A few years ago I found myself in a pretty terrible situation: While I was home for Christmas, one of my friends told me that they saw my girlfriend kissing and going home with my best friend. Instead of being mature about it and acknowledging the unpredictability of love, I reacted emotionally.
I requested they never talk to me again, I had sex with all of her friends who reached out to tell me and told me, “You don’t deserve to be treated like that,” and I changed my HBO Go password when she was midway through Game of Thrones. In the short term, this solution was awesome.
Upon further reflection, I realized I hadn’t handle the situation very well. I wasn’t the bigger man. I also gave them a reason to hate me, and letting them hate me diminished their guilt. I needed to see their pain and sorrow, feel them clutching to their humanity so I could forgive them, but — unfortunately — I never gave myself that chance.
If you ever find out you’ve been betrayed in the same way, don’t confront them without taking some time to think about how you’re going to do it. I recommend taking some deep breaths, sleeping on it, inviting them both to dinner, and following my 5-step plan:
Step 1: Pour Them Warm Glasses of Vodka
When she and your friend arrive, you’re aggressively cutting into a turkey with a carving knife. A half-empty handle of Popov rests on the counter in front of you.
“Hey!” you wipe the sweat from your brow and point to them with your carving knife, “It’s my best friend and my girlfriend; finally, I don’t have to drink all by myself.” You pour them each a full glass of vodka with no ice.
Your girlfriend comes in for a kiss but you deny her because you’re messy, her face grows concerned, “Babe, did you…drink half of that handle yourself?”
Close your eyes and laugh hysterically towards the ceiling for five to ten seconds, “You’re so funny, babe, always concerned with my wellbeing,” point to your friend with the knife, “Aren’t you gonna let me share?”
“I’m not…sure what you mean by that.”
“I’m trying to share my vodka with you guys!” you laugh, “Come on, loosen up, you two.”
Step 2: Give Them a Gift
Before you all take your plates to the table, tap your carving knife against the Popov to make a toast and hold two picture frames in your left hand,
“If I can make a toast: to my best friend and my girlfriend…” grab the handle and cheers against their glasses of warm vodka, “Who’ve always been there for me, and who I can always trust no matter what. I framed a picture of all three of us, and I want you both to have one.”
They set their glasses down and look at the picture, “That’s so sweet of you, I love this…”
Your friend looks puzzled and holds the picture up to the light, “Thanks, bro…Hey, how come in this pic you’re kinda blurry, and like, transparent?”
He’s right; you Photoshopped yourself to look like the ghostly Polaroid of Marty McFly’s parents in Back to the Future, but don’t acknowledge this. Pretend they’re seeing something different. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, it looks perfectly normal to me.”
She tilts the frame and squints, “No, he’s right, it looks like you’re fading from the pict—” Your friend coughs to cut her off and you smack the knife down against the vegetables on the cutting board.
Step 3: Present False Evidence
After they sit down to eat their turkey in panicked silence, excuse yourself to go change your shirt. In preparation for this dinner, you bought a shirt that’s similar to the kind of shirt your friend usually wears.
“Hey, is this your shirt?” you toss the shirt to your friend.
His face flushes a bit, “What? No, it’s not mine.”
“Are you sure? It looks an awful lot like one of yours.”
“I guess it does, but…it’s not mine, it couldn’t be,” he glances at your girlfriend who’s staring at her plate, chewing in bursts and tucking her hair behind her red ears.
“Babe, he said it’s not his, don’t be silly.”
“I’m not being silly, I’m just looking out for a friend,” you tap the carving knife against the Popov, “Who’s empty?”
Step 4: Make Them Crack
If you’ve got the Sonos hooked up, play a faint heartbeat to complement the symphony of cuts and scrapes against the plates.
“How’s the turkey, everyone?” You wipe the vodka from your chin.
“Good. Thanks, bro.”
“Good to hear. Babe, give him some of that dark meat I put on your plate, I want him to try it.” You gesticulate with the carving knife still in your hand.
She stabs a piece of dark meat and reaches to drop it on his plate. You stop her, “No, no, wait, he can’t use his own fork to eat it, he wouldn’t want to get two types of meat on the same fork,”
“So…what am I supposed to do?”
“Feed it to him.”
Their faces and neck swell with warmth. The fork she holds parallel to the table trembles between her thumb and index finger and your friend tries to say something, “I…it’s…I don’t want any, it’s cool. Thanks, though.”
You take another swig from the Popov and turn up the volume of the Sonos heartbeat, “No, I insist. Babe, please feed him a bite of your meat. I spent a long time preparing this dinner for you guys, and I want everyone to taste everything, don’t you?”
“I…I do but, please, you’re scaring us.”
You laugh with a stone-cold expression and stare at your friend’s perspiring face like Jack Nicholson staring out of the window in The Shining, “What’s the big deal, you’re not afraid of her ‘cooties’ are you? Feed him, please.”
Your girlfriend bursts into tears, backing up towards the door, “Look! We’re sorry!” your friend stands up and takes a step back while she continues, “We were planning on telling you, we were drunk! Please, babe, I…I didn’t think…”
“Yea, bro, really drunk. We both really regretted it the next day…I didn’t even know I wore that shirt to be honest. I’m so sorry, I’m a piece of shit, please don’t hurt us.”
Step 5: Part Ways Like Adults
“Guys, I’m not going to hurt you. I already knew what happened.”
You turn off the speakers, “See? That wasn’t even your heartbeat. I Photoshopped the picture, that wasn’t your shirt, and I refilled some of this Popov with water.”
Your girlfriend’s shock turns to anger, “What the fuck is wrong with you? That weird laugh and the turkey feeding and shit were all…just…”
“Metaphors, yes,” you nod in serenity with your hands behind your back, “the heartbeat was—”
“—Edgar Allan Poe, ya, I get it, they weren’t that subtle. What you just did was really weird, you know that, right?”
“I needed to see your humanity in order to forgive you. I needed to see your remorse for the pain you’d cause me.”
They both look at you confusedly. Your friend slowly lets go of the doorknob, “So…we’re good?”
You smile, “No. We will part ways for months and likely years, during which time I’ll consider whether or not inviting you two back into my life is exemplary of pacifism, irresponsibility, maturity, or Christ-like self-awareness. I’ll need to evacuate the hatred and indignity from my heart, to fight the chip from my shoulder, to accept human nature as flawed and immoral. This event that you’ve chalked up to a mistake will become the elephant in the room, the lens through which my future relationships filter. I’ll have to tell this story so people can offer their unwarranted sympathies and reassurances, and no matter how sincerely I tell them I’ve made peace, they’ll coddle me like a wounded – ”
Your friend raises his hand to stop you, “—Sorry, this is just getting really epic and you sound like Morpheus. So no? We’re not cool?”
“No. Not today.”