QUESTION: My best friend parted from her boyfriend, the father of her seven-year-old daughter, five years ago, but has never got over him. We all think he was bad news, but she’s never listened to our advice to draw a line under things and she says she doesn’t think he’s in love with his new girlfriend.
Though she has confided she thinks he might have been unfaithful to her when they were together, I’ve learned that he cheated on her at least three times. Should I say so to help her put the relationship behind her?
ANSWER: It is often so clear to outside eyes what beloved friends should do about their relationships - but so impenetrable for the person who is besotted.
I am sure you are right, and that your best friend should move on and stop thinking about this man. But she’s still in love with him, despite your best efforts.
People who are enamoured can be extraordinarily reluctant to hear anything negative about their loved one. When a friend is slating their partner, I always try to remember that they are, nevertheless, liable to become defensive and hostile if I join in their diatribe.
Indeed, most people are like this: we believe ourselves at liberty to criticise our nearest and dearest, but will rip anyone else to shreds for doing the same.
If your best friend has not fully detached from her former partner, then she may display this familiar, if irrational, behaviour.
It is also true that you must question your own motives closely. Are you sure you want to pass on the information about this man’s infidelities entirely for your friend’s benefit?
Or are you itching to share a secret that seems ready to burst out of the cupboard of its own accord
If this woman is your closest friend, then it’s likely that you’re accustomed to sharing every scrap of gossip. It must be painful to keep such a pertinent bit of information from her, but you need to consider if it really is in her best interests.
There are definitely women who would rather live their emotional lives in a happy delusion than have a cruel reality derail them - and it seems to me no one else has the right to say they are wrong.
I know a young woman who is in a similar situation to your friend and, like you, I know her former boyfriend was a cheat. But she once said to me that she couldn’t imagine anything worse than learning he had been unfaithful.
I took her at her word. Yes, telling her might be the ultimate reality check, but walking roughshod over the flimsy remains of her relationship seems akin to strolling into a house devastated by a hurricane and smashing up the last bit of furniture left intact.
I simply told her: ‘He wasn’t good enough for you, and one day you will recognise this.’
The past can savagely bite at the present’s heels. I imagine that Lady Antonia Fraser, whose memoirs about her great love affair with Harold Pinter have been serialised in this paper, was not best happy that a former mistress of Pinter’s - an American socialite called Barbara Stanton - has recently declared that her own affair with the playwright had lasted ‘many years’.
I know quite a few married women who have always declared that they wouldn’t wish to know if their husbands had strayed. It’s Eve and the apple all over again for them: one bite at the apple of knowledge and you’re for ever exiled from the Garden of Eden.
Then there are people who feel they need to forensically assemble every bit of evidence against their former boyfriend in order to progress and be sane again.
I must admit that I fall into this personality camp rather than the former one.
I have read my boyfriends’ diaries and personal correspondence in the past (if I could read minds, I’d home in on every last guilty thought), and once begged friends to reveal damning facts about one former lover so that the prosecution’s case was watertight.
I am one of those people who feels more sane if they are in possession of the facts. But I would be the first to admit that that kind of knowledge can be incredibly painful, and I’m not sure those in the ‘ignorance is bliss’ camp aren’t wiser.
The one thing I would not do is to suddenly confess this secret to your friend without gauging the lay of the land. Wait until the next time she agonises over this man’s (to her) imagined transgressions, then gently probe as to whether, in an ideal world, she really would want to know the truth.
If she says a firm ‘yes’, then you’d be justified in telling her. But if she’s ambivalent in her response, I would be inclined to stay shtum.
I have generally found it wisest in life to keep wounding revelations about sexual transgressions to myself, unless a good friend directly asks me what I know and I think their peace of mind is best satisfied by an honest answer.