Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently a girlfriend of mine, Lois, asked me a question I did not have the answer to. For the last four years she has dated a guy named Jake.
Jake is kind of a mixed bag. He’s a wonderful guy but his job is unusual (I can’t say more about it). He is gone for long stretches and can’t necessarily be relied on to be present at particular dates and times. He is very apologetic about this but over the course of time I have sensed he could have told Lois more but he just doesn’t for whatever his reasons.
It’s like when you have a valid excuse for something, sometimes you can chalk up a lot to that, beyond which is actually attributable to reality? That’s Jake. He’s hard to argue with. So Lois asked me if I felt she was being run over in this. She gets upset from time to time but she is never sure how upset she is justified in being.
Can you think of a way to handle this without writing Jake off?
It is a very powerful situation to be able to explain anything you do in private through one convenient excuse. By nature this is not a fair situation, and trust would be key in making this work long term.
It sounds from what you say that Lois does not have this trust, which is not to say she could never obtain it or would never be offered to her. Wives are often permitted knowledge never offered to long term girlfriends, even. Still, your friend has more power than she knows; she is just probably wary of using it for obvious reasons.
On some key level, instinctual level she must be the judge of this man’s character. It is not for you to make this choice for her, or even define the parameters of her decision. Without knowing anything more about these individuals, I would say she is far enough down Jake’s road that she will not be bailing no matter what he tells her.
There are two possibilities to account for Jake’s behavior. The first is that he is truly innocent. If this is the case, virtuous people who are cavalier about accounting for innocent actions can quickly be turned into darker lifestyles. If you question something who is not doing anything wrong, he or she will quickly be able to surmise that he could get away with what he is being accused.
If Jake is already guilty of something, as seems more likely, offering him amnesty is a great way to ensure he will not be doing this again, because few people believe they will be forgiven twice.
Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.