I got a little wild and now I have a secret

Should I tell, or keep mum and hope for the best?

By Cary Tennis

Published August 29, 2011 12:01AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

A few years ago I went through a period of "sowing wild oats" following a breakup with my former fiancé-to-be at the age of 30. Looking back, I see this period of my life now mainly as confused and on the verge of danger. Nonetheless I came out of it just fine -- contracted no STDs, didn't get hooked on drugs (although I did have some scary moments overdoing it with the booze).

Anyhow, this "living it up" phase included times when I'd go through several sexual partners in a month. In fact whenever an opportunity came up, I usually said yes, or even, when I felt safe and self-assured (which was almost always) I initiated sex -- be it with strangers in a club, friends, or friends of friends at parties, on the bus, just anywhere you could meet people basically. Most of my flings were single men around my age or younger, or men whose status I didn't know (in case of ONSs).

My best friend has liberal social views but leads a strictly traditional life. She married her high school sweetheart, never gave anyone a blow job, etc. After I broke up with my fiancé I used tell her about some of my "love affairs" but soon stopped, because I felt she really couldn't relate. I did tell her that I had a lot of sex and that sometimes I think I may have gone overboard.

One of those times was when I got invited to her birthday party and, since it's far from where I live, I was also spending the night. I had a great time, got pretty smashed and had a lot of, at first, "innocent" fun, like dancing and "roughhousing" with my friend's husband and his brother (let's call him Matt), who was also spending the night. Anyway, after my friend and her husband went upstairs to sleep, I was left with Matt downstairs. One thing led to another and we ended up having sex all night long. Nothing wrong with it, except this guy is married with two kids. In the morning, after having hid any potential giveaways and/or evidence, we agreed not to tell anyone. I don't think my friend or her husband suspected anything took place.

Well, once my "party euphoria" washed away the next day, I immediately started regretting sleeping with him. I was a single woman and all, but this guy had/has a family and I actually know his wife. To make matters worse, being close as I am with my friend I realized I was bound to run into them at some extended family event sooner or later.

More than a year has passed since this took place and I think my secret is safe so far. I've only seen him once (having avoided another event out of fear of running into him and his wife).

Anyway, sometimes I get scared that maybe he will tell and that he will blame it on me, saying I seduced him or something. His brother and he are very traditional and patriarchal, just short of sexist. I'm sure that if he did tell his brother (my best friend's husband), they would make me out to be the "whore" and tell my best friend, who would feel hurt and betrayed that I never told her about it. I think it's likely I'd lose her friendship and I really, REALLY don't want to -- we've known each other since we were kids, she's come through for me many times, when other people have not. We lead different lifestyles now, but on some level I believe we are still close and I'd like to be friends with her forever.

My question is, should I tell her about it now before it gets out? Should I admit that it is making me uncomfortable inside, that I regret having done it and that I didn't want to screw up his family life and that's why I withheld it from her? Or should I just keep quiet, hoping it's never gonna get out?

Don't Want to Lose My Best Friend

Dear Don't Want to Lose My Best Friend,

What I keep coming back to as I write and think is the fact that you have a secret that's causing you pain. That's the main issue for me: You are in psychic pain. You want to relieve yourself of the pain. You are in pain because you did something you have to keep secret.

So I thought, well, what you really need to do is unburden yourself of this secret, but only to someone like a priest, rabbi, minister or therapist who is discreet. Because you want to minimize the harm to others.

But then, when I kept thinking about the pain you're in, some inner voice began speaking to me that delights in teasing out the intricacies of motive and unconscious desire. I became interested in the potential symmetry, beauty and drama of the tale, viewed in light of your emotional intent.

You say this period of sowing wild oats began after a breakup with your "former fiancé-to-be." That leaps out at me, like something that's unresolved, or something that you still have strong feelings about. Maybe feelings about that breakup are at work in your life today, pushing you to take certain actions that later you regret.

For instance, maybe you wanted to get married more than you admitted. Maybe that breakup left you feeling kind of screwed over. If you are an adventurous person, marriage probably represented a conflict; on the one hand, it would be nice, but on the other hand, it would mean giving up a certain lifestyle that was very erotic and free. So you returned to a life of erotic freedom with a vengeance, without ever mourning what you were losing -- the opportunity for a safe and settled life with a loved one. It's possible you lost your moorings a bit, driven by feelings that never surfaced.

And it led to this sticky situation.

Why did you choose to sleep with your best friend's husband's brother?

Let's think about how the unconscious mind works. The unconscious mind, like the dreaming mind, makes symbolic equivalencies; it allows us to replace one object for another as a way of reconciling unacceptable urges. So say you were angry at your friend and wanted to get back at her; say you found yourself unconsciously wanting to sleep with her husband, but that would be unacceptable, so you slept with her husband's brother.

Might that be the real reason you feel guilty -- not because he's married with children, but because he's a substitute for your best friend's husband?

How do you feel about your friend? Are you happy that she's in a stable marriage? Do you wish she could be more free to go out with you and have adventures? Maybe unconsciously you'd like to mess her life up a little -- for her own good, of course, because she's so stable and conservative. At the same time, you may long for her life and wish it was your life -- it may represent the life that you lost when you had your breakup. So there could be some powerful conflicts at work that, being unresolved consciously, get resolved unconsciously through symbolic action.

And how do you feel about your ex? Are you still angry at your ex? This sowing of wild oats that came fairly late in life, after your breakup, had an angry, destructive side to it. Sure, it was lots of fun, but it was also dangerous. Perhaps you had thoughts such as, I'll show him.  I'll show him how attractive I am to other men. I'll show him how he hurt me. Maybe I'll get hurt, or dismembered, and then he'll be sorry. I'll sleep around and something bad will happen to me and it'll be his fault and then he'll see.

Being hurt by someone else sometimes leads us to hurt ourselves. It's weird, but it happens.

I wonder if you ever had any thoughts like that. Drinking a lot allows us to act out in these ways without really admitting what's going on emotionally, underneath. So it's possible that all these things could be going on, driving you to do some things that are leaving you confused and anxious.

As to what to do about your secret, well, let's kill two birds with one stone. Let's try to get you some relief, and also protect the other people in your life from information that will cause them pain and worry. You need to unburden yourself in a safe way.

I'd recommend you take your secret to a therapist, minister or some kind of counselor. You'll find a good deal of relief by being able to say to someone what you really think and feel. It will be an ethical solution to the problem of how to minimize damage to others. And if you feel comfortable in that setting, it might be a chance to talk about larger questions as well, such as what you'd like to do with the rest of your life.

Cary Tennis

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