I cheated on my girlfriend, should I tell her?
October 16, 2005 5:34 AM   Subscribe

I just cheated on my girlfriend and have no idea what I should do.

My girlfriend and I have had an extremely short (just a matter of weeks) yet very intense relationship. I love her dearly. I was married in the past (am now nearly through with my divorce), and I've never before cheated on anyone. In fact, I left my (soon-to-be) ex-wife because she had cheated on me. I've had plenty of relationships since my divorce and know, without a doubt, that my girlfriend is the woman for me. She feels just as strongly about me.

I was visiting another city on business and an ex-girlfriend that lived a few hours away drove down to visit me. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, I knew my girlfriend would be devastated, and I knew that if she found out it would mean the end of our relationship.

Please... please! I know I'm a jerk, an asshole, and several (many) other horrible things. I know if I tell her, it would mean the end of our relationship -- and frankly, I believe I would deserve that. I'm wracked with guilt. I would never do this again. But I know that those words would likely be meaningless to her (like me, her ex- had cheated on her.)

I'm absolutely torn about what to do. Should I tell her about this? I feel like it's the right thing to do: tell her, and deal with the consequences of my actions. Or should I just focus on making our budding relationship the best that it possibly can be? The idea of hurting her has me in tears... not because she'd leave me (she would), but because I can't bear the thought of how much I would hurt her.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (64 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
i don't think you should tell her ... i do think you should ask yourself if your anger with your ex caused you to slip and whether you're really ready for a relationship at this point

i might point out that being still technically married, you have in fact, been cheating all along ... i'm not being judgemental ... but you might ask yourself if unresolved issues with what your ex did are causing you to act in ways that could subvert your current relationship ... i don't think you're a jerk or an asshole ... i do think you're confused
posted by pyramid termite at 5:45 AM on October 16, 2005

The common suggestion to stuff like this is to get it all out in the open quickly to avoid future trouble. The problem is, you say you've only been with your girlfriend for a handful of weeks.. and that's still the "first impressions" phase. That's the phase when "love" is really limerance rather than true, lasting and forgiving "love", and unless she's extremely open minded, she will not like this one bit.

I think you need to seek solice in your own mind. Did you deliberately get with the ex-girlfriend in order to hurt your new girlfriend? Are you really far enough into the new relationship that you'd need to feel so guilty?

I think you need to punish yourself and then move on with this new woman so that true love can blossom unharmed.
posted by wackybrit at 5:49 AM on October 16, 2005

Do your new girlfriend the service of getting tested for STD's. Seriously.

What good can come from telling her? It would only be you continuing a pattern of selfishness. Your desire/need to be forgiven has no bearing. Stop hurting people.

Eat it.


Remember this feeling should you be tempted again.

Remember 25597 and come back to read how you felt immediately afterward.

A similar situation was presented here in the not that distant past, probably from user anonymous, and there was some great advice in that thread.
posted by geekyguy at 6:18 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Telling her would do nothing for her. If you love her let it go and just know that you fucked up.

Hey, anonymous. Geekyguy is right. You sure run into a lot of similar situations.
posted by bigmusic at 6:28 AM on October 16, 2005

Don't tell her. She will neverf find out anyway.
posted by danielpcummings at 6:36 AM on October 16, 2005

I would never do this again. But I know that those words would likely be meaningless to her (like me, her ex- had cheated on her.)

I think that you need to look at why you cheated on her. If, as you say, you know that this would really hurt her, and did it anyway - as a matter of fact, you had plenty of time to prevent it from happening since your ex had some travel time - then you need to really examine what's going on in your head. I have always viewed this kind of temptation as a good test of how much I care for somebody, especially at the beginning of a relationship when the bonds of loyalty and fidelity aren't as strong as they might become in just a few months time. You say you really love her and that she's the woman for you, yet, just a few weeks in to this wonderful relationship, there have been fidelity issues.

The way I always approach these things is to reverse the roles: how would I feel if I had been cheated on in these circumstances? If I had not been told and found out months or years later, I would be just as devastated, though for different reasons, as when it originally happened. It would be an unhealable rift. So you also have to decide if you're the kind of person who can withhold a piece of information that would completely affect how your girlfriend perceives you.

Maybe you should cool it down with your girlfriend and take some time for yourself to examine what you want, what your needs are, how you feel about yourself, your girlfriend, your ex, women in general, relationships and so on. I think that this would be the fairest thing, both to you and her.

No matter what happens, I wish you luck. I hope things work out for you both.
posted by ashbury at 6:42 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

I feel the need to dissent from what appears to be the "don't tell her" consensus.

The question is whether you had reached some sort of implicit or explicit understanding with your current girlfriend. From how much you think telling her would hurt her, it looks like you have.

But the consequence of that is not that you get to keep secrets from her, on the contrary, it is what creates your obligation to tell her. Trying to found a loving relationship on a major lie is not a wise move.
posted by willbaude at 6:59 AM on October 16, 2005

Don't do "what's right." Figure out what will cause your girlfriend the least amount of pain and do that. Anything else is self-serving. (By the way, I don't think you're a bad person. I think you did a bad thing. And there's a big difference. All good people do bad things, because no one is perfect. You screwed up. That's all. Your responsibility now is to minimize the pain your screwup will cause other people.)

Here's the problem. Your goal shouldn't be to eliminate her pain the the short term. You goal should be to minimize the amount of pain she's likely to have in the short OR long term. She will be in tons of pain if you're honest with her. But she will (if she's like most of us) be in much worse pain if you lie and, sometime later, she learns the truth. Then she'll have to face the fact that you both cheated on her AND lied to her.

But I'm not advocating honesty. Maybe she'll never find out. If you could know that for sure (you'd need magic powers), I'd DEFINITELY advise not telling her. That would cause her the least amount of pain. (What she doesn't know won't hurt her.) But I disagree with danielpcummings, who claims that "she will never find out." People ALWAYS think this and they're often shocked to discover how much people DO find out.

It's VERY hard to keep a secret from a loved one (as you're already discovering), so your guilt might force you to slip up and tell her. Even if you're strong and resist, she might find out some other way, i.e. from the ex-girlfriend. Even if the ex is reliable, she will probably tell SOMEBODY (most of us confess), and that somebody might tell somebody else, etc. Kevin Bacon has taught us that supposedly isolated social circles DO often, surprisingly connect. Maybe you'll marry your gf and the secret will stay secret for 20 years. But if it comes out THEN, it will seem like a HUGE betrayal -- a secret you've hidden from her for 20 years.

So here's what I'd do. Write her a letter dated today. In the letter, explain EVERYTHING: how the cheating happened, how you feel about it, how you feel about your gf, how you've struggled about what to do -- hell, you could even print this thread out and include it.

Don't give her the letter. Put it in a safe-deposit box or an encrypted computer file. IF she ever finds out, give it to her then.

I know this seems odd and sort of cloak-and-dagger, but I'm trying to put myself in her shoes and think about what I'd want. First, I'd want not-to-know if it's REALLY a secret that can be kept to the grave. But if I ever DID find out, I'd want to know all the details and I'd gain a lot of solace from the fact that you were thinking of me at the time.
posted by grumblebee at 7:07 AM on October 16, 2005

I cheated once on the one person I've ever really been in love with. I waited months to tell him, and those were some of the worst months of my life. He, understandably, had a difficult time dealing with this news, but in the end he thanked me for telling him and caring for him enough to be honest with him. That said, I think it takes a certain kind of person to be able to deal with a situation like this (being cheated on) with the strength that is necessary. It sounds like telling your girlfriend would mean the end of things, but perhaps only for now. She will hurt and angry, but those are feelings that can be worked through.

You write that you are wracked with guilt. If you are anything like me you will always feel guilty, but keeping that inside without being honest with her can produce some serious damage not only for you but also for your relationship (the one you tried to save by not telling her). I find it hard to believe that you will be able to go on acting as if nothing happened, at least to the point where she wouldn't pick up on it. Even if you are a good actor, at some point she will see through it, and there is no amount of "Oh, its nothing" that will truly convince someone you supposedly have a strong connection with that something isn't amiss.

Staying with her without telling her will be living a lie for you both. Its true that it is selfish to want to tell the person, to get it out and relieve the burden a little. But I also think its cruel to lie by not telling her, because chances are that some day she will find out, whether you tell her or not, and she will be more hurt then than now. Yes, finding out now opposed to later would produce different kinds of pain, but as a woman I believe the latter is far worse. Respect her enough to be honest with her. If you are lucky she will forgive you, and if not, at least you have shown enough integrity that you will eventually be able to move on. It is the most difficult thing to see how your actions can crush another human being, but you've done what you've done and its your turn to be an adult and deal with the consequences. This might just sound like stock advice to some, but having been in this situation myself this is a topic that I have ruminated over for years. I know I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't told him, and I wish I had told him sooner so as to save him the months of pain he spent wondering what was really wrong.

Show yourself and your girlfriend that you possess enough integrity to be honest, and that you have the strength to deal with the consequences of your decisions. Take time by yourself to work through your guilt, think about why this happened and what is going on with you that you allowed yourself to do this, and forgive yourself.
posted by liverbisque at 7:31 AM on October 16, 2005

Be a man, tell her and face the consequences.

If you don't tell her you are effectively lying and deceiving. Doesn't seem very loving to me.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:35 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

> My girlfriend and I have had an extremely short (just a matter of weeks) yet very intense relationship. I love her dearly...I've had plenty of relationships since my divorce and know, without a doubt, that my girlfriend is the woman for me.

Couple of things here - you are in the first few weeks of a relationship with this woman. What have you promised her, if anything - did you promise her to be monogamous? Are you at the exclusive stage of your relationship yet (umm, by word - not by deed).

Because if you haven't promised anything... you haven't broken any promises. And, all I see here is a relationship still in early stages. You are infatuated with her, and she tells you that you are the man for her... but it's very early stage, and temptations are evidently hard to resist.

And by your deed you've just shown to yourself that maybe she's NOT the woman for you. Not because of her, because of you.

The other thing that confuses me is your statement that your divorce is not over, and yet you've had 'plenty of relationships since the divorce' Were they short? Intense? How did they end? Why?

I've never before cheated on anyone. In fact, I left my (soon-to-be) ex-wife because she had cheated on me.

I think that this question is not about what you tell HER. It's what you tell yourself. I think that you need to stand back, review your marriage, think about where you want to go next in ALL of your relationships, get a counsellor, talk it out, then explore what you want of a relationship - and honestly assess what you can offer.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:51 AM on October 16, 2005

I'd recommend the 'don't tell her' route if you're SURE she's the one and if you're SURE you didn't catch any STDs and if you're SURE you didn't make a baby anonymous with your ex-girlfriend and if you're SURE it's not going to happen again.

You don't really address why you let it happen even though you knew it was wrong, so you might want to work through that and try to determine how to prevent it in the future.
posted by kimota at 8:00 AM on October 16, 2005

I continue to be baffled by the notion that being sure she's the one implies not telling her. I would have thoguht that the more you loved somebody the more you owed it to them to tell them the truth even when at sacrifice to yourself.
posted by willbaude at 8:08 AM on October 16, 2005

I feel like it's the right thing to do: tell her, and deal with the consequences of my actions.
Why do people always think the consequences of their mistakes require involving the rest of the world? Y'know that part where you describe being racked with guilt, where you confess to feeling absolutely torn and losing the stability you felt last week? That's the consequence of your actions. Live with it, pal.
posted by cribcage at 8:11 AM on October 16, 2005

Here is the other thread I alluded to where skylar offers this advice:

Think of the guilt as a seat-belt for your soul. It's your brain's way of telling you not to cheat again. It's reminding you that the fun of being unfaithful is not worth the hassle of deceiving someone.

Offloading the guilt - and the pain - onto your wife would absolutely be the wrong thing to do. It's your burden to bear, and it's there for good reason. Don't rid yourself of the guilt; just learn to respect it.

posted by geekyguy at 8:16 AM on October 16, 2005

Trying to found a loving relationship on a major lie is not a wise move.

Just to clarify, he's not trying to found a relationship on a lie. I mean, that's silly. Founding a relationship on a lie would be like marrying someone of the opposite sex when you're gay. See, the foundation is a lie in that case. This relationship has already been founded.

Oh, and my vote? Shut up, suck it up, and suffer. You don't get that many good opportunities at happiness in this world.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:19 AM on October 16, 2005

Do your new girlfriend the service of getting tested for STD's.
posted by geekyguy at 6:18 AM PST on October 16

posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:29 AM on October 16, 2005

Dude, You are just super guilty of being impulsive with both women. That's the issue to me and your main problem here.

Stop with the "She's my SOULMATE" crap.
Three weeks?!? C'mon, have you slept together yet?

At some point obviously you and the ex broke up.
Either you dumped her because she annoyed you, bored you or just wasn't worth the effort to stay on with.
Why you would want to go back to that for one night?
I've gone back and hooked up with ex'es in the past for old times sake but it was because I was lonely and horny.
But if my "soulmate" was waiting back home I wouldn't bother.

On the other hand if she dumped you and moved on, why would you play hide the pickle with someone who hurt you like that and get sucked in again?

I could even excuse meeting someone new on the road and falling for that as I can see the rush and excitement in those situations.

For most folks being in love means that type of stuff shouldn't happen. I can even see a stolen kiss or quick hook up where literally a few minutes pass. But you had a few hours to rethink this before you got it on. It goes back to impulsiveness, are you possibly a sex addict or have deep issues of this sort?

Like I said I think you are waayy too early to be torturing yourself over the 24 day "love" of your life. I think she deserves not to be f*cked with by you and these types of shenanigans. And until you sort out the nutty drama you have wrought upon yourself. I would cool it with the "you are the love of my life, you are the one talk" and having sex with her until you are really ready for love, commitment and all that stuff that one would expect from a monogamous couple in love that are in it for the long haul.

Just my 2 cents. It's so easy to be a problem solver behind a keyboard and a hot cup of coffee on a sunday morning.
posted by stavx at 8:40 AM on October 16, 2005

What Civil Disobedient says. Speaking as a representative of Asshole Males of East Europe, you have cheated on your girlfriend and gotten away with it. You will not speak about this in your sleep. You will not get all blubbery and sorry about it while blind drunk at Christmas. You will not tell your male buddies. You did what gazillions of other males (and females) do all the time, except you got away with it. Be happy you didn't really fuck things up for either woman. You may feel guilty that you are like 75% of all the other worthless males in the world, or you may feel smug that you are in the 5% that had a weekend fling and got away without getting into deep hot water.

You also now have earned a much deeper insight into the music of Robert Johnson and Charlie Paton.
posted by zaelic at 8:52 AM on October 16, 2005

posted by klangklangston at 9:04 AM on October 16, 2005

Tell her, because having more and more accurate information is axiomatically better than not.

Don't worry about how much it will hurt her, because it won't be nearly as bad as you think. Really: you're not all that. You're not her Prince Charming, here to save her from whatever. You're not her One True Love. You're not her destiny. It's not going to end her world or even seriously mess it up if her boyfriend of three weeks cheated on her, unless she's so seriously ill that she really ought to be institutionalized.

She'll be pissed off at you and herself for a couple weeks, move on, and find someone else. Or shout at you about how you must never do that again and come back to you. Either way, get over yourself and tell her so that if cheating really is completely unacceptable to her she can dump you and get on with her life.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:13 AM on October 16, 2005

You had no problem figuring out what to do before you cheated on her so why are you having a hard time afterwards?

If you truly "love her" like you say you do, have the decency to hide it from her. Telling her will only hurt her and you'd just be doing it to alleviate your own guilt.
posted by eatcake at 9:13 AM on October 16, 2005

One more thing.

"I feel like it's the right thing to do: tell her, and deal with the consequences of my actions."

There are many ways of "dealing the consequences of your actions." One way is to tell the truth, break her heart, ruin your relationship, get the guilt monkey off your shoulder, and move on with your sad life.

Another is to not tell the truth, not break her heart, not ruin your relationship, but keep the guilt monkey. Every new day of your relationship with her thus becomes a testament to your ability to cope with the internal pain for the greater good of her happiness.

If you really want to be all Camus here, know that suffering without resolution is a far harder choice to make, and worse, you'll have to keep making it for the rest of your lives together.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:28 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

First few weeks? Eh, I'll throw my lot in with Zaelic. These things happen.
posted by johngoren at 9:32 AM on October 16, 2005


I can't believe what I'm reading.

You have to tell her. It is, quite simply, the manly thing to do.
I know, most people have cheated, etc... men and their libidos etc... but fuck that, a man of honor would tell her, speak his heart, and take his lumps.
You wanna feel guilty throughout the whole relationship, go ahead, but it's a bullshit way to start something you think has real potential.

Look, it's not about the sex, it's never about the sex. IF you tell her, and you're honest about the reasons, and your connection to her is suitably strong, it might be salvageable. Wouldn't you rather have that be the outcome? If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, don't you want to look down and know you had done the right thing?

My wife and I just discussed this (our beginning was VEERY intense) and concluded that if I had screwed up in this way, we would have gotten throught it.

Tell her, tell her tell her.

"If he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things"-- Raymond Chandler
posted by asavage at 9:49 AM on October 16, 2005 [4 favorites]

A few starters: I've only read your question, not the replies. This is my first post to metafilter. Asavage is my husband. So you may have figured by now, if you read all the domestic-y posts, I'm the one with the problem keeping the kittylitter box clean. These things true, take what I say with those grains: I think you gotta tell your new girlfriend (NG) and fasten your seat belt. The fact that you're not yet through your divorce shouldn't be ignored, not as an excuse, but rather for its cause and for its potential relationship to what your NG may be going through in her falling for you (a deep connection with you who she sees as the stand-up guy leaving a cheater... her also having been through a cheating expedition from base camp, etc.). I say that just as offerings of ways to think about this as you struggle. All THAT said, I don't think you should struggle long. I'd tell her. I'd tell straight-up, face-to-face, no flowers, no drinks--just tell her. Tell her too exactly what you've said here. That you knew it was wrong and you knew it AS you did it. BUT tell her when you can also tell her what was going through your head at the time (should she still be listening to you by then, should you not have a glass of water in your face by then). And do that because in doing it, you may learn something about yourself. Are you weak in the knees and on your knees for a pair of great legs? Were you buzzed and flirty and easily not thinking of NG while doing this with XG? For NG to keep falling for you, she needs to see you as you are. Not as you want to be. When we really fall, for our true peer, it's cause we really see them and are seen, methinks. So, figure out who you are and show it. Yes, she might bail. She might not. It's early in your relationship--I know people fall fast, but a few weeks doesn't = deep love, though it certainly can lead to that and you certainly can "know" it that early. But this early is also the deep enthrall, the giddy time, and hell, your having slept with XG might tell you something about what the "love" is that you're feeling for NG. It might not be as rich and clean and "the one" as you think. For what it's worth, I would have stayed with my husband if he'd slept with and XG in the first few weeks of our relationship, and we both were very clear with each other how intense the beginning was for us (same, fast, clear early on, etc.). I still think I would have stayed around, believed him that it was a one off and known that it pointed to something about him I wanted to know. Sure, he would have had a black eye, but I love and loved him, and would have trusted his honesty. I think. Bon Chance.
posted by seaward at 10:07 AM on October 16, 2005 [2 favorites]

a man of honor would tell her, speak his heart, and take his lumps.

My short take: A-fucking-men.

My longer take: as a woman who's been in two very significant relationships that started off just as quickly/intensely as the one you're in now, I think you have to tell her. Not for your fucking sake -- I've not got a lot of sympathy for you, pal -- but for hers. It's early in the relationship, and I think she has the right to make the choice whether or not to move forward with you based on knowing as much of who you are as possible. She's got no significant time invested in you; there's (obviously) no real history between you, no property, no kids, no shared dreams or commitments. The story of this relationship has yet to be written.

Which is why she very well might stay with you. It's early -- you've made a mistake and you're willing to be honest with her (even though it's the riskier move) because you respect her enough to allow her the truth to make her own decisions about this.* Your cheating might certainly be a deal-breaker. But it also might be a way for both of you to consider just how deeply you do feel about each other -- and therefore how willing (and able) you are to go through an enormous challenge like this together. Something (besides horniness) compelled you to sleep with your ex, even as you are falling in love with your girlfriend. What was it? Fear? Spite? Arrogance? Grief? I can't tell you -- and you probably can't say right now. But perhaps you and your girlfriend can figure it out. Perhaps you can grow together through this puzzling, difficult, painful episode. I really believe that it's early enough in the relationship that the very lack of investment she's got in you may possibly work in your favor.

She may also decide that you're not worth the risk, get pissed, and move on. Which, to my mind, is an equally fair prospect and legitimate decision. As asavage says, be a man and take your lumps.

*Sidenote for everyone saying "don't tell her": She's a grown woman, for god's sake -- an adult! All of you advocating that Anon's cheating should be hidden from her to spare her pain are treating her like a goddamn child. Yes, it's going to cause her pain! She has to cope with that! This relationship -- if it is to proceed -- will have plenty of ups and downs, moments of pain and hardship, etc. Would you "spare her" all of them? Of course not -- that's absurd. So why spare her this? It's the goddamn truth that her seeming soulmate just slept with his ex. That's a significant truth about his behavior. His reaction (guilt, remorse, etc.) is also a significant truth about his behavior. She must be allowed to make a decision about pursuing this relationship based on the truth. Anything less than that is incredibly disrespectful.
posted by scody at 10:31 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you were in a longterm, stable, relationship and were sure that this was a one-time screwup, then I would say don't tell because the costs and the benefits don't add up. But I agree with stavx that the problem here is your impulsivity with both women. You need to slow down, now, before you hurt someone else (and yourself). I'd advise breaking up with the girlfriend -- and I think there's a good case to be made for telling the truth, because that way she'll be less confused about what's going on.
posted by footnote at 10:37 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

a man of honor would tell her

Huh? Doesn't "honor" have to do with one's social contract with OTHER people? We HONOR other people. We are honorable IF we do right by OTHER people.

Is it honorable to hurt someone (just so you can do the "manly" thing)?

Maybe you SHOULD tell her. Maybe you shouldn't. But doesn't that depend on the individual involved (i.e. the specifics of anon's gf's personality). Person A might want to know the truth at any cost. Person B might prefer to be kept in the dark, if doing so meant less pain.

Early on, my wife and I ALSO had the "I'm not going to cheat, but if I did, would you want to know about it" conversation. We both agreed that we would want to know (and that we'd try hard to forgive each other). But what if my wife had said, "I'd rather you not tell me." Would it STILL be honorable to tell her?

Truthfully, although I said, "I'd like to know," the older I get, the less sure I am of this. I'm starting to veer towards "please don't tell me." I'd rather be spared the pain. So, if my wife had an affair should she be "honorable" and tell me anyway?
posted by grumblebee at 10:45 AM on October 16, 2005

All of you advocating that Anon's cheating should be hidden from her to spare her pain are treating her like a goddamn child.

So you ALWAYS tell all adults the truth, no matter the circumstances, no matter how painful? In general, I'm very in favor of truthfullness, but I think personal politics is more complex than that.
posted by grumblebee at 10:47 AM on October 16, 2005

Aside from the fact that you did something that you already knew had hurt this girl in the past, you've been with her a matter of weeks.

If you can do one of the things that you're sure will hurt her most, within weeks of being with her, do you really think this will last?

You owe it to her to get at least yourself tested for STDs. If you come up positive, it's over. You tell her everything, and just hope the experience leaves you a better person.

There is no easy answer. You could break it off, trying to hurt her as little as possible. You could tell her the truth, hurting her outright. You could lie, and just hope she never found the truth out.

Personally, I would tell her the truth regardless of what may happen. If she breaks it off with you, tough. You say this is the woman you love, someone you know you can be with forever. If you can tell her the truth, and she can forgive you, and you learn from this ordeal, there might be something real there. If not, it's on your conscience, and all you can do is hope you do better next time around.
posted by Saydur at 10:50 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Honor is like religion: Its value is in leading elsewhere; but people get focused on the means rather than the end and bad things happen. A point of wisdom comes when you realize that honor should serve as a ladder toward integrity.
posted by cribcage at 11:00 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm baffled by your post, cribcage, but maybe it's because I'm an atheist.

I can't imagine doing something because "it's value is in leading elsewhere" unless I knew the location of "elsewhere." Elsewhere could lead to the bottom of a cliff.

I have simpler goal in life -- I want to cause as little pain as possible to my friends and myself. I'd like to do this, and, at the same time build "a ladder toward integrity." And I'd like to always be truthful. But if I must choose between being truthful and being kind, I'll be kind.

What if anon's gf got horribly disfigured in an accident and then asked him, "Do you still think I'm beautiful?" Should he say, "No, I don't" because it's the truth? Would that show that he is honorable and has integrity?

If you think I'm in favor of me saying, "yes, you're still beautiful," then you're missing my point. MAYBE he should be truthful and maybe he shouldn't. People are complicated. Each person is different. You need to study people and learn their individual qualities before making decisions like this. You can't just fall back on rules.
posted by grumblebee at 11:08 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

grumblebee: So you ALWAYS tell all adults the truth, no matter the circumstances, no matter how painful? In general, I'm very in favor of truthfullness, but I think personal politics is more complex than that.

If the truth (or its absence) will have an inescapable impact on major choices the other person will make (e.g., moving ahead with a new relationship or not), YES.

Sure, there are plenty of white lies, ommisions, etc. that don't fall into that category, and then of course I think there are balancing acts when you weigh hurting someone, the need for people to learn some things by themselves, etc. But in a situation like this, in which The Truth has significant implications for a major life decision, then yes, honesty trumps "personal politics."

I've had the experience of not having been honest before in similarly significant situations (ostensibly to spare the other person's feelings), as well as having been lied to myself (ostensibly in the service of having my feelings spared), and I deeply regret my own lying as well as resent the lying that was done to me. (I also just witnessed a friend discover her own husband's infidelity via their cell phone bill, and she also said she'd rather have been given the respect to be told he'd fallen in love with someone else. As she put it: "He didn't just cheat on me -- he had to lie to me too?")

posted by scody at 11:08 AM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

scrody, just so we're totally clear on each other's views, can you answer this question? (Thanks.)

If we were married and I TOLD you I'd rather not know about an affair, would you still tell me? It sounds like you would -- like you'd tell me because "the truth (or its absence) will have an inescapable impact on major choices" I might make.

You'd be telling me for my own good. Which is something we do with children. We (sometimes) ignore their desires and do things "for their own good." So if you treated me like this, you'd be treating me as a child.

I'm not sure this applies to anon. Only anon's gf knows (if even SHE does) whether or not she'd rather be left in the dark. Which is why I suggested anon needs to use all his person-reading skills in making a decision.
posted by grumblebee at 11:19 AM on October 16, 2005

I guess my answer was flip. My gut response is that this girl may be in some sort of harmful cycle of dating flamboyantly emotional cheaters. The manly thing would be to either fess up, or come to terms with being a philanderer; there's nothing worse than the philanderer who keeps rending his garments about the pain of philandering.

God, humanity sucks.
posted by johngoren at 11:31 AM on October 16, 2005

If you don't tell her, you will need to wall off a part of your heart where that secret lies.

That walled-off section will grow. Your heart and hers will know it's there, but your conscious decision to ignore reality will create all sorts of other problems in your relationship. They'll seem unrelated because you decided to trade what's real for what is -- at least at first -- easier.

Your daily life will express the lie you're living. It'll drain your spirit. It'll drain your health.

Reality refuses to be ignored. Humans know more than they are told in words.

You made a choice. Now own it. Out loud.

You deserve that freedom.
posted by Moistener at 11:37 AM on October 16, 2005

Sorry, grumblebee, I don't feel like getting into a debate about hypotheticals and terminology with you -- in small part because I'm just not in the mood, and in large part because the purpose of this thread isn't about you and me being "totally clear on each other's views" -- it's for all of us to provide our own responses (varied or imperfect as they may be) to Anon's questions. To keep up our side of the discussion is to derail the thread into some abstract discussion of truth-telling and relationships and what constitutes treating other people like adults, and this just isn't the place. (I'm also just not particularly interested in entering into that conversation in general.) Besides, as far as I'm concerned, I did answer your question. :)

Yes, Anon's gf may really prefer to be "left in the dark" and there's no way for any of us to know that. There's no way for any of us to know many, many things about this situation that may have a signifcant impact on Anon's ultimate decision. That's the imperfect nature of the AskMe medium. No one -- not you, not me, nobody -- can supply an answer that's so perfectly parsed linguistically and philosophically as to apply to all possible situations.

Again, this isn't the forum for this particular discussion, so I'd prefer not to derail further.
posted by scody at 11:38 AM on October 16, 2005

What scody said.

Another is to not tell the truth, not break her heart, not ruin your relationship, but keep the guilt monkey. Every new day of your relationship with her thus becomes a testament to your ability to cope with the internal pain for the greater good of her happiness.

If you really want to be all Camus here, know that suffering without resolution is a far harder choice to make, and worse, you'll have to keep making it for the rest of your lives together

I see what you're saying, but if the effects are really as you describe them then it seems to me that she would indirectly feel these effects (and not know why) which doesn't sound like it would be a very good relationship both for him and her.
posted by Stauf at 11:52 AM on October 16, 2005

Be a man and tell her. If you'd lie to her about cheating, you'd do it again. Chances are, you'd do it again anyways, though.
posted by mhuckaba at 12:06 PM on October 16, 2005

Like many others, I've read a smattering of the replies, not all.

With that being said:
don't tell her

Also, take a month time out. At least a week or two.

Personally, I think that any divorce should immediately cause:
three months of paid time off from work. You're a disaster there right now anyway. Even if "work holds you together"
A year off from dating. Not from your seperation. From the moment you sign the papers. You're a mess - and probably transferring your emotional loss to the new GF in lieu of real feelings.

So, Why did you do this anyway?
Freedom? Opportunity? Emoitonal need? Road less traveled?

If this was a one time bye, you felt anguish and need to feel like you weren't jumping from one commited relationship to the next...then fine. Go on with your life.

But if you think you might do it again, everything being equal, then you're not just a good person who did a bad thing...you're looking for validation...and you need help.

Don't tell her...just tell her, you like her tons, and it's moving a bit fast. You're in lust with the potential of love. Tell her you really want something big, but are still trying to straighten out your feelings from your divorce. That you shouldn't spend every last minute with her, that you're not rejecting her, and that you're not seeing anyone else - you just want the waters to settle a bit more.

Ask yourself if you want to be in something long term right now too.
posted by filmgeek at 12:30 PM on October 16, 2005

So you ALWAYS tell all adults the truth, no matter the circumstances, no matter how painful?

No, but you should, at least when you're talking about your own self. Telling someone their funny-looking kid is cute? Okay. Hiding that you're a cheater, or that you have cancer, or that you're a problem gambler? Not cool.

If we were married and I TOLD you I'd rather not know about an affair, would you still tell me? ... You'd be telling me for my own good. Which is something we do with children.

If you would prefer that other people shield you from unpleasant truths by telling you the lies you wish were true, then you would actually be a child.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:30 PM on October 16, 2005

scrody, I respect your desire (a) not to continue discussing this will me and (b) not to derail. For the record, I wasn't trying to derail. I think the nuance of this point is vital for anon's decision.

When deciding how to treat another person, one will often fail if one follows simple rules, like "always tell the truth." We MUST do this with strangers, because we know nothing about them. We shouldn't do this with people we know.
posted by grumblebee at 12:39 PM on October 16, 2005

Thing is, I didn't say "always tell the truth" as some sort of monolithic rule for all behavior under all circumstaces (nor did anyone else in the thread, far as I can tell), as you will see if you read my responses again -- so trying to pick apart that point is engaging in a sort of phantom debate. Also, not to be picky, but it's "scody," not "scrody." Thanks.
posted by scody at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2005

Don't tell her. Break up with her and figure out what you really want from life.
posted by bigbigdog at 1:15 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Don't tell her. And for god's sakes, don't tell her and then break up with her. She probably already has trouble trusting men and that would be a really nasty way to fuck with her head.
Stay with her only if you're really sure that this action wasn't really a sign of something deeper in you that you need to work out. Sometimes people do stupid things early in relationships because they feel insecure or scared of what's going on or whatever, and that doesn't necessarily mean the relationship is doomed. But given that you're going through a divorce right now, it sounds highly likely that you need to work through some things before getting attached again.
posted by ch1x0r at 1:30 PM on October 16, 2005

The other thread isn't applicable because you're not married to this woman and you haven't built a life with her. In the other thread I recommended not telling, to you I recommend telling. This isn't about the "unbearable" pain of "living a lie." That's bullshit. The simple truth is, at this point, telling her would be the best thing for her. It's completely unfair to try and build a long-term relationship with this woman while holding back such important secrets. If you really think you've got a future with her, then you can't hold back--you've got to let her know and trust her to decide. By not telling her, you've squarely entered the realm of deception.

There's a reason you did this. More than likely, the relationship was moving too fast and you felt the need to do something drastic to slow it down. Respect that. Tell her and take a few weeks to figure out what you want to do next.
posted by nixerman at 1:36 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

From what I read of your post this wasn't some totally impulsive thing you did (i.e., accidental meeting in some bar, getting drunk etc.) You contacted your ex to tell her you're in this city on business and you had her meet up with you ---in fact she drove for "hours" for this rendezvous. So are you quite sure she won't want another meeting?Does she email you? What is stopping her from contacting your gf someday and spilling the beans?

All the posters here made valid points but as noted, the ex gf is part of this too. And yeah, you should get tested for STDs.
posted by clon7 at 1:52 PM on October 16, 2005

scody, very sorry about the name screwup!

I won't belabor my point beyond this note, but I DO think I'm saying something qualitatively different from you (and some of the other posters here). If I understand you rightly, you're saying, "while there may be exceptions, a good general rule in these situations is to be honest." I disagree with that. I don't think there is a good general rule. I think anon needs to think deeply about the specifics of his gr's personality and make his decision based on that.

posted by grumblebee at 2:43 PM on October 16, 2005

fair enough... and no worries about the typo, gumblebree! ;)
posted by scody at 3:09 PM on October 16, 2005

I agree with zaelic: this is normal human behavior, we're not perfect, and if you're serious about "I would never do this again" then go ahead with the relationship (which may die a natural death for other reasons eventually) and let your guilt serve to warn you against further failings. I've been there, done that, learned the lesson. I think the truthtelling faction here is vastly overstating the possibility of living a perfect life.
posted by languagehat at 3:16 PM on October 16, 2005 [2 favorites]

Sometimes, it's easy to avoid doing what's necessary by professing concern for other people's well-being or happiness. Pain is part of life, it's a feeling, it's part of human relationships. It cannot be avoided, but dishonesty can be. I think being honest is better than not.

Also, your self-abuse is puzzling; you say you know you're a jerk, that you knew what you were doing was wrong, and so on, so why did you do it? Honestly, if this woman meant so much to you and you to her, why would you endanger that relationship with such a full understanding of the implications? Don't duck these questions, don't ascribe your behavior to a momentary lapse in judgment. You're a grown man.

You say you deserve to have this relationship ended. Is that what you want? Perhaps you just want to be in a position to throw something valuable away? I don't mean to derail, but I think a better understanding of your actual motivations will answer your question.
posted by clockzero at 3:28 PM on October 16, 2005 [3 favorites]

Question is, why did we give 5 times as much attention to this guy as to the lovelorn dude yesterday...who didn't cheat on anyone?
posted by johngoren at 4:55 PM on October 16, 2005

I'm with zaelic and languagehat. Go read the recent question about people working for the CIA if you're not clear on the feasibility on living your life with parts of your self that you don't share with others.
posted by Triode at 5:14 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Honesty in this case has one specific meaning: pain and separation. The noble, idealist honesty alluded to in the comments still distills down to just this. You won’t be absolved of anything. You won’t be satisfied. You won’t feel elated for having increased the quotient of truth in the world. You’ll just be painfully alone, and you will have lost something special.

If you can be reasonably sure she won’t find out, and you can cope with the emotional wake of your actions, don’t be an honest fool. Relationships like this are very rare, and you would be crazy to honestly throw it away. It may feel terrible for a while, but this feeling will fall into the background and eventually dissipate all together.

I would say, given the extremely short duration of the relationship, it’s better to take your chances with the lie than the contrary.
posted by luckypozzo at 6:02 PM on October 16, 2005

Tell her. With any luck you'll lose her, and her next partner will deserve, respect, and return her love.
posted by The Monkey at 7:38 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

she cheated on your when you were gone anyway
posted by Satapher at 7:58 PM on October 16, 2005

I think the truthtelling faction here is vastly overstating the possibility of living a perfect life.

As a member of the truthtelling faction, I disagree. It's because lives are always lived imperfectly that telling the truth is important. People should be responsible for the shit they pull.
posted by willbaude at 8:23 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm with bigbigdog that you should break up with her and work this issue out before you even think about trying to establish something more permanent with her. It's you-- not her.
posted by LGCNo6 at 8:49 PM on October 16, 2005

Maybe my answer should be replaced with a creamy refreshing blend of willbaude and LGCNo6's.
posted by The Monkey at 10:28 PM on October 16, 2005

If you don't believe your girlfriend deserves honesty, if you don't believe sheis entitled to know that she is being or is going to be exposed to an unknown sexual history, if you don't think she has the right to truthful facts about whether to make the critical decisions in her life (the most pressing this moment being whether she ought to dump your sorry ass), then by all means, live with your deceit and compell her to do the same. But please disabuse yourself of the ridiculous notion that there is anything altruistic about your motivation to deceit: it is a purely self-serving impulse. You simply wish to avoid facing the consequences of your actions. As far as the people who think lying is good relationship advice, observe how many advocates state "if my partner were cheating on me I would prefer not to know." Huh, not a god damned one. I guess that sentiment doesn't come quite as naturally. What about those cheating victims who feel like their partner's honesty with them was selfish and wish that they had been lied to and spared the pain? Nope, none of those. How about you, Mr. Anonymous, you've got some personal experience in this arena, you wish you didn't know you were cheated on? Get spared all those painful emotions, maybe you'd still be together with the wife. That sound right to you?

Now all you "don't tell her" advocates, those of you who have boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, spouses, significant others - if you think your stance is defensible, I think you should have a little talk to let them know that while you haven't cheated on them, if you did, you feel that it would the most unselfish thing not to tell them, and that the terrible guilt you would feel would be your real punishment for your actions. See how that one flies: it seems only right, doesn't it, that they know your stance on this issue?
posted by nanojath at 10:46 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

luckypozzo, your advice will likely make anonymous feel better. But what about the girl friend? Again, I encourage the poster to put himself in his gf's shoes. This isn't a ten year old marriage--it's not even a ten-week old relationship. You say this relationship has been short and intense. Good. Your girl friend deserves to know the truth before she invests a significant amount of time into this relationship. It's really up to her to decide if you're the sort of man she wants to build a long-term relationship with. By not telling her, you will have crossed the line from protecting her to deceiving her. This isn't about cheating, per se, it's about being truthful about yourself.
posted by nixerman at 5:45 AM on October 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

You just have to tell her. If she breaks up with you, she'll get over it. So will you. If she doesn't break up, you'll need to reign back on some of the intensity and intimacy. She'll maybe need a lot of hugs, but you'll have to wait until she wants you to hug her again.

If she finds out another way, (and because of the ex in another town, it'll probably be because you slip up) she would be quite right to dump you on your arse. And you'd have no comeback whatsoever.

Just be a human being and confess. And don't do it again.
posted by bouncebounce at 7:03 AM on October 17, 2005

Why do people always think the consequences of their mistakes require involving the rest of the world? Y'know that part where you describe being racked with guilt, where you confess to feeling absolutely torn and losing the stability you felt last week? That's the consequence of your actions. Live with it, pal.

Totally, totally agree with cribcage.
posted by desuetude at 7:05 AM on October 17, 2005

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