Thursday, 9 August 2012

Auntie Seraphic and the Countdown

I got an email, and it was a stumper. It was also depressing, and I know we have had plenty of depressing thoughts about men this week, even though they are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life and the good ones make our lives sing. But this is serious.

The question was one of those ethical issues akin to "I have two healthy kidneys. Should I give one of them to a complete stranger who might die if I don't?"

To reduce a sad--and not unusual--story to its basic parts:

A young woman met a young man who had recently split from his fiancee. Although she came from a Christian background, over the course of time, after some ordinary dating and hand-holding, they began sleeping together.

This changed the young man's behaviour towards the young woman, and he sent her nude photos of himself electronically and encouraged her to send him nude photos of herself. This (I am told) she wisely refused to do.

Then she discovered that her boyfriend had not broken off with his "former" fiancee. His fiancee is still looking forward to their wedding day. It is soon.

Our heroine confronted him and he asked her if this fact had to change their own relationship.

Our heroine dumped him.

Now our heroine is unsure what to do. She realizes that this man probably slept with other women during his long relationship with his fiancee. She believes she should warn the fiancee, who is a complete stranger to her, that this man, on least one occasion, has had sex with another woman--a woman who did not know he was still engaged to the fiancee because he lied. And lied. And lied.

She has never met the fiancee, but she has contact details. And she pities the fiancee, who might innocently marry a man she wrongly believes to be faithful.

However, she is frightened about what her ex-boyfriend might do to her if he thinks she revealed all to the fiancee. She certainly did not feel brave enough to say, "If you don't tell her, I will."

The clock is ticking.

What should she do?

And what should she do if she did send him those photos? No insult intended, but sometimes I get letters from girls who tell me half the truth and then only later, because of complications, tell me the real, much more horrible, story.

I will make a few remarks about vulnerability.

I read a lot of feminist literature in the 1990s when I was at the University of Toronto. This was at a time when the dominant voice of feminism began to shift from anti-porn to pro-porn. Women were simultaneously encouraged to protect ourselves from sexual violence but also to seek sexual adventures. There was a huge, heavy, ginormous emphasis on sexual pleasure, on "transgression," on experimentation, on politicizing our sexuality and sexualizing our politics.

Feminist voices told women not to be sexual objects but to present ourselves as sexual subjects. The look, however, was the same.

What got lost in the conversation, outside traditional religious enclaves, was the fact that sexual intercourse makes women (and to a certain extent men) vulnerable by its very nature. All the wishing in the world, all the tracts on empowerment, all the workshops, all the condoms, all the abortion "rights" cannot change that.

It is dangerous to have sex outside of a long-term relationship to which both people are deeply committed. Even marriage, unfortunately, is no guarantee in itself: both husband and wife have to WANT to be faithful.

Sex is like the sun: it gives life and warmth, but it can also burn and kill. People have sacrificed human beings in worship of both.

It is also incredibly dangerous to ever, EVER allow electronic photographs of yourself in naked or risque poses to be taken unless you do not care if everyone in the world sees them and sits in judgement upon you. A artist's model, for example, might not care. But everyone else should care.

(Parents should talk to their children about it. One thing they might want to underscore is that it is ILLEGAL for even underage children and teens to possess or send sexy photographs of naked underage children and teens.)

And even if you trust (rightly or wrongly) the person to whom you send such photographs, you should understand that the internet is not secure, and that mobile phones and cameras and computers can be lost or stolen.

To give you an idea of how secure the internet is, I will reveal that the apparently anonymous young man who has sent me four simple-minded, obscene and (in one case) illegal "comments" in the past two days, is a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend of one of my regular readers. He lives in Toronto and his service is provided by Bell Canada.


berenike said...

I'd certainly want to know if I was in the position of the innocent bride to be! You can't make a free choice without knowledge!

But it's a terrifying step to take. And a terrifying one not to take. Much alcohol-laced tea and prayers for the brave lass who has to decide and act either way.

JustAnotherCatholicGirl said...

I guess the question you have to ask yourself is, if you were the bride, would you want to know? I know I would want to know. It is then up to the bride to decide which step to take from there.

I can't imagine how difficult this must be. I will keep you in my prayers.

Anonymous for one post said...

What a horrible, horrible situation, and what a horrible guy!

Is there a way she could let the fiancee know without implicating herself? I don't know, an anonymous email or through a mutual friend. If the fiancee is observant, a few hints from well-wishers might be enough basis on which to confront him, and I think the letter-writer's top priority should be protecting herself at this point. The fiancée probably has caught wind of something already, it’s impossible to keep such things secret for long.

Also, another thing to consider – will the fiancée care? It may sound horrible but some girls will stick to their man through everything. I was in a somewhat similar situation once when I dated a guy all summer only to find him picking up his girlfriend at the airport at the end – she had been away for an internship, and he hadn’t bothered to mention her existence all summer. He spent the next few months claiming he was breaking up with her tomorrow – and since he was so utterly charming and convincing, I let myself be strung along for a few more months before putting my foot down. He then proceeded to play out the exact same scenario with another girl – with far more success. And by the ‘exact same’ I mean he used the same words, and even took her to the exact same places he had me. I thought of contacting his long-suffering girlfriend, whom I got to know, about his ploys, but decided against it because she obviously had to have known – he was going away with the other girl away for weekends and walking around in public with her… I guess what I am trying to say is that sadly some girls chose to be blind, especially if the man in question has boatloads of charm.

sciencegirl said...

She has another option; she can tell the priest who is to marry the couple. Or her own priest. This still leaves her vulnerable to some sort of revenge, of course, but she might be slightly more protected.

n.panchancha said...

Oh my goodness. :C This is a truly awful situation, regardless of the photo element. And it's doubly awful in that it's not the first time almost this exact situation has come up, that I've heard of (and that I'm sure most of your readers will have heard of).

I can't imagine the stress (and anger? and fear?) of being in this situation. Of course it's possible that the fiancee knows about her future husband's disloyalty and has chosen to ignore it, cynical as that may sound. But that's not most people, obviously.

I have a friend from work who found out TWO WEEKS after her wedding that her husband had been having an affair since before their marriage, and that he had no intention of putting an end to it. He then took a ridiculously long time to grant her a divorce, as he insisted the affair didn't mean anything. I am pretty sure she would have very much preferred to know about it before she married him.

(Though I don't know her whole story, it seems impossible that no one in their circle of friends knew what was going on. If I realized that I was the one kept in the dark, while all my friends knew my fiance was having an affair, it would be humiliating, and the sense of betrayal would be awful.)

Obviously, in one way, it's a situation that one would want to just get as far away from as possible, and that's a fairly healthy reaction. But if your contact tells the fiancee, and if either Awful Man or Duped Fiancee is furious and wishes she'd never said anything (and they might very well react that way), I can't help but feel that it's still the right thing to do. Does your contact have family (e.g. dad or brothers) who would stand up for her if things got really awful? Or does she know any of the couple's friends whom she could talk to first? (Is that a terrible idea? I'm having trouble thinking that move through.)

It also occurs to me that this is one reason it's important to be integrated into your significant other's social circle, or at least to meet his friends and family and be introduced as his girlfriend. This situation couldn't have arisen if Contact and Awful Man's relationship were very much out in the open.

Leigh said...

I entirely agree with Anonymous here! She really needs to proceede with caution and carefully protect herself if she decides to try to warn the fiancee here. For one thing, from my what I have seen, women whose fiancees or boyfriends cheat on them tend to place either a lot, or all, of the blame on the other woman in the situation, instead of their boyfriend or fiance (Even if the other woman didn't know that he was dating or engaged.). It doesn't seem like a wise idea to put herself in the situation of being vulnerable to his fiance as well, by giving her such personal information. (I thik it is probably safe to assume that he hasn't told his fiance that he selt with your reader.) Perhaps if your reader has a mutual friend or aquaintance who can be trusted, she can tactfully try to find out if his fiance already knows that he behaves like this? And if if the bride-to-be is truely completely unaware of his behaviour (And since your reader mentioned that he had had a long relationship to his fiance, it seems doubtful that this would be the case.), then perhaps she could drop a hint anonymously or through the friend? I'm not sure what that would look like in practical terms, though. Maybe a handwritten letter? Of course, if the fiance confronts the guy about it he may still tell his fiancee who she (your reader) was (or spread the fact that she had slept with him around town himself), but if the reader and the fiance are complete strangers, it is possible he might not.

Bee said...

Oh my dear. Letter Writer should definitely get herself tested. If there's anything, then it definitely would be important for SC and fiancee to know. A very similar question was posed to the local paper's love columnist. Here's my interpretation of her advice: if you have e-contact info, yes, you may send a brief, impersonal message that gives an account not only that SC cheated, but that he lied about his relationship status. State you will not get involved any further, just that this is info to know before one professes vows. The columnist also urged the deceived woman to alert her besties that she was doing this, because DW needs support.

As for the photos, if she did send them, unfortunately, she has no control of him deleting them or anything. The best outcome is to learn from her mistake and never do it again. If she hears from someone else (and only then - no obsessively looking!) that they have been disseminated publicly, depending on her age and the medium in which they were posted, she may have some legal recourse. May. Just don't do it ladies, ever.

joeTHEguy said...

E-mail or phone anonymously, say that fiancee has slept with other women.

Bernadette said...

Once upon a time I had a boyfriend who was a pathological liar. Out of all the things he told me about himself, the only things I know are true are his name and his birthday, which I only believe because I saw his birth certificate (and who knows, he could have faked that too). The relationship lasted longer than it should have because none of my friends seemed to think that anything was wrong, and I didn't have enough self-confidence at that time to act on my own gut feelings. If even one person had been willing to tell me then what they all tumbled over each other to tell me after I ended things, the relationship would have been over much, much sooner.

Years later, I had a conversation with a group of very close women friends in which we discussed whether or not we personally would want a friend to tell us if they thought the man we were in a relationship with (particularly if we were going to be married to him) was scum, or even just completely wrong for us. To my surprise, several of the girls said that they thought it was a friend's role to be silent but supportive and be there to pick up the pieces, rather than speak out and risk losing the relationship. One of the girls told the story of her parents, who should have never gotten married. By the time the wedding day came, her mother's neck was cramping so badly from stress that she couldn't hold her head up when she walked down the aisle. After that we agreed with each other that when each of us got married, the others would watch us closely as we came down the aisle. If our heads looked like they were even approaching touching our shoulders, we would immediately do whatever we had to do to stop the ceremony.

Honestly, I say speak up. The writer has no relationship at risk, and she might be in a position to do the very best kind of good - the kind of good thing where there doer doesn't stand to profit from it in any way. She would have to be very careful, however, to do it in as loving a manner as possible, and to be careful not to be vindictive or seeking revenge.

Jessica said...

I think the first thing the Heroine should do, without being overly dramatic, is tell lots of her family/friends the story (just the basics): "Remember that guy I was dating? I found out he was engaged and he's still getting married to to his fiancee. I'm worried about what he might do to me if she finds out he was cheating." I think it's important to rally your "community" around you when something like this is going on, especially if it might be a question of safety. The more people who are making sure she gets home safe at night, regularly checking up on her emotional and physical well-being, the better.

Secondly, I think I would try to let the fiancee know about it, although I don't think it's a moral necessity. One option might be to find the priest who's saying the wedding, and give him a letter. He might have a better idea of the state of the relationship of the engaged couple, and whether or not the fiancee already knows that the cheater has had multiple partners.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I think she should find a way to tell. I don't think it needs to be a "If you don't tell her I will" ultimatum - sidestep him entirely as he's bad news. But perhaps a letter or email, or if she has a friend who is also a friend of the fiancee who could help that may work.

At a certain point, it becomes a health issue as well - both the writer and the fiancee may be at risk from his promiscuity.

That's a tough situation, but I think she probably wrote in because she already thinks she should tell the fiancee.

Jackie said...

Oh this is heartbreaking. :(

LW, several years ago I *was* that fiancee, only with a much shorter engagement. My former fiance knew my view on fornication (wrong, obvs, as Aunt S says).

So when I said "No," he easily went behind my back to find someone who would say, "Yes."

LW, that girl called me in the middle of the night, with one of the most horrible phonecalls of my life.
I was so stunned, I couldn't even speak. My only reaction was to hang up the receiver and spend the rest of the night throwing up.

But you know what? That pain was MINIMAL to what marriage with him would have been like! That girl saved my life, and I don't think I'm exaggerating.

So believe me when I say, you should find a way to tell her. If it has to be anonymously, through a throwaway email account (including the unfortunate pics, for proof). If you can, call her and tell her yourself.

Expect and plan for a rather unpleasant reaction. Obviously this is pretty awful news. She probably won't be able to respond with anything other than shock and pain until time has passed.

But, please, find a way to tell her.

If you are concerned about him hurting you, talk to the cops, talk to an older brother, get Mace if you think you need it.

But in all likelihood, it's just talk. The guy is a MAJOR coward and a gutless wonder for cheating in the first place.

I would definitely pre-emptively block him on all social media and your phone. If worse came to worst, you can change your phone to an unlisted number.

Much peace, LW. You will be in my thoughts, best wishes and prayers--

MaryJane said...

I vote that the fiancee should know. I'd want to know if I were the fiancee. However, if there is a "safe" way for our heroine to do it, by all means, take the safest way possible.

The fiancee might be angry at her, and might refuse to believe her, but still, it seems to me that truth needs to prevail in this case, no matter how painful it might be.

Anonymous said...

If I were the bride, I would want to know.

Here's another twist: imagine that she suspects, but thinks she's crazy. Or she asks, and he stridently denies it.

Or he sleeps with a woman who has HIV, acquires it, and passes it to his wife. Or passes along an asymptomatic STD that destroys her fertility.

As for how to do it and remain anonymous: try an old-fashioned letter. Send it to her office if you want. If you feel like strengthening your case, print out (on your home printer! not at work nor at CVS!) the offending photo.


Seraphic said...

Thanks, people!

As a matter of interest, I don't think the people in this story are necessarily Catholics or are having a Catholic wedding. I haven't the foggiest clue if other presiders-over-weddings have any kind of pastoral oversight. I imagine bona fide vicars or pastors probably do over their own church members, but if they're hired guns....?

It did occur to me that, horrible as it would be for the fiancee to marry this guy, he'll get his when there's a divorce. However, yes, there is the little problem of disease. If his fiancee hasn't caught anything from him yet, she might later.

If it were me, I would definitely tell the fiancee. And I would tell family and friends what I was going to do so that they would have my back.

I just wouldn't want this poor woman to walk blindly into a fake marriage with a man who was a liar, probably promiscuous and definitely unfaithful to her.

okiegrl said...

Ugh! I think she should tell the fiancee in as direct a method as possible. Letters or emails are a good method, I'm just saying not to hint or otherwise beat around the bush. If fiancee wants to marry him after that,it's her choice. However many women will give the guy the benefit of the doubt if there are just hints that something isn't right.

As for the pics, on the bright side, he might not have any. If he does,I think it's likely that the pics are already out there somewhere. (I'm rather cynical about that stuff.) In that case she won't lose anything, and she will be doing good to the fiancee. The truth is freeing.

Joan of Quark said...

Many years ago my best friend's fiance made a pass at me, quite a serious one.

This was some months before the wedding, and I was to be one of her bridesmaids.

I told her.

She believed me.

She rang the dude up while I was there and confronted him; he admitted it and apologised.

She still decided to marry him, which I thought was a mistake, but that was because I thought he was a creep and not good enough for her.

When a few years later I broke off my own engagement, three months before my wedding, she was furious with me because she'd spent money on an airfare to attend the wedding.

We kind of lost touch after that ...

But I don't regret telling her that her fiance was a cheater. Ultimately it was her decision to marry him, not mine.

Joan of Quark said...

I just posted but I think it got lost - anyway, the guts of it was:

TELL HER. I've been there myself.

Beatric said...

1. The letter writer should find out who is marrying this couple. She should then ask around, discreetly, to find out what kind of judgment this cleric has: Can he be trusted to do the right thing with the information? Will he believe her? Will he treat lousy guy as just someone "sowing wild oats" before marriage? Will he keep her out of the potential melee that will ensue? Don't scoff; at some point, the cleric will confront the lousy guy, and LG will deny, deny, deny. Can the cleric stand up to that? It's been my experience that many can't.
2. Because LG will deny, and if confronted with damning evidence (pictures) will insist it was only one time, meant nothing, and so on, and because his fiancee will want to believe him (else her world will crumble), the letter writer should be prepared for her intervention doing no good at all. That's not to say that I'm against intervening, but she should make her own safety the priority here.
3. No one should discount the fact the LG is a master liar, and no one else in this scenario is. Any rational discussion or logical thinking regarding a master liar is not possible, and those who have fallen into his trap become more and more helpless the longer they stay. Sorry to be pessimistic, but I don't think there's much good that will come out of this situation. Pray. A lot.

THAT girl said...

I hesitate to comment on this, so I'm going to keep it anonymous... but I am THAT GIRL who divulged this very personal story to her friend over dinner/drinks on Wednesday evening... she recommended this site, and reached out on my behalf while I was at work on today, and I appreciate all the advice I can get, though it is somewhat jarring to see such personal stuff on the internet (!) ..I am so, so appreciative of every single person's advice/feedback, though I am certainly still feeling unsure of what to do going forward. I can confirm, with 100% certainty, he does not have a single photo or anything tangible that is negative or embarrassing or personal like that from the months we spent together...I can't imagine if he did, and I'm so so grateful I didn't give in on that front. I'm still really unsure when it comes to how to proceed from here, but wanted to say thanks for all the feedback, ideas and support... and though the situation (as any would be) surely has more depth to it than could ever be summarized in a blog post, the responses so far have been really helpful and insightful...and I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this in the upcoming days... I appreciate the support, so thanks to all for that :)

Miss Doyle said...

There's no easy fix to this situation, but yes, I think as a woman (and a fellow human being, no less) she has a duty to look out for her sisters, heck, I'd want to be told.
How can you consent to marriage if you don't know the person you're saying yes to?
I don't think telling everyone around you about him in the hope that word will reach her that way is kind, you don't want to hurt her publicly.
Actually, this happened to someone I know (I knew the mother of the daughter this happened to) and it was the neighbour who told her the fiance had tried to have an affair with her - then that prompted another woman (her friend) to come forward to.
Obviously enough, the engagement was off and he moved out.
That's worrying when friends say that they wouldn't be honest before the fact, only to be there to pick up the pieces.
Gee, thanks friends for not doing something to prevent the pain. Prevention is better than a cure as they say! Because it's true!

Seraphic, had one of your close friends had some foreknowledge of your first husband, would you have appreciated a tip off? Even if you had still gone ahead anyway?

Seraphic said...

Oh Mrs Doyle! Poor old (poor young, actually) First Husband was still in his early 20s and I had known him for a few years, maybe three. It was all more complicated than not knowing about him. He was a chaste man, anyway, not like the guy in this post.

It would have been helpful if the friend First Husband got to be his propaganda minister had broken down and told me before the wedding rather than after that's what he had been convinced to be. Among other things, the propaganda minister had harped constantly on "Why are you going out with a moron like [then boyfriend] when you could be with a genius like [First Husband]?"

After the engagement happened, much to the shock of everyone, since I had long resisted even going out with First Husband, the propaganda minister did get a bit worried and began to ask "Are you sure? Are you sure?" I cannot remember if First Husband had already dropped him like a hot potato or whether that didn't happen until after the wedding.

So I wish I had known or had been capable of understanding that First Husband was--back then, aged early 20s--a master manipulator. But I don't think anyone really knew this, except the propaganda minister.

The propaganda minister was a tragic figure, I think. He was only in his mid-twenties and he so badly wanted other men, especially clever, accomplished men, like First Husband, to like him.

Janie said...

dear letter writer,

i´m very sorry for your situation.

my advice to you is - tell her. truth is really freeing, for both her/them and for you.
from my personal experience - truth is better to be told in situations like this. she can make decision based on truth and this can prevent her from lot of unhappiness(and you never know, this can help him, too ! you never know what is the turning point.)
most importantly, truth will set YOU free. sorry for saying that, but if you stay silent and there are some consequences (like failed marriage, disease or just unhappiness), you have to live with it.

i´m truly crossing my fingers for you and you are in my prayers.

Alisha said...

Tell the truth, absolutely. There's lots of ways to do it anonymously, if you must. Get people around you to support you and who know about the situation. It's true the reaction on the part of the woman could be disbelief but her reaction is not your responsibility. I once was in a similar situation about a possible STD transmission and it was totally horrible the dilemma I faced as all concerned were friends and I was not totally sure of the veracity of the info. One of the parties was quite ignorant about such matters and had no idea they could be contagious without symptoms. (This was not a situation with cheating, just someone who slept around) I suffered for it, but I have no regrets because I know I did so out of love and in the end, everyone was fine.