Do I tell our friends she cheated on me?
July 10, 2008 2:38 PM   Subscribe

What do you tell your mutual friends about your acrimonious breakup?

My girlfriend of many years told me that she cheated on me...with one of my close friends. We'd been going through a rough patch but things seemed to be getting better. I wanted very much for things to work, but I was awake to the possibility that they would not. One morning she left me a terribly sweet voice mail about how much she loved me and how she wanted me to come visit her (we were doing long distance) and then that night she cheated on me. Yes, with my friend. A very close friend, with whom I had talked about all the difficulties of our relationship, but also how very much in love with her I was, and how I wanted to marry her. My girlfriend also said she wanted to break up at that point, perhaps as a way to shift the emphasis from "I cheated on you with one of your close friends" to "Our relationship just isn't working."

Not only am I completely devastated, now there's an ugly situation involving all our mutual friends (exgirlfriend's and exclose friend's). I just got an email from my exgirlfriend's friend asking me to hang out. Nobody knows what happened. Doubtless my girlfriend will say we broke up because "it just wasn't working," which is what she said on the phone after she told me she cheated.

What do I tell people? I don't want to dwell on the tawdry details, but I also don't want people to think I'm being immature about a simple breakup. I don't want to be angry and vindictive; I just want to move on. But I also don't think it's fair or representative to say "it just wasn't working," and leave out what I consider a major, heartbreaking detail that destroyed not only my relationship but also my friendship.

Bonus Question: How do I deal with the crippling grief? I know things will get better...time heals all wounds and all that...but still...
posted by MaddyRex to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Say you broke up, and you aren't ready to talk about it. That's it.

p.s. She slept with your friend in order to make the breakup stick, not because she actually liked your friend.
posted by bingo at 2:44 PM on July 10, 2008

Just be honest.

You're already hurt -- no point in compounding your problems by closing yourself off from people. If you lie about it (including lies of omission), you won't really be helping anyone -- all you'll be doing is guaranteeing that those people will not understand what you're going through.

If you respect these people as autonomous individuals, you should trust them to handle it in a mature way.
posted by jejune at 2:45 PM on July 10, 2008

What do I tell people? I don't want to dwell on the tawdry details, but I also don't want people to think I'm being immature about a simple breakup. I don't want to be angry and vindictive; I just want to move on.

I think you answer your own question pretty well. You obviously shouldn't broadcast the dirty details to all your friends, however, if you have a close friend or two that you feel you can talk to, I don't see any problem with venting to them a little just to get it off your chest- It can be harder to cope if you just hold it all inside. Though, if you do choose to tell a friend or two, the news will likely get around all the same, so you should be prepared to deal with that. As for the grief, I find it helps to just try and stay busy and social. Try finding things to shift the focus from your painful thoughts to something external, something that can provide catharsis.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 2:52 PM on July 10, 2008

It's not acrimonious yet, and doesn't have to be. If your friends start demanding details, leave it at "It wasn't meant to be."
posted by mullingitover at 2:54 PM on July 10, 2008

Well, it's your story to tell. If you want to meet up with people and talk about your life, that certainly is an important part of what you're going through. She messed up, and you don't 'owe it to her' to save her reputation. That's not saying you should tell everybody or resort to name calling out of spite, but if they're your friends you should feel comfortable being real with them.

Friends can be extremely helpful in working through breakups, especially ones where you were hurt deeply. But often time that comes with just being able to talk and get stuff off your chest.

BQ: I dealt with my grief from a similar situation in the worst possible way. I can't tell you the right way, but avoid drinking every night as it does not help at all.
posted by meowN at 2:55 PM on July 10, 2008

Similar situation here;

I told people who asked that she cheated so we broke up but I didn't talk shit about her. Just let the act speak for itself and resist the urge to drive the point home with a barb of some kind.

If a person didn't ask, I didn't tell. Simple.

As for getting over it - it's a lot like physical exercise; it hurts a lot at first, but it just keeps getting easier. Try not to focus on how you're feeling now, or even how you'll feel in the future, but just keep doing whatever makes you happy. Drinking didn't work too well for me, and I never would have believed how much running can do for your state of mind until I used it to get over her. Seriously - running.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:58 PM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

"It was a pretty crappy breakup. I'm trying to just move on and put it behind me."

Then you pick maybe *one* good friend whose discretion you trust and talk to them about it.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:16 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Honestly, if your friends ask, I'd probably say what happened and try to avoid adding any of my editorial comments about the situation. I don't think your ex and your best friend deserve to have you keeping their secrets. But I think it's really important not to talk shit about them if you go this route.
posted by PFL at 3:17 PM on July 10, 2008

I also want to point out that this would explain any hesitation you have with hanging out with everybody.
posted by PFL at 3:19 PM on July 10, 2008

I have a standard answer for all those personal questions: shrug my shoulders and say "just one of those things", then change the subject. If you keep the personal details personal people will tend to respect you a lot more than if you badmouth the other party, whether they desrve it or not. This is even more true if the other party is badmouthing you.
posted by TedW at 3:20 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also.. I was the idiot who kissed my best friend's girlfriend in high school and caused them to break up. Everybody found out I did it, and I totally deserved the shame I felt. I felt much worse than I otherwise would have and it helped knock in a lesson. So I'm speaking from the other side.
posted by PFL at 3:22 PM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: I always think you leave the world better than you found it by not slagging people, even if they do things that are bad. So, your girlfriend treated you badly and then you broke up. That was uncool of her. She is likely to tend towards the "wasn't meant to be" simple explanation and, as meowN says, your side is really your story to tell.

When I had to explain a similar though not quite the same breakup [I told him to get out before he cheated on me, but still a lot of angryangry feeling all around] I basically said "There was another woman involved, he's putting his own spin on things..." and laid out a few facts and changed the subject. No vindictiveness, no accusations. I wouldn't engage my friends who wanted to either get every last detail or just be hugely dramatic about it. I had a few close friends who I saved the "wow that really sucked and I'm incredibly angry about all of this and FUCK THAT GUY" venting for, but most of the time, no.

My feeling is that once you break up with someone, all of your negative emotions involving them are your own deal to work out, not something the two of you have to work out. This is always better if the two of you both feel that way but another way to make this simpler is not to create an environment where the two of you are still in some sort of relationship. You'll have to decide whether telling people the truth about your gf cheating on you is going to overall be good for you or bad for you. If there's a way to mention it without dwelling on it, I don't think that's at all inappropriate.

And as far as getting past it, you'll hurt for a while, but time heals. Figuring out how to make time pass pleasantly and distracting/amusing yourself as you get distance from this is going to be your number one goal. In my world, this meant an exercise program that got me into the pool more which had a side effect of getting me in better shape which was a shot in the arm at the same time. I am sorry this happened to you and wish you the best of luck moving forward.
posted by jessamyn at 3:24 PM on July 10, 2008

When my ex-girlfriend cheated on me, I was pretty open about it. I think it helped that we were in a long-distance relationship, which is halfway like breaking up already, because I could just be like, well, that's that. I took a little time to go get shitfaced with pals, didn't knock her outside of that (though plenty of her foibles no longer seemed quite as endearing).

If you're going to be open about it, feel free to pop your collar and be blunt about it—she cheated, thus something's wrong with her, not you.

Just, and I say this only because I've watched more than a couple guys go through this, don't be bitter about it (easier said, I know). If you come across as bitter, any new girls will think, oh, that's why, rather than immediately casting her as the mental bad guy. Frame it more like she voted for a Republican—inexplicable and a deal breaker.
posted by klangklangston at 3:24 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tell the truth. You didn't fuck up, and you have nothing to be ashamed about. So why lie?

And re: grief. You just gotta wait. Go out and live. There are better ones out there, I promise.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:42 PM on July 10, 2008

I agree with Optimus Chyme. I think as long as your intentions aren't to fuck up her friendships with people, that if mutual friends ask what happened you should be able to tell them. She has to take responsibility for her actions. You shouldn't have to hide it unless you'd rather the other people not know because you feel embarrassed about it.

Personally, if I were in the same situation with an ex and one of our mutual friends asked what happened, I would explain what happened, followed by "but I value your friendship and have no expectations for you to "choose sides." Please know that."

(If, that is, you wanted to keep those mutual friends you share and not put them in an awkward position.)
posted by np312 at 3:51 PM on July 10, 2008

You let everyone know what happened, and if they still consider the ex and her fuckbuddy to be their friends, you cut them off. It's much easier to keep your dignity and find new friends than settle for friends with mixed loyalties.
posted by bunnytricks at 4:00 PM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: My advice, for what it's worth:

Your friends (other than that one) didn't do anything, and weren't contributing, and will likely all develop their own feelings towards what happened and the players involved. You can't change what happened, but you can take steps to ensure you're viewed in a generally positive light (or at least not take steps to make you look foolish or otherwise sub-par):

1. Take the high road. Don't say mean things, don't bring it up in conversation, and generally don't think of it or mention it at all, other than when someone else makes it impossible to avoid without seeming shady.

2. Keep positive. As much as it hurts, and as much as you have to go through mourning about the betrayal by two people you viewed as being extremely close to you, there's one thing you now know for certain: you picked the wrong people to be close to, and now that you know this, there's no way you would have kept either relationship going, is there? Years from now you'll chalk it up to lessons learned, and so you'll come off as extremely adult and reasonable if (when you can't avoid talking about it) you admit that yes, you're hurting right now because of the betrayal, but at least now you know you let the wrong people get close to you, and you can get started on learning how to trust and be close to people who deserve it more, and who will treat you better.

3. Act on what I said in step 2, in that you should be looking more critically at the people you choose to get closer to in the future. That doesn't mean you can totally avoid being hurt in the future (why should you be able to do that, when none of the rest of us can?) but that you can improve the class and type of people you get close to, to reduce that chance and hopefully have better relationships than you've had to date.

By the way, part of step 3 is to stop worrying about what your friends might say, or think, or do, and perhaps look a bit more critically at them, especially at their reactions to all this as they find out about the circumstances. For example, suppose they all side with your old girlfriend and best friend (worst case scenario, right?) and reject you? Well, then you've just been rejected by a bunch of people who think it's okay to do what they did -- those are not the kind of people you need to be congregating with, and likely they all hang out together because nobody else will spend time with them.

On the other hand, they might simply condemn what the girl and best friends did, yet still accept them, and you, into their hearts because they're above it all (best case scenario, because you wouldn't really want to hang around with people who would dump you after one mistake, no matter how large, would you?) and so then it's up to you: you'll have to self-manage hanging out with your friends so that everyone can have a good time, and if that means bowing out when the girl and best friends are coming to the party, so be it. Don't be bitter (outwardly, at least), don't be angry (ditto), just be resigned..."Sorry, I'm still stinging from the whole thing, so I'm going to pass; I don't feel like being a party pooper. But hey, let me know if you want to go to a movie this weekend with me and Bob and Martha, because I do want to see you guys."

Anyway, at the end of the day, just do your best to keep above it all, at least in your social circle. That doesn't mean pretending you don't care, just be honest about being hurt but also seeing the bright side of the whole thing, don't blow it out of proportion, and you'll be fine.

Oh, and don't bad-mouth the girl and best friends at all; let your other friends do that, and occasionally step in and say "guys, I really appreciate you saying that, but they're still our friends, and I'll feel terrible if this whole thing leads to this group breaking up." You know, stuff like that.
posted by davejay at 4:03 PM on July 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

You don't have to drag the person through the mud to put the story out there. But one thing to keep mind is that you're describing how these people act towards other people here, and people are giving advice not to tell anyone. If this is your ex good friends way he acts toward people he likes then maybe it's not a bad thing other people know about it. That situation is really effed up, and they put you in it. How do you steer your boatload of emotions out of that bay safely? I don't know, but good luck.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:11 PM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: Ow.

I don't want to be angry and vindictive; I just want to move on.

I think you need to be kind and understanding with yourself. Feelings of anger and vindictiveness are totally understandable, and by allowing yourself to admit to them, feel them, and express them in some kind of controlled, non-destructive way (ie not by leaving drunken tirades on the ex's voicemail) you'll be helping yourself get to a point where you can move on.

Of course it would be lovely if you could skip the crappy festering resentment part, the misery, the painful conflicts created by the fact that two people you really trusted conspired to betray your trust (and all the positive feelings you had towards both of them don't just vanish) but, unfortunately, there's no fast-forwarding. The worst thing you can do is suppress your feelings for the sake of appearances and bury this problem alive. It will come back to haunt you.

The friendship group will inevitably be split. Some people have a constitutional aversion to any kind of icky, stressful emotional situation and will not want to be around either of you. One or two unkind sorts may be drawn to it like flies to jam, will encourage you to spill your guts, and then won't be very discreet with what you tell them. A few people will rise to the occasion, be wonderfully compassionate, and you'll feel grateful towards them for years to come.

Basically, my main advice is that you don't make this harder on yourself by applying all sorts of 'oughts' and 'shoulds' to your feelings. By working on accepting them rather than pushing them away, they'll feel less claustrophobic, and you'll get to examine them and learn from them. I'm very sorry you went through this and I wish you all the best.
posted by RokkitNite at 4:50 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Look for your least discrete friend, and tell him/her. That way, you won't be the one talking trash all over town about them, but everybody will still know about it. Win/win.
posted by signal at 7:08 PM on July 10, 2008

As some others above have said: I'd tell your mutual friends that she cheated on you with exfriend, then leave it at that. You should certainly air the feelings of greif and all of the name-calling that comes with them to a close confidant, but probably not to the group at large.

I'm sorry to hear about this and about how much pain it is causing you. Do as many "you" things as you can right now---dive into your hobbies, rent funny movies, buy your favorite desert, booze a little, etc. This too will heal :-)
posted by lacedback at 7:37 PM on July 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great advice. Things are getting better day by day.
posted by MaddyRex at 7:25 AM on July 11, 2008

I am surprised that no one mentioned kicking the crap out of the "friend". Makes you feel better and shows your remaining friends that you have no tolerance for that kind of bullshit. I am sure others will say a real man walks away or that two wrongs don't make a right. However, when it happens a second time you will wondering how could that be. Don't get walked on, stand up for yourself. You don't need to get into name calling and all that other stuff...walk up to him, punch him in the face, walk away...simple and easy.
posted by birdlips at 9:42 AM on July 11, 2008

Don't get walked on, stand up for yourself. You don't need to get into name calling and all that other stuff...walk up to him, punch him in the face, walk away...simple and easy.

Simple and easy only if we are to assume the other guy will just sit there and take it and make no effort to defend himself and/or fight back. What you are suggesting is revenge fantasy, not realistic advice.
posted by The Gooch at 11:08 AM on July 11, 2008

The Gooch, if it was some stranger, I would agree. But it was one of his close friends. He is more likely to take it (because he knows he deserves it). Everyone here says, "go out and live" or "hold on it will get better". I, like some people, deal with this kind of thing a little more "hands on". I am just offering a different angle.
posted by birdlips at 12:49 PM on July 11, 2008

And I gotta say, I have a lot more respect now for the "cheater", who kept her thoughts on the issue to herself, then the "cheated" who has spewed vindictive angry crap everywhere.

Seriously!? Why are people afraid, or roll their eyes, when someone expresses themselves.
MaddyRex, you have every right to feel the emotions you have right now. I hope you can constructively express these emotions, but if someone simply can't understand the position you have been put in or feel how you feel...fuck 'em.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:16 PM on July 11, 2008

And I gotta say, I have a lot more respect now for the "cheater", who kept her thoughts on the issue to herself, then the "cheated" who has spewed vindictive angry crap everywhere.

Exactly; that's the trouble, it doesn't make sense, at least not at first -- but from the perspective of your friends, the negative stuff happened to YOU, not to them. If you start spewing vile, however, the negativity of your spewing will be something that happens to THEM, and that won't be good for your relationship with them. Right or wrong, it's the way people tend to be, at least in my experience. You end up going from having sympathetic ears to "yeah, what she did was wrong, but MAN I am just SICK of listening to him complain, I can understand why she did it!" very quickly.
posted by davejay at 5:16 PM on July 11, 2008

Oh, I get why ThePinkSuperhero said that, but that doesn't change the fact that it's shallow.

If they are a friend of yours they will understand, or at least try to understand. If they aren't a friend they concede that these situations are screwed up and that what happens now is a whole lot of hurting.

Like I said, rolling your eyes and saying stuff like: "yeah, what she did was wrong, but MAN I am just SICK of listening to him complain, I can understand why she did it!" is just being willfuly ignorant (and an ass IMO).
posted by P.o.B. at 5:53 PM on July 11, 2008

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