How to deal with friend's infidelities
March 2, 2015 1:20 PM   Subscribe

My friend has been involved in a committed, sexually exclusive romantic relationship for over a year. However, he has already had multiple affairs outside of the relationship. His girlfriend does not know. I like and respect her and am sick of seeing this going on behind her back. Seeing my friend lie, cheat, etc. has also damaged my liking and respect for him. I want this stressful situation to end but do not know what I can ethically do. Please advise.

Sorry - this is a long one.

My friend Joe met his current girlfriend, Janis, around a year and a half ago through an online dating website. For the first few weeks, there was a mutual understanding that both Joe and Janis were free to date other people. During this period, Joe met Grace at a work-related event and had a very passionate weekend with her. However, Grace lived in another city a thousand or so miles away, so it was not possible for Joe to seriously pursue Grace as a potential long-term partner.

Fast-forward a few months... Joe is now regularly seeing Janis (e.g., every weekend), and the two have started to call each other boyfriend/girlfriend. Janis believes they are sexually exclusive. Joe does not tell her anything to the contrary, so they move forward with an implicit assumption of sexual exclusivity (at least on Janis's side). They are well-matched in many ways, and they are warm and loving toward each other.

However, Joe continues to see Grace when he is able. For example, they have several romantic weekends together, plan work-related trips in such a way that they can pass through each others' cities on the way to their work meetings, etc. They, too, have much in common, but their visits are intense and passionate, rather than merely warm. When not physically together, they communicate constantly through instant messaging, texting/phone, emailing, and skyping. To me, Joe seems pretty "head over heals" for Grace.

Grace is aware that Joe is also seeing Janis. [I forget whether she always knew or whether Joe told her at some point.] She begins to try to persuade Joe to stop seeing Janis so that the two of them can pursue something more serious. Grace is currently searching for jobs throughout the U.S. and tells Joe she would consider finding something close to him, depending on where there relationship is headed.

Meanwhile, Janis has absolutely no idea that Joe is seeing Grace. She believes Joe is busy with work-related trips.

It's around this time that Janis begins to wonder why she doesn't really know Joe's friends. Joe invites me to have lunch with the two of them. I tell him that I feel uncomfortable because I am fully aware that he is seeing two people at once (I have already voiced my concerns about this on several occasions). Nonetheless, I endure a lunch with the "happy couple" in which it becomes very clear to me that Janis thinks they are getting serious and possibly even on the "marriage-track" (and she would very much like to be married at some point). Joe acts as though he feels the same. I go along with it but leave lunch feeling conflicted and sick.

Afterward, I express my concerns to Joe. Even if he cuts things off with Grace, I think he needs to end things with Janis. He has lied countless times and committed emotional and sexual infidelity. Staying together will only allow Janis to become more attached. I know he's confused, but his behavior strikes me as selfish and destructive.

Fast-forward several more months... Grace ends her affair with Joe (after almost a year), in part because she has started to realize that she has other more appealing options, but also because she runs out of patience with him (she has tried for a few months to persuade him to leave Janis, and he has not done so). Grace takes a job on the other coast and, shortly thereafter, begins seeing someone else.

Joe is completely heartbroken. He shuts down and has long bouts of uncontrollable crying. Some of these take place in front of Janis. She is extremely concerned. She believes Joe is struggling with depression and supports him as best she can.

To help himself get over Grace, Joe plans a brief vacation without Janis. She is very hurt that he plans his vacation at a time when she will be busy with work and will not be able to join him. Nonetheless, Joe goes, and on his vacation he has sex with a woman he has just met (and never sees again after that). He contracts oral herpes. He returns from his vacation, tells me about this, and seems disappointed about the herpes but satisfied that the sex did indeed help "a little" in terms of distracting him from his sadness over having lost Grace.

I tell Joe that I am appalled by his behavior. Again, I tell him that he needs to break up with Janis and work through his own issues before getting involved with anyone new. I will support him as a friend if he chooses to do the right thing, but I cannot continue to spend time with him and Janis (and at this point, I have spent time with the two of them on many occasions and have become very fond of Janis). He tells me he has no intention of leaving Janis. I am extremely frustrated. I avoid Joe for a few months, seeing him only at work events.

Joe stays with Janis. They grow closer emotionally as they deal with Joe's "depression." At some point, Joe calls me to catch up (I think he knew I was avoiding him and wanted to make sure he hadn't lost me as a friend). He tells me that he could see himself being with Janis for life and that he will never cheat on her again. I tell him that it is a good start that he now feels committed to not cheating on Janis but that he has already done serious damage to their relationship, and I do not think it can be repaired. I say, yet again, that I think he needs to break up with her. He says he doesn't want to do that - she's so nice to him, so supportive, so smart, etc. He says that the one thing missing in his relationship with Janis is that he is not at all sexually attracted to her. He hasn't had sex with her for months. But he thinks if he can just work through that, it'll work out...

And that just about takes us up to last night, when, at another work-related event, Joe made out with and then left a party with a female colleague who he has previously told me he has no interest in whatsoever (though he knew she was attracted to him). I attempted to intervene, but he just said "I see what you're trying to do - thanks - but I'm so drunk" and left with her shortly thereafter.

I have reached my limit with this situation. Here are the things that bother me the most: (1) I'm concerned for Janis--that she'll waste time with Joe rather than finding someone better, that she'll find out what Joe has done and never be able to trust another man, (2) I'm sick of feeling like a liar/horrible person whenever I have to smile through dinner or some other event with Janis as she pats Joe's hand lovingly and says what a good boyfriend he is, (3) I'm sick of Joe's reckless and selfish behavior and his expectation that I'll continue to support him and spend time with him and Janis no matter what.

So... Has anyone experienced a situation like this as "Janis" or "Joe," and what was the outcome? Has anyone been in my position? At present, all I can think to do is to go back to avoiding friend-time with Joe, though I'll still need to be polite with him at work events (for career-related reasons). Is there anything I can ethically do to help Janis? What's your appraisal of the situation? Thanks in advance.
posted by NeverGrowSoOldAgain to Human Relations (60 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here are the things that bother me the most: (1) I'm concerned for Janis--that she'll waste time with Joe rather than finding someone better, that she'll find out what Joe has done and never be able to trust another man, (2) I'm sick of feeling like a liar/horrible person whenever I have to smile through dinner or some other event with Janis as she pats Joe's hand lovingly and says what a good boyfriend he is, (3) I'm sick of Joe's reckless and selfish behavior and his expectation that I'll continue to support him and spend time with him and Janis no matter what.

1. I think Janis will be alright regardless of your ability/willingness to white-knight this shit.

2. Why are you going to dinners with them? You obviously don't like Joe, and Janis doesn't really call you up to hang out or chat. She probably doesn't consider you more than an acquaintance, or "my boyfriend's friend". Why do you keep going out with them?

3. Why are you in this situation? Go find friends elsewhere.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:26 PM on March 2, 2015 [14 favorites]

Ending your friendship with Joe is the way to go here. Inserting yourself into their relationship problems won't be good for you.
posted by spaltavian at 1:31 PM on March 2, 2015 [16 favorites]

Send her an anonymous email with just the basic facts of what everyone saw at the latest situation. Delete the anon email account and then stop being friends with both of these people. I know that's basically like turning on the gas in an apartment and then moving out but honestly an explosion is probably the only thing that could permit this woman to truly see the guy as he is. And any fallout that might stain you couldn't be worse than the guilt you already probably feel for covering for the dude right?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:34 PM on March 2, 2015 [29 favorites]

This is not your responsibility. Practical advice is to not get involved and to stop being friends with Joe.

Personally, what I would do is tell Janis that Joe is a cheating bag of dicks and then promptly lose Joe's number.
posted by phunniemee at 1:34 PM on March 2, 2015 [40 favorites]

You tell Joe exactly what you said:

"I have reached my limit with this situation. Here are the things that bother me the most: (1) I'm concerned for Janis--that she'll waste time with Joe rather than finding someone better, that she'll find out what Joe has done and never be able to trust another man, (2) I'm sick of feeling like a liar/horrible person whenever I have to smile through dinner or some other event with Janis as she pats Joe's hand lovingly and says what a good boyfriend he is, (3) I'm sick of Joe's reckless and selfish behavior and his expectation that I'll continue to support him and spend time with him and Janis no matter what."

You end the friendship. You walk away. If you ever see Janis again, and she asks you why your friendship ended, you can tell her. If not, don't get involved.
posted by raisingsand at 1:36 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I agree with Potomac Avenue. Stop being friends with Joe, you have no respect anymore for him anyway. Tell Janis the truth.- provide evidence if feasible because she may initially not believe you, and Joe will probably call you a liar. That is what I would do and what I hope any friend of my partner's would do in the same situation.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:42 PM on March 2, 2015 [10 favorites]

I know that the advice on the green is almost always, "stay out of it" when it comes to situations like this. But, if I were in Janis' position, I'd want to know. Period. I'd be pissed that it took so long for someone who I socialized with to tell me about this after covering for my boyfriend, but I'd want to know.

Joe is already not someone I could respect enough to call a good friend, so damaging that situation would be of little concern to me.
posted by quince at 1:43 PM on March 2, 2015 [47 favorites]

I would end the friendship. Immediately.

Personally, I'd also tell Janis and I wouldn't do it anonymously. That strikes me as the coward's way out. She trusts him. He's betrayed that trust. The guy is clearly a lying asshole and you obviously realize that it's in her best interest to know what a slimeball he is. That he's leading her on and exposing her to STDs.

But there's certain to be fallout from telling her. They both could turn on you. She might be upset that you knew for so long and kept it from her. He'd no doubt be pissed off that you betrayed his confidence.

I strongly disagree with hal_c_on's assessment that telling her would be wrong, or "white knighting." She's an adult who should be made aware this guy is treating her like garbage.
posted by zarq at 1:45 PM on March 2, 2015 [22 favorites]

I strongly suggest you think through what you want to do based on the outcome you want for YOU in this mess and not based on the outcome you want for Joe or Janis or any other third party.

For future reference, one option would have been that the first time Joe invited you to a social outing with him and Janis, you could have told him right then and there that you don't think that's a great idea since you are an honest person and have no plans to lie for him and cover for him. You missed that opportunity, so, at this late date, it is probably a really bad idea to try interceded with what Joe does. Just dump him already.

But let this be a lesson to you and I suggest you start letting friends know that "Three can keep a secret if two are dead" and maybe they shouldn't tell you their guilty secrets if they don't want them repeated.

For health reasons, it might be wise to notify Janis that Joe is sleeping around on her and that he contracted oral herpes from one of his casual encounters. Telling her can at least take a bit of responsibility for your part in what amounts to a conspiracy to deceive her. However, don't be all shocked if she does not believe you. People are often not as "stupid" as they look. They often know -- or "should" know if they weren't willfully colluding in being deceived -- and they have their reasons for not wanting to know.
posted by Michele in California at 1:47 PM on March 2, 2015

Please intervene in some meaningful and indisputable way to save this poor woman years and years of misery.

It will cost you, probably, but it is the right thing to do here.

Next time, be more direct and drop the friendship quicker.
posted by jbenben at 1:50 PM on March 2, 2015 [29 favorites]

Not something you can control:
(1) I'm concerned for Janis--that she'll waste time with Joe rather than finding someone better, that she'll find out what Joe has done and never be able to trust another man,

Don't go:
(2) I'm sick of feeling like a liar/horrible person whenever I have to smile through dinner or some other event with Janis as she pats Joe's hand lovingly and says what a good boyfriend he is,

Tell Joe :
(3) I'm sick of Joe's reckless and selfish behavior and his expectation that I'll continue to support him and spend time with him and Janis no matter what.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:51 PM on March 2, 2015

None of these people are you. You have told this huge long story and none of it is about you. You are worryingly involved in this for an adult human being.

Why is Joe your friend? He's garbage, stop being friends with him. Be polite in work contexts. Don't trust him with things.

Stop treating this situation like your personal soap opera. Find a hobby, read more books, watch an actual soap opera if necessary.

I think you are too involved in this to tell Janis anything. You're part of the feedback loop Janis is using to delude herself, and you've already told yourself this long story about how Janis will never trust men again blah blah. You've thought too hard about this on her behalf. She knows, or could figure it out, she probably doesn't need your help here.

Just get out. Go tend your own garden, and if you find it's too boring go do some positive things on your own to fill it up.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:53 PM on March 2, 2015 [10 favorites]

In a similar situation, I told a friend that if he didn't either come clean with his partner or break up with her, that I would tell her. I set a specific deadline and he told her his somewhat edited version of the story the night before. Our friendship survived but I expect that is unusual.
posted by metasarah at 1:57 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Upon second thought, here, let me help you....

"Janis, Joe isn't depressed, he's mourning the end of the LDR with a woman he has been two-timing you with for over a year. Last week at XYZ event, Joe made out with Angie his co-worker and they left together. I am sorry I did not tell you sooner. I apologize for not speaking up sooner."

posted by jbenben at 1:57 PM on March 2, 2015 [25 favorites]

I've been in (something like) your position. It sucks. I wrote about it here. There aren't any really good answers. I guess my advice, eight years or so out of that situation, is:

1. Do your best to judge the situation, not the people involved. Easier said than done, obviously, but my vantage point, my friend-who-cheated is now a happily married mother with a year-old baby. The horrid messiness of the situation she was in seems like a horrid vestige of our messy mid-twenties, rather than a reflection of who she is, permanently, as a person. Which is not to diminish the very real hurt she caused people...only to say that people change and learn from their bad experiences and Joe may, someday, too.

2. That said, this is a very shitty situation Joe is putting you in, and you don't have to stay in it. I would tell him the following: I don't want to spend time with you and Janis anymore. I don't want to listen to you talk about your relationships with women outside your relationship. Your cheating bothers me and I want no part of it. If you can't respect that then we can't be friends.

3. Should you tell Janis? I don't know. I didn't tell my friend's boyfriend. Now he is also married with a baby, and as far as I know, he never found out about my friend's infidelity. I guess some people might disagree, but as far as I'm concerned, this was the ideal outcome. My guess is also that this is almost certainly what will happen to the Joe/Janis relationship, even without your intervention: they'll split up eventually, and find happiness with other people. What feels like an ethical emergency that needs to be addressed right now may not in fact require your immediate action.

The STD angle complicates that a bit, of course, and could possibly push me into the camp of "the right thing to do is to tell Janis." I think only you can decide. That said, if you decide you should tell her, I would sit Joe down first and tell him what you're about to do, and ask him to either tell Janis about the cheating or to end the relationship. I say this both because a.) you should own up to your actions (no hiding behind an anonymous email) so he's going to find out eventually and b.) Janis is much more likely to believe Joe than she is to believe you.

Bah, I'm sorry OP. I feel for you, truly. All I can do is reassure you that this will pass, and that - again - my experience suggests that everyone on all sides of the equation will eventually end up in a better place than they are now.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:58 PM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

I would not want to be friends with Joe anymore and I would tell Janis.

Someone did tell me once and I am very grateful that she did. It was not easy for her to do but we're still friends 15 years or so later.

(Incidentally, I'm now friends with my ex too - after a long hiatus - everything can heal with time.)
posted by latkes at 1:58 PM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

If you are concerned that she will never be able to trust another man again if she finds out, imagine how much more her trust in men will be damaged if she finds out he's been cheating AND his friend knew and didn't tell her.

If any one of us got stuck with a dirtbag like that, I think we'd all like to hope there's someone good out there that would do the right thing and tell us the truth. I don't think anyone in Janis' position has ever said "I wish [friend] didn't tell me." You're stressed about this because you're a decent human being. Personally I think the don't-tell-avoid-conflict approach is selfish and is equivalent to seeing a car wreck happen and not stopping to help because you're running late to work. Someone else will help or they'll figure it out, right?
posted by monologish at 2:00 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

For what it's worth, I am pretty much always in the "not your business" camp. I can't remember a single question I've ever read on here where I thought someone should tell another person about someone's infidelity when they were not one of the main players in the situation. A lot of the time, I don't even think partners should tell one another about an infidelity.

This is the one time I've read about a situation in which I think you shouldn't mind your own business, and you should tell her.

I like the ideas of telling Joe what you've said here, and perhaps giving him a deadline. And then telling Janis, non-anonymously, and maybe ending your friendship with both of them. Be prepared for her to be angry at you or not believe you. But in this case, I do think you have to say something.
posted by tiger tiger at 2:03 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oral herpes?? This woman has been exposed to an STD knowingly! You absolutely must tell her everything immediately.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:06 PM on March 2, 2015 [40 favorites]

Be honest with yourself about what you are looking for here. There is a difference in telling a distant acquaintance that their partner is a louse and saying that to someone whose pants you would like to be in, for example.

The std thing aside, it's hard to go wrong by butting out and letting people live their own lives. But if he really is bringing home diseases, that is something she needs to know in order to make an informed decision.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:16 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've dumped a friend for this. Zero regrets on that one. I only knew her casually but still. I found out she was cheating on her husband, and I told her clearly: whatever you do is your business but it's past my line of tolerance. Buh-bye.

If you run into Janice after that, tell her the truth.

Up to you if you deliberately search her out to tell her... you don't sound vindictive or with an ulterior motive, so I wouldn't fault you for ringing her up and saying you've dumped Joe as a friend and why. I might do that in your situation, just to clear my own conscience - by showing up with Joe as his friend, you've kind of vouched for his character, which you clearly wish to rescind.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:29 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks, All. Your advice is very helpful (especially given the high consensus on a few issues), and I appreciate it.

To clear a couple things up... First, I should have mentioned that Joe did tell Janis he had contracted oral herpes. However, he said he didn't know how he got it---that it must have been from sharing drinks with friends. Since then, they have been cautious whenever he has had an outbreak.

Second, I am not involved in this because of an unrequited desire to have more "soap operas" in my own life. The reason the situation is as it is is because I have been friends with Joe for 10+ years. He was married for several years prior to this and never cheated on his partner or even seriously flirted with anyone else, as far as I know. When he first started dating Janis and, then, Grace, I did not immediately perceive the situation as problematic. As far as I knew, all parties viewed what they were doing as casual dating. When Joe started to get more serious with Janis but was still seeing Grace, I doubted my perception that something was going seriously wrong. Joe seemed to think it was OK, and he had never done anything like "cheating" before. And then when the situation was staring me in the face, I didn't know what to do. I tried to avoid hanging out with them, but it was difficult because he would intentionally show up in my neighborhood with her (when he knew I was home), and say - "hey, we surprised you! let's all go out to dinner!" (and this is not an exaggeration).

Anyway, for now, I'm going to tell Joe that I have no respect for his actions, I will not cover for him anymore, I will not spend any more time with him and Janis, and I hope he will finally either come clean to her or at very least break up with her. But my personal involvement in this is done.
posted by NeverGrowSoOldAgain at 2:30 PM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

I tried to avoid hanging out with them, but it was difficult because he would intentionally show up in my neighborhood with her (when he knew I was home), and say - "hey, we surprised you! let's all go out to dinner!" (and this is not an exaggeration).

When telling Joe whatever you plan to tell him, let me suggest you also tell him bluntly that if he ever pulls this shit on you again, right then and there you are going to let Janis know what is going on, where he got the herpes etc.

People like this get away with shitting on you because they expect you to continue being "nice" in the face of their assholery. Let them know that when their assholery goes past a certain point, then the gloves come off and you stop being "nice." And don't bluff. If you tell him that, then make damn sure you actually do what you said you would do and let the chips fall where they may.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:35 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]

Thanks, Michele in California - That's a good suggestion, and I will do that. In response to your comment... On several occasions when I tried to back out of one of these dinners/events (including a time that he showed up with tickets to an event across town as a "late birthday present" for me, and in addition to my not wanting to spend time with them, I was swamped with work, but he still pressured me into going because Janis knew he had bought the tickets and changed her plans around it), he would say that he really really wanted me to come because I'm so "nice" and Janis thinks I'm so "nice" and everyone will be so disappointed if I'm not there because it will be so "nice" blah blah blah... In retrospect, I feel foolish and betrayed for having been manipulated into a situation in which I compromised on my own values and integrity and helped Joe hurt a good person. Hm, I think I'll tell him that, too.
posted by NeverGrowSoOldAgain at 2:46 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]

It is a little odd to me that you are so invested in them breaking up. If you dump Joe (which you should), you still can't make him do or not do anything. Even if you tell Janis* as a roundabout way to break them up, she might decide to stay. Because they are not you and you can't control what they do, only what you do.

*I think it's okay to tell her...but only if you can say with 100% certainty that it's not because you want to date her yourself. Is that what's happening?
posted by peachfuzz at 2:56 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh! Oops - I'm female, attracted exclusively to men, and am in a happy long-term relationship. So, there are no ulterior motives at play here. I'm only hoping they'll break up because I don't think that Joe will tell Janis the truth (or the whole truth), and I can't imagine she would want to be with him if she knows everything. If he tells her everything, and she wants to stay with him and work through it, then of course that's fine and none of my business.
posted by NeverGrowSoOldAgain at 3:02 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

It would piss me off to no end that Joe is leaning on me to lie and cover for him. I know that it's easy for me to say this, sitting here all comfy on my couch, but I'm pretty sure I'd tell joe "no more of this shit!"

I'm pretty sure I'd tell Janis, too. It would be painful. But she's going to find out sooner or later. I think I'd rather it be sooner. And if I thought of her as a friend, I'd rather be on the side of the Angels here.

Not at all an easy situation - but all the shit is coming from Joe being a fucking weasel.
posted by doctor tough love at 3:09 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

If I were Janis, I would want someone--anyone--to tell me.

Not least, but not most, because there are now obvious (oral herpes, she's been told about) and non-obvious (who knows what else) health concerns for her.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:28 PM on March 2, 2015 [15 favorites]

If it were just Joe being a jerk, I'd say stay out of it and drop him from your own life.

BUT: adding an STD in there, the oral herpes, and knowing he's LIED to Janus about how he got it? I'm sorry, but that adds a whole new dimension to the question. Now I've got to say you should sit down with Janus, tell her everything, THEN drop Joe.

And for what it's worth, about his habit of surprise dropping in on you: I've said it before and I'll say it again --- just because someone knocks on your door or calls your phone does NOT mean you are required to open that door or answer that phone. You have a door and door locks so people can't just walk in; you don't even have to go see who is knocking --- yes, you can just totally ignore them, you aren't even required to look out your window and tell them to go away. Ditto your phone: there is no law that says that just because someone calls you are required to respond.
posted by easily confused at 3:45 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Please tell her. she deserves to know she might get diseases from someone she might actually believe is faithful to her. she can then make an informed decision. also, get better friends.
posted by lunastellasol at 3:54 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

You need to tell her bc her health could be affected without her knowing. Even if he is using condoms, they don't protect against all STIs, 100 percent of the time. He already lied to her about how he got the herpes, so he would probably lie if he contracted something else. She needs to know the truth, so she can take steps to protect her health.
posted by Lingasol at 3:56 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why are some people saying "Look out for yourself. DOn't get involved." What about "If I were Janice, would I want someone to tell me?" At least you all have taught me one thing: to be point blank to all my friends and ask them kindly, "If you know someone is cheating on me. Tell me! It might suck, but I'll get over it!"
posted by eq21 at 3:58 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hi All, I haven't told her because (a) It didn't seem like my place to do that, and I was holding out hope that Joe would do it (or break things off) himself, and (b) I'm not sure I WOULD want to know if I were Janis. I've thought about this a lot, and all I can say that is if I found out that someone had "two-timed" me for nearly a year, then had a couple casual sexual affairs after that, it would take a long time for me to open up to someone else again... maybe a VERY long time. So, personally, I would rather the relationship end without knowing what went on behind my back. But that's me; I can't say what's best for Janis.

Has anyone been in Janis's position and found out? Are you glad you found out? Or do you wish things had ended for some other putative reason?
posted by NeverGrowSoOldAgain at 4:08 PM on March 2, 2015

I'm going to tell Joe that I have no respect for his actions, I will not cover for him anymore, I will not spend any more time with him and Janis, and I hope he will finally either come clean to her or at very least break up with her. But my personal involvement in this is done.

This is the best course of action I have read on here, and you wrote it yourself.

Congratulations. You're smart!
posted by hal_c_on at 4:11 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

So, personally, I would rather the relationship end without knowing what went on behind my back.

Has anyone been in Janis's position and found out? Are you glad you found out? Or do you wish things had ended for some other putative reason?

Look, I have zero reason to believe my ex-husband ever was sexually unfaithful. I have good reason to believe he was reinfecting me with whatever I was sick with every time we had sex. The marriage had a lot of problems, but the fact that I was never going to get well as long as I stayed with him was the final thing that caused me to divorce him under circumstances where other people were telling me I was "too sick to leave my marriage."

To me, this is about her health, not her feelings. STD's are generally things you can't easily acquire from casual social contact. This is one of the reasons most cultures place a high value on monogamy -- because, in theory, if you are in a monogamous relationship, you are at drastically reduced risk for getting something scary and horrible. She apparently THINKS she has this protection in place, but she doesn't.

For me, hurting her feelings would be something my conscience could live with. Potentially killing her by keeping my mouth shut is one I would have a damn hard time with. (Because what if the next thing he brings home is AIDS?)
posted by Michele in California at 4:18 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Has anyone been in Janis's position and found out? Are you glad you found out?

Yes, and hell yes.

Because what if the next thing he brings home is AIDS?

I know several people who are HIV+ because of lying boyfriends. One of them has been dead for years.

if I found out that someone had "two-timed" me for nearly a year, then had a couple casual sexual affairs after that, it would take a long time for me to open up to someone else again... maybe a VERY long time.

That's still better than being lied to, and being infected with at least one disease. Yeah, it'll suck for Janis.

In your position I'd be taking Janis out for a coffee--or perhaps inviting her over so she can react privately--this evening.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:34 PM on March 2, 2015 [14 favorites]

OP, they've been together for over a year and Janis puts up with all of his bullshit. He's not going to break up with her, he has it too easy. She's not going to break up with him because she does not know yet that she needs to.

You do what you need to with that (personal experience heavy) assessment of their relationship. I don't know why on Earth you are deciding what this information will do to Janis' psyche and ... your logic falls apart. Predicting years of heartache for her is overdramatic. You really don't know. Will it be better down the road if she catches him cheating after they've been together 5 years? Or they are engaged or married? If they have children?

Your ex friend has turned into a serial cheater. He's not going to magically one day stop cheating on Janis. He lied to her for a whole year. He lied to her and had sex with someone else just last week.

Sooner or later Janis will find out. You are in the unique position to save her even one more day of being deceived. You can save her catching an unwanted STD. You can save her from wasting one more minute on loving someone who is treating her like garbage.

Please find a way to tell this woman what needs to be said. Rip the band aid, stand up, and do the right thing.

Janis is being used and cruelly lied to. Please don't let that continue.

FWIW, in a similar recent thread, a lot of commenters who had been Janis appreciated the heads up. Pretty much no one said, "I wish I had not known." Most people wished they had known sooner.
posted by jbenben at 4:54 PM on March 2, 2015 [16 favorites]

Also, I think giving your ex friend an ultimatum is pot stirring dramaz that will keep you involved longer than you need to be. In a perfect world you find a way to tell Janis face to face, because she deserves that respect, but I understand if you go with a letter or email, or if you even end up sending it anonymously.

Just make sure this fellow human being gets the important information she needs to protect herself.
posted by jbenben at 4:59 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was in high school when I was Janis (perhaps too young to compare) but I am SO GLAD a girlfriend told me even though it meant I lost my boyfriend and a huge group of friends in one go. Even though it took the girl who told me over a year to do so, we remained close friends for the remainder of high school. I knew she was in a hard position and I really appreciate she had the guts to tell me.
posted by CMcG at 5:00 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've been Janis, and I'm glad I was told. Ten years later and I am still very close friends with the friend who told me. I may have learned that I couldn't trust him, but I also learned that I COULD trust her. My brother was also Janis and glad he was told, though it was after they broke up. We both went and got tested after (because: DISEASES).

I agree that the situation sort of morphed over time, and I think Janis will understand that you're telling her as soon as it became clear *to you* (an outsider) that she needed to know. That you feel you could have told her earlier is hindsight.

My brother and I both chose increasingly nicer people to date and are both happily married now.

Bonus thought: How bad will Janis feel if she ends up giving someone else an STD and doesn't know where she got it?
posted by jrobin276 at 5:02 PM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

OK, all of these points are really important and compelling. I think I'm still coming to terms with the full reality of the situation (e.g., I still have moments when I think that I just imagined Joe leaving the party with our colleague), and that's giving me tunnel vision when it comes to thinking about the range of consequences for Janis. For example, I take the STD risk aspect very seriously, but for whatever reason, it just hadn't quite hit home yet. Fuck, what a mess.

I need to put more thought into this before acting, but I will take all of this advice into account when I do.
posted by NeverGrowSoOldAgain at 5:21 PM on March 2, 2015

Uh, I will be a dissenting voice. I've been in Janis's situation and I did find out and was glad I did. But I would have hated it if I'd been told by a friend. I'm a very private person, particularly about relationships, and if someone knew, I would rather they pretend they didn't. (That does not mean actively misleading is okay: it's not. You're right to stop participating in the happy monogamy fiction.)

Besides. If he told her he got herpes from drinking from a friend's glass and she believes him, then she is choosing to believe him. It's not like the flags aren't there. If she asks you questions, I would give her honest answers. But myself, I would not volunteer this information.
posted by Susan PG at 5:45 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

OP, i too was Janis, and I wish someone told me before my cheating ex finally owned up to it after years of having multiple partners and unprotected relations. I had unprotected sex once on accident (barrier malfunction), and pray every day and am planning on getting tested again and again for years to come because it is scary as hell to think you're in a safe relationship making decisions without full knowledge of what the consequences could truly be. please tell her, I know you're conflicted and REASONS, but the kindest thing to do knowing her life might be in danger is to tell her and let her figure it out. you can walk away after, but it would just as cruel to let this guy keep treating her this way. I was naive, but you're not. she deserves to know the truth.
posted by lunastellasol at 5:54 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

My friend was Janis. I was you. I thought telling her wasn't my business. She disagreed and ended up more upset when she found out her boyfriend was cheating.

Tell her. It's better to say something now than to let this continue and get worse, because she'll get hurt worse the longer this goes on.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:27 PM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

I was also Janis. I wish someone had told me with indisputable proof. I might still not have believed it - especially if it came from a straight female friend of his - but on the off chance I had, I would have saved myself tons of misery.
posted by mibo at 6:47 PM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

In situations like these where there is no clear right answeer I always err on the side of which option will I regret the least later. Will you regret not telling Janis and letting the chips fall where they may even if that means something possibly catastrophic in terms of her physical and mental well being? Or would you regret ruining your friendship with your friend more even at the cost of this other person's welfare?
posted by teamnap at 6:50 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was in Janis' position and no one told me. After over a year of his cheating, he dumped me. If someone had only given me the heads up I could have dumped him and maybe come out of it with more self respect.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:40 PM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

Goodness. And it was just the other day when I answered another infidelity question with "No. The answer to this question is always No."

However, I think this may be the exception to that rule. Joe is essentially forcing you to collude with him, and putting poor Janis at risk of multiple partners. I think you have to tell her -- and obviously, end your friendship with Joe.

Who is a crappy, crappy human being, 10 years of friendship or no.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:38 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I was in my 20's, I dated a guy who was sleeping around on me behind my back. Finally, one of his friends said something to me and I broke it off. Basically, we'd been to a wedding together and he got another woman's phone number at the reception, and then was bragging to his friend about his sexual prowess with her. We'd been dating exclusively (I thought) for almost 2 years.

A short time later, I doubled over in pain at work, and had to go to the ER. I had pelvic inflammatory disease disease from a chlamydia infection he'd given me. After my 3-day hospital stay for IV antibiotics and an ultrasound to determine if my fallopian tubes were scarred (threat of infertility), I called him and asked about it. He said, "oh yeah, my doctor said something to me but I didn't think it was that big of a deal."

Then he sent me flowers on my birthday and wanted to date me again. I declined.

Whether you tell Janis or not is up to you. I would do it, just because Joe is putting her health at risk. If she still wants to see him, at least she will be able to choose whether or not to have unprotected sex with someone who sleeps around. Let's say Joe was doing some other activity behind Janis' back, like shooting up with dirty needles. Would you tell her then?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:57 AM on March 3, 2015 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry you are grappling with the end of a 10 year friendship and the knowledge that your (now ex) friend is a charming user. Now you has to go back and examine if he was ever really your friend, if something changed him along the way, maybe you met him during a good period in his life but this is who he really is -- I know.

Further, he used you and your good reputation to fool Janis.

I have not waivered in my advice that you should tell Janis factually what she needs to know. I have left out why this matters for you, personally.

Like a frog slowly boiling in water, Joe coerced you deeper and deeper into deceiving Janis. He used your good credibility to gloss over her concerns about how "weird" it was she had not met his friend group, etc..

You would never have gone along with this if he had said, "I'm going to use you to deceive Janis - wanna help me?" Instead, he asked you to dinner, asked you to concerts, showed up at your house uninvited to convince you to go along with the deception.

You owe Joe nothing. He is not your friend.

You owe it to yourself to tell the truth. Screw lying for other people.

The only thing you've gotten from Joe in the past year is a dirty conscience. Fuck him. Rectify that issue and move forward without his fake friendship weighing you down.

As I advised in my first comment, in the future run away from dishonest people. They always hurt you in the end.
posted by jbenben at 8:35 AM on March 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm one who almost always says not to tell, that other people's relationships are their own business to navigate. However, Joe dragged you in as the "proof" that he's a good boyfriend who can share his friends with her. He basically forced you to be a character witness.

While you shouldn't have to tell her, if I were in your shoes I'd feel like it was now totally my business to be an honest character witness and tell her what you know. True, neither will like you for it, but he's the one that put you in this position.
posted by ldthomps at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

When telling Joe whatever you plan to tell him, let me suggest you also tell him bluntly that if he ever pulls this shit on you again, right then and there you are going to let Janis know what is going on, where he got the herpes etc

If you do decide to tell Janis regardless, then the exact framing of this discussion needs to be modified. I think you need to do two things here: 1) Let Joe know that him trampling your boundaries is not okay and he absolutely needs to stop -- this may be part of ending the friendship, but, given his history, don't expect him to be real cooperative in letting you end it and 2) you need to think about how to handle things like this so that stop confusing "nice" with "doormat."

You are not obligated to keep being "nice" to people who are intentionally, knowingly and repeatedly shitting all over you. If Joe wanted you to keep his secrets, he needed to respect your boundaries. He was shitting on you just as much as he was shitting on Janis and that is why you feel so involved in this situation: Because he dragged you into it and made you involved. He didn't let you walk away. He didn't respect your personal space. He wanted the benefit of how "nice" you are as a friend while not being nice back.

That's not friendship. That's abusive bullshit. It is completely appropriate to call someone on their abusive bullshit. He knew you were avoiding him. That's why he engaged in entrapment to keep the "friendship" (ie his victimization of you) going. When someone does that, the appropriate response is to stop politely and discretely trying to avoid them and be explicit that you want nothing more to do with their sorry ass. The very first time he pulled this shit, it would have been totally fine for you to say to him (in front of Janis) something along these lines:

"I am really sorry you chose to show up here. You know I am intentionally avoiding you and you know why. I was trying to be diplomatic about it, but apparently you aren't going to allow that. I really don't appreciate you trying to get me to lie to your very nice girlfriend and help cover up your infidelities. I am not that kind of person. Janis, I am really sorry you had to learn of it this way. I hope you leave his sorry ass. Joe, don't ever come to my house again and please leave now."

If he doesn't leave promptly, call the police and ask them to help him off your property. Niceness only works if it is a two-way street. Being "nice" to parasitic, abusive dirt-bags only helps make them more evil pieces of shit than they already are because it teaches them that they can get away with it and "nice" people will help them do so.
posted by Michele in California at 10:22 AM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I was Janis I would definitely want to know, preferrably anonymously and very simply because I'm a private person like the other poster. A quick anonymous letter or email that just says "Your boyfriend has been cheating on you while on business trips. Please get tested."

And you should break up with Joe.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:36 PM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

you owe nothing to this fish fart. you owe as much to the girlfriend as you would any member of the public who was blind and walking into live traffic.
posted by CyborgHag at 1:58 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi All, For the sake of keeping this confidential, I won't go into too many details here. In short, I sent Joe an email outlining many of the above points, including why he needs to come clean with Janis. I also told him that if he does not come clean with Janis--even if he breaks up with her--I may still tell her he cheated, for the sake of her health. I emphasized that he has forced me into the position of being one of the few people who can give her the information she needs to protect herself, and with that comes the ethical obligation to do so if he does not. So, I'm giving him a chance to do it himself, and I hope he will - both so that I don't have to do it myself (I never should have been this involved in the first place) and so that he can finally do the right thing and start taking responsibility for his actions. But we'll see. Hoping for the best.
posted by NeverGrowSoOldAgain at 1:55 PM on March 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

In case anyone's curious, Joe responded. His brief email said (repeatedly) that he had no idea that what he was doing bothered me and that he was too drunk to know what he was doing this last time he cheated. Bullshit. And today, I received a text from another friend that Joe is in town (surprise!) and is trying to get everyone together to hang out. I told her I'm too busy. I then received another text from her along the lines of "You don't want to hang out? But we won't be out that long..." which I'm sure was Joe talking through her to pressure me into going. I said again that I'm too busy, and she said OK. But I am pissed. Once again, Joe has completely failed to take responsibility for his actions and continues to attempt to manipulate me into being his "friend." Except it's so much worse this time because he's actually involving one of my friends and using her to help manipulate me. It's so sick. I'm still deciding how to proceed as far as telling Janis, but I'm fairly confident I want Joe out of my life for good.
posted by NeverGrowSoOldAgain at 12:41 PM on March 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Based on your repost about the birthday tickets, he sounds manipulative, with your feelings as well as with Janis's. He's obviously not to be trusted--like at all. You probably just didn't pick up on this earlier in your friendship because you sound a little naive if you fall for his manipulative bs. Maybe he didn't tell you when he did cheat in his first marriage, who knows. But a guy doesn't just turn into a lying manipulative bastard overnight. Personally I think you should tell Janis and end the friendship.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 7:32 AM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

You could have saved yourself this drama by simply blocking Joe on your email, phone, social media, etc., + immediately telling Janis the truth she needs to know.

As of this time, Janis still doesn't know.

Doing the right thing yourself is much much easier than all the effort you are spending trying to get a proven liar and manipulator to be decent.
posted by jbenben at 8:02 AM on March 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

So now, rather than tell Janis the truth about how he's willingly risking her health, he's chosen to try his manipulation and pressure tactics on you.... sure says a lot about what kind of a self-centered jerk he really is, doesn't it?!?

Give up trying to be fair to Joe for old times' sake; block his texts, calls, on all social media, etc., and cut him totally out of your life, plus of course: call Janis to arrange a sit-down discussion and tell her what she needs to know NOW if not sooner to protect her health.
posted by easily confused at 12:30 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Has anyone been in Janis's position and found out? Are you glad you found out?

I have not been Janis in this situation, but I have been Grace before finding out about Janis. I was very glad to find out about Janis - it helped me leave and find more serious prospects.

The problem is, the Janises of the world don't always leave when they do find out about these situations. When the Janis in my situation found out about me, she chose not to leave - she believed him that he was sorry and loved only her and would never do it again. But she believed it superficially, and lashed out at him for years before they broke up. And it affected her self esteem a lot - not the knowledge of the cheating, but the knowledge that he was 'head over heels' for me but just kind of comfortable with her.

If you do tell Janis, I would leave that part out. Don't say "He loved her more than you, he is depressed over losing her." Say, "He has been having sex with other women and lying to you about it." Because that's something you can recover from - "Oh yeah, he was a cheater, some guys are just cheaters, fuck those guys." But it is, from my observation, far more difficult to recover from, "There's another woman who he loved more, loved enough to be honest and heartbroken about, so he had those abilities inside him, but you didn't cut it with him enough for him to be honest with you/love you like that."
posted by corb at 4:34 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

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