Dear Em & Lo – When Undefined Relationships Go Wrong…

photo by Katie Tegtmeyer

[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, we decided to get a free quote on a mortgage and he moved in. Getting a house is a pretty big deal I’ll be honest with you, it’s a massive market (like I need to explain that), no wonder there are things like a real estate investor who will buy Orange County home for cash, as well as other investors in various other states. Got to get on that property ladder. And actually I’m glad I did it, I’m so much more clued up on these things, especially to do with real estate. They don’t teach you these things in schools anymore. For instance I researched a couple things for the future, such as home equity here https://www.castlerockco.com/equity-experts-prevents-owners-from-losing-their-homes/ incase I ever get into a situation like that. It’s always good to know what you are entitled to claim.

Anyway, so where were we? Oh yes, so 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. I understand he was stressed, I think he was having to look at his finances as well as a personal injury attorney Merced firm to see if he had a case for compensation. Though I wish he didn’t take it out on those of us trying to support him. He 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. A home financed by a bad credit mortgage, which made the situation even worse because the interest rate was sky-high.

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

Dear U.H.A.

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.

  1. What kind of friends do you have that no one can impartially take your side?! Sister, you need some new friends. Stat!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Tough love,

Em & Lo


  1. I’m not quite sure how you think you are to blame at all? the only thing i could point out is you didn’t say anything the first time he brought her home you should have said something then and there and if he blew you off and disregarded your feelings then it would have been a massive red fag to try to distance your self from him and tell him she’s not allowed in your house again (whether he pays rent/part of the mortgage it’s your house your are the “landlord”) oh and the moving in with a friend even if you have been friends with someone your whole life don’t move in with the opposite sex unless your ready for a relationship with that person

  2. I’m a dittohead for Em & Lo’s advice here, especially the second-to-last paragraph. Owning one’s own house/financial independence while incredibly admirable, doesn’t mean one is all set. Compare/contrast with the “Living with the ‘rents–deal breaker?” post here. To be fair, if one had good examples of financial responsibility in one’s life, but no good examples of emotional boundaries in one’s life, something like this can happen.

    P.S. Em and Lo, I refuse to allow you to call yourselves “old fashioned” as in point #2. ๐Ÿ™‚ Common courtesy and living by the golden rule are tools to live one’s life in a way one can be proud of, regardless of what generation you come from.

  3. Went through a very similar situation. Didn’t know it at the time, but the best thing that ever happened in the whole relationship was the day he walked out my door for good (well, with a little help from my boot being half-way up his a$$hole!).

    U.H.A. is young, and she has time on her side to heal. She, and everyone else in similar circumstances, just need to trust that the heart will heal, and remember to change the locks once he’s pick up the rest of his shit.

  4. I was in almost this exact situation… sharing a house with someone, everything turning more serious than it might have otherwise because household responsibilities were taken on that people in a much more intense relationship usually share, even supporting the guy when he was laid up with an injury. thankfully the house-sharing situation ended before he brought someone else home since we graduated university but that is the scenario I had nightmares about all the time. In short, I sympathize with you completely and my heart goes out to you, anyone who doesn’t understand you not wanting this guy in your life anymore has never experienced the cruel paradoxes of an extremely intimate yet undefined relationship. I wish you the best of luck, and wish I could offer advice but am still struggling through it myself ๐Ÿ™

  5. In my opinion she still wants to be friends because she still loves him. And even if she doesn’t, they’ve had a deep connection during their “relationship” (living together, being envolved with each other’s families…), so it’s hard to let him go even though he treated her in such a lame way. I’ve been in a similar situation and all I can say to help is: he has no excuses for his actions and he should pay for them. So work on deleting all the good moments you’ve spent together and everytime you miss him just think about the horrible person he is. You seem to be a great person, soon you’ll be healed and ready to meet much much better guys who will value you the way you deserve.

  6. I don’t understand why you would even WANT to be friends with someone who treated you so horribly?????????

  7. Sophie’s got it right. This guy is a tool; you want him out of your life ASAP, no wondering if he’s gonna pay you back, no trying to rebuild whatever friendship you had previously. Write off the dough you gave him, and move on sans tool.

  8. Honestly, forget about the money, kick him out of your life without thinking twice about it and move on. Jeez, what a loser.

  9. ^ Not to mention, it can be extremely difficult to get a lowlife to pay you back. Unless there was some kind of contract there’s no way you can make him.

    You can always ask.

  10. I’m typically one for the middle ground, but in this case, considering I’ve known a guy like this…
    Getting the money back would be great, but it keeps him involved in your life. Thus, if you can write the money off, then do it, and get him out of your life as fast as possible. He is not going to change. He is not going to suddenly become a good friend. He will not suddenly be hit by the revelation that you are ‘the one’ for him. He does not truly love you in any romantic sense, and is not a loving friend. He may love you to some degree, but it is selfish and self-centered, and will not become something deeper.
    I’ve watched a guy lead a girl on like this, and neither benefited from it. She ended up heartbroken and vindictive, and he ended up confused and almost losing the girl really did love.
    I had a relationship like this, only I was the one not interested in having a real relationship. But I never said ‘I love you,’ and each morning I woke up next to him, I told him flat out, “Nothing’s changed, we’re still just friends.” My feelings for him never changed and he resented the hell out me for it, too. Your douchebag, however, dead up lied to you with his actions and didn’t try to protect your feelings by letting you know exactly where he stood.
    Learn the lessons provided by this experience and cast him from your life permanently and quickly. Do not look back, you will not like what you see.

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