How to express devastation without coming across as jealous
December 3, 2007 5:44 AM   Subscribe

What to do about lying by omission in a complicated relationship? (kind of long)

Last year through a friend, I was introduced by a friend to a man who I became friends with and have dated on/off for the past year.

After a few months of being friends, we began seeing each other. As of the past 10 months we spent nearly everyday together. We go on trips, we go out to dinner 3-4 nights a week, we spent weekends together and with friends. I help him out whenever I can and despite not being "officially" together all our friends consider us a "couple." Which I don't like because it makes things more complicated. We are not committed, which I am fine with, he's not someone who I want to settle down with, live with or marry, but we agreed that we would be honest about any other people in our lives.

About four months ago, I was inside his house when I found a condom (open, but unused) under his bed - I had not spent the night over in a few days, so it wasn't from us. He never said anything about, and I didn't at the time. I thought he didn't know I saw it.

A few nights ago, I asked him how many people he had slept with since we met. I expected the number to be two, as I had found out long time ago, that when he first started seeing each other he mentioned he went out on a "date," plus the day I found the condom. I was upset, but I didn't say anything.

Tonight I went out with one of our mutual friends (who introduced us & are his neighbors and my good friends). When I told her about this conversation she spilled some more details. She said he knew I found the condom and he ran to their house after I left his house and got freaked out, and that he definitely did sleep with the random girl, despite the unused condom. She also told me that one time he brought a girl over to his house for a few minutes, and then went to his house and slept with her.

She tried to console me by telling me that the past 6 months he's only spent time with me, that he only cares about me. That those girls don't matter, they were only one-night stands. I could care less about the sex, I just hate being the last one to know. I know that it wasn't our mutual friend's responsibility to tell me about these women, but I wish someone put up some sort red flag for me.

I'm very upset after finding out. I don't know how to explain this to him without him thinking I am jealous. We are not exclusive, but we were suppose to be honest about things of this nature. To be honest, I am more than upset, I am devastated. Someone that I have helped so much and cared about so much has lied, at least by omission, to me. Even though he didn't hide these one-nighters from our mutual friends, whom I also see nearly everyday.

I don't know if I can get over this. He calls me his best friend and that he loves me. When he's blotto, he always makes me promise that "we'll always be best friends and I'll always love him." I imagine he didn't tell me about these dalliances because he might lose me.

So, how do I let him know that I am really upset with him thinking I am delusionally pulling a jealous girlfriend act?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We are not committed, which I am fine with, he's not someone who I want to settle down with, live with or marry

no you're not
posted by matteo at 5:55 AM on December 3, 2007 [20 favorites]

What is the point? If he's not someone you want to commit to then forget the drama. Either dump him already or ignore it. It seems simple. If you don't want to commit then you shouldn't be so heavily involved with each other.
posted by JJ86 at 5:58 AM on December 3, 2007

You might really really be in love with him, but that's not necessarily a good reason for you to stay together. Relationships don't often work when they're based purely on emotion - there has to be some kind of head orientated section to it too. You need that head orientated bit for situations like this, when you can't rely on your emotions.

We are not exclusive, but we were suppose to be honest about things of this nature.

Did you actually say this to one another at some point, or was it something that you, and only you, assumed? If the first is correct, then he should have told you. But if you've just assumed all along that he's going to tell you, then that's a different situation. You could well have been singing from a different hymn sheet to him.

So, how do I let him know that I am really upset with him thinking I am delusionally pulling a jealous girlfriend act?

Sit him down, and calmly and rationally explain how you feel. Let him put his side of the story over. Stay calm at all times.

Get yourself checked for STI's, too. You don't know for sure that he's used a condom with these other girls.
posted by Rabulah at 6:04 AM on December 3, 2007

Why are you "devastated" when you aren't involved in anything exclusive? You are not being honest about your own feelings. It sounds dysfunctional. He gets drunk and makes you make some adolescent promise and you seem to think that means something. Take 10 giant steps backward and decide not to continue the drama. You are both playing games. You need to own your own feelings and express them. You can't get all wrapped up in his reaction because you cannot predict or manipulate the outcome.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:05 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

A few nights ago, I asked him how many people he had slept with since we met. I expected the number to be two, as I had found out long time ago, that when he first started seeing each other he mentioned he went out on a "date," plus the day I found the condom. I was upset, but I didn't say anything.

Is this paragraph missing a sentence?
posted by amro at 6:05 AM on December 3, 2007

Honestly, and this is true for many people that have a pulse and are involved in some kind of relationship, casual or not, there is no way to go about this without making it seem like you are acting as a girlfriend. If he tells you he loves you and you are his best friend, you both apparently have different definitions of "respect."

Granted you were not official, there are health concerns for sleeping around, using a condom does not prevent HPV, which can then lead to ovarian cancer for some women. He did not respect you enough to have a standard of honesty in your friendship, he did not respect you enough to tell you he was sleeping around. Please do not listen to excuses your friends make up for him, they may mean well, but they are sugar-coating his actions. If a man can lie to you about something as important as this, what else can he lie about and get away with?

I say continue your friendship with him if you truly care about the time you have spent together, however, I would refrain from other entanglements. I know you stated you did not want anything serious, and that could have been your own downfall in this case, however, you deserve a lot more, especially if you have invested so much time and assistance with his problems.

I hate to say this, being a woman myself, I know how easy this can occur, but women have a tendency to fall under this "fix it/be available" trap. I have had many boyfriends lie to me, especially about things such as these, and while those were relationships that were official, it is a matter of respect to let someone know something as important as that. You must consider your own well-being, first and foremost. Your physical health and then your emotional health. I honestly feel that things could get worse if you continue this with this man. I say, just break things off romantically and remain friends, if that is something you can do. But honestly, if he is not worth being a boyfriend, which you have claimed, and he lied to you about this, well he isn't much of a good friend why keep him in your life?
posted by dnthomps at 6:07 AM on December 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Get the book "How To Be An Adult In Relationships" by David Richo. It is a good book for things like this, helps you see your own blind spots and does it in a more gentle authentic way than most of those dippy self-help books. Your reactions aren't matching your words--you care about this guy more than you want to, or want to let on to him about, and that isn't being authentic. Examine what you really want and own it thoroughly and then express it. He might be on board or he might not but you need to be clear about what you want in a relationship and you seem to want more than what this current arrangement allows.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:13 AM on December 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

"Look, you slept with her, and since I found the condom you didn't use, you're putting me at risk. This would be why I expected you to be honest with me. Since you're not, this is over."
posted by headspace at 6:16 AM on December 3, 2007 [19 favorites]

This part: I imagine he didn't tell me about these dalliances because he might lose me. in tension with this part: I could care less about the sex, I just hate being the last one to know.

Clearly, he doesn't think you could care less about the sex. As many commenters here imply, this is probably because you're deceiving yourself and you do care about the sex as well as the dishonesty. But... If you are 100% certain that you really do not care about the sex, you need to make this overabundantly clear to him, because this attitude makes you a statistical outlier, and he would naturally assume that deep down you do care about it. I imagine he would be thrilled to discover that you really didn't mind him sleeping with as many people as he liked as long as he told you: that sounds like the definition of a functioning open relationship, which I think is really rare but we shouldn't dismiss as impossible.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:08 AM on December 3, 2007

Like the others, I wonder whether this arrangement as you describe it has been explicitly discussed between you two. He 'loves' you and you're his 'best friend forever' and you're sleeping together. Yet it's not a relationship? Unless you've both agreed that it's a friends with benefits thing...

headspace knows what she's talking about, listen to her. You have a right to be upset with him.
posted by Phire at 7:23 AM on December 3, 2007

There are different definitions of "honest". You could have meant "We need to tell each other about other people as soon as they happen" while he meant "I'm not going to lie to you if you ask me"... both are, in fact, being honest (despite what some of the other commenters might claim).

The bigger problem, though, is not whether or not he told you about Girl A, it's about this little lie that you're telling yourself. You are invested, you do care, and you are not okay with the lack of commitment.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:24 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

How to express devastation without coming across as jealous?

You can't, because you are jealous. You're in a tough spot- you've been saying you don't care, and now you do care, and if you tell him you care, he might think you're a crazy jealous bitch and treat you as such (maybe as a way of playing defense against the charges that he lied to you?) I say, bring it on. If you tell him how you feel in a reasonable way (as calmly as possible, lots of "I" statements, etc.) and he treats you poorly, that's on him, and not you. You don't need someone like that in your life. And who knows, maybe you'll be able to iron this thing out in some semi-happy fashion. But you'll never know until you're honest with him.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:40 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Follow-up from someone who would prefer to remain anonymous.
You have confused a lover for a boyfriend. My sympathies; I have made the same mistake.

As a rule, having a lover is an inherently more risky activity than having a boyfriend, so you must take the greatest care with your physical and mental safety. That means condoms and stringent birth control, always, and you have evidence he has not done that. That also means partitioning him from the boyfriend or spouse-shaped space in your life: no seeing each other every day, no being a couple around your mutual friends, no expectations of help or company beyond what you share sexually. That sounds cold, but that's the emotional barrier required and it's no less an important precaution than a condom. Neither of you have done that.

Your situation is fundamentally unsafe. Break it off.

Extra, unsolicited advice: don't go to any of your mutual friends with your pain. Don't discuss it at all. This is a situation that reflects poorly on your judgment as well as his. Note I said "judgment," not morals, though some will strongly think otherwise and that is why I am also posting anonymously. Take care of yourself. If you want to find someone for purely physical pleasure and sex, you need someone more discreet and more appreciative. If you want to find someone to spend each day with, to help and be helped by, you need a boyfriend.
posted by jessamyn at 8:01 AM on December 3, 2007 [8 favorites]

I'm torn between trying to do what you're supposed to do on AskMe (take the question at face value and answer it as such) and feeling that the real issue here isn't what is being asked.

I'm sure my friends lie to me via omission all the time and vice versa. Even with my closest friends I couldn't tell you every detail about every aspect of their lives. I'm sure there are things they choose to keep private just as I do with them. Not knowing in detail every person my best friend has slept with is in no way "devastating" to me.

I think you are deluding yourself into believing you have no deeper feelings than "just friends" for this man. I don't blame you, since feeling jealous and possessive and having stronger feelings for someone than they may have for you puts you in a position of vulnerability, which is a situation many like to avoid.

But if you were truly happy with your arrangement and didn't care at all about exclusivity there is just no way his lies of omission would be this upsetting to you. Do you get this upset when your female friends fail to mention it to you every time they have a fling? If not, then this is about a lot more than being upset because you think a friend lied to you.
posted by The Gooch at 8:12 AM on December 3, 2007

I'm gonna say that you need to sit down, determine what you want, and then go from there. He was obviously upset that you found that and quite fearful that he might lose the thing you guys had. That's good.

He didn't tell you about the other girls, that's bad.

we agreed that we would be honest about any other people in our lives.

Does honest mean answering honestly or bringing it up when it happens?

After figuring out what it is you want, ask him if he wants that too. Out in the open is the best way to handle this.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:53 AM on December 3, 2007

I don't know how to explain this to him without him thinking I am jealous.
But you are jealous. You've grown to take him for granted and now you know the cost; he knew he was allowed to fuck other people but realized you'd react exactly as you have reacted, so he didn't tell you (meaning everyone kind of sucked in this one); well, that happens. Be a woman and just talk to him about it. Honestly, isn't knowing where you stand and crying together better than wondering and beating yourself up?
posted by waxbanks at 8:53 AM on December 3, 2007

I agree with the Gooch: you obviously care a great deal about this person and this relationship, and you are unhappy that he is not being exclusive. It's not about STD safety for you, it's about emotional intimacy.

Sit down and do your best to figure out what you want in the relationship, or at the very least, what you are feeling. Then have a conversation with the man about it. Go into it with as open a mind as you can - everything could come crashing down, or it could develop into a different and mutually agreed-upon arrangement, or you could become closer as a result.

But the important thing to do is start owning up to what you're doing and feeling. Both of you have had very undefined boundaries, which hasn't worked. You're both upset. You're worried that he's not being honest with you, but you're not being honest with him, either, and most importantly, you're not being honest with yourself.

Decide what you want, then sit down with him and talk as openly as you can about what you know, where you are, and how you feel about it.

If you're afraid doing that will make you lose him, then ask yourself what it is you'd be losing. Isn't stuff you don't want to lose, by definition, stuff you really want? Let him know what that stuff is. You're entitled to ask for what you honestly need and want in a relationship.
posted by Miko at 8:55 AM on December 3, 2007

FYI - HPV can cause *cervical* cancer, not ovarian cancer, to correct an earlier statement in this thread.

More on topic, it sounds like the two of you are overdue for a very clear conversation on the boundaries and expectations of your relationship. Your post reads to me as if you had expectations about what information was to be shared, and when, that he did not have. Time to put everything on the table and get all those expectations and assumptions lined up. Not an easy conversation, but necessary if you want this relationship to continue in some form. Best of luck.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:03 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's what I am seeing behind your words: you have both been in harmful relationships in the past, had your trust abused, etc. So you agreed that you would "be honest" and you are pretending to take this relationship lightly and be mature, adult friends-with-benefits.

I say 'pretending', and I mean it to apply to both of you, because he wouldn't have "freaked out" when you found the condom (by the way, that would have been the time to confront him, not now) if he didn't know you would be hurt, and by your own admission you are "devastated," which doesn't at all ring true with your, "we aren't a couple" assertion.

So that's where you stand. The only way for anything positive to come out of this is for both of you to sit down and have that painful, awkward discussion about what each of you really wants from the other, not from the here's-how-I-think-adults-should-act standpoint, but with this-is-how-I-really-feel-and-I-need-you-to-deal-with-it gut-wrenching honesty.

Let me say that again: don't say it if you don't really really mean it. So what if he thinks you are needy or jealous? How in the world would covering those feelings up and pretending you don't have them help you have a real relationship, or even a friendship that's worth a dime?
posted by misha at 9:34 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Misha, I disagree. The "freaked out" comes from the neighbour who clearly is telling our poster what she wants to hear to make her feel better.
posted by Wilder at 9:52 AM on December 3, 2007

I have a huge fear of being thought of as a bad person. I want to be the cool, calm, collected chick that's unfazed by what others do, that's perfectly rational at all times, that's generous and unselfish. And above all, never ever hypocritical. If I said I was going to do something, like be in an open relationship, then BY GOD I am going to do that, regardless of whether I change my mind, regardless of how much it rips me apart, because I don't want to be seen as "that jealous and controlling bitch who led me on."

This has caused me untold agony as I've been dishonest with myself and others. I've also tended to see the world in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. If I'm not being perfectly good, I must be a bad person.

You can admit you're jealous without being a bitch. You can admit you're hurt by his lies without being an insecure weakling. You're HUMAN, fercryinoutloud. As someone said upstream, BE AUTHENTIC. This is the only way to live, IMO.
posted by desjardins at 10:35 AM on December 3, 2007 [10 favorites]

i don't understand what you mean by not being committed. you sound pretty committed to me. any expectation of exclusivity is a form of commitment.

tell him you're upset and jealous. tell him you have to think about things. give him the opportunity to do the same. decide what you want out of this relationship. reconvene. discuss.

it's sort of inhuman to take a relationship that far without feeling some sort of obligation to the other person (and it sounds like you both do...or else he wouldn't have felt guilty about the condom).

so now's the time to talk.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:43 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd just like to point out that assuming a condom was not used, simply because an unopened one was found, is a bad assumption. Maybe he grabbed two and one fell under the bed. I know this comment is a bit off track, but assuming there was only one condom available and it went unused is just overly simple.
posted by juggler at 1:04 PM on December 3, 2007

It's possible to not be a couple and still be upset when people lie you. Surprisingly, it happens all the time. There's no need to pretend you're jealous or that you're some fragile, betrayed lover. Treat this situation as you would if anybody close to you, say a family member or a business associate, had lied to you. Confront him, tell him that you know he lied to you and tell him to never, ever do it again. The key word here is 'confront'. Don't let other bullshit cloud the issue here and don't sit around pining about what you "really want" from the relationship. That's irrelevant. The problem is that he lied to you so deal with that and let the rest take care of itself.
posted by nixerman at 10:53 PM on December 3, 2007

It's fair to be upset about this situation. You were operating under certain rules in the "relationship" and had certain expectations. Now you find out that the rules are not what you thought they were. You had agreed to honesty, and he deliberately omitted the truth because he knew it would change the relationship.

That is exactly the reason why you have the right to that information. If there are circumstances that will change the way you view the relationship, then you ought to know about them in order to make an educated decision. He has taken that right away from you by not giving you the full information.

And this information is important because it has implications for your physical and emotional health. HPV isn't healthy. Finding out that everyone knows something you don't (and pities you for it) isn't healthy.

Now that you do know, you have the responsibility to confront him on this and let him know how you feel about it. Things HAVE changed. And he has a right to know how it has changed. And you both need to go over the rules again.

You can't control what he does. You can't make him honest with you if he won't be. But you can control what you do. You can tell him your boundaries, and then stick to them. If he does something that you are deeply unhappy about, you always have the option to leave him behind.
posted by roshy at 5:28 AM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

nixerman: It's possible to not be a couple and still be upset when people lie you...Treat this situation as you would if anybody close to you, say a family member or a business associate, had lied to you

How often have you felt "devastated" or even upset in the slightest when a family member (not a spouse or child for the sake of this analogy) or business associate neglected to mention to you when they had sex with someone? It's impossible to treat this as just as simple case of being upset because a "friend" lied (via omission), because this is an issue that is irrevocably tied to the fact Anonymous is sleeping with the friend in question. Otherwise she very likely wouldn't care in the slightest who he was or was not sleeping with. You simply cannot, as you suggest, separate out the issue of being upset that a "friend" wasn't completely honest from these other possible underlying issues (jealousy, possible wanting more out the relationship than originally agreed upon) because if these other issues didn't exist there is just no way Anonymous would be this upset about not being given an accurate itemization of every person her "friend" has slept with.
posted by The Gooch at 10:26 AM on December 4, 2007

You simply cannot, as you suggest, separate out the issue of being upset that a "friend" wasn't...

Yes, you can. This is actually the very definition of an open, casual intimate relationship. You might feel such a thing simply couldn't be but your feelings don't matter. It happens. I'm not sure why so many people are so intent on trying to see what the OP has clearly stated is not there. The problem isn't her "unacknowledged feelings" for the guy and what happened here is in no way her fault. He lied to her. Period. Full stop. Treating this as a case of a friend lying to you (which, you know, it is) makes perfect sense because it allows her to address the problem without trying to puzzle about any "underlying issues" that are, at best, secondary.
posted by nixerman at 12:08 PM on December 4, 2007

nixerman, I think we may be misunderstanding each other. I in no way doubt that it's possible to have a non-exclusive, casual, open sexual relationship with another person and be completely happy and satisfied with such an arrangement. What I am doubting is that this is the case in this particular circumstance.

I simply fail to see how one could possibly get this upset over a "friend" failing to mention a sexual encounter unless there was some other underlying issue going on, such as jealousy and/or wanting more out of the relationship than casual sex. In other words, it has never bothered me in the slightest when, say, my brother or sister or first cousin or best friend or co-worker, etc. failed to mention it to me when they had sex with someone. Such lies of omission are completely inconsequential to me. The fact Anonymous feels this "devastated" over the same type of lie of omission leads me to believe this is more than a simple case of being upset because " friend" semi-lied, unless Anonymous can honestly say she also feels this upset when friends she's NOT sexually active with fail to mention all of their sexual encounters to her.
posted by The Gooch at 1:15 PM on December 5, 2007

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