The Washington Post

What to do when you learn about friends’ affair?


Dear Carolyn:

I just found out a semi-good friend is sleeping with the husband of another semi-good friend. I don’t know whether to stay out of it, or whether I’m obligated to say something to the married friend (which I want to do). What do you think?

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

San Diego

I’m sorry. Your impulse is to help your friend, rightly, but you’re in a bad spot yourself.

Since there are boundary, presumption and disaster problems with playing affair-buster, limit your actions to those that address your awkward position.

Specifically, to the husband or husband-poacher (whoever’s the closer friend), say something akin to: “I’ve heard this is happening, which means others have, too. That’s Issue 1. Issue 2: I want no part of this — I don’t even want to know what I already know. Issue 3: If Wife asks me something, I won’t lie. As someone who stands to lose friends in this mess, I hope you’ll clean it up.”

Then butt out, knowing that if someone forces your hand, your next move has been declared in advance — and if your friend finds out that you knew, you can say: “I’m sorry. I did what I felt I could.”

Hi, Carolyn:

My fiance’s close friend always complains that his girlfriend picks ridiculous fights and escalates everyday issues into big dramatic episodes. This is supposedly because she’s insecure about the relationship, but I find her a very cool, interesting person and him nice but neurotic.

Fiance’s theory is she’s erratic and craves drama and his friend is just inexperienced; my theory is they’re not compatible and need to break up, end of story.

Now Fiance tells me he advised his friend to propose as a way to “test” whether she’s truly insecure or just crazy (and then break off the engagement if it’s established that she’s just crazy). I told him I think the idea is absurd and will end badly . . . they will probably get married regardless.

I genuinely like this girl, and I’ve seen no signs of her alleged “crazy” behavior. Obviously I can’t tell her what they’re planning, but do I have some obligation here, or do I just wait for the impending disaster?


You’ve got an impending disaster of your own to wait for, since it’s generally not advisable to marry the cutest guy you meet in a middle school cafeteria.

Propose to her? As a test? And if he retracts the proposal, what’s he planning to say — “Psych!”?

Okay, you called the idea “absurd.” But that’s hardly strong enough. It’s not just a juvenile thing he suggested but also breathtaking in its cruelty.

And, pardon my pragmatism at a time like this, it won’t even work. No matter what her emotional failing — be it insecurity, instability or just lousy taste in men — it won’t be magically erased by a proposal. The one person cured of insecurity by an engagement was last seen knocking back champagne cocktails with the Loch Ness Monster, Jimmy Hoffa and Waldo.

So. Here’s one way to look at this nasty bit of business: The only one of this quartet mature enough to get married is the one who says, “Wow, anyone who could seriously entertain that idea is so not ready for marriage.”

(Do the math — no one here gets married. Psych!)

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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