Thanks to everyone who sent in "Dear Jamy" questions last week. I will answer all of you, but I had to start somewhere. As usual, if you have something to add, or disagree with me, please leave your insights in the comments.
I've been dating "Jack" for about a year. The situation is a little sticky, however: Jack works with my ex-boyfriend, "Fred," and they've known each other for many years. I got together with Jack shortly after breaking up with Fred.
Actually, my realization that I really wanted to date Jack is what encouraged me to end my floundering-for-a-variety-of reasons relationship with Fred. I dated Fred for six years and breaking up involved moving out of his house. When I was debating whether or not to break up with Fred, Jack kept telling me that I needed to think of myself more, and less about Fred's feelings (I felt really horrible about the prospect of hurting Fred). Jack suggested that I was focusing too much on how my actions affect other people, and that I was trying to avoid discomfort and social awkwardness by avoiding the inevitable break up.
Jack is worried that Fred will be crushed to learn that he's dating me, so we've kept the relationship a secret from Fred, as well as from other "work people" at Fred and Jack's workplace. This situation bothers me for a number of reasons. For one thing, I feel dishonest having to sneak around and "not say anything" to certain people. I still speak with and see Fred every now and then, and it feels incredibly weird to not tell him I'm dating Jack.
Jack's unwillingness to "come clean" to Fred and other people who know all three of us is hurting my feelings. If I was supposedly afraid of social discomfort, it seems to me that this is now Jack's primary concern -- that he won't look like a jerk at his job. I don't deny that I'm nervous about telling Fred, but I feel like it's the right thing to do. I mean, we've been together for a year. I see Jack virtually every day; I've gone and met his parents in a far-flung state.
And although many of our close friends and family members know that we are together, Jack is less-than-forthcoming about our relationship to other people, as well. He recently went to great pains to make sure that "Deb," his friend and someone he used to date, didn't see that we were together. I called him out on this later, and he denied that there was anything suspect about it. I asked him if he'd told Deb that he was seeing me. He said he was sure that Deb knew about it, but that he "didn't remember" specifically telling her that we're dating. He is predictably vague about the fact that he's dating someone whenever a cute girl is on the scene. He knows that this bothers me, but doesn't modify his behavior. Meanwhile, he gets super worked up if another guy even talks to me.
Hmm, this is sounding really bad. My initial question was going to be, "Am I obligated to tell the ex about Jack?" or, if not obligated, do you think it's the right thing to do? Perhaps now my question is, "Is it obvious to everyone but me that I should break up with Jack?" Your thoughts about this situation are appreciated.
A year? You've kept this secret for a YEAR?
Yes, you are obligated to tell Fred because it is the right thing to do.
By waiting so long, you've actually increased the odds of hurting Fred's feelings. You were right, initially, not to tell Fred. It was appropriate to wait until you knew that your relationship with Jack was more than a fling. But you knew that about, oh, ELEVEN months ago.
How do you remedy this? You tell Jack that you're going to tell Fred. Tell Jack that you are not comfortable keeping your relationship a secret from ANYONE any longer and that you are going to tell Fred. I don't care what Jack's reaction is to this. Tell Jack what you plan to say to Fred (see below).
What do you say to Fred? "I've been seeing Jack and it's starting to get serious. I wanted you to find out from me." That's it. He doesn't get an opinion either. If he presses you for details, tell him you're not comfortable getting into specifics with him.
If you'll pardon a digression, I'll share a story that illustrates how keeping this kind of secret can be hurtful
I have a couple of friends (Brad and Katie) who started dating and kept it secret from our group for a long time (was it six months? I'm not sure, because it was a SECRET.). It was troubling, because I Brad disappeared from my life even though we've been good friends for years. I thought I'd offended him or he was angry at me. I didn't know what I'd done wrong. I even asked him, "Is there a problem? Did I offend you?" He said, "Oh no, I'd let you know if you'd offended me." And then I didn't talk to him again for a month. I even complained to Katie, because I knew they were getting to be good friends. "Is Brad angry at me? I don't know what's going on." Still, they didn't tell me. I suspected something—Pele and I even speculated about it—based on a few times we saw them together. Eventually, I said, to a mutual friend, "I think a couple of our friends are secretly dating."
She said, "Who?"
"I don't want to say, in case I'm wrong."
"Ok, I think it's Brad and Katie."
"Yes! Yes! They are! Don't tell him I told you."
I felt both relieved and irritated. No wonder I never saw either of them anymore—they were spending all their time together. Since the relationship was a secret (at least from me), they couldn't invite me along, even if they wanted to. I wanted to confront Brad. I called him but I found that I couldn't say, "I know you are dating Katie."
Instead, I said, "So, um, if you have a secret, and you wanted to tell me, it would be ok."
"What?" Long pause. "Oh. Ok…"
"Because, I don't care about your secret. I mean, if you are happy, then I'm happy, that's all I care about."
"Ok. I'm not sure what to say."
"I'd be happy for you. Is there anything you want to tell me?"
"I have to think about this. It's a lot to take in. I'll call you later."
Eventually, we did talk about it. Katie and Brad apologized to me separately, which, while not strictly necessary, I very much appreciated. And I felt better. The only sad part of the story is that I STILL never see them. Oh well.
People can get their feelings hurt when you keep secrets. Perhaps I'm more sensitive than most. (When I revealed the secret to Spesh, he said, "Don't confront Brad. They must have a good reason if they've kept it a secret for so long. They'll tell us when they're ready.")
I'll get back to your final question, "Is it obvious to everyone…that I should break up with Jack?" Nothing in your situation is obvious to me. If I were you, I'd want to know why Jack was so set on keeping things a secret (and please notice who he is not telling). Then, I'd have to ask myself why I let it go on so long. It seems like Jack would like to keep his options open—at least hypothetically. He may not be cheating, but he'd like to move through the world with an image unencumbered by a girlfriend.
After a YEAR.
It's time to start questioning the nature of your relationship with Jack. But don't let yourself off the hook. Jack does not get to keep this secret without your cooperation.
I don't necessarily think your relationship is doomed (others feel free to disagree with me in the comments), but you need to get it to function on a grown-up level if you want it to continue happily.
I do wish you the best. And, please, for the love of all that is holy, TELL FRED.
Grateful for: no secrets.
Drop me a line.