Dear Carolyn: My sister went on an extended vacation after she graduated from college, and while there she went out with our cousin, had too much to drink and ended up kissing someone. She had been with her boyfriend for maybe two or so years by then. Our cousin witnessed the kiss, and my sister asked her to please not say anything to anyone because she was really upset and ashamed.
She started therapy to deal with it, since it had been weighing terribly on her, but she still has not told her boyfriend. She thinks he will leave her.
That cousin is now getting married and my sister is getting really anxious about attending the wedding with her boyfriend. She thinks our cousin may have told other family members and one of them could bring it up in front of her boyfriend. I want to help her feel less anxious and have promised to run interference, but she's also thinking about emailing our cousin to make sure she hasn't told anyone/no one will bring it up. Is that the right thing to do?
Telling: The only way she will feel less anxious is if she gets out from under the weight of her secret, for good.
Either she tells her boyfriend; breaks up with him and thereby renders the secret moot; or finds a way to release herself of the guilt and just accept what she did as the kind of stupid thing humans do and forgive herself for it.
You, of course, are just a bystander, and I generally don’t advise bystanders because it’s not your problem to solve, but hearing how messed up your sister is about this — when there’s SUCH AN EASY AND OBVIOUS SOLUTION available to her and when the solution she has in mind is so epically terrible — has triggered all of my meddling impulses.
Sorry for yelling.
And okay, it’s not so much “easy” as straightforward.
Anyway. If you want to promote your sister’s emotional well-being, then please urge her to tell her boyfriend what happened, if she’s not able to forgive herself, or break up or otherwise move on. If he dumps her for the kiss or for the coverup, then that’s still better than her walking around knowing she’s one blab away from having everything blow up. That’s just no way to live.
Re: Telling: And if he dumps her for telling, then what responsibility is she going to place on her sister for encouraging telling? She has to get to that decision on her own.
Anonymous: If she places any responsibility on her sister for a decision she makes of her own accord, then she’s in serious need of growing up.
Re: Telling: Secrets prevent intimacy. I was married for 20 years before I told my husband I had been raped as a teen. Until then, he didn't really know who I was. Nothing terrible happened, except that he knows all of me now (pretty scary!).
Told: Yes, yes, right.
And I’m sorry, and I admire your courage, and I’m glad your husband didn’t flinch.