I have guilty knowledge about my girlfriend

Before we were together, I learned everything about her on the Web -- but now I pretend I don't know a thing!

By Cary Tennis
July 24, 2007 2:14PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I recently began a relationship with an amazing girl. I had a huge crush on her for a while, and it turns out, she had one on me too. We are as happy as clams, have a great time together, find it easy to confide in each other and have conversations that never end. We both have been through a lot but have worked on it and both find ourselves in a really good place now. So, what's my problem?


Before declarations were made, I looked her up on the Web and found a good deal of personal information, pictures, all kinds of things. I felt a little weird doing it, but I was obsessed and didn't think she would ever actually want to be with me, so I trawled with reckless abandon. Now that we're together, she has told me everything I had read about and I have acted as though it were all new to me. (And it was, kind of, since she was telling it to me in her own way.)

My question should be simple: Do I ever tell her or do I chalk it up to pre-relationship foolishness and vow to never put myself in such a stupid situation again? But I'm finding the fallout of my mistake a bit harder to handle than I expected. One of the things I found is her ex-lover's blog before, during and after their breakup. The ex hurt her very badly, and I suspect it would hurt my girlfriend if I told her that I have read it, especially the most painful parts. On the other hand, the ex is an extraordinary writer with a tragically flawed character that makes the blog incredibly absorbing. I feel as though I'm staring at a car crash and I cannot pull away. I am worried that I am betraying my girlfriend's trust by not telling her how much I know about her and her lover's past.

There is no way we will ever have to interact with the ex socially, but that doesn't seem to be the problem. I am worried that the secret will forever loom over the relationship as some kind of bad omen that was there from the start. But I also feel that some secrets and mistakes are one's own to bear if they would cause more pain to the partner. I was stupid, I repent, why punish her? And on top of it all, reading the ex's writing has stirred up some feelings of inadequacy. The ex is playful, articulate, brilliant. And although I understand why their relationship failed, feel my girlfriend's love for me, and see why ultimately we are much better for each other than they ever were, for the first time in my life, I've started to feel mediocre, safe, boring. I fear that I do not possess the qualities that made my girlfriend so happy in the past.


Please, Cary, tell me what I should do. Should I risk it and tell my girlfriend everything in the hopes that honesty will expand our trust and bring us to a new level of understanding? Or should I bear my knowledge silently, treating it as a penance for my sins? And finally, how do I get over the feeling that I am just the next best thing?

Feeling Guilty About What I Saw

Dear Feeling Guilty,


Here is what you do. You sit her down somewhere and you say to her something like this:

Here is the deal. You matter to me. What we have together matters to me. If there is stuff out there about you, I want to see it and know what it is. And if there are people out there who would put you in a bad light or say things about you to harm you, I want to know that. And I want to know who they are. Because I am on your side. And I will always be on your side. And I will defend you if necessary. And I will speak the truth about you. And I will never be ashamed of you or ashamed for you. And I will never be afraid to look at anything about you that other people are also looking at. Because I know it can't change what I see before me.


What I know about you is what you tell me in your own voice. What I love about you is what I see before me right now.

But I can't ignore what I hear about you either, any more than I can ignore a crime committed before my eyes, or ignorant lies scrawled on a wall, or trash blowing in the street. I will never be intimidated or confused by anything anyone says about you. But I can't ignore it. I have to look at it.

I have to stare right at it because if I can stare right at it then it has no power.


I don't believe the bullshit, but I believe you. And if you tell me that some of the bullshit is true, then some of the bullshit is true. Sometimes some of the bullshit is true. That doesn't change a thing.

What I know about you is what you tell me in your own voice. What I love about you is what I see before me right now.

Whatever you say to me, that is what is true. It is true for me. It is true for us. That is how we are, you and me: What we tell each other, it's true for us. That is what we have. The rest is trash blowing in the street.


Now please get in the car. We are going someplace together. We are going someplace nice.

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