Savage Love: When the Guilt Sets In

Q: I’m a guy, 35, and a cheating piece of shit. I’m engaged to a woman I love, but earlier this year I cheated on her. I have no excuse. She discovered the dating app I used, and we worked through that. But she doesn’t know that shortly after her discovery, I went ahead and cheated. To my meager, meager credit, I did seek out only women who were looking for NSA hookups. But I quickly came to realize how big of a mistake this was, how much I love my fiancée, and that I’m a shitty person. I see a therapist, and he advised that, if I’m certain this was a one-time thing, and if I’m convinced that I’m happy with my fiancée, I should keep quiet. I shouldn’t burden my fiancée with this knowledge. I’m inclined to agree but, dear God, the guilt. I feel like I’m not the person my fiancée thought I was. What do I do? Should I just accept this as a lesson learned and keep it to myself? Perhaps there’s selfishness at play here, since I’m trying to make myself feel better, but I’m struggling. — Can’t Personally Overlook Selfishness

I’m with your therapist, CPOS — and, hey, it’s nice to see “keep your mouth shut about a one-time infidelity” make the jump from our finer advice columns (Dear Prudence, Dear Sugar, Savage Love) to some of our actual therapists.

While honesty (best policy) and confession (good for the soul) get all the positive press, there are times when unburdening yourself is absolutely the wrong thing to do. The person who confesses may wind up feeling better — because at least now they’re being honest — but the person to whom they’ve confessed can wind up feeling a whole lot worse. Some burdens should be borne not shifted. If your fiancée is going to inevitably find out, CPOS, better she find out about it from you. But if the secret can be kept and if living with the guilt motivates you not to cheat again, then you can keep your mouth shut with a semi-clear-ish conscience.

This advice is not a license for serial adulterers. If you can’t be faithful to someone — if that’s what you discovered when you had the affair — then you should extract yourself from the monogamous commitment you’ve already made to your fiancée and refrain from making monogamous commitments to anyone else in the future. But if you honestly believe you can be faithful, CPOS, you don’t have to see yourself as a cheating piece of shit. A serial adulterer/betrayer/liar is a cheating piece of shit; someone who cheated once, regrets it, and makes a good-faith, multi-decade effort not to do it again is a fallible human being.

Q: I am a 36-year-old Italian straight man. I love my girlfriend endlessly. One month ago, she told me she has thoughts about missing out on the things she didn’t get to do in her teens. She is 29 years old now. Also, she says she feels only a mild love for me now and is curious about other men. Yesterday we met and cried and talked and made love and it felt like she still loves me passionately. But she also told me she had sex with a stranger a week ago and she is going for one and a half months to Los Angeles on her own. Now I feel confused. I should hate her for what she did to me, I should tell her to fuck off, but I can’t do it. I am so in love and I want to be together again after her trip. How do I exit this turmoil? — Pensive And Insecure Now

You exit this turmoil by breaking up with your girlfriend.

She wants to get out there and do “things she didn’t get to do in her teens,” i.e., fuck other guys and most likely date other guys. This isn’t what you want, PAIN, you’ve made that clear to her, but she’s gonna fuck other guys anyway. You don’t have to pretend to hate her, PAIN, and you don’t have to tell her to fuck off. But you do have to tell her that it’s over — at least for now.

And once she goes, PAIN, don’t lie around tormenting yourself with mental images of all the things/men she’s doing in Los Angeles. Don’t put your life on hold — love life included — while she’s gone. You’re going to be single. So get out there, date other women, do some things/women you haven’t done. If she wants to get back together when she returns, and if you still want to get back together with her, you can pick things up where you left off.

But you should act like it’s over while she’s gone, PAIN, because it most likely is.


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