Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
Dear Stacy: My best friend’s fiancé cheated on her. There’s definitely more to the story – it was on a bachelor weekend in Vegas, it was with a showgirl, he is contrite – but I don’t think it matters. He cheated. He is a cheater. He will cheat again. I’ve tried to talk with her about this (and yes, she has asked for my opinion!) but she still seems inclined to believe that he has changed. She has wanted to be married for a long time, and I think she is afraid of being alone, so she’s willing to be with a slimeball like this guy. I know I can’t convince her otherwise, but I’d love some advice on how to deal with it in my own mind. I’m not going to lose my best friend just because she married a sleazy guy. -Biting My Tongue
Dear Biting: I’d say you’re already well on your way to dealing with it in your “own mind,” just by saying you’re not going to lose Best Friend just because she married someone you don’t like. That’s your bottom line and you’re sticking to it. The rest is just ancillary detail – and don’t get me started on the holier-than-thou “once a cheater, always a cheater” spiel you’ve adopted. It’s tired and based in the “idea” of relationships, not in their actuality, so let’s just pretend you didn’t take that hackneyed tone at all.
But since we’re talking about bottom lines anyway, this is a good opportunity to remind us all that yours is not mine, and hers is not yours, and mine is not theirs, and…it goes on and on. My point is that every person has their own threshold of what they will and will not abide. When that threshold is crossed, things change. No, the person may not leave the relationship, but the relationship has changed. You cannot tell another person what her bottomline should be. Granted, actually you can tell her, but you cannot demand that she adopt it for herself. It doesn’t work that way, and the sooner you take yourself out of the role of “life-runner,” the sooner you will be able to be there for her when she decides how she needs you.
One more thing: you have my permission to demand that she (and he) get tested for venereal diseases in the aftermath of the event. Many women block out that part of this equation and wind up regretting it later. Just let her know that you, her Best Friend and biggest supporter, will be there to go with her to the appointment. After all, you’re not going to lose your best friend just because she was too scared to see her doctor.
Dear Stacy: Please settle an argument between me and a girlfriend – is it legit to date a man who is separated from his wife, or are you participating in adultery? -Confused About the Label
Dear Label, Hmm, I’m not sure what you mean by “legit,” so we’ll start with the legal side and then get into the interpersonal.
I went to local divorce lawyer Regina DeMeo and learned that if you date one person while you’re married to another in Maryland and D.C. you are technically committing a crime. “Lots of people don’t realize that adultery is still on the books as a crime, not that anyone will ever get fined for it, but it is important for people to realize that just because people claim to be separated they should not assume everything is nicely wrapped up – far from it,” she explains. “The real question to ask if you are going to be brave enough to date someone going through a divorce is where they are in the legal process: Do they have an agreement? Is there a court case pending?”
DeMeo’s legal counsel overlaps with my own relationship advice: as always, you need to talk with him about the situation (Oh how we all would avoid so many complications if we would just start with this strategy).
Be as honest and clear about your intentions in the relationship – and start by just talking to yourself about this one. Are you really just fine with keeping it casual, or is marriage actually your underlying motive? There’s no shame in wanting what you want, but being dishonest with yourself about this part will come back to haunt you later.
If you are expecting exclusivity with a man who is separated from his spouse, I’m with DeMeo: you must be clear about those divorce proceedings. If the object of your affection is in the placeholding space and just waiting for the paperwork to be processed, and you trust him, then you might breathe easier. If that separation is less formal, then you ought to get a few more details about the situation, assuming you really want to hear them.
I’ll add that you should be very careful about how Boyfriend references his soon-to-be-ex. If he spouts hate-speech at the mention of her name, take that as a warning about his ability to play nice once the romance has died. Likewise, does he fall too far on the other side, idolizing her, romanticizing their relationship? Make sure he’s done before you find yourself deeply invested. No one wants to be the reason a married couple doesn’t have the chance to make things work out. Trust me, that label will be very hard to remove, no matter how inaccurate it may be.
BOX: Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is TherapyGeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.