Culture

Dear Fuck-Up: How do you tell a stranger their partner is cheating?

On when to share a secret.
Culture

Dear Fuck-Up: How do you tell a stranger their partner is cheating?

On when to share a secret.

Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s social media editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.

Dear Fuck-Up,

My partner and I are stuck on the question of whether, or how, to reveal to a stranger that their partner is cheating.

We were at a birthday party for my partner’s best friend Ben, and we knew that two people there — let’s call them Kristen and Ashley — were having an affair. Ben had told us previously about the affair, and Ashley had told us about it earlier that night.

What we didn’t expect was to then see the (unknowingly) jilted girlfriend — let’s call her Stella — entering the room.

What followed was a horribly uncomfortable night in which Stella was the only one in the room missing a key piece of information about her own life.

We are now wracked with guilt about whether to tell her about the affair, but it’s been made more difficult by the fact that my partner’s best friend Ben doesn’t want us to tattle on his friend. “It’s none of your business,” is how he puts it, but I’m seriously wondering if that’s true.

We don’t feel like we can just let this go on, but we also don’t want to hurt our friend. My partner especially doesn’t want her friend to be mad at her, as they’re extremely close and spend a lot of time together. Telling this woman feels like the right thing to do, but we’re stuck.

Should you tell an acquaintance that their partner is cheating on them? More than that, though: how do you give an acquaintance terrible news like that? Do we just find the easiest way to communicate with her and spill it all?

Is it none of our business?

All the best,
Guilty

Dear Guilty,

I will grant that my own moral compass has historically deviated from true north but I think you are confusing being an ethical person with being a busybody. This is somewhat understandable, I suppose, and probably part and parcel of a larger cultural trend that venerates “speaking truth” above all else, but rest assured there is great moral value in minding your own fucking business.

This is not to say that you should never disclose this sort of information. There are few hard and fast rules but I tend to live by the following when it comes to secret-keeping among friends: Would the person in question be justified in feeling betrayed if they find out that you knew? One of the purest agonies in life is realizing that not only have you been cheated on, but made a fool of. That you were uncomfortable spending an evening with this poor woman shows empathy, but I think you exercise a bit more imagining how utterly mortifying it would be for her to receive a message from you, someone she may not even remember, about this situation. I mean, you describe her as “an acquaintance” but you have met her precisely once. How would you even contact her? Facebook? I want to crawl into a hole just thinking about it!

In fact, I’m having a bit of a hard time imagining that you are so sensitively-tuned as to be wracked by guilt over this. Maybe that’s true, but I would urge you to consider that perhaps these negative feelings and subsequent tension are rooted in something else you learned at this party: your partner’s best friend Ben is a shitty person. After all, his obligation to the jilted woman is far stronger than your own, but even if fails to meet my criteria for disclosure, he orchestrated or at minimum facilitated a social situation in which everyone knew but her. That sucks ass and would make me his question his commitment to both party planning and not being cruel.

So while I agree with him that this is none of your business, I’d think about what really shocked your conscience here, and why. At the very least stop going to this guy’s parties.

Love,
A Fuck-Up

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