When is a bygone not a bygone?
March 2, 2008 5:26 PM   Subscribe

ForgivenessFilter: help me to get over something a now-SO had the right to do, but hurt like hell anyway.

I met a lovely girl last May with clearly romantic intentions on both of our parts, but because we would be separate and unable to see each other that summer, we (implicitly) decided to not make it A Relationship at the time.

We went our different ways that summer, talking daily or more. So I was shocked a month into this when I got an e-mail saying that she had slept with her (male) best friend, that she had been meaning to do this for a while, but that it didn't turn out well (in a semi-apologetic tone). I had an, ahem, emotional reaction, and said that doing that with your best friend, as opposed to a random guy, makes things very complicated later on. At first she said that she would probably do it again, although soon she promised that she definitely wouldn't do it again.

I, on the other hand, was apparently either unable or unwilling -- I'm not completely sure -- to make similar conquests myself, which did not help the situation. Imagine my surprise when two months later she dropped that she slept with her best friend yet again in spite of her promise, as well as with someone else. I was about to call everything with her off, even though it was a matter of days before we got to see each other again -- it was worse in a way, because I felt that she was dropping this all at the last minute in a passive-aggressive way, expecting me to just forget about it and move on.

Apparently she was originally planning not to tell me, although we'd told each other seemingly everything else about everything. In her words, she wanted a chance to be single and enjoy it while she could -- not unreasonably, of course...

And although I've never forgotten about it, we've been very happy together for several months now in every way. The problem is that I've never come to grips with this, either by calling it all off or just getting over it. With everything else being damn near perfect between the two of us, these events stand out and bother me even more.

None of this was malicious, of course. She certainly had the right to do what she did, but the fact that she did something she knew would hurt a lot, in spite of a promise, and didn't care at all, is still a problem for me, legalistic reasoning or not. We've talked about a possible long-distance relationship, and my long-distance experience with her so far is less than great.

For her part, she's been sincerely apologetic since then for whatever injuries she caused. She would say or do anything to make things right now -- but there isn't anything I want her to do or say.

It may seem like a small issue to most people, but it's one that's bothering us (primarily me, admittedly, but her by extension). It's not prior history per se that bothers me -- she has that, as do I -- it's that this didn't feel like it was in the past.

Should I be mad at all? I've read the questions here on forgiveness, but I'm not sure whether they even apply.

How can I come to terms with this? How have MeFites dealt with similar situations?
posted by trouserlouse to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Imagine my surprise when two months later she dropped that she slept with her best friend yet again in spite of her promise, as well as with someone else.

I have a feeling that this will become relevant in the not-too-distant future. In other words, do you really trust her after just a few months?
posted by mpls2 at 5:37 PM on March 2, 2008

Yeah. Dump her now. Seriously.
posted by Doohickie at 5:40 PM on March 2, 2008

At first she said that she would probably do it again, although soon she promised that she definitely wouldn't do it again.

Not meaning to be patronizing here - but just pointing out - when someone promises not to sleep with someone, and then does it, it's called cheating. She cheated on you once - how do you know she won't do it again? You have to decide if cheating is okay in your relationship or not. If you are, then you have to get over your feelings of resentment and come to terms with her sleeping with other people in the future. If you are not okay with it, you should break up with her now.
posted by lemur at 5:46 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

"we've been very happy together for several months now in every way"

That's what I'd concentrate on. Good relationships are built around the good things. Remember, you don't own each other. You are together because you want to be. And you're happy. So try to keep it that way.

I'm not condoning what she did, but you yourself suggest that you might have done something similar, given the opportunity. And when people get lonely, they stray: fact of life.
posted by londongeezer at 5:47 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

She sounds like one of those "I'm-self-centered-and-I-will-never-take-our-relationship-seriously-enough-to-respect-you-but-gee-whiz-aren't-I-a-good-person-for-having-thrown-my-flings-in-your-face-under-the-guise-of-honesty" girls. If you don't want future heartache, run like hell now.
posted by amyms at 5:47 PM on March 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Perhaps she slept with the best friend (yes, even twice) as a way to clear the decks, mentally, for a relationship with you. I think straight people with opposite sex best friends always wonder "what if..." (and their SO's know it and sometimes wonder too). You're actually better off now thanks to her willingness to risk losing her friendship to find out if it could transition to a romance or a "friends-with-benefits" situation. You and she can now have a relationship without that "what if" hanging over either of your heads. In my case, I wound up really enjoying the analagous SO's opposite-sex-best-friend because I knew there wasn't any threat there.

The "someone else" may fall into a similar category. If she intuited, as you did, that your relationship might be a keeper, chalk it up to sowing a last row of wild oats (especially since the sex-with-best-friend disappointed). Knowing that monogamy is coming soon--which feels like choosing to give up autonomy to many-- can make a last conquest very attractive: one is more present because one knows it represents the end of an era.

Good luck coming to terms with your situation and enjoying your romance.
posted by carmicha at 5:52 PM on March 2, 2008

Well, are you able to trust her?
posted by lockestockbarrel at 5:53 PM on March 2, 2008

You know, I wouldn't say that she cheated at all. From what I can understand of the question (and it's confusing in a number of ways) you weren't "in a relationship" at that time. You had "romantic intentions" but "implicitly" agreed not to be together. And then while still in this weird, imaginary "pre-dating" period, she slept with another guy twice. So - I guess if I were you I would think about that weird period, and wonder why it was ok with you that she put you off to explore something else. I wouldn't be ok with that. I wouldn't say she cheated on you, but of course it *feels* that way because you felt like you had a pre-relationship understanding that you were next on the dance card. And you were! (so that part's nice). But I think you deserve to be with women who want to be with you from the get go.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:58 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you are mad, you are mad. It doesn't really matter if you have the right to be or not. You feel what you feel. Obviously it bothers you enough to consult the internet gurus, so pay attention to that.

The only things that will help you get over this, probably, will be time and talking. Lots of talking, and time for her to prove herself again....if you think she can be trusted enough that is. Your time and your emotions are important, don't waste them.

If I was in your situation....I doubt I'd stick around. If people think you are as fantastic as they should, they don't go lying and sleeping with other people.
posted by Bibliogeek at 6:00 PM on March 2, 2008

Well , it seems to me that

1. you maybe initially identified with her best friend (the one she slept with) , but he wasn't her type , yet she had a short lived thing with him.... I ask my self for what reasons was he unfit in her mind ?

2. then she said she may do that again..with another best friend, or the same ? That not clear. Than she said she wouldn't, but she did again with the best friend.

3. all of this because she wanted to enjoy it while she could

In my humble opinion, I think I would be very confused by all that. Why should she tell you all about what she's doing with some other man ? Yet let's assume she want to be completely transparent so that, if you later somehow discover she did this and that, you wouldn't be surprised. Even assuming she's "just being honest" , which is possible, her behavior still suggest past indecision that may or may not have been resolved.

Yet, consider that you may have unwittingly given a green light to her doing whatever she likes, because notwithstanding the alleged mutual sentiments, you agreed to postpone to after summer ( Which is staggering to me...people in love don't really postpone if they can help it, but there may be indecisions and fears in the process )

Your letting her go could suggest you were not sure about what you felt for her, so she did exactly what she may have done without breaking any promise of mutual fidelity ; the fact that you didn't have any other fling doesn't make you any better or worse, it just didn't happen for you. Nor does make her behavior more or less agreeable then yours.

So as you can see it's pretty messy, but there is a constant in that : what is it that is bothering you to no end ? You and only you know, meaning that we/she/everybody can theorize from here to mars and come to any sensible conclusion, but you know why you don't "digest" that "something" that is bothering you.

You see, I can't mind read nor can anybody , but it seems you harbor some resentment for giving her permission to do what she did and maybe just maybe thinking she has been callous for not considering your emotions when she had other flings.

But you agreed to that, didn't you ? I'd suggest you focus less on her and a lot more on understanding yourself and your motivations and reasons, not because they are wrong or right, but just to figure the reasons behind some of your decisions.
posted by elpapacito at 6:01 PM on March 2, 2008

"we've been very happy together for several months now in every way"

It's a little confusing - are you together now and dating in the same city? Or are you conducting a long-distance relationship?

If you are still separated geographically, you're not really together. It might be time to junk the relationship and move on. Getting laid regularly without guilt will help her - and you.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:13 PM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: You were not in a clearly defined romantic relationship by your own admission. She oughtn't to have promised you anything, she surely oughtn't to have informed you of anything by e-mail, and you ought not to have had any expectations beyond that. Truthfully, it sounds to me like she wasn't as serious about an exclusive relationship - present or future - as you were and she made promises she couldn't keep simply for the sake of making nice in the moment. She wasn't completely honest with you, yes. It sounds, though, like you weren't completely honest with yourself or her. If you don't want someone to see other people, you have to be honest about it or you're just setting yourself up to get hurt when they have sex with someone else.

Ask yourself a serious question - is this about not being able to trust her, is it about her having sex with some guy other than you, or is it because you missed out on your time to have sex with other people? Is it some combination thereof? Is it none of those? Whatever it is, until you get clear on that, regardless of how much you want things to be right with her, they won't be. In my experience, unless you really identify why you're angry, things fester and morph into seemingly immoveable emotional mountains. Figure that out first and be clear about it with yourself and her. If she does love and value you, the conversation will be hard but she will consider your feelings and what you have to say.

Now, consider this - if you can't trust her, then you should move on. If the thought of her having sex with someone else bothers you, then I'm afraid there's nothing to be done about it but try harder to get over it by focusing on the now and what's good about it, talk it out with her, talk to a therapist or a loved one if it's still insurmountable, and give it some time. If you're upset because you chose to be faithful to a girlfriend who wasn't really your girlfriend, well, then, you're out of luck unless you decide not to be exclusive with her now and have sex with other people. This, by the way, would be completely acceptable. It's fine to want to have alot of sex with people before making a commitment to anyone.

I hope you get what you want out of all of this and I hope that it grows less painful over time. If your relationship doesn't work out, that will be sad. It will not make the sun cease to rise or the rain fall, and you'll get over it in time, I promise.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:18 PM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm not entirely sure what the status of your relationship with her WAS when she had these trysts with her best friend - what do you mean when you said you two had decided 'not to make it A Relationship,' were you going out at that point or not? Had you mutually agreed to be exclusive or not? Those seem like two important things to consider in deciding what should or should not be bygones ... If you guys weren't in an exclusive relationship, then maybe you should re-examine the promise she'd made not to sleep with her best friend again. How was that promise given, was it something she genuinely wanted to give or was it something that (I don't mean to be accusatory but it might be worth honestly asking yourself - obviously -I- sure don't know) you kind of exacted from her even though her heart wasn't really into it? The fact that she initially said she probably -would- sleep with him again again and only afterwards said she wouldn't just makes me have to wonder whether or not this was a situation where, well, your reaction was such that she promised not to do it again just to keep the peace ... again, obviously I don't know, but the question as to whether or not you 'should be mad at this' now seems like something that ought to hinge in part upon the answer to this question ...
posted by zeph at 6:22 PM on March 2, 2008

Should I be mad at all?

You're not mad; you're jealous.

Just when things were taking off with this girl, talking daily or more, and heading steadily towards a seemingly foregone conclusion - in spite of the "implicit" decision against Relationship status - not only did she demonstrate that she had eyes on other people, but she also backed it up with action. And with her best friend, no less, who probably has a stronger & longer lating bond with her than you at this stage, and is therefore quite threatening to you.

None of this is about who said what or what agreements were made or promises broken. You're emotionally hurt & uncertain of your position because at the very earliest stages of your relationship, she demonstrated that she didn't feel any need or desire to be emotionally or sexually exclusive with you, at the same time as you were apparently interested in becoming exclusive with her.

This probably makes you feel that maybe she isn't as into you as you are into her, but it creates a cognitive dissonance to think that at the same time as you say "everything else [is] damn near perfect", so you're forced to fixate on her behaviour over summer, whilst telling yourself intellectually that there's no legalistic issue with the fact that you were apparently willing to wait for her, and she didn't care enough to reciprocate.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:56 PM on March 2, 2008

I don't think you two can stay together, for a couple of reasons. First, she knew how much you disliked it when she slept with someone the first time around -- and then she goes and does it again, twice? You don't explain what she thought the deal was between you two at that point, and it's possible that she didn't think you two would amount to anything, but to me it seems that she just didn't care about how that would affect you. Second, this issue is bothering you a lot, and you admit that there's nothing she can do to help you get over this. This is inherently an issue between the two of you, but you've already decided (or realized) there's nothing she can do that will make it better, which to me implies that there's no way you're going to get over it.
posted by lilac girl at 7:22 PM on March 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. To clarify a few points: carmicha's response has a lot of truth in it. She had been wondering for a while if she was really "in love" with this guy, and decided she wasn't after getting intimate with him (and decided to again anyway apparently just for kicks). We are NOT in a long-distance relationship, we spend the vast majority of our time together. The promise to not mess around any more, as zeph surmised, was given under a little "duress." It wasn't what she said at first, but she came around and made that promise as her "final decision."

I think it's true that I'm a bit jealous that she was able to sleep around while I, the loser, was stuck being the romantic even when I could have done otherwise.

I probably would have been happier in an exclusive arrangement but I felt like that was unrealistic considering how briefly we had known each other before the summer started. It wasn't that I wanted her to really have a "pre-dating period," but I felt like there wasn't a choice given the situation. At the beginning we had been friendly for a long time but all relationshipy only for two or three days before we parted.

I trust her now...even when she ended up drunk and sleeping in the bathroom of the best friend described above a while ago, and separately kissed two girls too, telling me after the fact about all of this. Which is why I think I would be happier having a good time while she's around, but not doing the long-distance. I don't have that level of trust (thus contradicting myself in the same paragraph).
posted by trouserlouse at 7:25 PM on March 2, 2008

Was there a promise not to sleep with other people? If so did she break said promise? If so, what does that failure to keep the promise say about her ability to keep promises in the future?
posted by Ironmouth at 7:32 PM on March 2, 2008

trouserlouse: is there something else you're not telling us?
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:38 PM on March 2, 2008

From all the answers given above, I recommend TryTheTilapia's. Go through it again and do the introspection it asks you of. Things will be clearer.

Now here's my point of view on this.

You say you trust her now, but not if the relationship were to undergo a long-distance form. When will you have that kind of trust? And would you ever?

I think there a high scope of "I know you must have cheated on me when I was gone this month. It's no big deal for you anyways, you have done it in the past!" sort of exchanges when under the influence of stress, suspicion, or alcohol, in this relationship.

You have already shown her that you can be a man to her who can forgive her for broken promises and commitments (no matter how immature those commitments were for HER and she was being nice, YOU were pretty serious about her promises; and she didn't consider that). She will get tempted to do it again, and remember that she may not be honest with you every time.

I would avoid the cliché "Been There, Done That", but I would note is that everyone who is recommending "Run away from her" or "Dump her now" would have known people do this over and over so many times and get hurt. I would go with the same recommendation. It is wise to end a relationship when any one of the persons is turning into a doormat.

All the best.
posted by manish at 7:39 PM on March 2, 2008

you were not dating her at the time she slept with these other guys. so she was not cheating on you. so i don't think this should be causing you any problems.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:52 PM on March 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

You're not mad; you're jealous.

Yeah, you should probably deal with the jealousy first and foremost. Sometimes certain people bring it out in us moreso than others, and in that case, you're better off moving on. If you start feeling "ownership" issues -- e.g. feeling the need to control what she does -- then she's probably not the right one.
posted by spiderskull at 8:31 PM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: Argh. I don't usually post responses to these relationship-type questions, but there are too many answers here that I completely disagree with.

Several posters seem to not have parsed the question correctly. The girl in question had a fling *before* they started going out. She hasn't actually cheated on the OP.

As for the people who say "if you can't trust her perfectly, dump her" - I'm sorry, but that's just not how it works. Trust does not instantly materialise in a relationship. It takes time. In the end, the only way you can know if you can trust someone completely is to be with them for a long time, and assume that you can trust them. And the longer you stay together without that trust being broken, the more you know that you can trust each other.

If she's important enough to you that you're willing to take the chance of possible heartbreak (and there's always a chance in any relationship), you simply have to give it time, enjoy yourself, stop bringing up the past and have faith in her.

(From the the-proof-of-the-pudding-is-in-the-eating school of relationship advice.)
posted by Zarkonnen at 12:25 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, maybe this is just me ... but if I was your girlfriend, I would be amazingly angry at you right now, for daring to judge what I do with my body in my time.

You were potentially-more-than-friends, yes: but only in potential. If nothing was explicitly stated - well, you really don't have a foot to stand on. Until you and she entered into a mutally (and explicitly) agreed-upon sexually exclusive relationship, you have no cause to take issue with her behaviour.

That being said, you are obviously upset. Why? Is it because the guy she slept with was her friend? Is it because she slept with a guy? Is it because she slept with a guy when she stated she wasn't going to (due to emotional persusasion from you)?

These are questions you need to ask yourself, and find the answers to. Figure out why, precisely, you are upset, and what, exactly, it is that upsets you so.
posted by ysabet at 1:04 AM on March 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

2nding ysabeth, and trouserlouse, in your original question you say you were
" apparently either unable or unwilling -- I'm not completely sure -- to make similar conquests myself, which did not help the situation."

and next you say you were being the romantic by not sleeping around.
posted by Wilder at 5:52 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

.....well, which was it?
She was not going out with your when she slept with others, your first response here suggests that the conversation loaded a bit of pressure in her to say she wouldn't do it again.
On her side she possibly tried to make you happy by agreeing not to sleep with him again and then she did.
Yet you have the perfect relationship and she clearly confides everything in you no matter how difficult.

If you are not willing to work in a relationship to build trust then yes, DTMFA. (Gosh there seem to be some very sensitive young men here in Meta to judge by the speed and severity of responses)

But what you post here shows both sides needing to do a bit of growing up in my opinion.
posted by Wilder at 5:56 AM on March 3, 2008

You don't have the right to be mad. If you weren't in a monogamous relationship at the time, you aren't entitled to be mad or jealous. It was wrong for you to expect her to apologize; if anything, you owe her an apology for explicitly agreeing not to be in a relationship and then acting irrational when she slept with someone else. I'm not hating, just being clear.

Now, if you say, listen, I didn't realize that this would hurt in this way and it's made me come to terms with the fact that I want to be in a serious relationship with you, then you can go off in a future direction. But framing it in terms of trust or your right to be mad is 100% wrong. If you're not in a serious monogamous relationship with someone, it's pretty much out of line for you to coerce them into promising not to sleep with certain people.

As for how to deal with it, I have to get down with the tried and true. Don't fear the F-word, feminism, and read up on how, as guys, we tend to frame our relationships in messed up ways (property, madonna and whore complexes, etc). This isn't about beating yourself up and I'm not taking some kind of wack high moral ground; I'm a guy too. But if you want to really deal with your jealousy and anger and what causes it, you should look at the root causes of what makes us think we're entitled to that and that means understanding feminism and patriarchy and all that. Good luck.
posted by history is a weapon at 8:33 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks again for the really thoughtful responses (and the others too :D).

I did not pressure her to make a promise, per se. I was upset, and (it seems) that she felt the best way to end that was to make that kind of promise. At no point did I say "don't do XYZ" or make any requests of her -- I'm very conscious about not doing that sort of thing, ever, because it makes for bad relationships. But she probably felt compelled to do so to save something important to both of us.

It was not a good idea for her to make that kind of promise, but she did so with seeming confidence that made me take it seriously, which made things needlessly hard later. That's why I've never considered any of this "cheating," but it's given me serious trust issues. Due to relative inexperience, perhaps, I don't think that I'm good at compartmentalizing relationships with people into stages. It "shouldn't" (per misanthropicsarah) be giving me any problems, but it does, and I'm still trying to figure out why and how, which is the more sensible answer TryTheTilapia (and others) have suggested. MeFites can help me only so much with that.

The feminism angle has occurred to me too, but I think the roles could have easily been reversed and that the explanation is a much simpler one of unstated or misunderstood expectations on both parts. Although patriarchy is a very real thing.
posted by trouserlouse at 12:04 PM on March 3, 2008

Response by poster: P.S. Two things were lost in the keyboard-brain chasm:
* It was a bad idea for her to make a such promise, but at least as bad of an idea for me to accept it.
* She is an incredibly sweet and decent human being who since the beginning of our (real) relationship has not been selfish in the slightest (this trait may have been part of the original problem). Hence I'm not looking to DTMFA, but resolve issues, regardless of whether I'm "entitled" to have them or not.
posted by trouserlouse at 12:46 PM on March 3, 2008

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