Savage Love: Sometimes lying is the best policy

Is it better to cheat and tell or to keep the guilt to yourself?




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.

On the Lovecast, Cheryl Strayed schools Dan on hiking sex:
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