As a gossip-addict myself, I know how hard it would be to resist telling. I'd probably try, sanctimoniously, to fool myself that love is truth, honesty is all, what are good friends for and other self- deluding garbage to justify the wickedly delicious frisson of passing on the news. But the truth is, as Dr A S Playfair, of Cambridge, pointed out: 'The temptation to tell is a temptation to exhibit superior knowledge rather than a real wish to help.'
After all, who would actually benefit? Like Anne Serraillier, of Chichester, Douglas Lowndes, of Great Missenden, Bucks, asked: 'Does Pat suppose that the husband would stop if she confronted him? Or that his wife would be helped if Pat told her? Of course not.'
Far from helping, many more people could be hurt than just those at the points of the eternal triangle - the children, if there were any, not to mention the bearer of the bad news. The messenger often gets shot, as Sue, of Bradford, discovered when she 'kindly' told a good friend about her husband's affair. 'It turned out my friend had known for ages and she didn't welcome my intrusion into her private life. She was livid. Our friendship has never been the same since.'
Other readers questioned what Pat had witnessed. Perhaps it was all hanky and no panky. 'Or perhaps it was the end of an affair,' suggested Jane Williams, of Norwich. 'Or just a single aberration on his part.'
Yeah, yeah, or it could have been his twin brother; he could have been getting something out of his secretary's eye; or, this bizarre suggestion from Bruce McCallum, of Oxford: 'Did Pat consider that since it was her girlfriend's car that she might have been in there, too? As you know, Virginia, people get up to strange things - but they never seem to invite me.'
Unlikely, but these would all be useful possibilities for Pat to keep in the back of her mind were she trying to keep her lips sealed. We can all make mistakes.
Of course there were a few people who did recommend telling, like Susannah Bradley, of Wivenhoe, Essex. 'I told my friend, but she brushed it aside. It wasn't mentioned again until a couple of years ago, when she suddenly said: 'I wish I had believed you then. I wouldn't be feeling so bad now he's left me.' I'd tell again.' Susannah's heart was in the right place, she assures me, but did her spilling the beans make any difference? No.
The only real spanner in the 'don't tell' works came from an anonymous reader from Bury St Edmunds who wrote saying she wished she had known of her husband's infidelity. 'Having sunk pounds 20,000 of my personal savings into a joint venture with one of my husband's mistresses (unaware of their relationship) I speak as one who knows.'
Of course one solution would be to confront the husband with an: 'I say, old chap, what the hell do you think you're up to?' Mark Rhodes, of Derby, did just that.
'My colleague's wife was pregnant at the time and he begged me not to tell and said that if I did I'd be responsible for the break-up of his marriage. The blackmail worked. I couldn't bring myself to tell his wife and accept the consequences. I could barely speak to him and I avoided his company whenever I could.' Mark's silence had a happy ending. 'Eventually he confessed to his wife and after a brief separation, he was contrite, forgiven and allowed back home. Ten years on they're still happily married. His wife has since told me she's glad I didn't give her the bad news as she would never have known whether her husband would have confessed by choice.'
The only problem with confronting the husband is that if you don't then tell the wife, you become party to the deception, as Mr B Twyman of Herne, Kent, found out when 'questioning a suspect person sitting in a darkened area near my home'. (Mr Twyman, are you a policeman, a vigilante or just very brave indeed?) He was horrified when his neighbour's wife popped up from under the dashboard. 'She was under the impression that my being in possession of this knowledge rendered me liable to her; the assumption being that the discovery of transgression puts the finder at the mercy of the perpetrator if they do not disclose the finding immediately.' Certainly Imogen Pravda, of Reading, felt betrayed when she found her friends knew about her husband's affair and had kept silent. She advised Pat to tell. 'My husband was unfaithful to me for six months before he had the courage to tell me - six months of pain and unease for me. Two friends knew of the deception but did not enlighten me. The feeling of their deception robbing me of dignity is almost more poisonous to love and trust than the sexual betrayal itself.'
Which all goes to show that if you clam up, clam up completely. For ever. My advice to Pat is that she must erase the whole incident from her mind. And she must never, ever, say later, smiling knowingly: 'Well, I had my suspicions when I saw something in the car-park, but I didn't like to tell you . . .' Car-park? What car- park? Pat, it never happened.
When father's will may not be the right way
MATTHEW has written with a problem that he and his brother have concerning a will. Ten years ago, their father and sister fell out when their mother died. Arguments raged because she didn't attend the funeral, and he didn't give her a ring she had been promised. Both father and sister behaved appallingly to each other. As a result, the father cut the sister out of his will. Now he has died, leaving his estate to the two brothers. Though they could do with the money, their sister is not well off, either. Should they disregard their father's will and split the estate three ways? It is all giving Matthew and his brother sleepless nights. What should they do?
Please send your comments and suggestions to me by Tuesday morning at the Features Department, the 'Independent', 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB, fax 071-956 1739. If you have any dilemmas that you would like to share with readers, let me know. I will report back next Thursday.Reuse content