Amatory Appetites and the Agony of Secrecy: A Guide for the Perplexed

(2) You can call Dick at work -- definitely not at home, and not via email in case Jane has access to his emails -- and ask him to meet with you because there’s something serious you’d like to discuss with him. I don’t see any advantages to this option with one major exception: if he’s as close a friend of yours as Jane is, or even closer, and you feel that you can speak to him friend-to-friend in complete confidence. If you meet with him, do it in another neighborhood. You don't want others jumping to the same conclusion about you and Dick that you did about him and the other woman.

If you decide to go this route, you could tell Dick that you want to talk to him because of your concern for Jane, who is, after all, one of your closest friends, and that you’re speaking to him rather than to her because you don’t want to hurt her, but you do want him to know what you saw.

If he confides that he is, in fact, having an affair, you could say that if he’s going to continue this relationship, he should do Jane and her friends the courtesy of not flaunting it in a neighborhood restaurant. Tell him this is not only boorish but is also high-risk behavior that will inevitably lead to someone telling Jane, even if it isn’t you. Jane could even go out to dinner with a friend at the self-same restaurant and witness his rendez-vous with her own eyes.

Tell him that by going public with his affair in a neighborhood eatery his conduct is unbecoming a gentleman and is disrespectful of Jane. It is, in a word, stupid. Several additional pertinent adjectives are reckless, feckless, careless, thoughtless, inconsiderate, cruel, and selfish. And although they’re accurate, I don’t advise using them in your heart-to-heart conversation with Dick if your purpose is to get through to him. "Stupid" and "selfish" do tend to alienate the person to whom they're applied.

Speaking directly to Dick has the potential to produce many unwanted consequences. It could make for awkward future get-togethers with Dick, Jane, you, and your husband -- unless three out of four of you are gifted thespians. Even without putting the kibosh on future double-dates, Dick could, in a worst-case scenario, react by telling you to mind your own business. If you respond by saying you consider your good friend’s happiness to be your business, and that friends look out for their friends, he could tell you to mind your own business again, effectively ending the discussion, not to mention your friendship with him.  It would certainly put a temporary dent in it until you can sort things out with Dick at another time, if another time ever comes.

I’d attempt this approach only if the husband is a very good friend of yours, and even then you’d have to preface it by saying that you’d never be having this discussion in the first place if he hadn’t been in that restaurant in your neighborhood. Your tone should be one of concern for him and Jane, and not of outrage at his bad behavior. If you can't avoid expressing your indignation now, wait to have this conversation until you can do it calmly. Yelling isn't the sharpest arrow in the quiver of persuasion, as any five-year-old can attest.

“I know this isn’t my business.  I love you both,” you could say, “and since you took your lady friend to Pedro’s, where we often go with Jane, I felt I had to speak to you to let you know that if any of our other friends saw what my husband and I saw, one of them might tell Jane. I’m here with you because I don’t want to see either of you hurt, and I’m worried that you may be -- whether you realize it or not -- courting disaster.”

Sometimes a man (or woman, but this question concerns a man) who’s unable to speak directly to his mate about marital dissatisfaction will unintentionally tempt fate by risking being discovered with his lover in order to bring matters to a head, or to an abrupt end. Such a person is acting in the mistaken, albeit unconscious belief that the inevitable blow-up caused by appearing in public with his lover in his own neighborhood and getting caught is somehow preferable to addressing the real issue of marital unhappiness -- hoping that if the cataclysm does take place, he’ll never have to discuss anything with his wife again. Only with her lawyer.

By talking with Dick as a friend in a non-judgmental way, you may be able to alert him to this possible aspect of his behavior and urge him, at the very least, to take his lover to a more discreet location. Or to discuss his unhappiness directly with Jane, enter marriage counseling, or meet with a member of the clergy. By calmly (as distinct from accusingly, shriekingly) describing to Dick what you and your husband saw, and what you inferred was going on behind Jane's back, you may be able to give Dick the wake-up call he needs to understand that he’s not cloaked in invisibility, nor is his lover, and that by appearing with her in your neighborhood as he did, he’s risking his marriage. He may not have thought of this, as obvious as it may seem to you.

(3) You could speak to Jane, although I can’t even make a coherent argument for this worst option, except under one set of circumstances: unless you are so close that not to do so would violate every understanding in your friendship. But you can’t do it simply to tell someone because you’re bursting with suspicion or because you want to satisfy your curiosity. If Jane is like some of my friends (but unlike others), she would unquestionably want you to tell her every detail of what you saw, and would consider your revealing what you saw to be an act of friendship. If she is such a person, and you have such a friendship, then you have some basis to speak with her -- although I still don’t recommend that you do it just because you can. If you’re really that close, you don’t need me to suggest what you might say, but since I’m an advice columnist, I’ll tell you, anyway.

You could start by saying, “Jane, I’m going to tell you something that I know you would tell me if our situations were reversed. And I’m certainly not 100% sure of the meaning of what I saw, but I love you and I’d want you to tell me if you saw anything like this, so I’m going to tell you what my husband and I saw a few nights ago. Neither of us will  ever discuss this with anyone else. And I’ll support you whatever you decide to do about this, including doing nothing about it at all.”

And then tell her.

Even if you’re as close to Jane as you think you are, telling a wife that her husband may be unfaithful is the emotional equivalent of dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Yes, it ended the war sooner rather than later, and unquestionably saved the lives of countless American, Allied, and Japanese soldiers, but no one can say that it wasn’t devastatingly horrific. If Jane is at all depressed, such a revelation could, in a worst-case scenario, have damaging results. Is that a risk you want to take?

That’s why this is the option for which I have the least enthusiasm, unless you’re sure that your friend can hear such news without becoming dangerously angry and/or dangerously despondent.

This suggests why the first option -- doing nothing -- is often deemed the best, and is the course I advise here.

When it comes to our knowledge of the lives of others, even our closest friends in the world, there will always be enigmas wrapped in mysteries that, try as we may, we’ll never understand. “Marriage” is a powerful word like “family” or “mother” that can connote one thing to one person and something far different to someone else. Your happy ideal of eternal marital monogamy may be your closest friend’s idea of living hell -- and she’ll never tell a soul, including you.

You’ll never, ever know. For all you know, that dinner date was a 25th anniversary present from Jane to Dick.  Stranger things have happened.

–-- Belladonna Rogers

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