should continue your relationship, but two me these are two signs that he is committed.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:24 AM on September 28, 2011

This would be a dealbreaker for me. You had an agreement. Agreements can be re-negotiated, but they shouldn't be broken.
posted by jander03 at 10:48 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did you tell him about your slipup? My answer would be different in each case.
posted by ersatz at 8:31 AM on September 29, 2011

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