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Carolyn Hax: Will her married man leave his wife? (Then cheat again?)

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
5 min

Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared Nov. 12, 2008, and Feb. 11 and 27, 2009.

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend is married to another woman. You can’t imagine the scolding I’ve endured from my close friends over this. Some of it is beginning to sink in, and I’m doubting whether he will ever end his marriage for me. In your opinion, if I am deeply in love with this man, is it worth the wait? In other words, do you believe the philosophy that he will cheat on me, too, because he’s cheating on her?

— Philadelphia

Tell us: What's your favorite Carolyn Hax column about dividing up household labor?

Philadelphia: Those are two separate questions: Should you wait, and, if he ever becomes eligible, should you trust him?

The first is the easiest call you’ll ever have to make: No. You don’t “wait.” You move on with your life.

For one thing, you don’t want him to end his marriage “for me.” You want him to end it only if, and only when, it’s the right outcome for that marriage. Being the reason a marriage ends might look purty in a novel, but in real life it means you took someone else’s candy just because you wanted it. Not exactly epitaph material.

And no, “The marriage was already in trouble” doesn’t count, not if you’re there to help it collapse.

Meanwhile, when you “wait,” you fall for another bit of fiction. Continuing to see him is not the only way to keep him, stay in love or whatever else you hope to accomplish. In this case, the reverse is true: If you love him and love yourself, then you will walk away. No calls, texts — nothing. That’s because a love worth your attention not only will survive the wait for better circumstances, but also deserves better circumstances. If it isn’t and doesn’t, it won’t.

Of course, decisions can be easy to make and hell to execute. You’ll feel devastated, you’ll have cravings, you’ll jump when your phone rings, you’ll be terrified that the secrecy was the substance, that you’ll feel like a fool.

However, whenever your resolve weakens, remind yourself that your show of strength will help answer the trickier question (assuming he becomes available and you still want him): Should you trust him?

Why people cheat and whether they’ll cheat again are case-by-case questions. Right now, by being available to him on the side, you’re enabling the worst case: that he feels entitled to something on the side. If you’re available to him only when he’s available to you, then you starve the worst case of its oxygen, at least for now. Choose best case or nothing at all.

Dear Carolyn: I check my husband’s email without his knowing it and I don’t know why I do it. I’m not suspicious of anything, I guess I’m just curious. What do you think this means?

— Snooper

Snooper: It means either that you care more about your curiosity than you do your husband’s privacy (or your integrity, for that matter) — or you’re lying to yourself about the depth of your insecurity. Stop looking. Have some decency.

If you can’t stop or just don’t, then please take a hard look at what’s going on — including your own motives, your own possibly guilty conscience, any history of compulsive behavior, and any behavior on your husband’s part that would justify spousal suspicion.

Not that justified suspicion would justify snooping; it wouldn’t. However, if it turns out you do have grounds to question his behavior, then facing that would allow you to deal with the problem in a more honest and transparent way.

Dear Carolyn: My eldest niece has been accepted to a prestigious design school. Her mom is ecstatic and so am I. I helped her prepare a portfolio, take the SATs and apply to schools.

Tuition will cost her well over $100,000. Since I am a practical person still paying loans 15 years after graduating, I have advised her to consider studying in state.

Her mom called me enraged that I would “discourage her daughter from pursuing her dreams.” When I pointed out that it's not realistic to take on that kind of debt, she said, “We are more than capable” of paying for college and that she would appreciate if I kept my ideas to myself.

I just don’t want to see my nieces burdened down with debt. No one explained debt to me at that age. Am I out of line?

— Overbearing Auntie?

Overbearing Auntie?: Way. Even if the family can’t pay the tab, your being right doesn’t make it okay to keep pressing your point after you’ve been told, quite explicitly, that your opinion isn’t welcome.

Because of your close relationship, you had a right to warn your niece about debt. Once. When that raised hackles, the right thing to do was apologize for overstepping — and thereafter bite your tongue.