Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared on Nov. 24, 2004.
Hi, Carolyn: I love my girlfriend, who is the most amazing person I've ever met. I just can't seem to avoid being selfish and doing things that end up hurting her.
A few months ago, she found out I had cheated on her, and she left. In that time, I realized what I had lost and that she is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. She has forgiven me and we are back together, but I still feel guilty and I want to do something to show her what she means to me (and maybe what she always meant to me, that I was afraid to admit?). Any suggestions?
Lowsville: Yes: Don’t cheat on her.
That might be the least facetious facetious-sounding answer I’ve ever given.
I could trot out all the usual flowers and gifts and apologies and promises, but she has forgiven you. That is profound. The most profound gift you can give her in return is to be worthy of that forgiveness — today, tomorrow and for as long as you share life with her.
Make that second-most profound. Most profound is to respect the intelligence of this “most amazing person you’ve ever met” enough not to suck up to her after you’ve just bedded some other girl.
Conveniently, behaving with integrity is also the way to beat guilt. You don’t buy it down, you live it down. This doesn’t preclude gifts and apologies. They do have their place, especially if it isn’t her birthday and you haven’t just betrayed her horribly and some feeling goes into the gifts. But it does preclude moronic pronouncements like, “I just can’t seem to avoid being selfish.” You can. So, do.
And if you really, really can’t, then break up with your girlfriend and give monogamy a pass till you can.
Dear Carolyn: When I was 24, I was married. It was a mistake of great proportions, for both of us, and it ended in divorce five months later. Fast-forward six years. We run into each other, have dinner and a year later we're living together and existing in a relationship so good I didn't think it was possible. The problem is, a number of my friends are still having some difficulty with the idea that we're back together. I still get the occasional snide remark, snicker or smirk when I mention him. What is really remarkable is that none of these people knew him when we were married. How do I handle this without overreacting?
— Lucky Me
Lucky Me: You have a great story on your hands. Enjoy it. Beat everyone to the smirk. Laugh at yourself. You want to be taken seriously; I get it. But not only is laughing always better than overreacting, you’ll also save everyone the trouble of having to laugh at you. If you get over it, they get over it. Call it a mistake of great panache.
When even that gets old: “We’re over it. I can’t wait till everyone else is, too.”