Carolyn Hax’s advice for woman’s boyfriend who’s secretly e-mailing exes and for a pal who keeps using a woman’s credit card

Columnist February 4, 2012

Adapted from recent online discussions.

Hi, 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 with my boyfriend 11 / 2 years, we live together, it’s a supportive, affectionate relationship. Lately, we’ve been talking about marriage and children (his initiative, and I’m on board).

However, we were on a trip together recently and I noticed him e-mailing with a woman. This followed an incident a few months earlier where we ran into another woman he knew who I hadn’t heard of. This week, I read his e-mail, and he’s been keeping in regular touch with three ex-girlfriends, and seeing them behind my back. It doesn’t sound like he’s having an affair, but . . . I’m very upset.

I confronted him, told him what I’d read, and he’s been apologizing profusely since. He says he’s just friends with them and didn’t want to deal with my reaction to the whole thing, ergo, he hid it from me.

I don’t know. We’re in our mid-30s. Who operates this way? How can I figure out if I can trust him?

Trust

Wow. Who and how indeed. Though he can be forgiven for wondering also whether he can trust you with his e-mail.

Still. This isn’t about cheating/snooping; it’s about his thinking it’s necessary — and okay! — to hide something just because it might bring a bad reaction.

I can see fear of reprisals as a reason to keep something private temporarily; people sometimes need to sort out their thoughts and feelings before opening themselves to potential criticism.

But this wasn’t about sorting or meant to be temporary; it was ongoing behavior that he concealed. Not the work of a grown-up. Your “Who operates this way?” says you’re on this thought path already.

So, explain this to him very clearly: “I find it disturbing that you prefer hiding your actions to facing the possibility of uncomfortable consequences” — which, of course, has implications beyond just friendships with exes. See whether he understands this, and see how he deals with it.

While his apologizing is good and necessary, it’s not enough; you also need comprehension and real change. Is he mature enough to tell you the truth from now on — especially about himself — even when he’s afraid it will cost him something? That’s what you need to find out, above-board. If an affirmative answer is then backed by time and experience, then he’ll have earned your trust.

Hi, Carolyn:

A few months ago, I let a friend use my credit card to make an emergency purchase. To my surprise, I just started noticing a steady stream of unfamiliar iTunes purchases on my statements. After a little bit of sleuthing, I asked her and found out that yes, she has been using my credit card — unauthorized — to make occasional one-dollar purchases, which she did not think I would mind (or notice, perhaps).

Is there any way this could EVER be okay, or did I just lose a friend?

The MP3 Bandit

Door No. 2. It just cost you a few bucks to find out what a jerk she is, in which case you should consider yourself lucky. It could have been thousands.

You have changed that credit card number, yes?

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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