Dear Carolyn:

In the last 24 hours I have learned, and not from him, that my ex-boyfriend of two-plus years is gay. It was an ugly breakup in which he was incredibly mean in ways that can't be justified by the fact that he was grappling with his sexuality. I'm a jumble of emotions: relief (this explains so much!), anger, hurt (after all, he was deceiving me at even deeper levels than I thought), confusion . . . and curiosity. At the moment, any sympathy I might otherwise have for him is subsumed by all these other feelings, yet I feel as if I'm not supposed to be angry because he has surely gone through more hell than I did. But there it is; I am mad -- outraged, really, because he led me on in some terrible ways, probably in an effort to try to force himself to be straight. Suggestions?

Not Your Typical Post-Breakup Aftermath

So, what do you do when a jerk gets cancer?

We all know what to do when hard times come to good people. Wring hands, offer to help, grieve. But with a jerk, we can't feel completely sympathetic, can't volunteer to help without feeling like hypocrites, can't live with ourselves for not feeling completely sympathetic or inclined to help. Can't even admit to those dark urges to gloat.

Yet it's inevitable that not everyone who gets cancer, or suffers a loss, or goes through something excruciating (and fighting one's own sexuality is by all accounts excruciating) has the courtesy to be heroic about it. Or even bearable.

All you can do is recognize that mixed feelings are inevitable; separate those into discrete, equally valid piles; and hope your willpower holds. Yes, your ex surely has gone through hell. Yes, you liked or even loved him once. Yes, you genuinely wish he hadn't struggled. Be sympathetic.

And be angry: No, you won't excuse what he did just because he was going through hell. You earned your outrage, so feel it. Suffering never constitutes permission to make someone else suffer. Ever.

While you wait for your outrage to recede, remember -- even before this news "explain[ed] so much," your consolation was there all along: His cruelty reflects poorly on him, not you, whether he's gay, straight, bi, trans or confused.

Dear Carolyn:

My parents finally ended a very vituperative divorce process about three years ago. (I'm in my mid-twenties.) One of the reasons for the nastiness: Dad was cheating. He announced last weekend that he's marrying the "other woman," whom so far my brother and I have refused to meet. We have a pretty good but tenuous relationship with both parents, and I know this is now in jeopardy. Mom will never forgive us if we meet said woman and attend the wedding; Dad will never forgive us if we don't. What is the right thing to do?

In the Middle, Again

Ignore both parents and set your priorities (neutrality? morality? world peace?). Then explain that you're choosing priorities you can live with, not sides, and ask them to please respect that. Then enforce as needed: "Mom/Dad, this is about me, not you." And brace yourself through the storms.

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