It’s the ultimate moral dilemma…
I took another sip of wine. I was stressed.
“Well, I’m not going to tell her,” my friend Mel* said, reclining into the over-sized cushion in her garden as if it could protect her.
“You can’t not tell her,” I said, leaning forward to emphasize my point.
“Nope. No way. She’ll hate me.”
It was a dire situation to be in on a ruined girls night in. All the crisps and dip in the world couldn’t make this even vaguely tolerable.
Cathy* walked back outside. “Who’ll hate you?” she asked, picking up her wine and sitting back down, not knowing her world was about to fall apart.
I threw a stern glance at Mel. She shook her head and took another sip of wine.
The night before Mel had been out with a group of friends from work and spied Cathy’s boyfriend. He was making out with another woman like his life depended on it. Now his life depended on Mel’s silence. This wasn’t just a one off. It was the second time she’d seen him with the same leggy blonde on a Friday night after work, in the same bar.
In my mind, she had no choice but to tell Cathy her live-in boyfriend of four years was a liar and a cheat. He wasn’t devoted to her, they weren’t going to get engaged and their future didn’t include even one peach, let alone enough to label it peachy.
The fact Mel had seen it twice made it even worse. I would have told her the first time. ‘It was just a one-off’ is for the girlfriend to hear from a repentant partner and make her own mind up. It’s not for a friend to see with her own eyes and keep to herself. Friends deal in facts, not judgement calls on this matter.
It’s a tricky debate guaranteed to spark differing opinions. Should you protect your friend? My answer is, no. You are protecting her from nothing except the truth. You are not shattering her hopes and dreams – the lying, cheating boyfriend is managing that all by himself.
When you tell her (because tell her you must) be gentle, be sincere, tell her how hurt you are for her and give specifics if she asks. Pick your moment carefully, don’t blurt it out and be prepared for lots of questions. You might not know all the answers, but she is going to ask you because you are breaking the news. Oh joy.
Bear in mind she might not believe you. A snatched photo on your phone could help. Ask her if she’s suspected anything – she may put together pieces of the cheating puzzle all on her own, and the pressure’s off the messenger if she puts in the final piece without your help.
If you have a good relationship with the boyfriend you could try approaching him first. This comes with its own perils as I’m not sure it should be you who he looks in the eye and promises ‘I’ll never do it again’. It’s not really your decision whether that’s good enough to accept. You don’t know the ins and outs of anyone’s relationship – remember, you’re better off dealing with facts.
Mel and I ended up telling Cathy later that night together. It didn’t end well.
There were tears, and lots of them. Shock and open-mouthed sobbing was quickly followed by total denial and accusations that Mel was just trying to split them up because she’d never liked him anyway. There was an angry moment with spilt wine, flying food and words that weren’t pretty. Cathy stormed home and I, of course, got the blame for forcing Mel to fess up.
How a tranquil night of crisps and chatter with a side of delicious dip had turned into a cluster-f*ck of a food fight of broken dreams and furious words, I’m not sure. But I am sure we did the right thing. There is no moral dilemma – you have to tell your friend if her boyfriend is cheating. How she chooses to react is up to her. You have to stand firm that you did the right thing, but also be prepared to clear up the mess once it’s over.
*Names have been changed