Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. To tell, or not to tell? My friend “Stephen” recently broke up with his girlfriend “Maggie,” who during their years together had become good friends with my wife. Stephen told me that Maggie had cheated on him, but asked that I not tell my wife so as not to potentially harm their friendship. I’m conflicted because I want to respect his emotionally generous request, but at the same time it feels like lying by omission not to tell my wife (we tell each other nearly everything about anything). Plus, I do worry about being able to guard my own feelings around Maggie if the two of them maintain a friendship and that I would reveal the truth anyway in an uncontrolled moment. Thoughts?
A: I’m not sure that this is lying by omission. Stephen and Maggie have already broken up, which seems like a pretty sufficient consequence for cheating. And I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Maggie and your wife had already talked about it, given that they’re good friends already. It’s odd, though, that Stephen would ask you to keep her cheating a secret, which I have to say makes me a little suspicious. (But I think I’ve just read too many advice columns. This week’s problems have all been so intense that I’m ready to believe Stephen’s the one who cheated, possibly with your wife, and he’s offered you misdirection and asked you to keep it secret to keep anyone from comparing stories. Which I do not actually think is the case!)
Basically, I think if you decide you want to talk to your wife about it regardless of how it affects Stephen, then he deserves a heads-up: “I’ve thought about it, and I just don’t think I can keep this from my wife. I can promise you I won’t discuss it with other people, and I appreciate your not wanting it to become generally known, but my wife and I discuss everything.”