Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
My now husband and I were in a long distance relationship for several years before moving in together. However, as with most long distance relationships, we broke up at one point. He left me because the distance was too hard, but we kept in constant contact. Four months later he came back and said that life without me is worse than life with me far away. So we got back together. I asked him if he had sex with anyone during the break up, and he said no.
A month after being married (and two years of being back together) he fessed up that he lied and he did have sex with someone. This news devastated me, more so about the lying than about the sex. He has apologized profusely and said he immediately regretted having sex with another women. But I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to be divorced at such a young age, but I also do not tolerate dishonesty and I feel like I will be disrespecting myself by staying with him. Thoughts? Please help.
On a gorgeous Saturday in September, my now-husband and I went to get our marriage license. I had all of my formal documents with me, social security card, birth certificate, and he had all of his formal documents with him, which included the record of his divorce.
We stood in the basement of the Daley Center in Chicago, talking to the happiest bunch of government employees I have ever seen. They were relaxed and chatty and all smiles and made me believe that issuing marriage licenses all day long must really brighten your outlook on the world. They asked us questions about when and where we were born, who our parents were, when and where they were born, have we ever been married before, and, if so, when were we legally divorced. My now-husband provided the date of his divorce and I didn’t understand, the date he gave was wrong, the date he gave couldn’t be the date because that would mean that he didn’t get divorced until a week after our first date. He told me he had been divorced on our second date, but he didn’t mention that he had been divorced just last week.
I stood in the marriage license office and held my lips shut with my teeth and thought, “Am I about to start screaming at my fiancée in the marriage license office? Is that what’s about to happen?”
I didn’t scream at my fiancée in the marriage license office—I took him into the hall and I asked my now-husband what in the fuck all was going on. And he told me. He gave me an honest answer about the timeline of the dissolution of his previous marriage, how she had moved to a different state two years earlier, and how it took that amount of time for them to move their divorce through the court system. And now, five years later, in the middle of a life full of basement repairs and business plans and a toddler who just discovered that he can open the door to his room by balancing precariously on the top rail of his crib, I can say from the bottom of my heart that the fact that my husband was legally married on our first date is something that I do not give a single fuck about.
But you do care about your husband’s lie. You care a lot, to the point that the bad feelings you have because of this lie are causing you to question your entire relationship with your husband.
Do you want to leave this marriage for other reasons? Or is it solely this lie? You are arguing that he lied to you, and a person who lies does not respect the person they’re lying to, and so, via the transitive property, your husband does not respect you. You can make this argument, but because it involves so many logical gymnastics, I think you know it isn’t really true.
The line “I will be disrespecting myself by staying with him” is one of those lines your brain says to you while you’re in the heat of your emotions and it shocks you because it’s so cutting. It’s one of those terrible sentences that your brain latches onto it because, by repeating it to yourself, you can maintain your anger. When you say that sentence, he is wrong and you are right. When you say that sentence, you can hold on to your anger and not have to work through your hurt. You can stay angry and, by staying angry, stave off the sadness that is waiting just on the edge of your peripheral vision, ready to crest and break all over you.
Ask yourself: Does your husband not respect you? Does he disrespect you at other times? Belittle you, berate you, invalidate your feelings? Or is this single lie your sole example?
There’s nothing wrong with being divorced at a young age if that’s the best choice for you. You shouldn’t stay with this man just to avoid divorce, and if you’re doing that then my advice would be to get out right away. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I think you’re with your husband because you love him, you loved him enough to love him when it was inconvenient as fuck, hundreds of miles between the two of you. You loved him enough to take him back when he realized that living without your love was a cold, gray reality that he could no longer tolerate. There are good reasons for people to get divorced, but I don’t see one here.
I really wish your husband would have kept his mouth shut. He likely didn’t tell you when you first asked because he didn’t want you to be upset—he was trying to get back into your heart and, at that precarious moment, the admission of having slept with someone else while you were broken up would have ruined his chances of getting you back. Am I right? Think back to that moment, when you were texting him with shaky fingers and negotiating your recommitting to his man and the difficulty of a long-distance romance. What would you have done if he had told you? Would you have immediately called off your reconciliation? Would you still be married to this man today?
Lying is bad, except when it isn’t. Lying about having not slept with someone is bad, but lying about a behavior in the past that has no bearing on the present and the admission of which will only serve to hurt the one you love is fucking heroic. I really wish your husband would have found a way through his guilt and left you out of it. I wish he would have given you the gift of not burdening you with this knowledge.
I don’t want to dismiss your feelings but also I want to put your husband’s transgression in perspective. He messed up, but on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being not loading the dishwasher and 10 being sleeping with your sister, I rank this as a 3. He didn’t cheat on you. He had sex with someone else while you were broken up, which he was wholly within his rights to do. He didn’t admit to having this sex but, really, he didn’t have to. As long as he verified that he was STD-free when he got back together with you, then his behavior was on the up-and-up. Yes, he lied about it. But everyone lies about something.
He lied to you. And then he told you the truth. All I know about this man is what you’ve told me in one short paragraph, but I can gather that it takes this gentlemen a few tries to get something right. He is imperfect, as are you, as are we all. My thoughts are, stop stoking your anger and let the sadness that it is holding back wash in. It’s OK to be upset about this, but don’t let it grow so large that it overshadows and obliterates your entire relationship.
If this is all, the only thing, this one lie, then let it be just that. A lie he told. A mistake he made. And forgive him, because one day you will make a mistake in your marriage, and in that moment it will be his forgiveness that will pull you through.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.