When my boyfriend moved across the country to Manhattan for two years, we pledged we’d be faithful. We talk and text daily, and he tells me he loves me and that I’m the only person for him. Well, my best girlfriend visited her brother, my boyfriend’s roommate, and returned with some real fun facts: Last year, my boyfriend became obsessed with some girl and got into an “open relationship” with her — all year. He claims only she slept with others; he didn’t. Yeah, right. He also insists he only slept with her once and didn’t tell me because he didn’t think I could handle the truth. That’s ridiculous because he knows honesty is everything to me. I now feel I have reason to leave him. Still, I’m 24, he’s my first boyfriend, and we’ve been together for four years, so I’m reluctant to end it. Please give me a silver lining to this dark cloud over my head!
— Last Straw
Sorry, but this cloud’s lining isn’t silver; it’s cheap polyester with one of those “remove under penalty of law” tags: WARNING! Boyfriend with scruples of spandex has relocated to the North American capital of hot women — “The City That Never Sleeps” (except when people roll over after sex instead of smoking a cigarette or having a cuddle).
For some, a wake-up call is a gentle nudge or the delicate tinkle of a fine watch; others need to be bludgeoned over the head with an alarm clock. In case you’re wondering, you’re in the sound sleepers group. In our email exchange, you revealed that in addition to a number of friends warning you about your boyfriend, a complete stranger who spotted you with him in a bar took you aside to hint that he had zipper issues. In red flag terms, this is a call to start shopping for an Eiffel Tower-sized flagpole.
Although women typically stick with dirtbag boyfriends out of a lack of self-respect, your problem seems to be an excess of respect for The Relationship. Okay, he’s your first boyfriend and you’ve been together for four years. This is merely interpersonal census data, not reason to stick around to be lied to and cheated on for another four years. To this day, your boyfriend shows you that his words are suspect anytime he says anything weightier than “pass the Cheerios.” In fact, he may be in Manhattan, but the old joke about the Hollywood agent applies: “Hello,” he lied.
What you need isn’t a silver lining, but a diving pool of louse shampoo. You also need to understand that boyfriends who are liars and cheaters go for girlfriends who put up with lying and cheating. If you want honesty, don’t swallow lies like they’ve been buttered, and don’t let wanting a man to be ethical get in the way of looking to see whether he actually is. You might also take a more realistic approach to human nature. The 20s are our prime rutting time. Send any twenty-something man off for two years, and unless he’s on a solo mission to Mars, you’d better ask him to supplement his daily “ur the only 1!” texts with a webcam so you can see the girl he isn’t sleeping with in the background, motioning him to get back into bed.
My boyfriend dumped me, and I’m besieged with inquiries about how I’m handling it, both from friends and people who don’t care about me and just want to pry. How do I field questions from the latter without getting into a lot of discussion?
Without gossip, people would have to sit around talking about particle physics, the economic downturn, and what’s going on in Libya. Gnawing on your life is much more fun: “Yeah, they broke up, and she’s alone, and I counted 62 empty pork rind bags and 73 beer bottles in her trash.” Recognize that you have no obligation to feed the info vultures, and plan in advance exactly how you won’t be answering their questions. However you decide to shut them down — with humor, vagueness, wild invention, or deflection (“Finehowareyou?!”) — keep responding that way until they get the message that it’s all the message they’re gonna get. Preserving your emotional energy means you can channel it where you need it most — into working your way through the “Seven Stages of Grief”: 1. Drunk dialing; 2. Watching “Law & Order” reruns; 3. Looking up elementary school boyfriends on Facebook; 4. And then not writing them; 5. Tearing pages from “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and lighting them on fire; 6. Putting on shadow puppet shows of brutal murders; 7. Making hangup calls at 3 a.m. to nosy buggers who ask you prying questions about your breakup.