Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I was having drinks last week with two girlfriends when one of them said, “I did something awful.” She proceeded to tell us that she was out at a work event and got very drunk and ended up kissing some guy.
She apparently feels horrible about it, but says she will not tell her husband because it was a mistake and she knows she won’t do it again. I tried to remind her that honesty is the best policy, but she doesn’t agree.
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I don’t know her husband that well, but he’s a really great guy and has the right to know. So should I tell him myself?
DEAR FRIEND: Oh for the love of biscuits, no. Egad.
For one thing, “Honesty is the best policy” is a blunt instrument where a marriage is better served by a thoughtful, individual touch. (“Butt the heck out” comes to mind.)
And, it’s a kiss, not an out-of-wedlock child. Proportions deserve respect. If he doesn’t know about a single, regretted, drunken smooch, then the marriage can arguably hum along just fine. If instead he finds out about said smooch from a third party, the marriage can be knocked off its pins. And why? Because you want to feel as if you did the “right” thing?
If anyone ought to tell of an oops like this — and reasonable, decent people can disagree on whether telling is the right thing to do — then it should absolutely be the spouse who tells. When a transgression is huge enough to demand reporting, a friend’s place is to say, “I can’t in good conscience keep a secret this damaging. You need to tell the truth, or I will be forced to.” This smooch falls very, very short of the “huge” standard, but even if it didn’t, it would be wrong to jump straight to tattling, especially on someone you call a friend.
As for that “reasonable people” thing: What matters here (the one place we agree) is the husband’s feelings, and a good percentage of people in the husband’s position wouldn’t want to know. Why? Because the benefit of knowing so minor a transgression might not outweigh the pointless pain of knowing.
I’m actually agnostic on this myself. If my spouse made such a confession to me in an act of honesty, or chose not to make such a confession in a genuine act of compassion, then I hope I’d recognize either way that he probably feels worse about it than I do, and that life is long, and that drunk long-married people sometimes become smooch-seeking missiles, and that it doesn’t have to mean the End Is Nigh.
On top of all of this, your tattling would be a betrayal of your friend. She trusted you to help her unburden and figure out how to handle this. Earn that trust retroactively, please, by zipping it now.
If you resent being the bearer of such secrets — or if you indeed believe it’s your duty to report them — then please warn your friends ASAP so they know to watch what they say.