I’m seeking letters about conflicts in long-term relationships, how money affects marriages … and, of course, all of the problems about dating and breakups. Have an experience or question to share? Submit an anonymous letter here or email firstname.lastname@example.org. - Meredith
Q. I’ve been reading your column for many years now, and now I have a problem I cannot figure out on my own. I’m a 24-year-old single woman. I was out at a bar to meet friends (and maybe meet someone new) when I saw a guy I recognized with an empty seat beside him. I thought I knew him, and as I was walking over to him, a woman I knew from school approached him and sat down at the bar beside him. It was clear that he knew who she was, and worse, it was clear they knew each other. They were very familiar. Like they had been dating awhile.
Here’s the problem: He’s the father of a woman I know from grad school. We had become friends, and I heard a lot about her family and her story. Her mom and dad had gotten divorced a few years prior, and that was very traumatic for her. The problem is: The woman he was with is still an undergraduate at my school, someone I had mentored. This woman is younger than me, and younger than my friend, this guy’s daughter!
What do I do? I am still good friends with this guy’s daughter, we meet up once or twice a month to keep in touch. I can’t imagine he has told his daughter that he’s dating someone younger than she is. I don’t want to tell her, but I don’t like the idea that her father might be serious about such a young partner. He’s about twice her age. There’s no way the relationship can last forever. I know the young woman, and I know she’s very optimistic and upbeat, and I definitely don’t want her to get hurt by an older man who’s probably just looking for a fling. I don’t think I can keep this all to myself. But: How do I dare betray a friendship like this?
AFRAID TO CAUSE A SCENE
A. Let’s start with what you don’t know — because that list is long!
You don’t know anything about the relationship between your friend’s dad and this young woman. You don’t know who wants a fling, who doesn’t, and who might get hurt.
It’s possible your friend’s dad and this woman haven’t known each other long at all. You made a lot of assumptions based on a few observations at the bar.
You also don’t know how your friend would feel about her dad’s choices. I mean, it’s fair to assume she’d be upset, but there’s no way to be sure.
You can tell this friend you saw her dad at a bar and see where the conversation takes you, I suppose. But there’s also the option of sparing her — because really, she’s not entitled to the information. No crime is being committed (right?). No infidelity. One could say that if her dad has something to tell her, it’s on him to make that decision.
Whenever we get letters like this (usually from people who catch a friend’s spouse cheating), I tell letter writers to think about what information might be useful for their loved one to know. In this case, I’m not sure it helps your friend to know any specifics about her father’s love life. Her dad might make a zillion weird dating decisions before meeting someone who fits into his world. Or maybe he’ll fall in love with a nice recent college grad, tell his daughter about it, and have to deal with her reaction.
Sometimes the caring thing to do is let people live their lives and learn along the way. You would not be betraying your friend by keeping this information to yourself (in my opinion). You can see how it plays out, and be there for her as she reconnects with her family post-divorce.
It’s not your secret, just something you saw at a bar.
My stepmom went to high school with my older brother. She and my dad were married for 37 years until my father passed. Just leave it alone and let them be.
While out at a bar and trying to meet someone new, you recognized the much older man with the empty seat beside him, and you started walking over to join him. So it could have been YOU sitting beside him if that other woman didn’t exist. In any case, I would say definitely don’t mention anything about this episode to your friend.
I’m sorry you don’t agree with the guy’s values — neither do I, really — but he is an adult and this young woman at the bar is an adult and they can make their own decisions without your interference. Keep this one to yourself 100 percent.
If you knew them both, you could have walked up to them in the bar, made small talk, and asked how they know each other — as in, “Oh, wow, it’s a small world.”
If they were “sneaking around,” they wouldn’t have been out together in public.
Why do people think that the second they become aware of sensitive information, that they are instantly bound by some moral obligation to tell people about it? ... There should need to be a clear and compelling reason for you to consider passing along the information, otherwise the default should be not to.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to email@example.com or fill out this form. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.