[Note to readers: This advice letter is loooong but it was impossible to edit down without affecting the story. And also, we felt it was only right that you got to read the whole long messy debacle that we responded to!]
Dear Em & Lo,
I am a 26-year-old woman and about a year and a half ago I bought my first house, which I had initially intended to live in alone. Somewhere during the process, I joked with my best guy friend, who was at the time looking for an affordable, comfortable living situation, that he could save money towards his own house by moving in with me and paying half of the mortgage and bills. Joking turned serious and he moved in.
Anyway, before his bags were even unpacked, things took a very more than friends turn. At first we brushed it off for several reasons and just swore it wouldn’t happen again, but as time went on, our indiscretions continued and became more frequent until we had both stopped dating other people and started living outside of the radar (although, everyone had strong suspicions) basically as a married/serious couple: sleeping together, cooking meals together, shopping together, going to family/couple events together, going to the gym together, saying “I love you” all of the time, cuddling up to movies, buying very personal, heartfelt gifts, etc.
Seldom did we have any discussions about what was going on and when we did they were a wishy-washy mix of we need to stop doing this and sometimes I think I’ve found the person I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with… Mixed messages were our specialty and whatever discomforts we each had were quickly brushed aside because, well, whatever we were doing seemed to be working well.
I know that I got to a point where I didn’t know how to bring it up. I knew I loved him and wanted to be with him, but I didn’t want to push something that was working so well by trying to force definition on it and possibly lose it. I don’t know why he didn’t speak up exactly.
Anyway, like I said, as time went on, our friendship started to more and more resemble a marriage, even including a possibly harmful time when I supported him for 4+ months while he recovered from an injury and couldn’t work. During this time he became very closed off to me, refused to talk about anything, took every chance he could to go out without me and yelled at me whenever I brought up my feelings about how he was acting and I became resentful of having to handle everything, even the home stuff he was generally very helpful with or even primarily handled when he wasn’t depressed and stuck at home.
As he healed our relationship got better again for a couple of months and to be honest I don’t even know if that period has anything to do with the current situation. Which is that, a month or so ago, the night after sharing a bed with me (as was pretty normal), he came home from a night out with friends with a girl. She stayed the night and in my stupidity and preoccupation with family issues I swallowed my feelings about it, since we had never set any boundaries. I barely mentioned it and moved on. The next week this girl was at our house for the WHOLE weekend, during a snowstorm when I couldn’t even get out of the situation.
At the end of the weekend, I had a breakdown, he said he loved me and that even though we hadn’t set any boundaries or ever said anything he felt as though this was wrong and he was cheating on me, said I wouldn’t have to worry about seeing her again and drove her home. Two weeks later, she was back and they are dating. Now he is in the process of moving out and we are scrambling to try to save a friendship that I am not sure can be saved.
The thing is, my friend admits to knowing I was in love with him and saw how much bringing this girl home hurt me and he still did it. I just can’t comprehend how someone who loved me could do that. I can’t comprehend how he could bring her home in the first place if I felt like his wife. Discussed boundaries or not, we were obviously in a relationship.
I have asked him to own up to this, take responsibility for his actions, give me time and put in the effort to do what I needed him to do in order to try to repair our friendship. He is angry with this and says I am just as much at fault as he is because I was disrespectful to his wishes and feelings. I will admit to having equal fault in carrying out this ill-conceived relationship, seducing him my fair share of times, brushing off many a conversation we should have had, not telling him how I felt, not asking for what I needed when I needed it and for overall allowing him to think it was okay to disregard my feelings (which he claims he did everything he could to protect). But like I said, these are behaviors we participated in EQUALLY.
What I didn’t do was bring another woman into a house that I shared with someone I was in a year-long relationship with, expect them to watch while I moved on and get mad at them for “limiting” and “controlling” me. I feel like I could have gotten past things if he had moved out and then moved on, but as it stands, he cheated on me, IN FRONT OF ME. I don’t understand why I should let him control the situation now or be sympathetic to his feelings. HE DID THIS, not me. Am I wrong? Am I not accepting my share of the blame and putting things on him when I am equally at fault? I have of course asked many a friend about this, but they are not impartial and I really need an outside opinion.
— Under House Arrest
Okay, so many things about your situation piss us off that we don’t even know where to start! It’s a big long messy letter about a big long messy situation. So we’d like to make a nice tidy organized list as a response. Here are the things that piss us off.
- What kind of friends do you have that no one can impartially take your side?! Sister, you need some new friends. Stat!
- Okay, so we know that we are constantly harping on about how important it is to have the exclusivity talk, i.e. “We are committed to each other and not seeing other people, right?” But we also explicitly say that this is not a loophole. And the reason we say this is because of douchebags like your housemate. In other words, if you are telling each other “I love you” on a nightly basis and basically acting like a long-term couple for a full year, you are, in our minds, common-law monogamous. Okay, we know that makes us sound very old-fashioned. At the very least you are bound to have a conversation about the situation if you would like not to be common-law monogamous. Meaning, if the situation would lead anyone — and, in particular, your partner — to believe that you are monogamous, then it is time you have the talk.
- This dude owes you some serious bank. We are not kidding. Make him pay back every cent that you gave him during his recuperation period. That is so not cool.
- You are scrambling to save a friendship with him?!?! Um, WTF?!! This man is not a friend. Repeat, this man is not a friend. Get the money he owes you and then back away and never talk to him again.
- Somehow, without even committed to be exclusive to you, this guy managed to go all Stanley Kowalski on you. No kind of injury excuses that. This behavior alone should have been enough for you to banish him for good, both from your bed and from your friend roster.
- He did everything he could to protect your feelings?! Puh-lease. Okay, let’s give him all the benefit of the doubt in the world and assume that he really did think that you guys were just fuck buddies who liked to say “I love” and play house and that’s all it was. Well, even if you have just been fuck buddies and roommates for a year, it is still totally uncool to bring back another woman like that without any warning. And, for the record, we totally don’t think he deserves that benefit of the doubt.
- Okay, so he’s trying to play the we’re-just-casual card while simultaneously playing the I-still-love-you card? Does this guy have a poster of Tiger Woods or Jesse James on his wall, by any chance.
Okay, list-organized rant over. Now it’s your turn. Don’t worry, you won’t get a ranty list from us, though we will rap your knuckles for not kicking this guy to the curb sooner. And for not speaking up sooner. And for not having a conversation about where-we’re-at sooner. And for not setting any boundaries. How can someone be so smart — owning your own house at age 26, nice going! — and yet so dumb at the same time?! We mean that in the nicest possible way. You seem like a really sweet, nice, giving, generous person who needs to be a little tougher. And you definitely need to be more picky when it comes to choosing (a) fuck buddies, (b) roommates, (c) boyfriends, (d) “boyfriends,” and (d) friends.
Don’t waste any more time trying to get him to own up to his (lion’s) share of the blame. Move on, make a new life for yourself, and consider this a lesson learned — the hard way.
Em & Lo