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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.
I have a friend who is having a fling with a married guy. I want nothing to do with it. So much so that I don’t want to be around this friend anymore. Our mutual friends say I should just ignore it and hang out with them when they are all together. I say, ‘No thank you.’ I know it’s none of my business, but it’s affecting me. Am I wrong to feel this way? What should I do?
Fixated on Fidelity
I think you should do what your gut is telling you and stop feeling guilty for your disapproval. We all have our personal dogmas.
But I am curious how news of this affair is “affecting” you? My guess is that you find yourself perseverating on the matter. And then beating yourself up because you feel this is really “none of my business.” The best way out of this little anxiety loop is to ask yourself why your friend’s participation in an extra-marital affair bothers you so much. What meaning do her actions hold for you?
I’d ponder these questions not for the sake of changing your mind, but in the hopes of gaining some perspective. It sounds as if you feel your friend is doing something immoral and self-destructive. But how much of your revulsion is concern, how much is disapproval, and how much is an aversion to what you see as the inevitable ugly drama to come? Do you feel complicit in her bad behavior by hanging out with her? Is dropping her as a friend a way of signaling your disapproval while avoiding a direct confrontation with her?
Reflecting on why you feel the way you do might help you explain to your social circle why you’re not cool with your mutual friend’s behavior.
Once you’ve parsed that, you might consider the more complicated question of your own biography. What role has infidelity played in your own life? What were the attitudes around infidelity in your family of origin, your hometown, and your religious community (if you had one)? Have you had other experiences with infidelity, ones that might cause you to identify with the betrayed wife in a way your friends don’t? Could it be that the friend involved in this affair is granting herself the right to transgress in ways that make you envious? Could that explain some of your revulsion?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s clear that jumping into a relationship with a married man is not wise or considerate behavior. The husband in question here is the worst moral actor. But your friend is clearly betraying another woman (the wife) and, just as significantly, your friend is pursuing a relationship that is almost guaranteed to hurt her in the end, and possibly others.
But I ask you to consider all this because your letter suggests that you feel like a scold for refusing to hang out anymore. Reflecting on why you feel the way you do might help you explain to your social circle why you’re not cool with your mutual friend’s behavior. Or at least to yourself. And that, in turn, might help you resolve your conflicted feelings about this whole matter.
For the record, I’ve encountered the same moral quandary in my life a couple of times. In the first case, I said nothing and continued to hang out with the friend in question. In the second case, I pretty much stopped spending time with the friend in question. The situations were almost identical to yours. The only thing that had changed in those intervening years was my own views on infidelity — probably because I’d gotten married. So there.
Author's note: As it should turn out, I’ve been thinking a lot about infidelity and its discontents, because in my other role, as co-host of the WBUR podcast Dear Sugar Radio, we’ve been dealing with a lot of questions involving infidelity. One of the most wise and profound voices on this subject is relationship therapist Esther Perel. I recommend that anyone interested in the subject, or struggling with it, check out the video below. Also, feel free to leave a comment. And please send your own questions along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don’t have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your queries via email.
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