Dear Kate and Allen,
A couple of years ago in college, I was seeing a guy very casually (i.e. hooking up with him semi-regularly, but never officially dating). I was also planning to take over the lease for the off-campus apartment where he was living at the time.
I went over to sign the lease one day after work. After I signed, I was sitting in the kitchen with him eating leftover Chinese food. Suddenly, another girl walked in with a cake in her hands. “Happy five-month anniversary,” she said. I was livid. She looked shocked. But at the time, I didn’t say anything. He told her I was taking over the lease, and then they went to his room and closed the door. They were in there for a while — so long that I finally had to knock and ask if he was still going to be living there when I moved in.
He was, and we had two very awkward weeks of living together before he finally moved out. We didn’t hook up again, obviously. This was years ago, but one thing that’s always haunted me is that I never told his girlfriend, who was in a couple of my classes in college. Should I have told her that her boyfriend was cheating on her?
Kate: In retrospect, obviously, this is kind of hilarious. I wonder if the guy forgot it was his five-month anniversary with this girl or if she was trying to surprise him. Five months just seems like a strangely arbitrary length of time to celebrate.
In any case, I would urge you not to feel haunted by this. Was this guy an a–hole? Absolutely. But you were also in college. That’s not an excuse for him, but my advice would be a lot different if we were talking about current events or if the relationship was even relatively serious. It’s very likely that this couple has already broken up (she seems to have been appropriately taken aback by finding a strange woman eating her boyfriend’s leftover Chinese food. That doesn’t exactly scream “I am merely taking over his lease.”) Even if they’re not — and please tell me if they’re not — it’s a little too late to do anything now. I know Allen ascribes to the “once a cheater, always a cheater” philosophy, and I tend to agree, but this was college. It’s possible he’s matured and they’re now enjoying a very committed and rewarding relationship.
In other words, I don’t think you should have told your acquaintance that her boyfriend was cheating on her in this particular instance. Your relationship with this guy was very casual. Her relationship with this guy was still pretty casual, despite the cake. She discovered him in a slightly suspicious situation, and it’s likely that things naturally fizzled. I don’t think you have any real reason for lasting concern.
Allen: Probably, but who cares? This was years ago. Wipe your hands and keep it moving. She’s probably been cheated on by this guy several times since then and they’re probably not even dating anymore. Sounds like you avoided disaster and you should be celebrating.
It’s not your responsibility to know if a guy you’re seeing is in a relationship. Morally, it probably would have been the right thing to do to tell her that her boyfriend was cheating on her, but I can’t blame you for not. Have you ever actually been the one to tell someone that before? I’ve watched those events play out in real time and it never. goes. well. One episode of Vanderpump Rules will show you all you need to know.
But I’ll give you the rundown: The person being told their significant other is cheating never believes the person telling them. After all, how could someone cheat on them? They’re just the best partner ever and their relationship is just the greatest. Check Instagram. Instead, the person being told about the transgression takes it out on the person snitching and says they’re just trying to tear the relationship apart because everyone is so jealous of their amazing, awesome, Instagram-famous relationship.
You’re not obligated to get involved in anyone’s relationship business, especially if it would create more problems for you than it solves. The past is the past for a reason. Don’t dwell on it, nothing is going to change it.
Dear Kate and Allen,
My husband and I (both in our late 50s) recently took in our adult daughter (in her late 20s). She was fired from her job, so she’s moving in with us to rebuild her finances.
That isn’t my issue. My issue is with her current boyfriend, a 40-something man with two young children. He’s been “separated” from his wife for the last four years, but they’ve never officially divorced. He spends virtually every minute outside of work with my daughter, but not at his house, which he still shares with his wife. Instead, they come to our home! He sleeps over at least four nights a week. When he and my daughter aren’t going out, they’re in my basement, ordering in food or watching movies and completely ignoring my husband and I. Again, this man has two young children, but I never see him spend time with them.
The situation makes me very uncomfortable. My husband wants to tell her that he can’t come to our house anymore, but I’m afraid of alienating my daughter. She’s struggled with alcoholism, and this is the most stable she’s been in years. She’s already upset that she’s had to move back in with her parents, and I’m afraid that we’ll push her away by setting new limits on her relationship. Is there a way I can keep him away without upsetting my daughter?
Kate: I don’t think there is. Your daughter, after all, is a fully realized adult. I’m sure she’s not oblivious to the optics of allowing her 40-year-old boyfriend to spend four nights a week at her parents’ house. It sounds like she’s in a difficult place right now, and I empathize with her. But right now, she’s a guest in your home and you’re well within your rights to set some reasonable boundaries.
When you do talk to your daughter, I’m not sure it’s worth it to hash out your other issues with her boyfriend. Again, she’s an adult — I’m quite sure she has her own niggling doubts over the fact that he’s still married to his wife and seems perfectly content to ignore his own children. But if you frame the conversation as an attack on his character, you’re putting her in a position where she’s going to defend him. And I think it would be better for everyone if she came to her own realization about his behavior and whether he’s the type of man she really wants to date.
You and your husband should have a joint conversation with your daughter to set some ground rules. Agree on the talking points beforehand so you can put up a unified front. I think it’s enough to say, “[Daughter], your father and I feel uncomfortable with [boyfriend’s name] and don’t want to host him in our home. If you’re going to see him, it’s going to have to be outside the house.” Don’t feel the need to explain yourself. It’s perfectly reasonable not to want overnight guests several times a week.
If she chooses to be upset by that, there’s not much you can do. As a 20-something myself, I completely understand how rotten it would be to lose your job (and your self-sufficiency) and find yourself back at your parents’ house. But I hope she understands how lucky she is to have that option. Setting completely understandable boundaries is not going to lead your daughter down the path of destruction or retrigger old habits. She’s in charge of handling that, despite any obstacles or limitations that life might throw at her. You’re already providing her with a safe, comfortable space where she can rebuild. As long as you stay calm, it sounds like you’re doing everything you possibly can to support her.
Allen: Probably not, and I’m not sure you should try to keep him away. It sounds like this relationship has been a good thing for her. Isn’t that what matters? You said yourself she’s the most stable she’s been in years.
I can understand being uncomfortable. The age difference is pretty large, but it’s not unheard of. And I’m not sure I (or you for that matter) know enough about his previous relationship to judge why he’s not with his kids more. Perhaps his ex-wife doesn’t want him around the kids out of spite.
(Sidenote: Your daughter should make continuing to date contingent on him actually officially getting a divorce.)
Perhaps they spend so much time at your place because that’s where your daughter is most comfortable. As a parent, that should make you feel good. And because you’re uncomfortable, them being in your home allows you to keep an eye on them as you continue to get to know this man.
All of this being said, it’s your house and your rules. If he’s breaking a rule, you have the right to talk with him and your daughter to set things straight. I understand not wanting to trigger your daughter’s substance abuse history or push her away, but ultimately people have to respect other people’s needs, and that includes your daughter respecting yours.