Dear Person Week Four: Cheating & Hiding, Two Letters About Phones

Dear Person,

I am a 35 year old woman and have been married to my husband for six years. We have two young boys, and our relationship has been strained for about a year. Lately I’ve become suspicious of my husband’s friendship with a coworker. 

He started mentioning her name more and more this year, and one night I couldn’t help myself. I looked through his text messages and saw two messages from the coworker saying  “Here’s my number for when you’re  lonely :)” and “You know what they say about things people do when they’re drinking…”

There was no reply from my husband and these were the only texts from this woman. I don’t know if he’s cheating on me, but I have so many questions. Do I tell him I read his text messages? Should I ask if he’s cheating? I’m embarrassed that I read them at all but I want to confront him about this woman.

Sincerely,

Ashamed of Snooping

 

Dear Ashamed,

I feel pretty strongly about this. You must tell him. Yes, invading the privacy of someone you’ve committed to partnering with is a destructive move, but your mistake doesn’t negate your husband’s behavior. You cannot un-pick up the phone and un-read those text messages, so there’s no reason to dwell on the wrongness of the act itself. You’ve done it already. Shame will not serve you half as well as honesty.

I am not speaking from a place of judgement, Ashamed. Far from it. I can clearly remember a former me, hunched over an ex-lover’s phone, thumbs shaking and breath shallow as I clicked through his private conversations.

One morning (because I usually did this in the morning, while he was taking a shower) I found something I’d been looking for. It was a confirmation of a needling suspicion: my boyfriend had indeed been hiding something from me.

The striking thing about that morning is not what I found or that I found it, but how I felt once I did: relieved.

Relieved because the distance between us had a recognizable shape, something tangible to blame. Relieved that I was right, he’d stopped touching me for a reason, he was not just “stressed about work” —  and relieved because I didn’t have to continue pretending to be satisfied in my relationship. It was, for me, the excuse I thought I needed to blow shit up.

I don’t mean to suggest you’re looking for a reason to leave your husband, Ashamed. You have a six-year marriage and two young children who depend on you. I was 24 years old with no kids and no legal document binding me to my ex. The stakes were considerably lower. But I do think you’re ready for something in your marriage to change.

What surprised me about your letter was not the content — the potential cheating, the sneaky behavior — but what’s absent. Specifically, there’s no mention of a conversation between you and your husband about this woman.

This is what worries me. What is preventing you from asking your husband about his coworker, Ashamed? Is it the fear that he might be cheating? The worry that he could lie to you? Or are you nervous that he may not be cheating at all, and the strain on your relationship is more mundane and harder to identify?

Reading my partner’s private conversations isn’t something I’m compelled to do any more. At least, not lately. This isn’t because I’ve become a “good person.” It sure as shit is not because I know how to exercise self-control (I ate a bag of Doritos and three candy bars while writing this). I think instead it’s because my partner and I both prefer direct communication. We’ve identified honesty as a shared value and are building a relationship that contains enough room to confront each other directly about our jealousies and our fears.

Shit gets chaotic at our house. We fight. We yell.  There are days when we spill anxieties into each others laps and do a shoddy job of sopping up the mess. But I don’t lay awake wondering if there’s some truer part of him hidden inside his phone.

This is the tradeoff that comes with directness, Ashamed. It’s louder, but there’s no fault line beneath the surface threatening natural disaster. When you snooped in your husband’s phone, you were on a mission. You were probably not surprised by what you found. And you probably weren’t surprised to find yourself there, phone in hand, ready for the hurt. I say this because this type of behavior doesn’t happen on impulse one night. It’s the result of things unsaid and, in your case, un-asked, built up over time.

Tell your husband you read his texts. Ask if he’s cheating on you. And be prepared for his answer to create a fissure in your current life. It may be a crack you can mend, or it might be an opening to a new kind of life. Either way, your relationship will change. Be brave, dear. I’m cheering for you!

Kisses,

Person

 

Dear Person,

I’m a realtor. I only take clients that I like…and even then, only when they are referred to me by my family and very close friends. I don’t give out my personal number. I give them a Google Voice number that screens their calls.

Recently, a client couple joined me for brunch and I think we just sauntered over into the friend zone.

Here’s my question: How do I give them my real phone number without telling them that I was screening them all this time? Am I being unnecessarily weird about this?

Thanks,

Reluctant Realtor

 

Dear Reluctant,

I think you are being weird, and yes, I’ll go ahead and call it “unnecessary.”

I understand screening calls. And I get your hesitation to meet new clients. I wouldn’t want to show up to an empty house with a random dude. That sounds like the set-up for a Law & Order SVU episode — one I’d definitely watch.

But regarding your potential friends: is there an actual risk they’d be so offended by your (perfectly reasonable) phone screening that they’d pass up an opportunity to be nourished by your friendship? This seems doubtful. (You found these assholes a house, remember?)

I sense something bigger looming beneath this problem, Reluctant. It’s fear. You are afraid of embarrassing yourself in front of the new people in your life. You’re also afraid that your behavior appears “unnecessarily weird.”

It makes me wonder, why are you afraid of revealing all of yourself to the world?

Here’s what I think you should do, Reluctant. Take a breath. Walk around your house naked (Inside! Don’t get arrested). Compliment a stranger’s haircut. Write down everything you’re afraid of, and share your list. Visit someone you love unannounced. Swim. Cry in public. Read poetry. Have ear-splitting sex in the middle of the day. Look at yourself in the mirror and say “I want to be your friend.” Then say it to your new friends, and give them your goddamned cell number.

Kisses,

Person

 

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