Struggling with girlfriend’s past

Dear Carolyn:

My girlfriend is 29. I’m happy in our relationship and think she’s awesome. However, in her past she had an affair with a 65-year-old married grandfather who was her career coach. She was friends with his family. I find this immoral and very hard to accept … and totally out of character for her. She was single at the time.

What drives an attractive woman to have such an affair that hurt others? She says, “It just happened,” but I find that hard to believe.

— Struggling With Girlfriend’s Past

So ugly chicks have an obvious motive to cheat, but attractive ones don’t? Please rethink your phrasing — or rationale.

I can agree that there are character questions here, and that “it just happened” is weak. I can also challenge that it’s “totally out of character for her.” She did it, so it’s not.

But these just chip at the surface when true peace lies at the depth of being human. Specifically: Where do you stand on frailty? Can you accept without cognitive dissonance that someone “awesome” could do something terrible? Can you see darkness in her, in yourself, in anyone and still completely trust, or do you need “I/She would never do that”-type assurances?

Would you be seeing her actions differently if she had said, “I was weak and selfish in ways I never thought I could be”?

Or, “There’s more than one viewpoint on fidelity”?

Does it matter that she (apparently) told you of the affair herself?

Some people are too compromised to be trustworthy, yes; however, if you need completely clean records, good luck. These twin realities demand that our decisions to trust people are nuanced and rooted in trusting ourselves.

In your case, that means accepting her past as part of the range of who she is, just as you accept your prior bad acts as part of your range. If you need a better understanding of her views first, then ask, gently and without accusing.

Don’t dwell, though. You either respect her as a partner or break up. The “I love her but will always judge her for doing a bad bad thing” is a stance of smug superiority, not equality, as in, a cue to cut yourself loose.

Dear Carolyn:

Please comment on destination weddings. My cousin is getting married on the other side of the country. I love my cousin, but taking my family to her wedding will cost thousands of dollars. I think destination weddings are incredibly narcissistic and I’m feeling pretty angry right now. Any words of wisdom? She and her fiance live locally.

— Anonymous

What people think of destination weddings is half the problem with destination weddings.

I realize this goes against human nature at the molecular level, but please consider not having an opinion at all.

Instead: Are you able to go? Yes/No. Do you want to go on the given terms? Yes/No.

And then either go or don’t go accordingly. If you can stop yourself there, without judging anybody, then you can emerge from this without emotionally downgrading someone you love or spending a nickel unwillingly spent.

If it helps: Imagine if she eloped, wed in a groom’s faraway hometown, or chose to cohabit ever after; would you be angry then? Are those guest-unfriendly choices narcissistic too?

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group


Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

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