Advice

Miss Information: My girlfriend cheated. How can we possibly get past this?

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Dear Miss Information,

I was on a trip to another city (still am, actually) when I got a phone call from my crying girlfriend early in the morning. "I had sex with X last night," she managed to tell me between sobs. X is an old friend of hers, who recently told her he was in love with her. His last girlfriend cheated on him, and as his friend, she’s been spending time with him trying to cheer him up. They went to a party together. They were drinking, it got late, he walked her home. She offered to let him spend the night. She shared our bed with him instead of making up the couch. They had sex. Unprotected sex. (Well, semi-unprotected; my girlfriend is on the pill.)

This was three days ago. I’m travelling home tomorrow, and filled with lots of conflicting emotions. I miss her a lot, but I’m also angry with her and him and at a loss for what to do. We’ve been together almost six years, been living together for almost a year. I truly love her and wish all of this could just go away, so things could be like they were before.

My girlfriend is willing to do anything to fix things, and would probably cut off her arm if I asked her. The only things I’ve asked for so far are that she cuts off contact with X and that she tests herself for STDs. She’s moved back in with her parents for the time being.

How can I cope with this? How can I stop seeing them together every time I close my eyes? How can I stop feeling like he’s left dirty marks all over my girlfriend? I’m dreading coming home and trying to go to sleep in the very same bed they did it in. Part of me wants to drag the bed out and burn it, but that wouldn’t accomplish anything. — What Now

Dear What Now,

All you readers who will be satisfied with nothing less than a scathing two-word "DUMP HER!": stop reading and start writing your scathing rebuttals. It’s not that I don’t believe in the break-up penalty, particularly when it comes to people who cheat on their significant others. I just believe in looking at all the mitigating circumstances, i.e., "conditions or happenings which do not excuse or justify criminal conduct, but are considered out of mercy or fairness" for those of you too young to remember Night Court.

Continuing with the legal theme, if I were a lawyer for your girlfriend’s defense, I’d cite the following:

• The one-time nature of the incident
• Her immediate disclosure of the incident and her obvious remorse
• The fact that the incident took place under the influence of alcohol
• The subject of the cheating — a wounded bird carries a strong pull
• Her willingness to make reparations in the days that followed
But if I were coming out for the prosecution, I’d emphasize your girlfriend’s escalating pattern of recklessness, including, but not limited to:

• Spending significant amounts of time with a freshly-dumped person who has professed to liking her
• Meeting up with that person while her boyfriend was out of town
• Over-indulging in alcohol around the aforementioned person
• Letting him spend the night versus saying goodnight at the door
• Sleeping in the same bed versus making up the futon
• All of which led up to the offense — not just intercourse, but unprotected intercourse
There were so many points at which she could have said, "Wait, what the hell am I doing?" but she didn’t. The best way to avoid temptation is to never let yourself be around it. Yes, there are people who can shower with their exes and nothing will ever happen, but even those people I wouldn’t trust when they’re blindingly drunk. Think about all the stupid shit you’ve done when you’re intoxicated. I once watched a girl eat Nivea hand lotion, straight out of the pump. The opportunity for your girlfriend to prevent this sad event began months ago. She didn’t just drop the ball, she hurled it at a bunch of baby kittens while screaming, "Fuck you, I do what I want!"

You asked how do you cope. The answer is, however you want to. Short of harming yourself, this guy, or your girlfriend, there are no "shoulds" in this process, as in, "I should be able to accept this," or, "I should be more/less emotional." The grief you feel after betrayal is very personal. The decisions you make are, as well. Get rid of the bed if it’s bothering you. Fill the dumpster with sheets and throw pillows. It doesn’t matter if that’s immature. Be immature. I can’t tell you whether or not to stay together. A big relationship-altering event has happened, and it’s going to be a while before you know how everything shakes out.

I do think getting some space is a good idea. Let her keep on living with the folks. I also recommend couples counseling. Six years is a long investment, and if you’re serious about staying together, it’s worth it. I’d also keep an eye on how well she adheres to her post-cheating promises. "Action is the antidote to despair," says folk badass Joan Baez. Let’s see if your girlfriend will do what it takes to help lift you out of yours.

Dear Miss Information,

I met a girl on an Internet dating site last week and thought I hit the jackpot. She was employed and not only sexy but funny in her email responses. When we first met, I saw her from a distance and was pleased. For once, here was a person who actually looked better than her pictures online. But as I got closer, I could smell her body odor from more than five feet away, and it was horrendously awful.

I asked her out and I felt an obligation to see it through. I didn’t leave, though I wanted to. We did drinks and dinner. I even gave her a hug and a peck at the end of the night, holding my breath the entire time. What should I do if she wants to go out on a second date? — What’s That Smell

Dear What’s That Smell,

Oh boy. Body odor. I’m seeing a lot of it in the news, from a bizarro matchmaking company that uses DNA swabs to match people by smell to shock-and-awe press releases claiming that Americans are willing to shave ten years off their life expectancies if it means not having chronic B.O. Stranger still is that this pseudo-scientific survey was sponsored by one of those crystal deodorant companies. Anyone who’s ever shared close quarters with someone who traded in their Speed Stick for rubbing a rock under their armpits should be able to tell you how well that worked out.

First dates don’t give you a lot of information, such as whether the body odor was situational (you were in a crowded space and the bar owner had the heat on), circumstantial (she sweats buckets on first dates but is fine otherwise), or chronic (she always smells like an outhouse full of dead lobsters). A second date would tell you more, but is it worth it? I think so. You’re physically attracted and that’s a big one. Until you encountered the odor situation, you were charmed by her.

Do you address the smell issue before the second date, or cross your fingers and hope and pray it was a one-off? How much are you willing to risk offending her? If you’re saying to yourself, "Self, I like this woman, and I’d kick myself if I lost her because I had to open my big mouth and criticize her the one-and-only time she went to the gym and forgot to shower," then you might want to wait and see what the scent situation is the next time you hang out. Schedule a short date somewhere open and give yourself an escape clause — friend’s birthday party, sick pet — in case you experience a stinky redux.

If you do decide to say something before the second date, be polite and casual. "This is sorta awkward, but I picked up this unpleasant smell the last time we hung out. I don’t know if it’s your clothes or just the place we went to or what, but it bothered me a little and I thought I’d let you know." Saying it this way depersonalizes it — she now has external smells as a cover — and makes it sound like a little annoyance, not the end of the world. You’re not her health teacher, so a big serious lecture is not appropriate here.

Readers, have you ever dealt with this on a date or with a partner?

Have a question? Email erin@nerve.com. Letters may be edited for length, content and clarity.