Is Not Telling Your Best Mate Her Boyfriend’s Cheated The Worst Friendship Crime?
The Debrief: When every single other person in your friendship group knows...
It’s Saturday night and I’m talking to a man called Steve at a party. The topic of conversation isn’t important (though let’s assume it’s the effectiveness of UN sanctions on the Iranian nuclear crisis) because I’m not giving Steve my full attention. Partly, I am wondering who would invite a man called Steve to a party, but mostly I’m thinking about the three people talking in the corner of the room. Two girls and a boy. My friend, her boyfriend and another friend. My friend, her boyfriend, and the girl he cheated on her with.
She doesn’t know that he cheated on her. She certainly doesn’t know it was with the girl she’s currently telling a funny story to about being on the wrong tax code. The girl is listening to the story about the tax code, the boy is listening to the story about the tax code. In a minute, he’s going to interject with a moderately amusing tax-based pun because he’s that kind of boy. They’re smiling and listening, but I know what they’re thinking about is how they once had sex – and that my friend doesn’t know about it.
They’re thinking about it, I’m certainly thinking about it, and, with a sort of sixth sense, like we’re all very minor characters on X-Men, I can tell there are a handful of other people in the room thinking the same thing. I can see friends clocking the conversation and quickly looking away. ‘They're talking!’ we relay to one another on our silent airwaves. ‘What are they talking about?!’
‘Isn’t that the girl S****** cheated on H****** with?’ the man called Steve enquires. How does Steve know?! ‘B**** told me.’ Everyone knows. We all know.
We all know and we’ve done nothing. We are, collectively, guilty of a terrible friendship crime.
In our defence, though it’s a pitiful one, our friend was out of the country when it happened, and by the time the news had trickled round our friendship group, by the time we were openly talking about it, months had passed and it seemed too late to go sticking our oar into their otherwise happy relationship.
Their sex was a stupid drunken mistake, of course. An accident, they said. As if there’s anything accidental about cheating. A drunken mistake is seeing if you can climb into a cupboard and accidentally snapping the handle off the cooker. You don't accidentally end up in the same bed at a house party, your clothes don’t accidentally fall off and your penis accidentally end up in a vagina that doesn't belong to your girlfriend. Whoops! In it goes!
You don’t accidentally end up in the same bed at a house party, your clothes don’t accidentally fall off and your penis accidentally end up in a vagina that doesn’t belong to your girlfriend
The news spread like all secrets, told to one person (‘but you can’t tell anybody’) and then passed rapidly and farcically around the group. ‘Just don't tell so and so,’ whispered in time for so and so to enter stage right and say ‘Tell me what?’
Round and round the conversation went. ‘We have to tell her.’ ‘We can’t tell her.’ And always the same decision, that the collateral damage would be too great. Faced with the option to smash her round the face with the truth, or sit quietly and hope she never finds out, we chose the path of least destruction.
The other woman in the situation is not some faceless stranger he met on a boy’s night out, she was also our friend. Not a best friend, on the periphery rather than in the very heart of the circle, but certainly at every party, included in every group text, expected at every open invitation to the pub.
I dread the question: ‘Did you know? How many people know?’ Because the answer would be everyone. Everyone knew
Perhaps the relationship itself, now several years strong, might weather the test of the news ever coming out. But the friendship would collapse. And then the inevitable questions would begin: ‘Did you know? How many people know?’ And the answer would be everyone. Everyone knew.
I don’t actually know if they know how many people know. I assume they’re not stupid and they understand what happens when you tell one person a secret, but perhaps they think they’re safe – that they got away with it. And the idea that he thinks he has one up on all of us makes me feel a bit sick.
I like the guy and all. She loves him so I like him, but I don’t trust him, and I can’t imagine having a conversation with him that doesn’t involve me shouting, ‘YOU CHEATED ON HER’ in my head. On the Saturday night in question, when the three of them were talking, I had to leave the room, lest I had some kind of Tourette’s breakdown and the shouting in my head became actual shouting.
Three other friends beat an equally hasty exit and we gathered in the kitchen, giddy with the tension of it all. It was only later that I realised how sad that was. We were safer laughing in the kitchen than talking to them in case the secret exploded out of us, and I thought how awful I would feel if I knew my friends would rather talk about me than to me.
There is nothing in the world my friend would hate more than the idea that people pitied her
There is nothing in the world my friend would hate more than the idea that people pitied her. In trying to protect her from a horrible situation, we’ve created a much worse one. And the longer it goes on, the more we become part of a secret club that she can’t join. A club that only exists because we want to protect her, but in doing so betrays the very foundations of friendship.
I’ve decided that if, years from now, they get engaged, then I'll tell him he has to tell her or I will. I’ll probably visit him in the middle of the night in a hooded cloak or something, just to add some gravitas to the situation.
Until then, we’ve learnt to steer – like an expert crew in a round-the-world yacht race – the conversation away from cheating. We’ll hear a snatch of unrelated conversation from across the room, a guy at work is cheating on his girlfriend. ‘Is that dip?!’ someone will cry, and we’ll all leap onto the new subject like we never even heard the mention of cheating.
Our plan is to never let the subject come up. Because when the conversation turns to cheating, someone always says, ‘Imagine if you didn’t know but other people knew’, and everyone always nods sagely. And then someone might say, ‘Oh god, you would tell me if you knew something about me wouldn’t you?’ And we can never let that person be my friend.
Picture: Lukasz Wierbowski
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating