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 friend is on the verge of cheating on her husband. She’s been confiding in me about it. I’ve just told her I can’t know if this goes any further. I know her husband and all I can think is how awful it will be for me to have information that he doesn’t have. On the other hand, I feel as though I’ve abandoned my friend. I do feel like she calls me for an info dump and then goes along her merry way. She’s not too concerned about what’s going on in my life. So, have I just ended a friendship turned toxic, or abandoned my friend when she needed me most?
I Don’t Want to Know
Dear I Don’t Want to Know,
Your friend sounds awful. I know that people are multifaceted and I’m judging your friend based on a few quick sentences, but the fact that she is both planning on cheating on her husband AND not asking you about your weekend fills me with ALL CAPS RAGE.
But, let’s say I extend your friend some compassion. Maybe she has very good reasons for cheating on her husband and not asking you how your mom is. Maybe your friend needs to get a divorce but doesn’t know how so this affair is her attempt to open a window and crawl out of her marriage. Maybe she’s so overwhelmed with this bad marriage that she forgot basic social niceties. Maybe her marriage is bad, nasty, awful and she should leave. Maybe she thinks that your romantic relationship, should you have one, is fine and, therefore, doesn’t feel the need to inquire about it. Maybe she loves her husband but he refuses to give her the kind of affection and physical love that she craves, so she’s finding a way to stay with him by getting those needs met elsewhere. Maybe she’s planning a lovely dinner out for your birthday but keeps forgetting to bring it up. Maybe, but I doubt it.
More likely, your friend is just a normal woman married to a normal man in a normal marriage in that everything is fine, just as it’s supposed to be, but she’s feeling that same anxious pull we all feel because we’re all humans living in the USA in 2017 and always feel that there has to be more, more, more than whatever it is that we currently have.
Most likely, she’s so consumed with her own drama that asking you about your week doesn’t occur to her. Most likely, she’s hella selfish. Most likely, she wants to feel excitement again, passion again, the thrum of blood in her ears that only happens when she isn’t sure what’s going to happen next. Most likely, she wants to have an affair for very human, very selfish reasons that have nothing to do with her relationship or her husband. Which is the reason that most people have affairs – not because what they have is bad, but because what they have is finite and they crave the infinite and the thrill of endless possibility.
Your friend wants to have an affair. She knows that having an affair is a bad thing, so she feels bad about wanting to have an affair. But, instead of using that bad feeling as motivation to rethink her terrible plan, she instead gets rid of that bad feeling by balling it up and handing it to you. Here, hold this for me for a few months while I go fuck around. Don’t worry if you lose it – I’m not going to want it back. You’re her confessor, but in this case the confession precedes the sin. She talks to you so she can absolve herself before she has the affair.
What is the obligation of a friendship? I think of a friendship as a gift because we get to bear witness to each other’s lives. We share each other’s good and bad. So, as a good friend, it is your obligation to bear witness to her bad times as well as her good times. But does that still hold true when your friend is deliberately causing those bad times?
I have little compassion for people who knowingly cheat on their spouses. Don’t want to be in a monogamous relationship? Then talk to your partner and expand the bounds of that relationship. Hit a wall in your marriage and don’t want to work through it? Then get divorced. The point is, a relationship is always going to be work and cheating on your partner is just stealing happiness from tomorrow. It’s a way to imbue your life with pointless drama and really, really fuck things up.
It’s normal to think about cheating during the course of a marriage but it’s not normal to make your friend, who also knows your husband, ride shotgun as you do it. It’s not normal to methodically plan to cheat on your husband and then expect your mutual friend to not only listen to those plans but to also keep the secret from your husband. It’s not normal to unload all of your worst impulses onto your friend and NOT PAUSE ONCE TO ASK HER ABOUT HER DAY.
Your friend sucks and I’m really proud of you for stepping away from her and drawing a clear boundary. You’re worried that you’ve abandoned your friend when she needs you most, which I understand but also really want you to rethink. Yes, you have abandoned your friend when she is on the cusp of making a terrible decision that she may regret for years to come, but abandoning her was really your only move. You can’t stop her from cheating on your husband, nor is it your job to stop her. She is a grown ass woman. You are a grown ass woman. You both are empowered to live your lives as you both see fit. You aren’t in charge of her behavior, it isn’t your job to save her, and, most importantly, you can’t save her.
Ask yourself, why does this friend need you? She needs you to carry her bad feelings for her and to serve as her conscience so she can ignore you and do the bad thing anyway. That’s a really shitty job and I’m glad you quit.
You feel guilty about extricating yourself from the deeply uncomfortable position your friend put you in. Please understand that you did what you had to and you’re taking care of yourself. Good friends, really good friends, don’t put their friends in the position that your friend put you in. You already did what you needed to do.
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.