Should I tell hubby about my poor behavior?
June 29, 2014 6:58 AM   Subscribe

About 15 years ago I behaved badly. Should I tell my husband about it? Ordinarily I'd say no, it's in the past. But there are some complicating factors. Help me figure out what to do.

Here's the backstory.

This started 15 years ago. Hubby and I had been married, at that point, for about 5 years. I was going through a lot of personal turmoil akin to an early midlife crisis. Suddenly, on a temporary work project, I found myself working with my best girlfriend, Jane, and an outrageously handsome and charming man, John. I developed an enormous crush on John, which I talked about (incessantly, I'm afraid) with Jane, who also found him attractive. Eventually I started flirting with him, to a ridiculous degree. I made it clear that I'd sleep with him if he just snapped his fingers. John was kind to me, but not interested, not that it stopped me. John, Jane and I traveled for work, which meant the three of us were in close proximity for weeks at a time, and one drunken night I even confessed my attraction to John's male best friend who had joined the project. And then the next morning Jane tearfully confessed that she and John had slept together.

I was so mortified about my ridiculous behavior. Jane's confession made me see how stupidly I had been behaving. I quit my crush cold turkey, never said anything to my husband about it, and watched, mostly without any rancor, as Jane and John got into a very serious relationship that led to marriage. I even performed their wedding ceremony (as I am a Universal Life Church minister). The subject of my outrageous flirting and crush-while-married never came up again. Jane and I remained best friends. Hubby and I socialized with them, traveled with them, etc.

Two years ago it became clear that Jane and John's marriage, which had produced one child who is now 13, was irreperably dysfunctional. John, while gorgeous, turned out to be a horrible person, basically. Post-divorce, it became clear that John wanted to be a sort of stereotypical recently-divorced dude, meaning he will always blow off his joint custody duties if he's got a hot date, and is more interested in living a fancy free, unencumbered lifestyle. I have helped support Jane through these difficulties. My husband never really liked John, so is also on Jane's side.

So, no reason to tell Hubby about any of this. Except...

Now Jane has a terminal cancer diagnosis. She has a few months left. I am the executor and trustee of Jane's estate, which involves large sums of money. Because of various other factors I won't go into -- except to say that John is greedy and untrustworthy, bordering on criminal -- the setup of Jane's estate (done with top-notch legal advice and estate planners) is structured such that I will be doling out the money to John until the child graduates from high school. He will need approval from me for various expenditures. This is structured so that he will not bankrupt the estate before the child is old enough to be on her own.

Based on what I know now of John's character, I have no doubt that this situation will become antagonistic. I worry that this will drive him to maliciously reveal my poor behavior from years ago to my husband. It's basically the only way that John can hurt me. But then again, maybe he won't.

Should I pre-emptively tell my husband about this? Or wait and hope that John never says anything. Knowing my husband's character, I know that he will be very hurt by this. He will be very hurt by the secret, and thinking that all these years John, Jane and I hid something from him. I can honestly say that I have never flirted with anyone else, much less slept with anyone else. I love my husband and hope to be married to him for the rest of my life.

So, should I tell him now? Or wait and hope for the best?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total)
I vote for "wait and hope for the best". In the meantime, keep dropping hints to your husband that John is known to be a pathological liar.
posted by alex1965 at 7:06 AM on June 29, 2014 [56 favorites]

Based on what I know now of John's character, I have no doubt that this situation will become antagonistic. I worry that this will drive him to maliciously reveal my poor behavior from years ago to my husband. It's basically the only way that John can hurt me. But then again, maybe he won't.

Should I pre-emptively tell my husband about this?

That sounds like a crappy situation. I suggest a different framing. I realize that you know what was going on in your own mind but what really happened was nothing. You were flirtatious in a way that you now regret which is something you seem to have mostly made your peace with. Unless you really think John could do something like ....dredge up old emails that might paint you in an unfavorable light in some super sketchy way, I'd just take the high road here. Put that past episode away and if John comes out with it because of some sort of spite just make it clear that it was a long time ago, nothing happened, you've gotten your shit straight and why is he even thinking about that much less bringing it up? Small potatoes. Your word against his.

Because if you think about it at length, what's to keep him from completely fabricating a situation which did not exist at all and you'd probably deal with that in the same way. People get crushes and sometimes act badly. Whether you tell your husband depends to some extent on how forthright you guys are about stuff like this but I don't think I'd get really into it. It's entirely possible that John doesn't even totally know which I think is an extra vote for "Don't dig this up"

That said, this seems to have placed a burden on you and perhaps you want to give someone else power of attorney to handle this for you so that you and John are not intertwined for the next big chunk of time? I'm not saying dump this in Jane's lap but maybe think about how you could execute your responsibilities without having to worry about John's bad behavior.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 AM on June 29, 2014 [26 favorites]

Say nothing.

If you flirted with someone 15 years and nothing came of it and never did anything similar since you are practically a marital saint.
posted by srboisvert at 7:09 AM on June 29, 2014 [86 favorites]

What does Jane say about all this? This seems like an awkward set-up that could maybe be avoided. She knows her husband is going to be adversarial, right? And she knows the degree to which he might have leverage over you. (Which, to be honest, I do not think is all that high, but I understand that you think it may be.) Can Jane get another executor? Honestly, husband or not, you seem like you are not in the best position to be executor because of your past issues with this guy.

If you have to go through with this role, I think you should tell your husband right upfront and get that out of the way.
posted by BibiRose at 7:11 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

You remember these events with shame, but for the others it may well have receded into the mists of time or not even taken as seriously as you think. During their courtship and marriage, Jane and John found some way of being ok with the events or they wouldn't have asked you to perform their ceremony. John may have internalized whatever version of events makes everything ok. But he's a snake, so be prepared.

For other reasons besides this potential threat, you need to protect yourself. That means making John conduct all of his business with you in writing and never meeting him without witnesses, preferably the lawyer representing you/the estate: it's your right and responsibility to do that.

Re your husband, hope for the best and then, if it happens when you're not around (e.g., by letter), don't deny but minimize: "Can you believe the ego on this guy!?! Sheesh." "Man, if Jane or I had known what hanging out in hotel bars during road trips with John would lead to, we would have quit that job so fast!" "As if Jane would be my friend, if that were the case!" The key is to neither dismiss to quickly or to dwell too long and this latest bit of rat bastardly behavior.

Similarly, work up some standard responses in case it comes up when you are present that are true but imply John's lying or exaggerating. Practice delivering them coldly. "That's low even for you, John." "My loyalties have always lied with Jane, John. I would never do anything to hurt her then or now." That's not how I remember it, John, and if it were true, do you really think Jane and I would have stayed so close?"

Don't feel bad about negating "the truth." It's water far under the bridge for everyone.
posted by carmicha at 7:27 AM on June 29, 2014 [19 favorites]

Normally I'm very strongly your spouse deserves to know about your discretions but you didn't do anything, and the fact you would have if he wanted to is irrelevant because nothing happened. I think you could tell your husband you once had a crush on John and you can't believe it now, depending on your relationship and how he views crushes.

But I'm more concerned about the arrangements upon Jane's death. Are you really the best choice? You are going to be wrapped up in this for years, and I feel someone else might be a better fit, if there is anyone. I just think this puts you in a really complicated situation that will be an albatross around your neck.
posted by Aranquis at 7:28 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

You flirted with a guy, and never touched him or did anything with him. There is literally nothing John can say to your husband that would tarnish you in any way. If he even remembers the interaction at all (which he may not - admitting you have the hots for someone and never following up is great gossip among women, but most guys I know generally file that under layered emotional crap that they ignore - no action, no story), he will either lie and say you slept with him - not true, or tell the truth and say you flirted with some guy and threw yourself at him on a business trip - so what? You weren't actually unfaithful in any way. And I don't mean that as some "technically innocent" dodge - lots of people (possibly most people) in committed relationships have fantasies about other people. The fact that you were over that guy immediately the second it looked like stuff got real, means that it never actually left the fantasy stage for you. You're in the clear. Revealing it now on your own initiative would make it look like it was a bigger deal to you than it actually was.

You know what he might say, and you're ready for it. Your husband knows this guy is an ass, and that he's likely to be angry in his interactions with you. Honestly, if it came up in any way, the best response would probably be to laugh: "THAT'S what he's saying against me? Shows how little he knows me at all." And then tell the story however much you'd like to share. Like you can't even believe something so trivial and unimportant to you - and I believe from your description of it that it is that unimportant to you - ever made it onto John's radar in the first place, let alone how he could think you did anything bad enough to use it as leverage in some sick game.

The only reason I would be open with this now, is if your husband has trust issues, or was cheated on before. If you think he might not believe you were innocent if he hears from someone else, because that's how he learned about infidelity or lying in his past in a scarring way. But in that case I would be really careful how you tell him, in that case, because the fact that you kept it secret for so many years, and that you're only volunteering it now to head off future blackmail, would make it seem a lot more suspicious to someone looking for lies.
posted by my left sock at 7:33 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Look, you flirted with somebody you had a mad crush on. Your intent was wrong, but you escaped acting on it. Telling your husband you would have slept with John would only hurt him. If somebody tells your husband you had a crush on John, admit that you did have a crush on him, be embarrassed, and tell your husband the important truth - you love him and are so happy you are married to him. John is unreliable and if it comes to what you told some guy when you were both drinking, you can simply say that the guy exaggerated. I think honesty is important, but when the truth will only cause harm, and especially when you dodged a bullet and merely flirted, keep it to yourself. If you feel tempted to overshare, do something sweet for your husband instead.
posted by theora55 at 7:34 AM on June 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

First off, I'm so sorry you're going through this. Death, loss, love, regret, animosity. This is a lot to process. Facing a friend or family member's terminal illness makes everyone a raw nerve. This likely includes John, as well.

I vote that you find a therapist who specializes in grief. They will have heard all this kind of stuff where people relive the past, retread old ground trying to make sense of life.

I also think you should look into having someone else act as executor. Does Jane have a trusted accountant, lawyer or other advisor? You should not be beholden to this guy for years. It's not healthy for you or your family.

Lastly, don't throw this old flirtation at your husband's feet. You didn't behave that badly. Really. Everyone else moved on from this. You were at the center of your strong, intense emotions and you are at that center again. Nobody else really shares that perspective. Your husband won't have anything productive to do with this information and, given that you'll need a lot of support while you deal with this and make choices, I wouldn't make it harder on him to do so. Talk to a therapist. Even one session may be enough to help put you on your feet.
posted by amanda at 7:42 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly, John sounds like the kind of guy who'd make up past history even if it didn't exist, if he needed to lash out at you for something.

But I am with the others in that it would be significantly wiser to have the executor be a legal entity rather than an emotionally-involved friend, given that John is such a pain in the ass. If you can discuss with Jane, I would encourage you to do so.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:45 AM on June 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think telling your husband would have way less consequences than your thinking. You flirted with a guy 15 years ago that you now clearly think is an asshole. You didn't do anything ever though you thought about it a little bit and boy are you glad you were faithful. Then tell hubby about how much you love him and maybe make fun of some over the top flirting you did with hubby.
Bring up you are afraid this guy is going to lie about all kinds of things to make your life hell but your marriage is strong and all well be well.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:58 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly, John sounds like the kind of guy who'd make up past history even if it didn't exist, if he needed to lash out at you for something.

Yep. Honestly, this is a situation in which I would advocate lying, or at least fudging. "I was really friendly with him because he seemed like a great guy," or something.

YOU know that you were very close to crossing a line with him, which is why you feel so bad, but since you didn't actually do anything, why should your husband even believe a word he says?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:18 AM on June 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't preemptively tell your husband about your almost infidelity, but you should be prepared to talk about it if it comes up. I think you should at least acknowledge the crush, but I wouldn't necessarily say you were ready to jump into bed with the guy.

Don't feel too guilty about something that didn't actually happen 15 years ago. Huge, huge difference between almost did it and barely did it.

I wouldn't assume that John only has this one way he can get at you. Expect this to be unpleasant in an ongoing way. I agree with others about prepping your husband for some stress.
posted by mattu at 8:58 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does your husband also know John to be a horrible person? Or is John able to put on a facade of being charming, convincing, and sincere? Because you seem worried that your husband will believe John if he says something.

Maybe it's just me, but I would be less inclined to believe pot-stirring from a flighty person who treated their spouse badly, because I'd think "Hm. See how John treated his wife and child, and how he acts now that he's divorced. Can I really believe anything this guy says?"

You really did not do anything wrong in the past, or at least not wrong enough that justifies your guilt. If John does bring something up, you might want to take the tack that Showbiz Liz suggests: "I was really friendly with him because he seemed like a great guy. Then I found out he wasn't." And then add, "Do you really believe John saying that stuff about me? John who treated Jane and his child so badly? John is such a scumbag!" Yes, you are throwing John under the bus, but he deserves it.

And get some counseling for yourself; you could use a detached, professional listening ear.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:07 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. Are there emails, lovenotes or other incriminating evidence lying about? Does John have proof beyond your word vs his? If he does, you need to either get Jane to destroy it if possible or talk to your husband in a "He is a vile bastard, I was so stupid briefly, and in our long and wonderful marriage, this is something I've agonized over" sort of conversation.

If there's no proof, then you need to make sure that Jane is not going to tell your husband and that your husband knows that John is gross and manipulative (also his best friend). Then when he does go to your husband, you'll be able to minimize what, however embarrassing it is to remember, was actually a flirtation at most.

2. Talk to the lawyer who is your lawyer in confidence about this. Estate lawyers see this kind of crazy often and will be able to give you advice on whether it'll be easy for you to assign someone else to handle John, how to make sure your reputation is kept safe, and other strategies.

3. You don't know you would have slept with him. You know you wanted to but if time could rewind and John had turned up at your hotel room, there is a very very strong chance (given how things played out when Jane told you the next morning) that you would have gotten that same cold feet and realised it was a mistake and sent him packing. Be kind to yourself and your marriage - assume that you would have chosen not to sleep with him, and it wasn't just chance that prevented you. I mean think about it - John sounds vile, if you had turned up naked in his hotel room on a trip, would he have thrown you out? And you didn't go further than flirting.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:12 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone else pointed out, you dropped the crush the second things got real. It's so typical to escape by fantasizing about something that one can never have. While you feel you would have slept with him, I suspect you would have suddenly come to your senses.

As Jimmy Carter said while he was President of the US, "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do—and I have done it—and God forgives me for it."
posted by salvia at 9:35 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

If your husband knows John and knows what a bad person he's been, why would he believe a single word that comes out of John's mouth? Nothing John says can damage you or your husband because you've done nothing wrong.

Your crush seemed super intense to you, but nothing happened and no one was in your head with you watching while you were feeling those things. It probably barely registered with others. Some people are flirty and that's probably the extent that anyone noticed. It's dramatic to you, but it's not the big deal you've built it up to be. You have nothing to confess. You didn't do anything wrong. You had feelings and didn't act on them. Then, the feelings disappeared forever. That's the ideal scenario when you're a considerate and loyal spouse.

Handle John with confidence and don't let him manipulate you. Don't endlessly flog yourself for something that isn't a transgression.
posted by quince at 9:59 AM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

So you wanted to sleep with someone else. You got drunk and told somebody about it. That sounds silly and all-too common, honestly, particularly because of how long ago it happened. You're a different person in a different marriage now than you were fifteen years ago. Unless you and your husband have trust problems you haven't told us about you really need to have a little more faith in him, yourself and your marriage than this.

You're also forgetting that you have very real power in this situation. John would be a fool to attempt to strong arm you, given that you hold his purse strings. If he makes any slimy attempt to "blackmail" you for finding him attractive almost two decades ago, stay silent and let him take it up with Jane's attorney. Don't give this minor thought crime(?) any more weight than it deserves.

I'm sorry for your friend's situation. Please don't discount that your anxiety over losing her and honoring her memory in the best way is causing you to worry disproportionately over this situation.

Cut yourself some slack already.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:00 AM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Gosh, I hope you haven't been beating yourself up about this all these years.

There's nothing to confess. If John turns obnoxious, roll with it. What's he going to say? "ANON flirted with me fifteen years ago!" Your husband will roll his eyes and fault you for your shifty taste. If he even believes John, which he won't.

You don't have to be dishonest, you can reply, "and I also wore low rider jeans. Equally embarrassing."

You have a lot on your plate with Jane and kiddo. That's what you need to focus on.

Hang in there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:04 AM on June 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Ask Jane to choose a different executor. If she refuses, in your role as executor you can hire a lawyer to do the doling.

Forget about the rest of it.
posted by wryly at 10:48 AM on June 29, 2014

Here's another angle: about all John could say is "Anonymous flirted with me years ago" or something to that effect. I think a normal reaction from a spouse would be to laugh and blow John off. If your husband is the type to get all upset about something like this - which is basically hearsay - then you, and he, might want to take a look at that. Does he have a pattern of jealousy and/or insecurity? Does he trust you?

If your fear is caused by your feeling guilty, plus emotions around Jane's death and your having to be executor, therapy for you can help. But if your husband has a pattern of feeling insecure and threatened, and would actually take something like this seriously, perhaps couples counseling for both of you is a good idea.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:07 PM on June 29, 2014


First of all, NOTHING HAPPENED. Plus, there is NO PROOF such a thing ever crossed your mind.

Why would you blow up your own relationship over something so inconsequential?

I agree with others that John will likely sound like a weirdo liar if he ever bothers to make the accusation.

If you fear John this much, then yes, your friend's estate needs to hire a lawyer to act as a buffer and help keep your interactions professional and business-like.
posted by jbenben at 12:45 PM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

It reads to me like you're more afraid of yourself than you are of John. You're looking back at the extreme internal crisis and weirdness and how out of control and unlike yourself you were fifteen years ago when you had this obsessive crush, and John, who was the tangible thing you latched on to in your time of crisis, represents all of that for you.

John, the actual guy, the shitty husband and father and general dirtbag ex of your dearest friend, doesn't have the real power to hurt you or your marriage-- you didn't do anything with him IRL and, like everyone is saying, any accusations he makes will just make him seem like a lying weirdo. But I think he's a very powerful reminder of a time when you were mentally and emotionally out of control, and that's a terrifying and painful thing to have brought up in the person of someone you're going to have to fight for money.

So-- deny and minimize, but maybe try to process what was going on with you 15 years ago when you had that midlife crisis. Also, yes, grief and fear of loss. This is a powerful distraction from the inevitability of losing your closest friend-- you might be transferring your fear of losing Jane into this overblown fear of John and your old crush. Best, and I'm so, so sorry about Jane's diagnosis. I hope the two of you have a good few months together. Please take care.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:10 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

From the OP:
Thank you so much for these answers. You have really helped relieve my tension.

There is no proof, thank god. No emails or voicemails or anything like that. And there will be a platoon of lawyers helping with the estate going forward. My husband and I don't have trust issues, and he's not an anxious type. Meaning, no, there isn't any underlying stuff in our relationship that would affect my decision about whether or not to tell him. So it's easy to (finally) understand that he doesn't have to know.

If John causes trouble later I can easily say, "Yeah, John's so cute that Jane and I both noticed him that first day he came into work. But look at what an asshole he turned out to be." Hubby will totally believe that -- because it's true. I will deny anything beyond that, since it'll just be his word against mine. John's friend I confided in -- you're right, it was one drunken night 15 years ago. He probably doesn't remember, and if he does I can't imagine he'd get involved in this. I haven't even seen him in 10+ years.

From your help I understand that the fear of this entire scenario, which has been weighing on me so heavily, is really overblown. And yes, I do think a big part of this anxiety stems from my general sadness that Jane's life is ending, and that her child will be left with no mom, and a less-than-stellar dad. I don't know if I will end up seeing a therapist, but it's helpful to me personally to keep that in mind going forward.
posted by mathowie at 1:11 PM on June 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

I suppose I'll have to dissent from the majority here and suggest that you think seriously about telling your husband. I disagree that doing so would "only hurt him". After 10+ years of marriage, your spouse should be your partner and the two of you should be able to deal with icky, difficult situations as a team. Thus, the point of telling him is not to obtain absolution or forgiveness (though you should certainly apologize for your poor judgment), but rather to see if he is willing to help you deal with this together.

I also disagree with those who say "nothing happened". Um, something did happen. You propositioned someone who is still in your life. That your husband was never informed about this was nothing short of a betrayal. That you are choosing to hide this from him again is a second betrayal.

He will be hurt, no doubt, but if your marriage is solid, he should be able to handle it. But I wonder about the solidity of your marriage because, after all, you are here asking us whether it's okay to lie to your husband, either directly or by omission. If you two really don't have trust issues, why don't you trust him with the truth?
posted by Gray Skies at 8:17 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

..I would also add that you might be surprised what telling the truth in this situation might do for your marriage. It might actually bring you closer. And who knows, perhaps your husband has some secrets he'd like to get off his chest as well.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:30 PM on June 29, 2014

"I made it clear that I'd sleep with him if he just snapped his fingers."

Don't be so sure that you would have followed through with this. A lot of people make plans to cheat and even get so far as getting a motel room with their potential lover before having an attack of conscience and not going through with it.

Feeling guilty and disclosing to your husband as if you had cheated when you haven't is like turning yourself into the police for stealing because you'd hypothetically take an unmonitored briefcase full of cash if presented with the opportunity.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:48 PM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I suggest writing a letter with today's date describing what happened, which was nothing. You may believe that you would have slept with him, but you did not. You had a big crush. That's all.

The letter would describe what actually happened and why you did not tell him about your crush. You would put it somewhere he could never accidentally find it.

If John tries to cause problems and makes stories up, pull out the letter. its backdate should let your husband know exactly how much of what John might say would be true, which is that when you first met John you were really attracted to him and had a powerful crush and that you once confessed that crush to one of his friends. That is the complete extent of what happened.

The back dated letter allows you to deny any lies he might put forward.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:59 AM on June 30, 2014

Or instead of a letter you could point him to this question if that should come to pass.
posted by yohko at 5:45 PM on July 4, 2014

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