Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s associate 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.
A few years ago a close female friend and I became acquaintances with a guy at an event he hosts, got on friendly terms, and since then we see him once a month at said event. About a month ago, I started sleeping with him. The wrench is that my friend has spent multiple years making little comments to me about how she slightly likes this guy but not enough to do anything about it. The other wrench is that she has no idea we're seeing each other.
The first time I met up with him I chose not to tell her because she tends to dominate conversations and would have invited herself along, and I just wanted to have a chill time getting to know someone I thought was cool. I wasn't intending for it to be romantic, but the night ended in a kiss. I didn't mention it to her in case it didn't go anywhere, and I'm glad I didn't, because nothing developed between me and the man after that for a year and a half. As far as she knows, I've never seen him outside the monthly event. But now me and the guy are hooking up about once week. We get along well both personally and sexually, which is rare for me. I'm having fun and not yet sure if I want it to be more than a casual thing.
I know my friend would be extremely hurt if she found out about any of this. Part of me can't quite bring myself to feel guilty because she's an intense, possessive person and had plenty of opportunities to pursue him. The other part of me knows I've gone behind my friend's back, betrayed her, lied to her, and fucked up by not simply telling her in the first place. Although my friend and I have grown apart in the past year or so, we have a tight-knit group of friends and a creative venture together, which we both cherish. But she's the type of person to cut friends out if they cross her, so I'm sure all this would implode in spectacular fashion (I guess I'm possibly trying to have it both ways?).
My instinct is that I should keep the hookups to myself unless it evolves into something more serious, but I also worry about her finding out some other way. I suppose I'm just looking for permission to not be consumed with guilt and/or to continue seeing this guy, and I know the only person who can give that to me is... me. But I also wonder why I don't feel like I owe much, if anything, to my friend when she's debatably a great deal closer to me than the guy. I'd love any insight you might have.
I have long claimed that the biggest lie we tell is that we don’t want to be lied to. Radical honesty is a frankly absurd proposition that, if taken seriously, would lead to the downfall of civilization inside three months. The fabric of society is the lies we all tell each other out of kindness, or courtesy, or simply a pragmatic dedication to picking our battles. Cherish them, for they are the bedrock of social relations.
That being said, I do think you should tell your friend. Not because this lie matters, but because it doesn’t. Albatross, you are mistaken in conflating lying with betrayal. Technically you are doing the former — in the sense that you are withholding information — but to imagine you have betrayed your friend’s trust strikes me as a bit dramatic. As you acknowledge, she’s had ample time to pursue a romantic relationship with your mutual acquaintance, and she has declined to do so. She has also, by your own telling, indicated somewhat coyly that she may be slightly interested in this person, which is a bullshit way of calling dibs. He is not her ex, she has not spent years pining after him while unable to overcome her own shyness or fear. Put simply, she has no valid claim to him.
So that’s one lie down. Let’s on move on to the bigger lie you are actually telling yourself: that this woman is your friend. Your description of this relationship sounds less like a friendship and more like a hostage situation, which is borne out by the idea that you don’t want to tell her about a positive development in your personal life because you are afraid of her.
This is a situation women in particular tend to find ourselves in sometimes, especially when we are young. So much of what we tell girls they can expect from the experience of womanhood — you will hate your body, you will have imposter syndrome, your female friendships will be competitive and fraught — works to anticipate and, in doing so, I suspect reify those very experiences. Women’s friendships are constantly depicted as a minefield of sensitivities and paranoia and emotional exhaustion. They are, we are told, very complicated.
Your friendship with this intense, demanding woman does indeed sound complicated. But complicated things can be joyful rather than draining. People can be intense in their ardor not their need, demanding in what they expect from themselves not everyone else. I wonder what would happen if we started telling girls that’s what they can expect. Apologies for sounding like someone who uses a Diva Cup, but my female friendships are the most reliably nourishing and fulfilling and occasionally-challenging-in-the-sense-that-they-challenge-me-to-be-better relationships in my life. I am genuinely thrilled when good things happen for them, and if you can’t say that about someone you call a friend I would stop to reconsider your working definitions.
After all, it is striking that you don’t offer up a single good reason why you abide this woman! If she tends to dominate conversations but always says interesting things, or is decisive in ending friendships because she is loyal and just, that’s one thing. This bitch doesn’t seem to have redeeming qualities of note. So simply tell her that you have started seeing this man and that while it’s new and undefined you are unambiguously happy about it. In my opinion, it’s really not that complicated after all.
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