Dear Carolyn: The guy I've been seeing for two years had an affair, before me, with a married woman. And he's engaged in other questionable behaviors, including sleeping with an ex (ex?) at the beginning of our relationship. He says the period just before we got together was an anomaly.
My mom asked, "Do you trust him?" and the answer's no, even though I have no reasons other than the historical ones.
Is it possible he's trustworthy, or would he cheat on me given the opportunity? I love him and he's committed to me, so I guess it shouldn't matter to me, but it does. How can I forgive him? Should I?
Anonymous: “Given the opportunity”? Cheating is an opportunity everyone has every day, give or take a few logistical hurdles.
Plus, everyone who has ever cheated has to have had a first time cheating. So, there’s no predictive way to sort people into “faithful” and “cheater” files based on their cheating histories. Plus, some cheaters never cheat again.
Not to mention, it just seems logical that some of those first-time cheaters were people who themselves thought they would never cheat on anyone. It’s something that dawned on me over my 100,000 years of doing this: All the what-if questions are always about the risk that someone else will cheat. It’s seldom “I am afraid I will not be faithful.” So, either 99 percent of the people who write into columns are in the “faithful” file, and the people they date are a mix of “faithful” and “cheater” — or, every population contains a mix of “faithful” and “cheater,” at least some of whom will switch sides as circumstances change.
All of this is to say the biggest risk (to my mind) in the whole trust business is of oversimplification. It’s not just faithful/cheater issue that gets reduced to caricatures, though that is a perennial favorite. There’s also the issue of making questions of trust only about (in)fidelity. You can have a person who is rock-solid faithful in the sense of not sleeping with anyone else — but whom you can’t trust to support you when you’re wobbly, to stand up for you when you’re under attack by critics, to think of what you want and need instead of just doing whatever suits him or her, or not to abuse you. That’s hardly a win.
And there’s the issue of trusting yourself, which is the bedrock. Can you trust yourself to choose a partner who is good for you? Can you trust yourself to be happy alone, if that’s the alternative to a guy you’re concerned about? Can you trust yourself to admit there’s something wrong, take difficult steps to deal with the problem, and have the courage to start over if the relationship takes a bad turn?
That’s the trust you start with. Once you have that, then the other stuff gets a lot easier to work out.
If after all this you’re certain you don’t trust him, and don’t believe he has learned from his mistakes and left his bad judgment behind, then how can you possibly, comfortably stay?