The Burden of Carnal Knowledge

Friday, September 10, 2010

Question

My mother has been in a relationship with a man for over 10 years. They met in the late 90s on ICQ (if you remember that early social networking application). She had just come out of a really bad and messy divorce from my father, and this man had come out of a divorce as well.

Mum and this man live together. They're common-law, in each other's wills, they share bank accounts. His kids and I are all grouped together as one family now. He makes her happy in a way that she never was with my father. And if she's happy, I'm happy.

But he left his email account open today on a computer we all share, and being the snoop that I am, I discovered that not only is he dating and having sex with other women he meets online (old habits die hard), but now he has also started having sex with men (new habit?).

If he and Mum have an open relationship and she knows about this and he is using protection, then I don't care. It's none of my business. But knowing Mum, this is definitely something she would not be game for. (She's old fashioned in that sense.)

I'm now completely torn on several issues. 1.) He's lying to her, like my dad did. 2.) He's cheating on her, like my dad did. 3.) He could potentially pass her some STD he's picked up (don't know if he uses condoms in these encounters) 4.) If I tell her, it would be far more devastating to her than what she went through with my father 5.) Why the fuck should I have the burden of telling her? Why can't he?

I want to confront him, but I don't know how. I want to tell her, but I don't think I can, don't think I should. I think he should.

Answer

One of my favourite questions from the Proust Questionnaire is "On what occasion do you lie?" Invariably, people say something along the lines of "To spare someone's feelings." How gallant, but I think if they were required to elaborate, many people would have to admit that often the feelings they are trying spare are their own. Look at the question from another angle: would you rather have your feelings protected than be told the truth?

The problem we have here, Cheaters, is that when you go snooping, you're almost guaranteed to find stuff you want to see but in the end don't want to know—be it an order for a nose hair trimmer or a fisting date in Queen's Park.

I agree you shouldn't have to tell your mother about her man's indiscretions, but you shouldn't have gone grubbing and, through your own doing, made yourself a voluntary witness to some very messy shit you cannot and do not want to be held accountable for.

This holds some truth even in situations where we involuntarily acquire information and then decide to bear the burden of disclosure. Honestly, have we learnt nothing from Jersey Shore?

Yes, it should never be your job to tell a loved one or friend their partner is a lying fuckwad who may be compromising their health. But like it or not, you deliberately took that job on, and now it's really up to you how you will deal with it. If you're asking me how I would deal with it, well that's simple: tiny.cc/g8oxb. I like parrot-beak secateurs myself.

I would also offer to organize a lesbian shunning for you (we've been due for one in Toronto for almost two years now, and fall is such a great season for them), but I can't guarantee the efficacy of it if the shunned isn't a dyke, too.

Despite my own medieval solutions to betrayal, the fact is, people's intimate relationships are complicated. When you choose to investigate the sordid details, you don't have to bear the burden of insight—you have elected to.

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