Dear Emotional Hardbody,
Something has been on my mind but I’m having a hard time figuring out if it’s a problem or not; and if it is, whether it’s actually my problem.
After living in Thailand for a year, I moved to town at the beginning of last summer. I met Tom right away at a mutual friend’s monthly potluck. Tom used to live in Thailand, too, and we immediately hit it off. Things developed into a “friends with benefits” situation which lasted for a few months. Although have had a lot in common and genuinely like each other, there is an age difference (he’s younger) that I feel precludes a long-term relationship for us. We eventually broke off the “benefits” part of the relationship; but because we both really enjoy each other’s company—he’s a fantastic guy—we've remained friends.
Our relationship is strictly platonic now. In addition to seeing each other every month at our friend’s potluck, we keep in touch with occasional emails and get together for dinner at my house occasionally to cook Thai food.
Since we dialed down our relationship we’ve both dated around some. A few months ago, he started seeing Tara and she is now his “official girlfriend." I’ve met her a few times at the potlucks, and they seem like a good match for each other. Meanwhile, my friendship with Tom continues, including with him coming over now and then for dinner.
I don’t know whether Tara knows about Tom’s and my history last summer. My question is does she have a right to know? And, if so, whose duty is it to tell her?
I’m definitely not looking stir up any drama, but I worry that if Tara finds out about our past and is upset that no one told her, she could be mad at me, too.
I’m no Mother Theresa, but I do try to live my life in an above-board manner, including “doing unto others” and all of that. Because of our age difference, though, I wonder if this is just a case of my having more old fashioned rules about stuff like this.
Can you help me make heads or tails of this before the next potluck?
Thai’d Up In Knots
Dear Thai’d Up:
Given that your letter is about whether you should tell Tara that you had a fling with your younger friend Tom before she met him and became his girlfriend, I think it goes without saying that you’re not overly encumbered by old fashioned rules. And I say that without any judgment. In fact, I say it with admiration.
So, let’s get to the meat of the matter. You’re friendship is still cooking with Tom months after you turned off the heat and you want to know if his girlfriend Tara deserves to know that you two used to be an item. Do I have that right?
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with the souped-up relationship you and Tom had in the past. Nor is there anything wrong with you and Tom continuing your friendship after putting the “benefits” part on the back burner. I can see why you’d wonder whether this is something that you might see differently than others, but I don’t think that’s necessarily because of your age. Instead, I believe this is one of those issues that hits people differently.
In light of the fact that you subscribe to the “do unto others” philosophy, what matters here is how YOU feel about it. If you were in Tara’s shoes, would you want to know that information? And if you found out months later, would you feel like folks had not been honest with you?
The fact that you are wrestling with this tells me your answers to those questions are yes and yes—and I can see why. It seems fair for both people in a relationship to be on a level playing field when it comes to information. Because you, Tom, and Tara are sometimes together in social settings, and because you and Tom still continue to communicate and get together just the two of you, that puts Tara at a disadvantage because she’s the only one in the dark.
If you and Tom didn’t have an active and ongoing friendship, this situation would be different. Adults don’t have a duty to voluntarily disclose their entire relationship history to every new love interest. But people do have a duty not to lie or even create a false impression by omission. Not clueing Tara in on the history between you and Tom feels a little like the latter to me.
If you agree with that analysis, the next question is whose job is it to tell Tara? Lucky for you, this job falls squarely on Tom’s shoulders, not yours. Your job is to ask Tom whether Tara knows. If the answer is yes, then great! No problem to solve.
If the answer is no, then your next question for Tom is why not? If Tom feels like it’s relevant but he just hasn’t gotten around to it, then he needs to rectify the situation and bring Tara up to speed. If he feels like it’s not relevant, then the ball is back in your court. If you feel like Tara’s not knowing violates your “do unto others” rule, then you should put your friendship with Tom on inactive status for now. This doesn’t mean you have to be mad at him or not consider him a friend anymore—and of course you’ll still bump into him at events like your mutual friend’s potluck—but it does mean taking a break from the active communication and cooking dinner aspects of your friendship.
If Tom is the fantastic guy you think he is, and he values cooking Thai food at your house as much as I suspect he does, my guess is he won’t want to Phuket it up. In other words, he’ll tell Tara promptly—if he hasn’t told her already.