my friends suck
August 21, 2008 6:53 AM   Subscribe

What to do when you find out that one of your friends cheated on his girlfriend (who is also a friend?)

The complicated explanation: My good friend has been unhappy with his (1.5+ year) relationship for a while: his girlfriend treats him like a child, doesn't trust him, checks his text messages, etc. He has told me repeatedly over the past 6 months that he's not sure he wants to be in a relationship and has also said that he and his gf have come close to breaking up several times.

He responded to his unhappiness and the lack of trust by proving his current girlfriend right and sleeping with his ex-girlfriend a few weeks ago. The ex-girlfriend is a friend of mine, and told me about it this weekend.

The most awkward part by far is that I am also friends with the girlfriend. I confronted the guy about it today, he admitted that it happened and that is was a mistake and a shitty thing to do, but also said that he doesn't want to tell his girlfriend about it. I feel really awkward about the whole situation and wish I didn't know about it at all. If he's not going to tell her, it seems like a breach of "girl-code" to keep her in the dark about her boyfriend's asshole behavior. I don't really know where to proceed from here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (81 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of those awful situations.

On the one hand, it's not really your business.

On the other, she's a friend, and could potentially be at risk for an STI.

On the gripping hand.. getting involved in a situation like this, well, ever heard the phrase 'shoot the messenger'?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:02 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Stay out of it. Their relationship will crumble eventually, and you don't want to be the one who gets blamed.
posted by emd3737 at 7:06 AM on August 21, 2008

It mostly depends on just *how* close you are with these people, but in the past, my experience has been that it's best just NOT to get involved. (And if this ever happens again in the future, don't confront the guy.) Think about it - you could end up losing 3 friends over this whole thing.

If she already doesn't trust him, it seems like she has a good reason. She'll figure it out soon enough on her own. Maybe he wants to get caught - he slept with someone else in an already close circle? Maybe he wants her to break up with him so he's not the dumper. Maybe he thinks he'll get away with it. Who knows.

Either way, not your problem. Unless you're one of the people getting laid, it's not worth the drama.
posted by AlisonM at 7:07 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Stay out of it. Stay out of it. Stay out of it.
posted by inigo2 at 7:07 AM on August 21, 2008

The girlfriend's health trumps everything else. Tell the guy either he tells her or you do.
posted by konolia at 7:12 AM on August 21, 2008 [7 favorites]

This situation is lose, lose, lose. The question is: do you want to lose little or do you want to lose big? Saty out of it, and you will always be able to justify your choice by saying "It wasn't my business and I didn't want to get involved." Anything else is taking sides.

Good luck. What a crappy situation.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:12 AM on August 21, 2008

Well, Konolia's sort-of right. Tell your friend that you are concerned about the girl's health. He can either
a. tell her himself
b. get tested, show you the results to prove he's clean, and if so, you'll stay out of it

If he refuses to do either of the above, I would risk both of their friendships to let her know. Something like gonorrhea or chlamydia might not show any symptoms, and could leave her sterile.
posted by cilantro at 7:18 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Comment on bias: I'm a meddler; I'm known in my circles as the peacekeeper (or peacebreaker, if necessary!) because that seems to be what I do best.

That said, I'd consider what all these relationships mean to you. Yes, if you just want to get along with everyone regardless of their interconnected issues, then stay out of it.

If you feel an actual ethical concern, and your ethics are particularly strong-seated on a matter (e.g. abuse, cheating, whatever), you will then need to decide if your personal ethics are more important than a specific relationship. Because should you choose to get involved, you must risk severing at least one of them.

A lot of others will scream "Don't touch it!" Yes, it could get really ugly, and you wouldn't want to get inolved. On the other hand, my real question would be whether your ethical stance is more important to you than a friendship, however deep it is. Weigh that.
posted by Ky at 7:23 AM on August 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Send an anonymous email or letter.
posted by sixcolors at 7:26 AM on August 21, 2008

I agree in theory with the stay out of it for your own sanity. But having been unknowingly cheated on and wasting my time with the douche while some of my friends knew about the cheating, I can tell you that the current gf is going be pissed if she finds out that you knew about it and didn't tell her. Believe me.

Probably the best thing to do is to try to convince your buddy to be a man and tell her himself or at least to break it off with her permanently. If they are broken up with, maybe she doesn't have to know about the cheating. But if he wants to stay with her he needs to come clean. But most likely it all will come out anyway. Stuff like this doesn't stay buried for long, unless your friend has the conscience of a sociopath.
posted by amileighs at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

konolia is right. When someone thinks they are in a monogamous relationship and they aren't, their health is at a real risk. The ex-girlfriend may not think she has an STI, the boyfriend may have slept with more than just her...the possibilities are frighteningly endless.

Health comes first. He tells her or you do (anonymously, if you must).
posted by oflinkey at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I disagree, I think it became the business of anonymous when people started talking to her (I think her, the poster mentions "girl-code") about the cheating situation. I think before you proceed you really just need to figure out which friend(s) you'd drop if it came down to it because that's a real possibility.

I think I'd try my best to convince the guy to tell his girlfriiend. I mean, it's pretty shitty of him to cheat on his gf and now he's putting you in a spot where you need to keep something from a friend, just because he can't own up to his mistakes.

I would couch it in that sentiment: "You didn't just put yourself in a position to hurt your gf, you put me into a position of having to choose who my friends are and I think that's an awfully shitty thing to do. Do the right thing so I don't need to make the choice for you". And if he doesn't after that point, do you really want to be friends with that kind of guy? That's why I'd tell, at least.
posted by Green With You at 7:30 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do not send an anonymous email or letter.
posted by spamguy at 7:30 AM on August 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Having been in a similiar situation ... give him a deadline to tell her (24 hours) or you will. He has put you in the situation of choosing one friend over another, right now by protecting him you have taken his side. Tell him to get you out of that situation himself. Her health trumps him being chickenshit. This crap always comes out and the gf WILL find out your protected him. How would you feel if your SO broke your trust and cheated on you and some friends knew and didn't tell you? They'd be pretty lousy friends to protect him over you.
posted by saucysault at 7:40 AM on August 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

The ex-girlfriend is a friend of mine, and told me about it this weekend.

If she knew that you were friends with him and his current girl, she doesn't sound like a very good friend, since she put you in this position.

If I was the cheaten on GF, I'd want you to tell me. That's what a friend does, lets you know when someone is screwing you over. If I found later than you knew and didn't tell me 'cause "it's none of my business," we would not be friends anymore, 'cause you placed your well being above mine in a situation that was hurting me. That's not what a friend does. Friends look out for one another and give each other a hand when the chips are down.

If I were you, I'd ask him to tell her or otherwise eventually I'd tell her. I'll help bury the body of your shitty boss, but I'm not screwing someone else over 'cause you're too chickenshit to be honest.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:43 AM on August 21, 2008 [11 favorites]

I think you need to convince him to say something. And if that's going no where, you need to say something yourself. You've basically been put in a really awkward situation. As other have said, this is all one big suck.
posted by chunking express at 7:45 AM on August 21, 2008

"his girlfriend treats him like a child, doesn't trust him, checks his text messages"

Send him a text message mentioning how he should tell his gf about his cheating.

More usefully:

"He has told me repeatedly over the past 6 months that he's not sure he wants to be in a relationship"

It sounds like he is sure now that he doesn't want to be in this relationship. Tell him to stop being a coward and come clean.
posted by mikepop at 7:46 AM on August 21, 2008

Speaking from experience, your friend who is being cheated on may likely never trust you again either if you say nothing (I suppose the friend who is cheating may likely never trust you again if you say something). Your friend who is bring cheated on may even end your friendship when she finds out what happened and who knew without telling her. She is likely to feel that you betrayed her nearly as much as he did--especially if this goes on for a while and as more people find out about it. She's already being humiliated by the cheating, finding out how many of her friends knew without caring enough to help her will leave her feeling more humiliated.

This whole situation sucks as much as possible for it to suck without you being the person cheated on. Don't do something anonymous--that's childish and adds to the humiliation and betrayal. Ask your friend to come clean. Don't make an ultimatum, but tell him that people are already talking about his cheating and that his girlfriend will find out and he is not only hurting her and damaging their relationship, but harming the relationships she has with her friends and the ones he has with his friends. If he doesn't tell her soon, meet the girl who's being cheated on somewhere private. Tell her you've heard some nasty gossip and you don't know how to handle it, but you want her to hear it from someone who cares about her before she hears about it somewhere else. Then tell her. If she refuses to believe the story, that's her business, but you will have treated her with respect and dignity, which is your job as her friend.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:49 AM on August 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

really, it's none of your business. anonymous letters? what the fuck is this, a soap opera and we're all 70? let it go, none of your business.

and to the "OMFG HER HEALTH" commenters -- people fuck, it's a fact of life, always have, always will. and they're not falling dead on the streets, fucking can't give you Ebola. and unless this dude is having unprotected anal sex orgies with Brazilian tranny hookers on a daily basis, he's not going to catch AIDS either. so relax.
posted by matteo at 7:51 AM on August 21, 2008 [10 favorites]

I think you need to talk to him and strongly suggest that he tell her. Bring up the fact that he could be putting her at risk for an STD, and also, if he is unhappy anyway, then it may be a good (but horrible) way to ensure things are over.

I definetely would not send an anonymous letter.

With all this overlap in friends, exes, etc, i'm sure she'll find out eventually anyway...
posted by Waterbear at 7:57 AM on August 21, 2008

I agree with others who have said to talk to your friend, tell him it is unacceptable that he has put you in this position, and that either he tells her by tomorrow or you will. Tell him that you and he both know that HE is in the wrong and you will not allow yourself to be party to his cheating and betrayal of her. And for the record, I agree with your subject line -- your friend sucks. He's a complete coward and his cowardice has already hurt himself, his girlfriend, and now you. He needs to man up and deal with his problems as an adult.

I can almost promise you if you tell her and he doesn't like it he will get over it much more quickly than if you DON'T tell her and she finds out later you knew but didn't tell. (He's too much of a coward to dare to stay angry at you for long.) That kind of betrayal against her, allowing her to stay in a relationship where you KNOW her partner is cheating, is the kind that is incredibly difficult to forgive. And even if you weren't friends with her, it would still be the right thing to do (IMO). No girl/person wants to have people know she's being cheated on and not be told. It is humiliating, hurtful, insulting, and dangerous re. STIs.

and no, I have never been cheated on personally, but I couple of my friends have been and the hurt and humiliation they suffered because of it... well,... I would just never wish that upon anyone.
posted by gwenlister at 8:00 AM on August 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Subconsciously, your guy friend wants you or someone else that isn't him to end his relationship for him. What a douche. You need to tell him to nut up.
posted by spec80 at 8:04 AM on August 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Fuck that. Tell your friend that it isn't cool and that you disapprove. Then stay out of it. That would just be creating extra drama, which I sense there will be enough of soon enough.
posted by Darned account name at 8:07 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

If my girlfriend had cheated on me, and my friend knew, and knew that I didn't know, and they didn't tell me... well, I wouldn't consider them a friend anymore.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:16 AM on August 21, 2008

I second the puzzlement at all the OMG HER HEALTH reactions. Let's say hypothetically your friend is cheating on girlfriend A with old girlfriend B again. Assuming that your friend had already picked up whatever STIs B had the first time around and he had already passed those on to A when they started going out, the only additional risk is picking up whatever new additional STIs B has picked up since after they broke up. If you consider a) this cheating happened once (at least, that's how I understood the question to be written) and b) my guess is that the cheating was protected sex (of course, you can't be sure of that, but I think most people's experience is to use condoms when they're fooling around like that), then the odds of A picking up any new STIs is exceedingly low. Of course, it would be an entirely different situation if the guy were sleeping around with many different people.

Anyhow, IMO, if the guy's unhappy to the point of cheating, he shouldn't be in that relationship in the first place. Urge him to break up with girlfriend A without mentioning that you know anything.
posted by alidarbac at 8:25 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid to step on someone's dick when they're being a jerk. Real friends (and family) appreciate when you tell them stuff that they need to know. And your conscience is clean.
posted by notsnot at 8:28 AM on August 21, 2008

Stay out of it. Nothing good will come out of you getting involved. You tell, and your friend who cheated hates you. You tell, and the girl doesn't believe you and thinks you're trying to break up their relationship, and she hates you. You tell, and secretly she already knows, but doesn't want to deal with it yet. There are a millon ways for things to blow up in your face. And really, there's nothing good to come out of you telling.

Tell your friend you think it's a crummy thing he's doing, give her the spiel about her health, tell him your trusting him to do the right thing, etc, then keep your mouth shut. It's still their problem, not yours. Unless she's obviously being mistreated (we're talking real abuse here), then you need to stay out of it. Their relationship will implode in it's own time, or it won't. It's not your call.
posted by cgg at 8:30 AM on August 21, 2008

That should read: "Give HIM the spiel about her health". And pardon the wrong 'your'.
posted by cgg at 8:32 AM on August 21, 2008

Frankly I wouldn't want to be friends with a guy whose passive aggressive response to being thought to be a child would be to prove the person he was objecting to was right, and I think he's using it as a weak justification so he can do something he knows is wrong. The other woman in this doesn't sound very ethical either, if she boinked a known monogamist and then talked about it (double bad behaviour). Thus, tell the guy either he can tell her or you'll tell her and if he tries to guilt trip you for telling him this, he's the jerk.
posted by Phalene at 8:39 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Despite the fact some commenters are writing their responses in such a way as to indicate that only their specific answer is the morally correct one, I'm not sure there is a definitively right answer here.

My first instinct is to react with the "stay out of it, this isn't any of your business" response. It's hard to see the benefit of voluntarily choosing to mix yourself up in the drama of a situation like this when it doesn't even directly involve you. On the other hand, I'm positive if friends of mine knew my wife was cheating on me and didn't tell me anything I'd be righteously pissed off once I found out.

The answer to this question almost comes down to which of these friendships you value the most. If it's the put-upon girlfriend, then either tell her yourself or demand the boyfriend does. It it's the boyfriend or the ex-girlfriend, stay out of it and tell them you don't want to hear any more about this drama so that you don't find yourself in awkward positions like this. Actually, maybe you should do that regardless.
posted by The Gooch at 8:47 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would give your guy friend the chance to come clean. If he doesn't... then you have a tough decision to make. Given everything you've written, that they are just dating, etc. you should probably tell her. But give him the chance to first.
posted by xammerboy at 8:52 AM on August 21, 2008

To the people who are making the 'Fuck the STI issue - the probability that he got something is low' : that's just triffling.

This isn't about the low level, one time probability. It's about the high level, life long consequences.

Make sure your female friend gets told - by him (preferable) or you. No one I know who has an STI seriously thought that they would get it. And not a one wishes that they hadn't dodged that bullet.

Sorry you're in a tough situation, OP.
posted by anitanita at 9:17 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

"Never get involved in a boy-girl fight." - W.S. Burroughs
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:19 AM on August 21, 2008

After reading everything, I want to remind everyone that it wasn't the guy who put Anon in this position. It was the ex that he slept with who told Anon. Maybe if the ex is so proud of it, SHE should be the one to tell the girlfriend.

I still say that it's not your problem, but maybe you are in too deep at this point to wash your hands of it. (Next time, stay out of it!) Perhaps you should urge the guy and/or the ex to fess up. Maybe threaten that you'll tell (citing health reasons - To guy: "you don't know who Ex has been with!" To ex: "if the Guy has cheated once, you don't know how many other times he's cheated!") if you think it'll work.
posted by AlisonM at 9:20 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

For the anti-OMG HER HEALTH people: 1 in 4 teenage girls in the U.S. has an STD. You don't have to have unprotected anal sex orgies with Brazilian tranny hookers on a daily basis to get an STD. If this person's ex-girlfriend has picked one up since they last dated, which is not inconceivable or even unlikely, then he could have contracted one by sleeping with her. Those that assume he must have used a condom, I am unsure where you are getting that. Yes people fuck and we don't all have Ebola, but most monogamous relationships involve unprotected sex based on the assumption that both parties are disease-free and plan to stay that way by remaining monogamous. That is one reason that it is shitty to cheat on someone and downright psychopathic to cheat on someone you have regular unprotected sex with by having unprotected sex with someone else. All sex involves risk, but it is a risk that both parties deserve to engage in with their eyes open. When this guy cheated on his girlfriend, he took that right away from her in that she is unaware of the new level of risk she is facing by having unprotected sex with him. I think she deserves to know what she is getting into, and I would recommend giving the guy the choice to tell her or you will and explain why. He will probably say that he used a condom or that he knows that his ex-girlfriend is disease-free. I would recommend against giving either of these statements any credence.
posted by ND¢ at 9:22 AM on August 21, 2008 [13 favorites]

Having been in a similar situation (friend wasn't sure if he wanted a relationship with his lady, then cheated on her, then I found out), I basically told him he should either tell her and try to salvage the relationship, or not tell her but end the relationship immediately. So he did the latter, and things worked out all right.

I confronted the guy about it today, he admitted that it happened and that is was a mistake and a shitty thing to do, but also said that he doesn't want to tell his girlfriend about it.

That's kind of hilarious, as though he expects you to be all, "Oh, you don't want to tell her? Oh, okay, that's cool, I thought you'd really enjoy incurring wrath, but hey, no reason you shouldn't just do whatever you want without experiencing consequences for your dishonesty. Carry on fucking people over, then."

In your position, I wouldn't say, "Tell your girlfriend, or I will." If he chooses to keep dating the girlfriend without filling her in on this, I would just berate him constantly about it. If he does tell her or break up with her, I'd try to support him as best as possible through the emotional turmoil that results. There's no need for an ultimatum when you can use the time-honored tools of shame and love!
posted by Greg Nog at 9:29 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

My guess is that the problem is going to be taken out of your hands anyway by the ex-girlfriend. If she told you, I bet she told a lot of other people too. So it will get back to current girlfriend - it may already have, actually.

Personally, I wouldn't tell current girlfriend unless we were very, very close, in which case I'd take her out to the bar, have several drinks in quick succession and then break the bad news as gently as possible. There are, however, only maybe four people in the whole world who I would do this for. The rest of them? Not my drama. And realize that yes, sometimes immature people blame the messenger and your friendship with her may well end at least temporarily when you do this. Meanwhile, your friend needs to break up with current girlfriend. If he does this immediately, than if the cheating comes out it's probably going to be less painful than it will if they're still together. If you feel you must do something and you're not one of current girlfriend's closest friends, tell your friend to dump his girlfriend as gently as possible and as soon as possible.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:29 AM on August 21, 2008

I feel really awkward about the whole situation and wish I didn't know about it at all.

I think this is the key piece.

You are right — it is awkward, and they shouldn't have made you a part of their little drama.

You deal with this by telling the two people who have told you about this (the ex and the guy, if I am reading this right) that this has placed you in a really awkward position, and either they need to come clean with the current gf, or you will move on and find other friends who won't put you in an ethical bind.

It shouldn't be your job to tell the girlfriend — either the misbehaving pair need to learn how to keep a secret, or they (really, he) need to tell her directly. Using you to pass on the news is a really dirty ploy, and isn't what good friends do.
posted by Forktine at 9:30 AM on August 21, 2008

Ever heard of the STD called the human papilloma virus (HPV)? HPV is frequently asymptomatic, which is how it gets passed around without people realizing they have it. HPV can cause cervical cancer.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:42 AM on August 21, 2008

Tell the couple that you never want to hear another thing about any of it -- the relationship, the complaining, the gossip. "You don't like your situation, you keep talking about it, you aren't doing anything to change it -- my listening isn't helping you or me. Let's not talk about it anymore." And if the ex-girlfriend has any more news, tell her you're not interested in gossip or in keeping secrets.

I'm saying, stay out of it completely -- not just the part about the cheating.
posted by wryly at 9:43 AM on August 21, 2008

To pile on the OMFG WTF STI reaction, does said cheated on friend value her fertility? Is there even a slight chance she will want children in the future? Please take ND¢'s response to heart. Not all infections are an itchy vadge, people. No one wants tertiary syphilis or have surprise infertility when they're trying to get pregnant. It may be a slim risk, but the girlfriend should at least be informed that she is exposing herself to a risk.

Please, this girl needs to find out somehow. I am bad at situations of tact, I can't tell you how to get the message across. However, I would never forgive a friend if she knew my SO was cheating on me and didn't tell me. You need to ask yourself: do you really value the guy's friendship? He's lying to his girlfriend by cheating on her, who's to say he's not going to lie to you about something serious in the future?
posted by giraffe at 9:46 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Say nothing.

The people who bring up "health concerns" are really just working you because they want this "evil cheater" to get some kind of comeuppance.

Issues, people?
posted by Zambrano at 9:52 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh pretty please don't tell! Getting involved in somebody else's relationship is really really dangerous, in my opinion. Even if you do tell the girlfriend, she may grow to resent you because you're the one who broke up their relationship. And if they ever try and work it out you're the bad guy.

People make bad decisions. But it's not your place to try and fix their decisions. They did put you in an awkward position, and they shouldn't have, but I don't think that gives you the "right" (I use that term very loosely) to go sharing that information among the parties. Especially since this guy is one of your good friends. He told you because he trusted you. It's unfortunate that you know the girlfriend too but do you really want to abuse somebody's trust in you? Trust is such a difficult thing to earn. And as his good friend you betraying that will hurt him for a very very long time, likely even in other friendships. Plus I think ultimatums among friends are kind of shitty.

I think the best thing you can tell your friend is "Look, obviously this relationship is making you unhappy, so perhaps the best thing to do is get out of it." I think that's the most helpful thing you can do as his good friend.

To the poster right above me, as far as HPV... yes, it's asymptomatic, and people can pass it around without realizing they have it, but (and I'm certainly not trying to diminish the seriousness of an STD here) 50% of sexually active people will have it at some point in their lifetimes. And there's nothing you can do to prevent passing it on. Not even a condom can fully protect you. So while I'm not denying that there's a possibility for other STDs, I just think all the info should be put out there about HPV.
posted by dithmer at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2008

If you are friends with BOTH and one is cheating...YOU KEEP QUIET because as much as you owe it to your girlfriend to also know the other person, regardless of whether that person is a dick or not he is still your friend.....

Now for all of those talking sh** about "if he is your friend he wouldnt have put you in this position". I hope that all of your friends are flawless and have never done any sins because god knows you'll reject them the minute you find out they are not perfect....

So please go cast the first stone if you never messed up (a lot of people say you have never cheated blah blah well, trust me I bet ALL OF YOU have done something you'd rather not want another person to know)

If you are friend with ONLY one half of the cuple and the significant other is cheating YOU DO TELL....

Why? You dont owe anything to that other person........

A better suggestion........

The person who put you in that position (the ex-girlfriend) is obviously a blabber mouth and since you are so eager to put everything out in the open why dont you pressure HER (since she was the one that slept with the guy AND the one who told you) to tell the legitimate girlfriend or to put pressure on the guy to reveal what happened....the way things sound this shouldnt be that difficult and it should relieve you of your burden.
posted by The1andonly at 10:01 AM on August 21, 2008

I think you should consider dumping all three of these friends. The GF is an insecure shrew, the BF is a cheating bastard, and the ex-GF slept with a guy she knows is in a relationship. Why would you want to hang around with people like that? Sounds like there will be nothing but more drama and and life-complicating situations with these three. Unless you thrive on being in the middle of a real life soap opera, extricate yourself from this situation and save yourself a lot of future trouble. Good luck!
posted by Daddy-O at 10:07 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would stay out of it. Sounds like instant-drama-mix and the last thing you want to do is add water.
posted by mrbill at 10:26 AM on August 21, 2008

I truly appreciate Daddy-O's perspective and I'm going to come down on the side of taking the middle road suggested by GregNog and mikepop: the current-gf doesn't have to be told if the guy just breaks up with her. I think if you want to apply any pressure at all it should be for the breakup the guy admits to considering.

Other than that, MYOB.
posted by rhizome at 10:29 AM on August 21, 2008

If it blows up later, simply say it was not your information to tell. After all, it's not.
posted by Breav at 10:35 AM on August 21, 2008

Okay, I agree that the health concerns have been perhaps a little overly emphasized for the level of risk involved.

But to act as if no one has ever gotten an STD? Are you kidding or just that naive? Why do you think there are so many herpes medication commercials on TV? Because a lot of people have it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:47 AM on August 21, 2008

She may not believe you anyway. She may stay with the guy anyway. Either of those scenarios will make your friendship incredibly awkward. Let nature run its course. I was cheated on, and I happened to find out on my own, but if someone had told me, I would have been all FUCK YOU, stayed with the guy and distanced myself from the friend. Remember, love is blind. If she comes to you with a suspicion, perhaps it's time to confirm that suspicion. ("Well, I thought this was none of my business and I was trying to stay out of it, but since you brought it up, I heard that in fact Joe has been cheating on you.") Don't say who he cheated with or that she told you - her anger is probably going to be directed at the other woman anyway.
posted by desjardins at 10:55 AM on August 21, 2008

+1 to MYOFB, notice I added the F.

If you tell her you're a douche cuz it looks like you want in her pants. If it were me I would tell my friend to stop being a douchel and tell her to stop acting like a child, in my own time, and as a friend. "Dude you're gonna get busted and you so deserve it, what the hell is wrong with you?" and her "Man if my lady treated me the way you treat him, I'd have pulled my hair out a long time ago!" or something like that. Maybe with more profanity.
posted by TomMelee at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2008

dithmer: Thanks for adding info. However, I just want to reiterate that HPV is unlike any other STD because it can cause cancer.

Gonorrhea doesn't cause cancer. Herpes doesn't cause cancer. Chlamydia doesn't cause cancer. Crabs don't cause cancer. HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, penis, and anus.

Any woman who is known to have HPV needs to have routine cervical cancer screenings. And if the cheated-on woman in this scenario is in the right age range, she can still get an HPV vaccination.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:24 AM on August 21, 2008

Why can't people do stupid things quietly? I'm supportive or either:

1. Stay the hell out of it. This is the most protective for you by far. Believe. It might be tough holding this in, but dealing with the repercussions of the other way will yield a higher pain acme.


2. Get everybody together, tell them to STFU and Listen. Then say out loud everything you know about each of them. I mean, if you are going to be pilot, co-pilot and fucking bombardier on this, go big. Carpet bomb for maximum efficiency. Have fun being under the bus with this choice, btw. But at least it is honesty, so I throw it in for fun.

Ultimately, these people are just using you as a message board because they are too chicken to own up to their piece in this oh-so-typical human mess.

I would steer clear, and I go with number 1.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:34 AM on August 21, 2008

and to the "OMFG HER HEALTH" commenters -- people fuck, it's a fact of life, always have, always will. and they're not falling dead on the streets, fucking can't give you Ebola. and unless this dude is having unprotected anal sex orgies with Brazilian tranny hookers on a daily basis, he's not going to catch AIDS either. so relax.

There are lots of things besides HIV out there. As others have pointed out, some can affect fertility, others can cause cancer, but the bottom line is the girlfriend has the right to know her relationship is not monogamous.

It's a crappy position for the OP to be in, we can all agree on that, but it is what it is.
posted by konolia at 11:34 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Friend of mine found out her boyfriend was cheating when she suddenly came down with an extremely painful (though fortunately non-serious) STD. Not the best way to find out, I'll tell you that. I wouldn't downplay the health angle at all - as a matter of fact, were I him I'd be much more worried about it than some of y'all seem to be.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:42 AM on August 21, 2008

Unless you're one of the people getting laid, it's not worth the drama.

Truer words have rarely been spoken. Is this a difficult code to live by? Yes. Is this a code you should live by? Yes yes omigod YES.

Looking forward to the inevitable Meta, btw.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:50 AM on August 21, 2008

It depends on the personalities of the people involved, but I think you should tell the GF what's going on. Having been in the position of the GF (minus treating the BF poorly, I think), when I realized that mutual friends didn't tell me what was going on, I felt extremely hurt and betrayed. That being said, some people may lash out against you as the messenger. So you'll have to use your judgment here.
posted by Faithos at 12:01 PM on August 21, 2008

Do nothing.
posted by rainbaby at 12:02 PM on August 21, 2008

I would throw the fucking BEATDOWN on any friend of mine who knew I was being cheated on and didn't tell me.

(PS - Some STDs can cause infertility, so back off on the "no big deal" angle, dudes)
posted by tristeza at 12:35 PM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hmm, I disagree Zambrano,

Some of the people pointing out the 'health issues' attended women's colleges and saw the large number of women who dealt with the short and long term consequences of their partners not sharing that they they were playing with other people. From the itching, burning rashiness, to the to the damn, how will I ever tell people I want to date about this, to the oh G-d, I'm infertile, to the oh shit, what do you mean she died?

Perhaps the probability is low. But it's not about underestimating the shitstorm the OP is signing onto by telling. (cause you know, OP, you probably are). I do think here it's about determining what you wish you would know/someone would do for you. I think that focus cuts away all of the other crap, and lets you weather the the chips falling where they may.

Regardless of how crappy or well the ex and boyfriend are acting (not judging that), you can bet that they, and every Mefi on this board, and maybe even you, would like to know if their chances of an STI just went up. Even just a teeny, weeny bit.
posted by anitanita at 12:40 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mod note: a few comments removed - please do not start an STD derail by arguing STD points - take it to metatalk or state your case and move on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2008

I haven't read any of the above comments yet, so I apologize if this is a repeat. Here is what will happen:

They're going to break up in a messy way. The cheating thing may or may not come out at that point, but it will almost certainly come out eventually, somewhere down the line. You refer to this guy as your "good friend" but say you're also friends with his girlfriend and his ex, so it sounds like kind of a cluster-fuck-y kind of social circle to me. You're basically going to have to choose between your guy friend and his girlfriend. If you want to remain friends with him after his crappy behavior, you keep your mouth shut and that girl will not be your friend once she knows you knew and didn't tell her. If you like the girl better or value her more as a friend, you have to tell her what's up.

I've been in this guy's girlfriend's shoes before, and it sucks. I'm still civil with his other friends who chose not to reveal things to me, but I definitely don't consider any of them close friends anymore. There is no real "girl-code" or "guy-code", just a sort of basic level of respect for people you consider to be your friends.
posted by booknerd at 2:45 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I were anon, I'd feel similarly uncomfortable about having been dragged into this. This would be compounded by the fact that I'm really, really uncomfortable with infidelity, and with people who cheat. I strongly suspect that some people on this thread would call me a prude or whatever based on this. The truth is, your friend needs to grow a pair and break up with his girlfriend rather than doing hurtful and dangerous (yes, dangerous--it's not melodramatic, but realistic to acknowledge the risk that he's forcing on his SO by engaging in infidelity) things behind her back.

For all those who have said "mind your own business", it seems to me that it's much too little, too late for this sort of thing--you've been dragged into this situation against your will. If you play stupid, you risk your friendship with the girlfriend and are instead aligning yourself with the male friend and the ex, who have shown themselves to be pretty deplorable people. I mean, the ex is bragging about it. Really, really uncool. Have a talk with your friend about STD risks. Tell him that if he doesn't plan on breaking up with his girlfriend, then she needs to be notified of his risky behavior (and really, she should be anyway). And yes, give him an ultimatum. Maybe he won't like you for it. I wouldn't care what such a jerky dude would think of me, regardless.

FWIW, I was once in a similar situation and didn't do anything. I only knew concretely of one instance of my male friend's infidelity (he felt it necessary to describe it in lurid detail). He never told his girlfriend and I never said anything--subsequently, I had to listen to his girlfriend cry about her feelings of inadequacy for two years. During these two years, I also got to listen to the male friend say all sorts of things about his girlfriend--how she was overweight and crazy and insecure. All of this was told under a backdrop of his talking extensively about how attractive other women were to him. People who do this sort of thing are selfish and cowardly and often have trouble seeing how their own actions impact the emotions of others. If I were in the same position again--and knew that I'd be this girl's lying, cowardly shoulder to cry on for two years, protecting her cheating boyfriend without any real reason to do so--you can bet your life that I wouldn't act the same way.

I would also tell your male friend, point blank, that you don't approve of infidelity and that you don't want to hear about it in the future. This has been my current policy. Yes, its made some people (usually the ones engaging in infidelity) initially uncomfortable--what will we talk about if its not about their sex lives?! But it keeps me out of things that I'd rather know nothing about and avoids situations that are much tenser, more miserable, and potentially more hurtful. Really, your discomfort is a sign that you're too good for all of this. Your friend and his ex are likely looking for someone to tacitly approve and to thereby allow it to continue. Make it clear that you want no part in this. Really.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:54 PM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is an awful situation to be in. All else being equal, you should stay the hell out of it. As to the STD angle... to a first approximation everybody should assume they have possibly been exposed to an STD and should occasionally get tested. Yes, everybody. Married 20 years? Get tested! Just hooked up last month? Get tested! Lots and lots and lots of people cheat. If you don't get tested because your SO would never do that, you're a sucker.

The ideal situation would be somehow getting everybody involved to get tested for STDs without saying why. Somehow.
posted by Justinian at 3:00 PM on August 21, 2008

You are doubtless in a crappy position. But that's life, and the situation being crappy doesn't absolve you from acting-in this case, not taking action is taking a side just as much as telling the girlfriend is.

I have to admit, I don't quite understand all the people who thing you should keep quiet, just because telling the gf would be really awkward. To me, this comes down to the golden rule (and I'm an agnostic)! If you were in the girlfriend's position of being cheated on, would you want a friend to tell you? If you would want to know, say something.

Personally, I'd want to know. If I had a good friend who know my SO was cheating and didn't tell me, I'd be pretty hurt.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 3:57 PM on August 21, 2008

If I had a good friend who know my SO was cheating and didn't tell me, I'd be pretty hurt.

I agree with this. But I've also done things that good friends know about that I'd be really hurt and pissed off if they told other people about. (Not cheating, I swear!)

The problem is that he is friends with both parties, and whatever action he takes violates the friend code for one of his friends.
posted by Justinian at 4:20 PM on August 21, 2008

But I've also done things that good friends know about that I'd be really hurt and pissed off if they told other people about. (Not cheating, I swear!)

Right. I guess it just comes down to which person's trust it is more 'moral' to break. Is the girlfriend likely to go psycho and kill the boyfriend? Okay, more harm is caused by telling than keeping it a secret. Is the girlfriend likely to just be hurt, and so the only harm avoided would be the possible STD? If this is the case, telling is probably the right thing to do, in the long run.

I think one part of being a good friend to someone is being there for them; the reciprocal of that is they ask you to be there for them in ways that don't compromise ones ethics. A good friend wouldn't ask someone to do something that goes against their deeply held beliefs, right?

Lastly, if it were me in the situation, I would urge my friend to either come clean and admit having cheated or break up with the GF. I would only get involved further if the guy was completely unwilling to come clean, and I couldn't persuade him.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 5:26 PM on August 21, 2008

Wow, I can't believe I disagree with matteo about something, but I do. Tons of people, at least in the US, have STDs and have no fucking clue they do. A lot of them are easily treatable, but if left unnoticed--which is certainly a possibility if you think you're in a monogamous relationship--can indeed lead to sterility. Acting like the STD issue is no big deal is, in my opinion, incredibly stupid.

And I think Ky is spot on--there is no easy answer here, just the one you can live with, and only you know which one that is. If you feel personally hung up about cheating and she's a close friend, I'd tell her in a heartbeat fully expecting to lose contact with her, possibly forever. But if you want to keep being friends with these people and this entire circus doesn't bug the shit out of you ethics wise, then stay out of it.
posted by ifjuly at 5:45 PM on August 21, 2008

Am I on the only one who thinks someone who is constantly worried that her BF is a cheater has a guilty conscious of her own? Sure, could be his lurking ex. sleazing around in the background, but if you want to draw on personal experience, my has been that women who treat men like this are serial, unrepentant cheaters - you know, the kind who sleep with other women's husbands to heal the hurt of not being loved "enough" by their own spouses.

Seriously, the STD thing is a red herring - as some have said, everyone is at risk. And no one has any business having unsafe sex with someone they don't trust.

As the wise inigo2 says, "stay out of it, stay out of it, stay out of it." You managed to spend all this time - six months - not telling her that her very own boyfriend has confide in your that he doesn't want to be in a relationship.

For all you know this is the third, fourth, or fifth time he's cheated. There's no reason for him to tell her. He should bow out. Between the snooping and the cheating, these people should not be in a relationship. You made they right call: they suck. Enjoy them from an emotional distance until they mature.

Think of this - what if you tell her, not knowing that he had just confessed to her, they had a big huge emotinal thing and decided to get married? And now you're the bad news guy who can't be part of their whole new crazy life?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:41 PM on August 21, 2008

I imagine this comment will be removed as well, as I note that my earlier comment was removed. But I'll give it the old college try anyway.

I think at it's core, this is a problem of competing values.

Some Mefis are championing a particular value - not telling, not 'tattling' on things that aren't 'our' business - to keep a friend's secret - to have their back. But in the end it's really sad that the OP's male friend thinks that his secret -and him saving face - is more important than her health. He just doesn't want to get caught. He's kind of thinking only of himself. Not unreasonable - he doesn't care for the odds of definite shitstorm vs. small possibility that he's passed on something icky. But he doesn't have his girlfriend's back. Or much integrity, it seems.

Other Mefis are championing the keep your nose out of it watch out for yourself value: the OP is thinking that he doesn't want to lose his male friend, doesn't want the bother of being in the middle, perhaps doesn't want to face the possibly misdirected rage of the girlfriend. Also not unreasonable -The OP just trying to protect themselves as well. But that's not thinking about her either.

But I am championing this value: I think being a friend means sometimes you put their health over your discomfort. Like grabbing keys from one drunk friend's hands, or encouraging another to be honorable and expansive when it's easier to be selfish and self preservationist, or awkwardly telling another that they should get testing because their lover is cheating.

Yes, this path means that sometimes we lose friends by being the type of friend we wish we had. But it beats the watery thin, pale alternative: keeping people who are only friends of convenience, not of spirit - people who really don't have our backs.

But you know, I bet many people could argue the two other values equally convincingly.
posted by anitanita at 7:06 PM on August 21, 2008 [6 favorites]

Yes, this path means that sometimes we lose friends by being the type of friend we wish we had. But it beats the watery thin, pale alternative: keeping people who are only friends of convenience

Absolutely. To me, this cuts the other way. If you're someone's friend - a real friend - you have their back even when they fuck up. Having a fling falls under that rubric. We're not talking about being a serial killer here; the guy screwed up in a way that many if not most people screw up in at one time or another. To me, putting no stock at all in the idea of having your friend's back even when he or she screws up is the watery, thin, pale form of friendship. If I felt someone would throw me under the bus any time I screwed up, well, I'm not sure that's somebody I'd want to be friends with.

Yes, the line between keeping your friends' secrets and enabling bad behavior is a blurry one. But that doesn't mean there isn't a line.
posted by Justinian at 7:16 PM on August 21, 2008

If you're someone's friend - a real friend - you have their back even when they fuck up.

Justinian, I can't help but feel like a lot of the advice along these lines seems to ignore the fact that OP stated that she was friends both with the cheater and the girlfriend--and it seems only safe to assume that she's equally friends with both. Therefore, having a friend's back would include having the girlfriend's back as well--and this would mean doing your duty as a friend to protect the person being cheated on, at least in terms of sexual health, if not emotionally, from potential humiliation, and so on.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:27 PM on August 21, 2008

Which is to say, the OP has a tough choice to make at least in terms of loyalties--protecting a friend who made a mistake or protecting one who could hurt in the long run.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:42 PM on August 21, 2008

I dunno, I've been assuming the OP is closer to the guy. OP refers to the guy as a "good friend" and just mentions beng friends with the cheated-upon person in an offhand way.

Which is another way of saying that the whole situation is a clusterfuck. And don't ignore the ex-girlfriend's complicity in the whole fiasco. There was absolutely no reason for her to tell OP about what happened unless she wanted it to get out in the open and break up the people in question. I would assume she had ulterior motives.

The whole thing just sucks all over.
posted by Justinian at 7:55 PM on August 21, 2008

Maybe the ex-gf could spill the plate of beans?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:59 PM on August 21, 2008

The whole thing just sucks all over.

Yeah. Couldn't agree more.

If you're someone's friend - a real friend - you have their back even when they fuck up. Having a fling falls under that rubric.

I agree. But having the fling was the fuck up. Not coming clean or breaking up with the girlfriend=fucking up again, in my book. I think one of the duties of a friend is to try and help people to do the best they have. The friend already fucked up. Now it's the poster's job to make sure the friend doesn't fuck up again. The OP would be a dick to drop the friend at this point. But if the friend doesn't come clean? That isn't fucking up. It's fucking up, and failing to take responsibility in a way that could have real, unpleasant consequences for someone else.

And for all the people who poo-poo the risks involved-we have no idea, NONE, that the OP's friend used appropriate safer sex practices. So there's no reason to speculate either way.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 11:32 PM on August 21, 2008

Technically this is precisely the situation she has been anticipating. If she has not been including you in all of that before now she will ultimately not appreciate you throwing it all out of whack by handing her the evidence she has always felt she will quite craftily discover... Stay the fuck out of it. They're all pathetic (maybe not the ex??) and by getting involved it makes you pathetic too.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:58 AM on August 22, 2008

One of the things about friendship is that the trust relationship cuts both ways: if you're my friend, I have a certain obligation to try to keep you from having to bail me out too often. Being someone's friend does not involve providing them with an unlimited supply of "get out of jail free" cards.

The way the OP has described this, they have two friends:
  • The friend who was cheated upon.
  • The friend who did the cheating, and, crucially, does not want to reveal the fact.
These two friendship obligations are in no way equal. The first friend, who was the victim of the cheating, is as far as I can see blameless in this incident: she's in a relationship that she believes is monogamous, and has had that trust violated spectacularly by her partner.

No such luck for the second friend: not only did he cheat on his girlfriend with full cognizance that he was breaking that bond of trust, he wants to enlist the OP in a conspiracy to keep that fact secret. Other people have pointed out the health risks to which this second friend has exposed his girlfriend, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

If I were in this situation, my obligation is clear: it's to protect the first friend, the victim of the cheating. The other friend is being a complete asshole: I could maybe forgive the cheating (although that in and of itself is a problem), but there's no fucking way I'm going to put up with that asshole trying to get me to be part of the issue. Friends, at least the ones who are worth a shit, don't put their friends in that kind of ethical bind.

The OP should basically give the cheater an ultimatum: either you come clean to your girlfriend in the next 24 hours, or I'm telling her. If he goes apeshit, fuck him, you're better off without a lying asshole friend who's willing to screw you over to protect himself. If she goes apeshit, well, that doesn't speak very well of her perspective.

And if everyone goes apeshit? You're probably better off without these people anyway.
posted by scrump at 10:17 AM on August 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

If you were simply suspecting infidelity I would say, "don't snoop around not your business." But it really has been made your business and you can't undo that. You have to "side" with someone here and not doing anything is still taking action to protect the behavior of the boyfriend. It sucks that you were put in that position, but that's how it is.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:42 PM on August 22, 2008

She's already been suspicious of him for a long, long time. She deserves to know they were well-founded. Aside from the health issue, and the "friends should tell friends" obligation, I know from experience that dating a cheater can really mess with your head and lead you to second-guess reality. She deserves to be free of her nagging suspicious and know the truth.
posted by timoni at 7:00 PM on September 25, 2008

* "She deserves to know they were well-founded" = "She deserves to know her suspicions were well-founded"
posted by timoni at 7:02 PM on September 25, 2008

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