I must confess, I’m not a fan of advice columnist Carolyn Hax. I think her writing is turgid and her advice asks more questions than it answers. But on the subject of infidelity I find her particularly tone deaf. Tone deaf may be kind — frankly, I find her an apologist for cheaters in the “Hey, mistakes were made” school of WTFever. And when the subject comes up, she obfuscates with a sort of Harvard graduate word salad.
I suspect her POV comes from her own less than conventional “how I met my husband” story — she was separated from her then-husband Nick Galifinkas (her cartoonist), living back in her home town, when she took up with an old childhood friend. She divorced Galifinkas in late 2001 and was pregnant, with twins, when she married her second husband in November 2002. Washington Post gossip columnist, Lloyd Grove, broke the story and Hax responded here, if you want to read more (try the cached view). Hax and Galifinkas are still friends, FWIW. Critics have called Hax a hypocrite, for giving advice when her own life was taking a Jerry Springer turn. I don’t fault her for that. (Hell, my advice is predicated on my own crazy drama.) I fault her for excusing cheating.
Dear Carolyn: I cheated on my ex. I’m extremely ashamed of this part of my past.
I understand now why I did it: to avoid facing a painful reality, and to avoid sharing my feelings with my ex because I was afraid of his reaction. I’ve grown immensely since then.
I am dating again now. I am afraid of sharing the details about my past with prospective partners because they’ll think, “Once a cheater, always a cheater” — which, granted, is what I thought before I found myself in that boat.
At what point in a new relationship do I open up about this? If it’s a deal breaker for someone, they should know as early as possible so they can make an informed decision about being with me, but I also want to feel that they know enough about me to understand me and possibly grant some compassion for the confused, hurting girl I once was. — S.
You bring it up when it comes up, be it the first date or the 40th, as you would any other aspect of your past — that you and an ex used to love old movies, that you were in the AV Club in high school, that your mom used to scream at you for spilling things but was the soul of patience when you crumpled her car.
Do I minimize cheating by suggesting this? Perhaps, but that’s not my intent. I’m merely arguing that your infidelity was not some isolated, atypical appendage to the rest of your life that has to be offered up and explained. It was, and is, a point on your progression through life. A significant and bad one, sure, one you’d be wrong to go out of your way to conceal. But a date would be just as wrong to judge you solely on this incident.
That’s because your cheating had context that warrants just as much concern and attention from a prospective partner as this single outcome.
Your cheating was about painful-truth avoidance, right? So your immaturity is that meaningful context — including its source and manifestations (surely cheating wasn’t the only one) and your progress so far in overcoming it. The “details about my past” are the trees; potential partners owe each other the forest.
Conveniently, that’s also what you owe yourself — with the cheating and whatever else you have done and will do wrong, as well as the good things you bring to this earth. View yourself as a flawed, complicated and evolving whole, one who doesn’t lie to herself or others about her limitations, or exaggerate her gifts — and who deserves someone who will embrace her as such.
Once you’re comfortable with yourself in this way, the question of what, when and how to tell will all but take care of itself.
Dear Abby would’ve answered this in three declarative sentences. “Your cheating is nobody’s business. Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” (Not that Dear Abby would give such craptacular advice. She’d probably advise the reader to tell and let the chips fall where they may.) But when you put it so clearly, hey, people get judge-y.
Not that we can’t still judge her. Hax EQUATES a cheating past with high school AV club. Are you fucking kidding me? Then provides the caveat — “is this minimizing cheating? Perhaps. But that’s not my intent.”
OMG. The “intention” chestnut from Stupid Shit Cheaters Say, Vol. 3. “Okay so I slept with your sister. Did that hurt your feelings? Hey, that wasn’t my intent.” Yeah, we can say any stupid, offensive thing we want to, as long as we head off any objections with “that’s not my intent.”
Hax appears to be saying (can anyone tell what she’s actually saying?) that your past is really no big deal. It’s all part of the colorful tapestry that makes you You. I mean, shit, the reader actually has the good sense to say she’s ASHAMED of her cheating past (albeit with a lot of blame shifting crap about how her Pain Made Her Do It) — but Hax lets her off. “A date would be wrong to judge you solely on this INCIDENT.”
Singular. Again, another play from the Cheater Handbook. How does Hax know it was a singular incident that should be shrugged off like an embarrassing Audio Visual Club membership? And not, oh, say a five-year long affair and a double life?
But let’s not ask and find out. Let’s just wait for that poor chump to “embrace” you for being you. Because cheaters? You deserve that.