Carolyn Hax: Gray areas of truth; group gift from siblings

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 26, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’ve been seeing my girlfriend for about six months. Last night we were talking about a friend’s relationship problems stemming from his recent confession of infidelity. My girlfriend wondered aloud, “Why did he even tell her about it in the first place, if it was just a drunken one-night thing?” I muttered something back about lying never being good, and she agreed and we changed the subject.

Now I’m thinking more about what she said and wondering if I should be concerned. I’m not especially worried about cheating, but I do place high value on trust, openness and honesty, and now I’m worried that she doesn’t feel entirely the same way. Are there other signs I should look for to reassure myself? Or am I overthinking this?

I Hope I’m Overthinking This


I think you’re overthinking how this reflects on her integrity, and underthinking — and underdiscussing — the nuances of “trust, openness and honesty.” It is by no means a slam-dunk that telling the whole truth is always good.

Kant famously posed the question of whether you’re obliged to tell the truth if a murderer came to your door and asked where your friend is (I hate it when that happens). Since very few people would actually feel obligated — or insist that anyone else was — it’s a great starting point for the idea that even good, moral people draw lines in the gray when it comes to telling the truth.

The implications when it comes to relationships and cheating surface often in this column, and I can’t think of an instance when people weren’t split roughly down the middle between thinking the unselfish thing to do is to confess a one-time infidelity (because people deserve the truth), and thinking the unselfish thing is not to confess a one-time infidelity (because the confessor feels unburdened at the expense of peace of mind of the confess-ee, who arguably is no better for knowing).

So, consider shelving the impulse to jump to dire conclusions about your girlfriend, and raising the issue again — but not as it relates to her or even your friend. Instead, bring it up as it relates to life and to the deceptively tough choices presented by a decision to take the high road.

Dear Carolyn:

We are celebrating our parent’s momentous birthday with a modest, yet nice, party. Each of the siblings (except one) is contributing to the shindig. Some siblings who are well off are contributing a little more cash, others are contributing what they can afford.

One sibling, however, is not contributing anything, not helping and not attending (with no good excuse for any of these omissions). The party favors will have a personalized label expressing birthday wishes to the person of honor. Should we include the name of the non-contributor on the signature line?

Group-Gift Deadbeat

Including the deadbeat sibling’s name would be a lovely gift to your parent. There’s no need to upset them just to settle a score.

Re: Deadbeat:

Just sign it, “With love from your kids.” Your parents know your names.

Anonymous

Elegant solution, thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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