#Love & Sex
Letters in the Attic
by The 4-Way Panel
Everyone has a past; memories, mistakes, lessons. But what happens when the past muddles with the present? Our relationship experts weigh in on what’s kosher and what’s, well, not.
I’ve been married for six years and just found a stack of letters stashed away in our attic that shows my husband was either cheating or flirting with the idea of cheating on me while we were dating. The letter is from a woman he worked with at the time (he doesn’t work at the same company now), and this woman actually came to our house a few times when we hosted barbecues and parties. He’s been a good husband, and I’ve never once suspected him of being anything other than loyal during our marriage, but it still bothers me. Also, I’m curious as to why he kept the letters. I’ve been debating asking him about it, but because I’ve never suspected anything and we both seem happy, I wonder if it’s a good idea to even bring it up. What do you think?—JS, Colorado Springs, Colorado
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
You went through some letters you knew weren’t yours. Don’t you know ignorance is bliss? Or is knowledge power? I don’t know, but either way, this stuff was in the past and best left there by you … and your husband. He shouldn’t have held onto these letters if you ask me. What good do they do him? And why risk that you would go through them?
There’s no way these letters make you feel good and I don’t how they’d make him feel that good. I don’t know if you’re the type who can let this go or not, but if you are, please do.
If it’s going to bug you and be in the back of your mind all the time, then say something and give your husband a chance to respond. Something straightforward like, “I was cleaning out the attic and ran across some letters I shouldn’t have seen. Now, that I’ve seen them, want to tell me what’s up?” He may say that he was tempted, but didn’t do anything. That’s acceptable. I mean, he did ask YOU to marry him; he’s presumably happy with that decision.
Cheating and flirting with the idea of cheating are two very different things. Flirting with the idea is not grounds for taking any serious action and you can move on. If he did cheat before you were married, you have to work through why that happened. The upside is, it’s in the past and if he’s been loyal to you for the six years of your marriage, you have a strong enough foundation to continue being married and happy.
As we say in Wisconsin, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Or your husband.
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
I guess this proves the age-old saying that ignorance really is bliss. At first, I was tempted to advise you to follow that other well-trodden adage, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Meaning, you’ve obviously enjoyed a happy marriage, so why rock the boat by starting a conversation about something that you’re not even sure happened?
But (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?) that’s not very realistic. You’re only human, and happy marriage aside, if you’re like me, this piece of information will keep bugging you until you get some answers. If you don’t ask, every time your husband mentions a female colleague, you’re going to wonder if he’s sleeping with her. Every time he comes home late from work, every time he changes or cancels plans at the last minute, every time he’s too tired to roll around naked with you, you’re going to wonder. You’re already wondering—you wrote to us. And wondering and worrying all the time is no way to live.
So you have to ask him about it. I don’t get the sense that you’re angry, but I would definitely approach this in a non-confrontational, yet very direct way. “Hey, I found these letters in the attic … can we talk about them?” and then see what he says. I know this is easier said than done, but try not to create any drama in your head before you know what really happened. Also, be prepared to answer why you read his personal letters, though if he asks, I would respond that storing them in a free-for-all space like the attic was really not the best place to hide them if he wanted to keep them private.
Once you get his answer—whatever that is—talk about it until you’re both satisfied and then be done with it. Remember that you’ve had a happy marriage and remember those feelings of trust you had before you found the letters. Perhaps you can even create an updated adage: knowledge is bliss.
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
JS, I think the most interesting question you pose here is why the hell your husband has kept the letters all this time in the first place. Whatever the case may be, I always advise everyone to tackle a situation that bothers her head-on; otherwise, you may be consumed by it in the long run.
It sounds to me as if you’ve had a great marriage up to this point, so why wouldn’t you bring this little discovery up? That’s so fifty years ago! Get it out in the open and talk about it. Find out what the hell he was thinking then and why he has the balls to still hang on to those letters. You have to! If you don’t, you’ll probably never know and you’ll wonder for the rest of your life.
Here’s my suggestion: go get the letters, tell them you’ve read a few and ask him point blank what they are and why he has them. Be strong and be prepared to answer why you were going through his personal things. Tell him if he has anything he needs to tell you that this is his one opportunity to do so. Then be willing to move on. To dwell on this is pointless and will defeat the purpose of bringing it up, which is to clear the air. Let him explain, and listen and learn. It can go a few ways, but avoiding the topic is not the solution.
The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
Ummm, no. For the love of whomever, NO! Unless you’re looking to start something, LET IT GO. Partners are allowed to have a past. They are also allowed not to share all of their past with their current partner.
Don’t go digging for problems. Don’t go making yourself crazy. I imagine that you have a past as well. It’s yours. Take it out, dust it off, and remember it every once in a while, then come back into present time and go on with your life—this life that you’ve created with your husband. This life that is going well. This life that you want to continue to go well.
I did a lovely walk down memory lane myself this week. It was twenty-nine years ago this very week that I experienced my first kiss. I thought about it, smiled, and later that day, I really enjoyed kissing my girlfriend. I’m happy for the memory, and I’m happy that I’m still creating new memories. I suggest you do the same.