The question appears here as it was submitted by one of our readers, however the names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
I have a friend (David) whom I’ve known for 2 years but our paths only crossed occasionally. We have always had a “connection” but never pursued the relationship because I was dating Craig.
David and I ran into each other again the first of the year and have been dating pretty heavily since then. Our feelings were strongly developing.
I had been trying to end the relationship with Craig since Christmas but felt I needed to be sensitive because he is very dependent. I told Craig I had been seeing David. He initially tuned it out because he was convinced we would work things out.
I catered to the pleadings to the point where I missed two engagements with David because I felt Craig was unstable. When I finally put my foot down and told him to “let it go” he started crying, claimed his chest hurt, etc. In the midst he asked if I would just have sex with him one last time and I reluctantly consented.
He then called David and told him I would always be his and he could prove it because I’d consented to having sex with him. When David asked me if it was true, I was honest.
I have truly developed feelings for David who is currently very devastated. He’s now taking time to see if he can open up to me again. We never talked about monogamy, he knew I was trying to end things with Craig, and he has a female friend himself.
I don’t want to lose what we’ve taken so long to develop and I don’t know what (if anything) I can do.
Wendy, meaningful relationships are based on honesty, mutual respect, and clear agreements about monogamy. What were you thinking? Perhaps after thoughtful introspection and a sincere apology to David you can move forward with him.
Although the role of monogamy in human relationships is somewhat ambiguous, the sharp pain of jealousy is unmistakable. At its core jealousy is based on a threat to sexual access. Playing with jealousy is playing with fire.
You taunted jealousy and suffered the predictable result.
Strong and lasting relationships require total honesty with your partner. Agree first with yourself, then with your partner to always be flawless with your word. Make and keep promises to yourself and each other, especially when the relationship is at stake. You have not yet done this. If you can make an authentic agreement on total honesty with David, then there is hope for the relationship. However, if past events have irreparably betrayed your trust, then you have to move on beyond both Craig and David. Until you can be honest with yourself and your partners, your relationships will not strengthen and last.
Do You Know Why?
Part of being honest with yourself is recognizing your own ambivalence. You had not yet firmly decided if you want to be with Craig, David or both. While ambivalence is inevitable, it is safer and more responsible to resolve it through dialogue rather than through sexual activity.
Do not tempt jealousy and manipulate friends while you are making up your mind. Find a trusted confidant and friend to discuss your feelings, hopes, choices, and doubts with. If it is better to stay outside of a relationship while you sort out what it is you want to do, then have the resolve to do this.
Act consistently with your decision to break it off with Craig. You have already said that your future is not with him. Agreeing to have breakup sex with Craig was a bad decision, but it is in the past and cannot be changed. Place Craig completely in the past. Perhaps then David can eventually forgive you after your full and sincere apology.
Figure Out What it is You Want
Resolve your ambivalence. If you reflect on what you truly want, you may decide to work toward a meaningful relationship with David. In that case the next step is to make a full and sincere apology to him. The apology has to emphasize your forbearance—assurances you have learned profound lessons and will never repeat these mistakes. It might go something like this, but it has to be said in your own true words:
David, I have hurt you badly by lingering with Craig, and especially by having sex with him while you were working to strengthen our relationship. It was a bad mistake, it is my mistake, it is inexcusable, and I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused you. Craig seemed so hurt by our breakup that I took pity on him. It was a stupid mistake; I should have been more resolute. I have hurt you and may have ruined any chance we had for a meaningful relationship.
I have thought long and hard about this. I know I have learned my lesson. I assure you that as long as we are seeing each other I will be honest with you, and true to you. I was honest with you when you asked what happened between me and Craig. This is a small start. I can see the pain I have caused you and it will not happen again. What can I do to make this up to you? I am deeply sorry.
Will He Forgive Me?
David may eventually decide to forgive you, but he may not. If distrust lingers in your relationship, it can never become meaningful. If distrust intervenes, you will eventually have to break up and find someone who you can be honest with and fully trust.