Ask Billie: “I think my best friend’s boyfriend is cheating. Do I tell her?”
Written by Billie Bhatia
What happens when you hear rumours that your best friend’s boyfriend is cheating on her? Do you tell her? Do you wait for evidence? Or do you keep out of their business? Stylist columnist Billie Bhatia weighs in.
“I’ve disliked my friend’s boyfriend since they got together three years ago – he’s arrogant and they argue a lot. There are times when she’s seemed genuinely happy though, so I’ve never brought up that I think he’s an asshole. But I was recently told by one of his friends that he’s started getting with other girls on nights out. I have no hard evidence, but I feel like an awful person if I don’t tell my friend about what I’ve heard. But what if she hates me for getting involved?”
Your dilemma is so anxiety-inducing that my palms are sweating and my stomach is doing tiny backflips just reading this question. And I would know; I’ve been there.
As much as I would love to say I’ve had a great relationship with all my friends’ partners (mainly because I base my self-worth on being able to befriend everyone and be liked by everyone), that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve disliked friends’ boyfriends because they weren’t who I would have chosen as a partner for my friend. I’ve disliked friends’ boyfriends because I had an expectation of how they should be, and they didn’t live up to it immediately. I now recognise this was ridiculous, seeing as I wasn’t one of the parties in the relationship.
I’ve disliked friends’ boyfriends because they have acted indifferently to the things that bind our friendship group (namely tequila and trashing each other), dismissing them before they even had a chance to win me over. I’ve disliked friends’ boyfriends because in that moment of nervousness during our first meeting, I was unnecessarily judgmental, and we both totally misunderstood one another. This happened with one of my best friend’s boyfriends and now soon-to-be husband. It culminated in a drunken row that was so hideous I was convinced I had lost my best friend forever. At our next meeting, we confronted it, apologised, got drunk and danced the night away together. He’s been one of my favourite people since.
Misunderstandings aside though, I’ve mostly disliked friends’ boyfriends because I consider myself a pretty good judge of character and from where I was sitting at the time, they haven’t looked like a great person. But how do you tell someone that? How do you tell your friend that the person she is planning her life with is riddled with red flags? It’s impossible – you either look like you’re jealous or like you’re meddling. So, instead, you tell yourself you don’t see all the time they spend together, just a snapshot of it. He could be different behind closed doors. He could be kind and caring and lovely and everything you could hope for your friend. He could make her genuinely happy when it’s just the two of them, and then act up when he’s out. He might not be all bad.
That’s the stream of consciousness that ran through my head when I considered confronting my friend about her boyfriend’s bad behaviour. Like the situation you’re in, he was flirting with women on nights out and there were rumours circulating that he had done more.
I played out the conversation in my head. My friend would refute the claims, saying that it was his personality type to flirt with everyone. He would flirt with a brick wall if it presented itself. And who was I, a single person, to make assumptions about relationships when I wasn’t in one? As you said, they seemed genuinely happy on occasion, so would she even believe me when I tried to tell her he was an asshole? It transpired that he had been cheating on her for months, and when the news finally broke, her first question was: “Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt like I had betrayed our entire friendship. The anger and hurt in her eyes was hideous; I felt awful. Worse than awful, as if I had crushed her myself.
I’d thought I had my reasons, though: to your point, there was no hard evidence. I had no photo album on my phone documenting his dalliances with other women. It was all second-hand information, and that’s the most dangerous kind. But hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, I wish I’d confronted the situation head-on instead. I wish I’d told him he was a shitty person, doing shitty things to someone I loved and if he didn’t own up to what he was doing, I’d make it known. And when he didn’t, I wish I’d marched up to my friend and told her what I knew. Because the shock on her face would have been much more palatable than the guilt I felt in concealing what I knew from her.
Deciding whether to tell someone that the person they have decided to be with might not be as great as they think they are is hard. It lives somewhere in the grey area of being a good friend – you’re going to end up hurting them either way. For this reason, I’ve decided that in future I will confront the guilty party, not the innocent one. And in this situation, you have to mean what you say – that if he doesn’t address it with her, you will. Then, when you tell your friend how her boyfriend has treated you, you can honestly say you gave him the opportunity to own up first.
I should caveat that this doesn’t always go to plan. The boyfriend can be vicious and vindictive and deny everything that’s ever been said about him. There’s a risk that he might even turn your friend against you too, and by getting involved you must accept that.
Whether you decide to take my advice or speak to your friend directly instead, I would encourage you to do something. There is nothing more heartbreaking than the disappointment of someone you love finding out you knew something and concealed it from them. The conversation will be horrible; it will make both of you feel like shit, but it’s far better than them finding out from someone who isn’t their friend and feeling betrayed. Even if it means they hate you for a while, in the long run, they’ll appreciate that you had their back.
Ask Billie anything on Instagram @stylistmagazine
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