How to Do It

My Boyfriend Just Confessed a Profound Betrayal. I Can’t Tell if My Reaction Is Too Much.

A woman contemplates what to do.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Suphaporn/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.

Dear How to Do It,

I wrote in late last year, and I found your response at the time really helpful. The situation was:

I’m a bi woman in my early 30s, and I’ve been dating an amazing man for the past several months. We’re both head over heels for each other and definitely see a future together. We have an amazing sex life, which both of us have described as the best either of us has ever had. Recently, he threw me for a loop by proposing a threesome with a former friend with benefits of his.

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Basically, it always seemed that there was some little detail about their conversations that he would “forget” to share with me until I would ask direct and specific questions. Well, it turns out I was right to worry about it, because they met up for sex about three days after you published my letter, although I only found out about it a week ago. He says that it only happened once, and afterward, he realized that I was really the one that he loved. All of the things that I wrote about him in the first letter are still true. I’m still incredibly in love with him and can’t picture my life without him in it, but I’m struggling so hard with my feelings of anger and betrayal, going back and forth between “you will be fine, it’s about working through the issues and building a future together by learning from the mistakes of the past!” and “I want to burn this motherfucker’s life to the ground.” Am I crazy for staying with him? How do I actually, honestly, move forward with this relationship?

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—Future: Uncertain

Rich: So, in our first chat, you were the one who was more suspicious of the partner. Good call! I am realizing that I give men the benefit of the doubt a lot … and they disappoint me a lot. To recap, this writer said that her boyfriend was texting with an ex about a potential threesome. Which was a red flag for you, but I was like, “Whatever! He’s just being free!” Whoops.

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Stoya: I think we balance each other in that regard. I’m sometimes overly suspicious, especially when we’re dealing with hetero-to-heteroflexible cis men.

Rich: Which: fair enough. I think my miscalculation was in part due to the fact that they were only theoretically nonmonogamous at the time of the question. In a seriously nonmonogamous framework, this kind of texting might be less suspicious and more just part of normal operating practice. Opening things up as a direct result of sexy texting with an ex is a different matter altogether, and I think fairly raised suspicions. Again, good call.

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Stoya: I will now accept your compliment graciously. Thank you. I love when we hear back from writers.

Rich: I do too!

Stoya: It’s great to know whether my instincts are correct and advice is sound.

Rich: I’m glad to have been helpful, if only temporarily.

Stoya: I’m immediately zeroing in on one line: “Afterward, he realized that I was really the one that he loved.” Which raises a question in my mind of whether he was actually into the idea of nonmonogamy or wanted to revisit sex with his ex to sort through some residual feelings.

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Rich: Yes, the outcome colors the entire premise. It reads now like it was all an excuse: ”I’m sexting with an ex and to make this ethical, I’ll retrofit it for our burgeoning, still theoretical nonnmonogaous arrangement!”

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Stoya: So, several months of dating, plus the three months in between publishing the initial question and now, is probably around a year. And he’s full of red flags.

Rich: I really don’t like the use of ethical rhetoric for unethical behavior.

Stoya: It’s gross.

Rich: Way too calculated for my taste.

Stoya: It leaves a very bad feel in my mouth.

Rich: It makes judging the situation tough. People do learn to treat people with more sensitivity than they previously did. Relationships do repair after cheating. Is this likely to be one of those instances? Feels doubtful.

Stoya: I wouldn’t use the word “crazy” in the context of staying with this guy, but I would say overly optimistic.

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Rich: Yes, and has he done anything to warrant that optimism? Is his contrition merely in words, or has she seen actual change or at least evidence of an altered mindset? It’s very easy to mess up knowing you can apologize your way out of it, and then deliver that rote apology. That’s not contrition, it’s gaming a system.

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Stoya: I mean, has he even apologized?

Rich: Great question! There I go with my own optimism. Again.

Stoya: He’s definitely minimized—”it only happened once.”

Rich: And then the onus remains on her to move forward, at least per the framing of her question. This is still her problem. What does she do now? He’s the one who should be working overtime to save this relationship. And maybe he is! We don’t know, this is just a paragraph. But he’s lost the benefit of my doubt. This time I mean it!

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Stoya: I mean, I now don’t believe that it only happened once, or maybe that he loves her.

Rich: At the very least, it’s hard to believe that he’s emotionally mature enough for this relationship. I think the question is less about how to move forward and more about whether she should even try. And if she’s not seeing anything coming from him, she has her answer.

More How to Do It

I don’t know exactly how to come to grips with something that happened last night, and I would appreciate any insight you could offer. I have been with my boyfriend for about five years—he’s 12 years younger than me, but no one thinks I am as old as I am—and we are exact polar opposites of each other. I’m emotional and feeling; he’s not really emotional or feeling in the way I am. Last night, I told him that I’d really like to work through our lack of sex recently. I asked him if this had been a problem in past relationships. He said no. I asked him to please tell me why we didn’t have sex more so I could fix it, and I could tell he wanted to say something, but he wasn’t going to. Then he did.

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