Ms. Behavior®: Flummoxed

Dear Ms. Behavior:
For the first time in my 45 years, I’ve been having major drama. I’ve looked at my own actions, and those of the other parties, to figure out right, wrong, etc., but it’s hard to be objective.

Here’s a small bit of background: I dated a guy for several months in 2008, during which he repeatedly made it clear we were not in it for the long haul. For instance, we never even used the word “boyfriend.”

But when I ended our relationship three months ago, he was devastated. We’ve seen each other a few times since, and were at least heading toward friendship—until a few weeks ago, when he introduced me to one of his friends.

Oops. Our attraction was immediate, and though we behaved in front of my ex, we started seeing each other, taking things slowly in deference to my ex—more at the friend’s insistence than mine, I admit. We wanted to “come out” to my ex gently and gradually, but it didn’t happen the way we intended.

When my ex found out about us, and that I had fabricated some details about my plans and whereabouts, he ended our friendship, and has ceased all contact with me. The friend, in order to salvage their relationship, has decided we shouldn’t be in touch for now, so at this point, I don’t know where things stand with him, or them.

I realize I’m asking for advice in a near vacuum, but here goes: What does one owe one’s ex? Considering the length and casual nature of our relationship, and how long we’d been apart, at what point would it have been reasonable to start dating his friend? What’s a proper waiting period? How could the friend and I have been more careful, more considerate of my ex, given the magnitude of our attraction—and given the few eligible men in our midsized city? When is it OK to lie? Is kindness sometimes better than truth?
—Flummoxed

Dear Flummoxed:
You and “the friend” magically lulled yourself into believing that you were sparing your ex’s feelings by keeping your relationship secret.

Actually, your decision not to tell him was more selfish than kind. You didn’t want to deal with your ex’s feelings, and your lie allowed you to avoid conflict with him. Also, keeping the secret from your ex served to fuel the erotic tension between you and the friend.

Ms. Behavior hears your objections from afar: “No,” you squeal, “we didn’t want to hurt him, and anyway, the sex would have been hot even if it weren’t secret.”

But sneaking and lying do serve to “up” the sexual ante. You made up stories about where you were and what you were doing to “protect” your ex, but in essence, the risk that he might discover the truth fertilized your passion.

What one owes one’s ex is nothing more than respect. Your assumption that your ex might be upset by your attraction to his friend is probably right. But the idea that he could not handle the truth, and therefore should be kept in the dark, is probably just a self-serving wish—i.e., “He’ll never get over me, so it’s more generous to lie.”

How long to wait before dating an ex’s friend depends, of course, on both the number of eligible men in your city and the length of your ex’s penis. Oh, wait…that’s not right. It actually doesn’t make sense to specify a period of time. It depends on so many factors, including: your ex’s emotional state; whether you travel in the same social circles; whether he still is burning candles for you (and, of course, whether he had someone else’s johnson in his mouth when you broke up with him).

If you’re attempting to be friends with an ex, don’t date his friend until you can be honest about it. This doesn’t mean you have to call your ex, and make a big announcement right away. But it does mean that you shouldn’t tell him you’re going out alone for a facial and a pedicure, when you really are going out for sushi and frottage with his friend.

As for your final question—when is kindness better than truth?—the answer is rather simple: only when you truly are sparing someone (other than yourself) pain. Oh, but most people seem to miss an important part of this: We’re not talking about short-term pain, like being told an uncomfortable truth, but rather the deeper pain of knowing someone doesn’t respect you, or is treating you like a fool.

© 2009 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to msbehavior@aol.com. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.

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