Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared Dec. 17, 2008.
B.: As far as I know, society says both types of comments are rude. But maybe this is just the “society” I’ve constructed in my imagination to keep me from crawling under my desk and crying all day.
Still, humor me: Let’s say singling out others for the sole purpose of making one feel better about oneself is rude. That definition renders immaterial the specific trait being scorned.
Dear Carolyn: I was recently at my parents’ house, and I went to check my email. When I opened the browser, I found that my father had not signed out of an email account that I did not know existed. I caught a look at the previews of the messages, and, from what I can tell, my father is having some kind of extramarital relationships. Now I don’t know what to do. Do I tell my mom? Do I tell my dad that I know? Please help me.
C.: Tell your dad what you stumbled across and how you stumbled across it, taking care not to draw any conclusions from what you’ve found. It’s not a great solution; it’s just the least bad of three bad solutions: 1. Tattle on Dad. 2. Do nothing, and leave Mom in the dark. 3. Give Dad a chance to clean up any messes he’s made.
The downside of this choice is obvious, because you have no guarantee your father will do the right thing by your mother. However, you also don’t know exactly what that right thing is. For all you know, your father has your mother’s consent.
That’s why I believe — and people do disagree vehemently on this — that the two extremes of telling all and not saying anything both put you smack in the middle of the drama, where someone with your factual but limited knowledge doesn’t belong. You don’t know what occurs between your parents in their private moments, you don’t know what your father is doing with other people, if anything — and you know too much to stay silent without it being a lie of omission to your mother.
An added advantage of letting Dad handle it is that you can change your approach if needed, and get more involved as circumstances dictate. By contrast, if you tell Mom everything, that’s it; there’s no changing course.
If your father is indeed having affairs, and if it would be a blow to your mom, then the effect of the blow is a valid consideration, too. You want to give their marriage its best chance, which the tell-Dad option represents. Think of how you would rather find out.
More from Carolyn Hax
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Delete a friend’s confession about having an affair
A husband’s put off by his wife’s procrastination
A widower’s request to his child is a lot to unpack
Saying ‘I do’ for all the wrong reasons
Mother-in-law wants you to apologize for something your husband did. Heck no!
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