#Love & Sex
Forgiving a Dark Past
by The 4-Way Panel
What do you do when your significant other reveals a deep, dark secret? The 4-way panel helps one reader decide how to react.
I am dating a man I am very much in love with. We have been seeing each other for nearly four years. Recently, we were having a talk about our childhoods and he revealed something to me that bothers me tremendously. He told me that when he was younger, he molested a boy who was younger than he was. He was obviously filled with sorrow, shame, and regret and I certainly understand that this revelation must be cathartic for him, but now I feel like I don’t know him at all. We all do bad things—and he was a troubled child himself at the time—but I can’t help but feel this crosses a line. Now, I am distancing myself from him and feel very uncomfortable around him. I am so upset; I feel like leaving him, but I love him dearly. But what if we have kids? Is this something I can “forgive”? I’m at a loss here. Please help.—TW, Tacoma, Washington
The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown
Whoa. That must’ve felt like having a massive ticking bomb dropped right in your lap. When I first read this, I was at a loss for words as to what to say to you, so I can barely imagine how you must’ve felt hearing that information for the first time.
Once upon a time, I had to make a difficult decision (nothing like yours, though) when I found out that my future landlord—who was also going to be a part-time roommate—had molested a child. I learned then that child molesters have a very high rate of repeating the same or similar behavior, and based on that information, I ultimately decided not to move in. But it was a brutal decision-making process for me because I truly believe that people deserve forgiveness and second chances … I just wasn’t ready to gamble my peace of mind and the sanctity of my home on the second chance of a man I barely knew.
But your situation is much more complicated. The fact that he told you is a good thing—he trusts you and he’s being honest. But you can’t minimize the feelings and doubts you’re having. Your happiness and peace of mind—and potentially that of some future little people, too—hinge on how thoroughly you work through every single issue and question right now. I recommend finding a therapist to help talk you through what you’re feeling, because you’re probably not only confused as to how to react, but probably feeling a little guilty for not being able to immediately get past this. Once you find a therapist, perhaps the two of you could meet together with him or her so that your boyfriend can fully understand the questions and feelings you have. You also need to get a better grasp on how he dealt with this at the time. Did he talk with a therapist back then? Has he ever forgiven himself? Work hard and dig deep to find the answers both of your hearts need. Once you have them, you’ll be better equipped to make a decision.
The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox
TW, I’m not even going to pretend to know what must be going through your mind. What I will do is point out that you’ve learned several things about this man over the past four years. This is likely his deepest, darkest secret that he probably never wanted to tell you. Now that he has—and since this is something that has obviously come between you—you need to talk this out at length. Do not avoid the topic! That’s so 1960s. Get it all out in the open. Tell him that you love him, but this is troubling you. If you don’t, and you have kids together down the road, this issue will always be in the back of your mind. Maybe you’ll be able to mask it in front of others, but when you least expect it, it will come up again.
You’ve spent four years getting to know each other. He obviously feels like he knows you very well or he would never have been able to tell you this. He wants you to know everything about him. I’m not going to defend him, but I will say we all have our pasts. We’re quick to share our good sides, but apprehensive to share the dark ones. To truly know and love someone means to accept all of it. Don’t leave him until you’ve had a chance to drag this thing through the mud and get to the very bottom of it. Only then can you make a logical decision. Good luck.
The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy
Ah, one of the more difficult zones on Relationship Road—your partner’s past. This road sign would show a crooked road with a red flashing light attached to it—whether it’s someone he dated or an organization he joined, or more serious stuff, like drug use or other illegal activities. I’m probably as judgmental of those I date as the next person. I don’t need my special someone to have a squeaky clean past à la Happy Days, but eh, da Fonz ain’t down with the town slut-village idiot-child molester either.
As bad as that sounds and as awful as your boyfriend’s actions were, let’s take a step back. This event occurred a long time ago, way before he knew you, when he was a troubled child. This is about his mind and his beliefs and the actions he chose. He chose poorly. But, he was a child, a troubled child at that. I don’t know how much you can hold him accountable for that now. He needs to make amends for that, but I assume he’s grown now into the good person you’ve fallen in love with. Would he do this now? That would be hard to believe, but only you can answer that.
It’s a good sign that he trusts you enough and is comfortable enough to share something incredibly deep and painful to him. That’s not pleasant for you to hear, but it is a good thing that he told you because it seems less likely he would do such a thing again. I don’t think he’s a likely candidate to molest your own kids. What he did was awful and he’ll have to find his own way to make amends for that. Has he apologized to the child he molested?
This is your call. The boundaries you draw are what you’ll have to live with. I would feel okay with it, but you have to go with your gut on this. I try to cut people slack. It’s more about how are they right now. Is he honest and does he treat you well? I’m guessing he does because you say you love him and you’ve known him for four years. That said, you’re allowed to have your own standards and your own lines to draw in the sand.
The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer
I’m glad that you wrote us because I can tell that this man’s confession has rocked you to the core. This uncomfortable feeling will not go away on its own. You need to talk with a professional about this. A therapist who has worked with these issues before and is sympathetic to his past and your concerns is what you need.
Keep in mind that this guy trusts and believes in you enough to confess his dark past to you. And it sounds like there were other things going on in his life at the time that may have contributed to his actions. It is my hope that he has spoken with a therapist about his past and all the feelings that come along with that; and, that in his heart of hearts, he feels that he’s done the work he needed to and has healed. Now he’s ready to love you fully and start a family. He’s put all his cards on the table and now it’s time for you to believe that people can and do change. I understand that there’s nothing more crucial than the safety and well-being of your children. That’s why it’s so important to work with someone who will help you have faith and trust that he will indeed be a good father.
If he has not been in therapy for this, then that’s a giant red flag. Make sure he gets there and learns how to release his shame and to believe in his future as a solid and loving parent. Don’t walk away. Do the work you both need to do to keep your love alive and your relationship healthy.