A close friend was cheated on and is devastated. What should I do to support him?
July 23, 2007 8:08 AM   Subscribe

A close friend was cheated on and is devastated. What should I do to support him?

My friend found out last night that his girlfriend of two years has cheated on him multiple times (in an especially heinous way). He is of course absolutely miserable. To top it all off, his girlfriend is being remarkably callous about what she has done, although she did apologize and claim that she wants to stay with him. He's furious and knows he should break up with her, but wants her back because he depends on her so much emotionally.

What should I do in this situation? So far I have just been talking with him and supporting him, feeling his pain, urging him to break up with her, and saying that he will recover from this. Is there anything I should be careful to say/not say?

(Note that I'm not asking if he should or shouldn't dump her, as that would require me giving a lot of details; it's pretty clear to me that their relationship cannot recover from this. I just want to make sure I'm being as helpful as possible to him.)
posted by wireless to Human Relations (43 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First things first: make sure he gets tested!
posted by lia at 8:20 AM on July 23, 2007

Do what lia said, then help him move all of her stuff out to the curb.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:25 AM on July 23, 2007

Ditto-ing what lia and BD said.

Also, there's not a lot you can do for a friend in this situation other than be available for them to talk to. He'll make up his own mind about things, but knowing he has a friend to rely on if he needs to will be invaluable to him.
posted by Pecinpah at 8:28 AM on July 23, 2007

Keep being positive.

Don't badmouth her heavily - since he's "emotionally dependent", if you villianify her, he's going to become defensive and go back.

Help him get space. Take him to places with friends or whatnot and do things that the girlfriend didn't like to do and go to places where memories of the girlfriend don't exist. Don't go to the bar you all use to go to - take him to someplace new.

Encourage him to keep busy and go outside. Get him to take walks, exercise, go to the beach, etc.

Help him do something brand new, exciting, maybe even slightly dangerous. Encourage him.

Since they've been together for 2 years, he probably intertwined his life with hers. He now needs space to get objective and show himself that he could move on. Help him get that.

Also, make sure he eats. Getting dumped is great when you're a little overweight but there's no reason in becoming a stick.
posted by Stynxno at 8:30 AM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

If your friend is the drinking type, take him out for a few drinks. Talk it over, be around for him, keep him busy for a few weeks socially. Also agreeing with the get him tested line, you never know what she brought home.
posted by Phoenix42 at 8:33 AM on July 23, 2007

You can support him through this tough time, but to tell him what he "needs" to do is a fools errand- it's very possible he will go back to her, and then where does that leave you? It is never wise to give someone your opinion on their significant other. It will always come back to haunt you. I have given my opinion on a few occasions, and I have always lived to regret it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:33 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I wasn't cheated on, but I was divorced. One thing I needed what to get away my from ex, especially before I could move out--so I would second the "Help him get space" comment. The best thing you can likely do is just be there--listen if he wants to talk, just hang out if we wants to hang out. If you can devote the time to just being a good buddy it will help him tremendously.
posted by stevis23 at 8:48 AM on July 23, 2007

Can you take him away -- ideally for a weekend, but at least an evening out? Going camping, or to another city, or just sitting around and drinking some beer and talking, might give him the space to start getting the beginnings of the perspective he will need to make decisions about "what next?"

Also, don't just say to him, "dude, you might want to get tested." Find out where it can be done, and offer to drive him over there and hang out in the waiting room if he wants. (He'll probably say no thanks, but this is important enough that making the offer is a good thing to do.)

In terms of what to say or not say, I think that he can talk about what a bitch and whore and slut she is... but you cannot. You can say "man that sucks" and "I really feel for you" and "that wasn't cool" and so on, but I think badmouthing her (no matter how much she deserves it) would be a bad idea, especially because there is a non-zero chance that they will end up back together.
posted by Forktine at 9:12 AM on July 23, 2007

Why all this rush to test? If he's got something dreadful it's not going to hurt to wait a month or two.
posted by footnote at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2007

Yeah -- don't tell him he should dump her, and don't badmouth her. Tell him you're sure he'll make the right decision and that, whatever that is, you'll support him in it. Tell him he doesn't have to decide right away -- it's perfectly acceptable for him to take some time to think about it. And in the meantime, like everyone else says, keep him busy.

If he does forgive her, accept that and at least pretend you've forgiven her too (this especially applies if you hang out with the two of them a lot). Conflict between a good friend and a significant other makes thing difficult for all three people.
posted by natabat at 9:19 AM on July 23, 2007

When I was cheated on, the friends that helped me through it the best were the ones who would listen while I cried, raged, whined, yelled, and cried again. Even after the cheating was old news to my friends it was still hurtful to me, so I'll always be grateful to the people who continued to listen while I worked things out.

Nthing the suggestion to keep him busy. Take him out so he's not spending every night at home.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 9:28 AM on July 23, 2007

Both chlamydia and gonorrhea are testable-for in ten days to two weeks. He should work from the last date she screwed around, and get tested--oral swab & a urine test (they may also do a urethral swab).

I believe syphilis is a 90-day incubation period, but don't quote me on that. It's a simple blood test.

HIV is very definitely a 90-day incubation period, and yes, depending on the level of protection they were using, it's easily possible for F to M transmission to occur. Also a simple blood test. If the clinic you go to uses the rapid test, it's a simple finger prick and wait 15 minutes for results. Don't worry about being prepared for counselling--if you go to Planned Parenthood or similar, they will have everything in place ready for him.

The health care professional you see will also do a visual inspection for genital warts and herpes.

You're a good friend. Best advice: listen much, talk little.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2007

I second the testing suggestion. And make sure to explicitly ask for a HPV2 test, since most clinics don't test for that by default.

Aside from that, do what you can to help keep your friend occupied. Don't let him dwell on it and mope (excessively). Road trip, go see a movie, golf weekend, anything to keep him out and about, active.
posted by browse at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2007

Don't tell him what you really thought of her all along. Trust me on this.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:01 AM on July 23, 2007

1) get tested immediately. make him do this. seriously.

2) help him move her stuff to the curb, destroying some of it in the process. don't ask him to, make him do it. he will thank you later.

3) sleep with him, if possible. it really is the quickest and best way to get over betrayal (for a man).
posted by mr_book at 10:02 AM on July 23, 2007

Keep him busy.

In my personal experience, and the experience of other male friends, the tendency to obsess and rethink the relationship over and over is the main problem in dealing with the situation.

Keeping him busy with a new hobby, new activities, travel, etc. all will help to keep him from focusing on the pain so much.

Don't bring up the topic and try to get him to "talk it out", many man don't find this useful to resolve issues. If he brings it up, then fine, talk. Otherwise, don't mention it or bring undue attention to the obvious issue.

Did I mention keeping him busy with little time alone to mope about alone?
posted by Argyle at 10:23 AM on July 23, 2007

> make sure to explicitly ask for a HPV2 test, since most clinics don't test for that by default.

My understanding is that for males, there is no conclusive HPV test. School me if I'm wrong.
posted by user92371 at 10:42 AM on July 23, 2007

the OMG STDz always gets to these threads first

Okay, so once he gets the all clear from the clinic . . .

Forget the hobbies. In case it hasn't occurred to him, he needs to get laid. Repeatedly. And he needs to tell Miss Heinous to pack her bags, because he's planning on having plenty of company. Heinous company.
posted by spitbull at 10:50 AM on July 23, 2007

Do not get him laid unless he really wants to. He already feels guilty in about a million different ways. Don't add another guilt to it.

Be available to listen. Be available to just sit quietly. 2nd doing things that he couldn't/didn't do before because she didn't want to.

If he's the kind of guy who has trouble reaching out, then make up excuses to call late in the evening (And other lonely times) on some lame pretext. "Hey, I totally forgot. Who played Han Solo in Star Wars?" is lame as hell, but he won't care and it'll give him an excuse to talk if he needs to.

Sanitize the place of her stuff, gifts from her (if any) and pretty much anything else that has memories of her. Sanitize. Go through the junk drawers and couch cushions, and digital photos/myspace pages, etc. Everything.

Buy new sheets, etc. Consider rearranging furniture in the bedroom.

Buy him a couple small gifts to replace some of the stuff you threw out of hers (Like a nice picture frame with a photo of the two of you, of a key chain, something that he'll see a lot.) so he won't feel the blank spaces so badly.

Make some future plans for a trip or special event together. In 2-4 months, something he can get excited about and look forward to. This is also a good fallback conversation topic to cheer things up.
posted by Ookseer at 11:28 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the incredibly helpful replies. They really help a great deal. I just spoke to my friend again very briefly; although we didn't have time to talk much, he told me that he spoke to her again and that he's leaning towards getting back together. He's completely shaken.

I know my opinion isn't everything, but given the circumstances, this looks to me like this move would guarantee more pain and emotional damage, since I highly doubt the girlfriend is going to change. What would be the wisest way to navigate this?
posted by wireless at 11:35 AM on July 23, 2007

Woah! Suggesting or encouraging "he needs to get laid" is probably not a good idea.

The OP already stated "he depends on her so much emotionally".

So saying that he goes out for meaningless (read emotionless) sex, how do you think that will make him feel. I'm thinking he'd miss her that much more, even irrationally, because he isn't able to fill that emotional void.
posted by silly110671 at 11:45 AM on July 23, 2007

I know my opinion isn't everything, but given the circumstances, this looks to me like this move would guarantee more pain and emotional damage, since I highly doubt the girlfriend is going to change. What would be the wisest way to navigate this?

The wisest thing to do is to stay out of it- you cannot force this guy to stay away from his cheating girlfriend. Decide you'll be there for him through whatever he decides, or that you'll distance yourself from him if he gets back with her. Decide what you'll do. You can only control you. You cannot control him.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:53 AM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

While I am not one who think therapy fixes all and is required in all situations -- it does sound like this guy could benefit from spending some time with a counselor/therapist who could help him talk through his feelings about what's happened and could help him make a rational and well-considered decision about what to do next. (This seems especially important to me what with the comment about his emotional dependency, and his apparent impetus to get back together with her.) You can't be that therapist, but if you could encourage him to seek one out (and maybe talk him out of any traditional-guy resistance to counseling that might be going on), that might be very helpful to him.
posted by Kat Allison at 12:08 PM on July 23, 2007

In case it hasn't occurred to him, he needs to get laid. Repeatedly.

Terrible, terrible advice. I've been there, and that was not what I needed.

Especially since he's "leaning towards getting back together," you're in a tough spot. I have a friend in the same situation, and I'm having to bite my tongue. Do the same—just listen, be sympathetic, tell him you'll be there for him no matter what, and prepare to go through this all over again next time she cheats on him.
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on July 23, 2007

This has been me before. The best thing for you to do is nothing. Invite him out when you go out drinking, etc., but don't make any special attempts to "cheer him up." That only brings attention to it again. Don't badmouth her. When you're out, treat him as a single guy, but don't be obnoxious about it - it's hard to describe, but "Hey, you should get laid, what about that girl over there" is out, but "I think she likes you" - type observations are good. He needs to feel like he can do without cheating chick (but doesn't want to be explicitly told that, most likely). Steer clear of conversations about sex, if possible.

He does not want to tell the story about what happened, ever again. It's extremely annoying to have to repeat it every time you run into a concerned friend. Hang out with people who already know for a while, if that's practical.

At some point you want him to think about this: a) Why did she do it? Really, why do you think? Then b) is the situation substantially different now, do you think? Because if not, c) Why would she NOT do the same thing again?
posted by ctmf at 12:32 PM on July 23, 2007

go bowling, or to the arcade, batting cages or something like that. hiking walking, photography, cooking.

the guy needs to move away from her absolutely asap. Unless housing is a real issue (NYC, SF, etc) I'd suggest that HE move into a modest apartment and leave her with the rent for the bigger place. I certainly didn't want to stay when I found out this happened to me, but I was so beat up that it was hard to get it together enough to move. I needed help.

things that are purer, from a different time before things got so complicated are the kinds of things that comforted me when this happened (1.5 years, live in, I payed all the bills, she slept with more than a couple of people.)

that kind of deception can be difficult to deal with... a part of you dies when you are hurt like that and you miss it like an amputation.

doing basket weaving type stuff for a while can help to re-establish your own identity.
posted by n9 at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Those of you decrying the "get him laid" advice are projecting. From what the asker's said, this guy is emotionally and sexually in thrall to a woman who thinks nothing of cheating on him, and who if he takes her back will clearly keep cheating on him. So whether he takes her back or not, he has to put some of his eggs in another basket. Or, a bunch of other baskets.

Now, obviously this egg metaphor would work better if the gamete were on the other foot (and this foot metaphor would work better if people procreated with their feet. They can't all be literary gems, folks) but the point is that this poor schnook has been been made a monkey of, and needs to act more like a monkey.

Not to be reductionistic about this, but she's following her evolved instincts: get a low-esteem male to feed and protect you, and copulate with more-interesting men. You as a friend need not to make him feel better about the situation he's in, but to help him improve his situation, either by dumping her or getting some independence from her, before he ends up raising some local musician's kids. Getting him laid could only help.
posted by nicwolff at 2:36 PM on July 23, 2007

Getting him laid could only help.

Says the man working from simple-minded theories about monkeys. The man who's been there says you're talking through your hat and should not be giving advice based on bullshit theories.
posted by languagehat at 2:40 PM on July 23, 2007

Getting him laid could only help.

Yeah! Win-win. I know I love to be the girl the guy sleeps with to get over the girl. It's so... edifying.
posted by footnote at 2:48 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

The man who's been there is, I suggested, projecting. By bullshit theories do you mean Darwin's? Or can you explain why women are more likely to cheat when they're ovulating, without reference to any Darwinistic theory of sexual selection? But it's all theoretical unless it has happened to you, I guess; should we just defer all infidelity questions to a panel of Official AskMe Cuckolds?

And, footnote, that girl can come to AskMe for edification in turn; we're answering wireless' question here and it is practical not ethical. I stand by my recommendation: wireless' friend will feel much better, and be much more likely to stand up to his faithless girlfriend and escape a lifetime's misery, if he is forcefully reminded now that there are other women out there who might be interested in him.
posted by nicwolff at 3:41 PM on July 23, 2007

Different guys handle the situation differently. When my wife started doing the horizontal mambo with her boss, it took me a while to catch on, because I was traveling on business pretty heavily. Once I faced her about it, she wanted to move out to a condo he'd been keeping with her (well, as a married man with 4 daughters, he could hardly take her home).

Once she'd moved out, and I filed for divorce, I threw myself into work, even harder. And when I wasn't working, I wasn't home much. I didn't particularly want to socialize with friends, most of whom knew my wife, and were just as awkward seeing me solo, as I was being around them. I did my time in batting cages, spring, summer and fall. I started fishing again. I went deer hunting that fall in Pennsylvania. I bought a boat I was going to fix up, and nearly froze to death trying to keep it afloat on an old mooring in the Mystic River that winter. Slowly, the divorce ground through the courts, and I sold her our home with money she borrowed from her bosses' company. They paid top dollar, as she wanted to keep it for rental income.

His wife kicked him out, and he moved into the love nest. My ex-wife and he enjoyed their partying, and developed a $1000 a weekend cocaine monkey. She became an alcoholic, and went to rehab several times. I bailed her out of jail a time or two in the middle of all that, and went over to the ER once when she was found passed out, nearly asphyixated in her own vomit, after nodding out on a phone call, when the party on the other end sent the 911 crew. She still had me in her purse as next of kin and emergency contact. But seeing her lying in a coma in an ICU bed, with tubes coming out of her mouth and nose only made me pity her. And standing there, I knew then it was over for me, however Hollywood that sounds.

What saved her, ultimately, was getting pregnant with his kid, which forced her boss to pick his old family, or her and his new kid. No way was she going to be a fun party girl with a kid, so of course, he picked his old family. And she went back to live with her mother, sobered up, and raised his kid. And I got on with life, and haven't had a reason to speak with her in 23 years now.

So, my advice is don't be too supportive. Don't pass judgement, don't expect him to want to hang out, until he's done his crying, if he's the emotional type, or his time in the batting cages, if he's not. ThePinkSuperHero is right about not talking trash about his SO, until after he does. Then diss her like a broke down mule. If he wants a fishing buddy, I recommend that highly, as it's as good a reason as any to stand 6 feet from your pal, saying nothing for several hours, in friendly, purposeful, masculine silence.

And don't be surprised if he makes up with her, at least temporarily. That's surprisingly common in these situations, as the first pangs of loneliness eventually coincide with needs for comfort. A lot of guys need to lose 2 or even 3 fingers in an emotional buzz saw, on separate occasions, before they finally find the off switch.

As for getting him laid, I'm with languagehat on this. He'll be ready for that when he's built back some faith in humanity, and can trust himself to love. Few guys in his position at the moment are going to be much interested in sex, or in women in general. The worst thing he could do is to jump into bed with the first woman who will, before he's packed this bunch of baggage up internally. Don't force it, unless you want to seem like a jerk, or are some kind of pimp daddy. 9 months or a year from now, if he's still moping around over a two year relationship, is another matter.
posted by paulsc at 5:19 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

So saying that he goes out for meaningless (read emotionless) sex, how do you think that will make him feel.

Awesome, that's how. I'm with nicwolff, all due respect to languagehat notwithstanding. This is a guy who needs to regain his independence and confidence.

Of course I could be wrong. So could everyone else. There is no objective right answer to this kind of question. Only arguments for the three or four obvious approaches.
posted by spitbull at 5:34 PM on July 23, 2007

this happened to me about a week and a half ago. the best thing anyone did for me was just let me vent. reassure him that you don't mind him talking your ear off.

my biggest worry was that i was annoying people, but talking about it really made me feel a lot better.
posted by ThFullEffect at 5:42 PM on July 23, 2007

"From what the asker's said, this guy is emotionally and sexually in thrall to a woman who thinks nothing of cheating on him"

The original post says nothing about the guy being sexually in thrall with the woman.

The point was that whether he stays or leaves, it will help if he can make a decision with a clear head. Not an emotionally charged decision.

He may be inclined to go back with her regardless of whether it's the best decision just to fill that emotional void.
posted by silly110671 at 8:14 PM on July 23, 2007

Considering that she may have passed on a disease to him--which may be one that can be transmitted EVEN if one uses a condom--I say hold off on getting him laid until when and if the tests come clear.
posted by brujita at 12:07 AM on July 24, 2007

Hey, even if he does get back together with her, make sure he knows that you're there, that you've got his back. This way, if things aren't going so well, it will be a little bit of help for him to know that he's got some support.

And, if he doesn't get back with her, a road trip is a good idea. Some time away from the situation can really help things.
posted by azpenguin at 12:50 AM on July 24, 2007

LIke I said, brujita, in deference to the OMG STDz crowd (if they were right, we'd all be a seething mass of infections, but whatever . . . pretend sex is riskier than driving if you like), "once the clinic gives the all clear, he should go get laid."

What is the wussy factor here? Poor, poor man.

His girlfriend *cheated* on him regularly and "heinously" and doesn't think it's a big deal. If he gets back together with her he's in for a life of misery. She deserves the thought in her head of him having sex with other people, the thought currently tormenting him. I guarantee he is "tormented" by thoughts of STDs (yet, anyway) or an abstract sense of loss of a meaningful relationship. She *fucked* other men.

He should be *fucking* other women.
posted by spitbull at 3:31 AM on July 24, 2007

That should be: "I guarantee he is *not* tormented with thoughts of STDs."
posted by spitbull at 3:32 AM on July 24, 2007

Oh, and *especially* if he does cave and take her back, he should go get laid. Otherwise, the future will be one of him wondering and her having gotten away with it. And also, it will be a rare chance for him to score some new experiences off the clock.
posted by spitbull at 3:34 AM on July 24, 2007

spitbull: to paraphrase what Jennifer Aniston famously said about Brad Pitt, "you are missing a sensitivity chip."
posted by footnote at 6:35 AM on July 24, 2007

But whoever he fucks has to be without any strings attached, so the friend who wants to be more than that should not be the one used to lick his wounds.
posted by brujita at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2007

No, I'm missing a sentimentality chip.
posted by spitbull at 1:09 PM on July 25, 2007

« Older Yoko, please be A, Hironari, please be B, Miki A...   |   Help me see what I'm typing! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.