Dear Jamie: So I have this friend. I love this friend a lot, but maybe he (let’s call him a he) is a little immature where relationships are concerned. He’s still “figuring things out,” as they say. This friend has been cheating on his girlfriend with other women; it’s happened a few times now. And no, they’re not in an open relationship. What, if anything, should I do?
This is a problem that will probably plague a large percentage of friend-having people at some point in their lives, and I’m still not 100% sure how to deal with it. But just because I’m not omniscient doesn’t mean I have no ideas about what to do. Let’s think through a few options.
First off, are you friends with this dude’s girlfriend? If you are friends with both of them equally, it might be extra hard to decide on a course of action, because you don’t want to betray anyone’s trust. That said, if my boyfriend was cheating on me, and I found out my good friend knew about it all along, I’d be pissed. So maybe your male friend forfeits this one by behaving like a dick. Not a winning strategy for the dividing up of friends that will inevitably ensue.
But let’s say you’re not really friends with the girlfriend. Your primary responsibility is to your friend (let’s call him “Dave”), who is maybe a bit misguided, but still like a brother to you. I’d definitely bring it up with him and have a talk about it, because he probably needs to talk about it, and might not have had the chance to do that with anyone yet, for fear of being judged. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still judge him a little! Bring him back from the land of justifications to the real world, where cheating and dishonesty are concrete acts that hurt a real person.
That said, there’s a fine line between tough love and just being mean to him. Maybe say things like, “how would you feel if she was doing this to you?” “how can I help you figure this out,” or “shit or get off the pot, dum dum.” Some people cheat out of a desire to feel validated; remind him he’s got tons of validation from his buddies. You are there for him! Some people cheat out of confusion. Help bring things into stark relief.
Personally, as someone who does exactly what I want 90% of the time, I find it hard to understand why someone wouldn’t just break up with their bf/gf if there were so many problems that they were going to cheat, or just seek an open relationship if monogamy’s not their bag. But don’t condemn Dave in this initial conversation, because it’s possible he is just an immature person who just needs a little help figuring out what to do. Make his choices clear to him: break up with her or work on the relationship for real (sans cheating). Then give him some time to absorb these lessons.
If, after this heartfelt talk, Dave does not seem to be making any progress, maybe get a little tougher with him. “Dave,” you might say. “I didn’t think you were being that big an asshole before, but I’m starting to now.” Maintain that you are available if he needs to talk some more! But if he still doesn’t listen to you, or does but seems incapable of applying your lessons practically, there’s not a ton else you can do. I guess you could tell his girlfriend, but the way I see it, your primary responsibility is to your friend, and I don’t know how meddling in his affairs is going to have the intended effect of suddenly turning him into a more mature person. It might even have the effect of pushing him away so he can no longer be around your good-example-setting self.
I would also keep his girlfriend at arm’s length, or risk feeling really guilty for the things you know every time you hang out with her. But maybe I’m kind of immature, too.
Got any better ideas? Feel free to put them in the comments!