I just found out my boyfriend of four years has been cheating on me via email with his good family friend. They have known each other most of their lives and he sometimes helps look after her two-year child. But a week before we were supposed to leave for a romantic getaway together, I found an open email on his computer in which both of them express their love for each other. So, obviously, I read the rest of the emails and found they had been talking for a few months about their feelings for each other but had decided they were not going to do anything because of me. What do I do? Is this cheating? Should I confront him about this or just be happy he has chosen me?
You ask whether this duplicitous back-and-forth love-confession is cheating. Of course it is: you said it yourself at the start of your letter. The question for you is: do you really want to stay with him?
Cheating happens when your boundaries and expectations for a given relationship are transgressed, when you feel that your partner is doing something behind your back that they know will hurt you. In long-term relationships, such boundaries are usually mutually agreed upon.
There are differing personal and cultural contexts. For example, an American friend of mine broke up with his girlfriend because he saw her flirting with an ex. A Khmer friend tells me that for his birthday, his wife brought him to karaoke for scotch, song and women.
If this was a fling, perhaps you’d need to have a conversation about what constitutes cheating, but four years is a big chunk of time. He, I assume, tells you he loves you. Now he’s telling another person he loves her, too? You need, and deserve, answers.
What worries me is that you sound unsure about whether you are entitled to be angry, implying that you are beholden to this person. Look at the facts: this man conspired with another woman about whether he should break up with you. I’m sorry to say it, but these emails probably aren’t all there is to the situation. Most relationships run deeper than email. Stand up for yourself.
Your man chose you all right, but he decided with this woman that he should stay with you. What does she have to do with it? His decision to love you should be his – not one deferred to a penpal.
If you want to stay with him – and it sounds like you do – you’ll need to confront him. If you don’t, it will gnaw at you as long as you’re together. Every time he opens his email, you’ll wonder, “Who is he serenading now?”
You need to tell him what you know and how you feel. You need to hear his response, see how he reacts. You have a right to be hurt and angry – I would. I also know what it’s like to cause this kind of hurt and pain. She gave me a chance, and we rebuilt. Our relationship lasted for years because it was a one-off, not pattern behavior. Ultimately, you need to figure out whether or not you can really trust your man.
You need to see that you’re still “The One” to put your mind at ease. Don’t let him off easy. Be angry and make him work hard for you.