Dilemmas: Should I confess my infidelity to my boyfriend?

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Stella is marrying her boyfriend of five years soon. She loves him very much and until recently has been faithful. But when he was away, she went to a party, got drunk, and slept with a stranger. She now feels riddled with guilt. Should she tell her boyfriend?

WHAT VIRGINIA SAYS

Confessions are often a way of getting rid of bad feelings and putting them on to someone else. If Stella tells her boyfriend about the incident, however, she may well feel relieved of the guilt she feels about sleeping with this guy, but tremendously guilty about causing her boyfriend pain and mistrust. And she must remember that this mistrust will carry on. He will never be able to go away again without worrying that she's going to be unfaithful.

The incident could have been a "one last fling before I'm married" kind of affair. In which case there's nothing to worry about. Or it could be that Stella got indescribably drunk, and when you're indescribably drunk, anything can happen. Perhaps she should feel more guilty about the drinking than about what actually happened.

Perhaps it was just one of those things - and perhaps her boyfriend, when he was away, did exactly the same thing himself. Why does she feel so terribly guilty? Why is she beating herself up for something that really could happen to any one of us, if we got out of control?

Could she not forgive herself for this grimy little fling, instead of needing forgiveness from her boyfriend? Or couldn't she confess to someone else, whom she really trusts?

It may be best, however, to confess to someone who will never meet her boyfriend, or even to the Samaritans, just in case that third party got tremendously drunk at a party themselves, and blurted it out to someone else.

Of course, perhaps the incident was the symptom of a deep-seated misgiving about getting married at all. Perhaps it was an inner demon giving her the message that, despite the fact that she's been with her boyfriend for five years, she doesn't in fact want to get hitched up with him. Only she can answer that question.

One way of handling the issue would be to imagine that her boyfriend had done the same thing to her, and confessed what he'd done. If she thinks that she'd feel a very faint wave of relief, then probably there's something wrong with the relationship. If she thinks she'd feel dreadfully jealous and mistrustful, then she must remember that he would feel the same.

But if she feels that she could forgive him and accommodate the idea, if he explained it remorsefully enough, she mustn't take it for granted that he's going to accept her confession in the same spirit. Men are far less forgiving of women's affairs than women are of men's, probably because the fear that their woman has been impregnated by someone else lurks deep in every man, even the newest of the new.

Stella doesn't say whether anyone else was aware of what went on. She must stick to a story in her head - if anyone noticed them going off together - that they did nothing more than part and go home their separate ways. If she's worried about having caught some dreadful disease (and it's common for people feeling guilty to think this), she must go to a clinic and get herself checked out, or the fear that she's contracted Aids or one of those symptomless venereal diseases will continue to haunt her in the small hours of the night for years to come.

But if she loves her boyfriend, she must live with her guilt and keep it to herself. As the weeks go by, the feelings will lessen. After a year, she will hardly remember the incident at all. If she confesses, he will remember it for ever.

WHAT READERS SAY

Forgive yourself and forget

I once confided in my first (admittedly insecure) husband that I found one of his friends attractive.

Bitter, bitter mistake!

I was bored and lonely, his friend was not the remotest bit interested in me, and there was never any hint of a "relationship" - yet my husband saw threats in every look and gesture. Our marriage eventually crumbled.

If you truly love your boyfriend, and look forward to sharing your lives together, forgive yourself and leave it. If you really need to talk to someone about it, find an independent person, such as a counsellor.

KATHERINE WHITTLE

Brighton

Just a silly mistake

Under no circumstances should Stella tell her boyfriend what happened.

The facts are that she got drunk and did something silly. Stella is not the first to have done this, and certainly will not be the last. It really is best just to put it down to experience, and say no more about it. To tell her boyfriend will cause problems for years and years.

It is very important to keep it all in perspective. It was not an affair - that really would have been a betrayal of trust. It was a silly mistake she made when she was drunk, and involved the physical act of sex rather than love-making. Nevertheless, Stella must ensure that this is one of those mistakes that she makes only once.

HUW PRITCHARD

Kent

Marriage requires more commitment

Stella makes it sound as though getting drunk and finding yourself in bed with a complete stranger is something that happens purely by accident, as if she had absolutely no control over events.

Life isn't like that; if it were, then failure to remain faithful would be as much of an occupational hazard as getting run over by a bus or having your handbag snatched.

More important than admitting the infidelity to her boyfriend, is for Stella to admit to herself that she's not yet ready to commit to a relationship, let alone marriage.

JULIA FOSTER

East Sussex

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I'm a young father with a five-year-old daughter. When my wife went away recently, the child asked whether she could sleep in the parental bed with me. I thought how dreadful it would be if she told anyone at her school that she'd "slept with Daddy". I refused, and she was extremely upset. Out of anxiety about the current feelings on child abuse, I pushed her away. Was I right?

Yours sincerely, Alan

Anyone who has advice quoted will be sent an Interflora bouquet. Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail: dilemmas@independent. co.uk - giving a postal address for the bouquet.

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