I’m trying to forgive my boyfriend after he cheated. Am I supposed to forgive our friends who covered for him, too?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

During COVID quarantining this past year, my boyfriend had an affair with a friend of ours. Apparently they’d had a “mutual attraction” for a long time and when he told me he was taking time away from our apartment for “solo time,” he was actually seeing her. We broke up for a while but we’re trying to work things out. Key word, trying.

Meanwhile, this woman is still part of our extended circle of friends, and worse yet, it turns out while they were hooking up, a lot of our friends knew about it. Some even had them over to their place on those overnights when he was allegedly alone at hotels. The fact that they knew and in some cases even helped make it so they could hang out is just too much for me. It’s hard enough to forgive him but I just don’t feel like I have it in me to let this entire group of people off the hook.

Now that we’re all getting vaccinated and starting to do normal things again, he is really putting the pressure on me to see our friends. I have made it known I do not want to socialize with people who lied to me, and I especially refuse to see the woman he had the affair with. He says he’s known these people way longer than me, they’re just loyal to him, and I shouldn’t hold that against them for not saying anything — that I would have done the same thing for a friend. How do we get through this?

Wanda says:

Not making excuses, because IMO cheating is inexcusable, but it’s worth noting that this past year was a strange one. People felt all kinds of feels from being cut off and cooped up and did all kinds of things to get through it — from healthy coping mechanisms like long walks and virtual classes, to not-so-healthy indulgences like overeating, overdrinking, and delving into totally inappropriate emotional and physical outlets.

Who knows if your boyfriend is a COVID cheater who would have never strayed without the stress of a pandemic; or a once-a-cheater, always-a-cheater, dooming you to recycled heartbreak; or, hopefully, a one-and-done who learned his lecherous lesson. However it shakes out, moving past infidelity takes a lot of work, and your situation sadly reveals the reality that affairs are messy, selfish and destructive, and in many cases will harm and affect far more people than only the primary betrayed partner.

While this is a hurtful situation for you, let’s think about those friends who saw or at least knew this was going on, and chose to do anything from keep quiet to play host. Yes, that sucks for you. It amplifies feelings of foolishness and betrayal. But it probably sucked for them too. They were put in horrible positions where someone was going to end up hurt. It’s not shocking they chose the path of least resistance as silent bystanders, even if in doing so they were complicit.

The fact is, it’s totally reasonable to request no contact with the woman your boyfriend cheated with — not just reasonable, but required. She needs to be out of your lives, period. But the friends? It’s trickier. You may never make nice with this lot, at least not with authenticity; but if you really want to make things work with your partner, asking him to cut off all his buddies is a big ask, even if he is the one who screwed up.

Wayne says:

Wow — you’ve got a pretty heavy emotional lift here. Trying to fix this mess and come to peace with a cheating boyfriend, the woman he cheated with, and his complicit friends who claimed to be your friends. Key word: “trying.”

Sounds like your boyfriend is “trying,” too — trying just hard enough to smooth things over with you as quickly as possible so things can go back to the way they were before the cheating scandal. You know, hanging out with his friends and maybe even his cheating partner like nothing happened. Personally, I don’t think that’s trying hard enough.

He’s even trying to convince you that you would cover for a friend who was cheating like his friends did for him. True? I’m sensing no, based on your response to his actions. Either way, he’s the cheater, he’s the one who should be doing the work to convince you that it’s worth staying with him, not pushing you to move on. Seems he’s more concerned about getting ready for BBQ party season with his friends than growing a stronger relationship with you.

Bottom line, black-and-white perspective from me: You’ve been betrayed by your boyfriend, his friends, and a friend within the group. You’re already struggling with getting to a place where you can forgive him, and you can’t see a place where you can forgive his friends. I wouldn’t and you shouldn’t, if you don’t want to. Trust your gut and go by your boyfriend’s actions and his words. Unless he is going above-and-beyond to fix things, make you happy, and calm your concerns, he isn’t worth your time anymore and neither are his friends.