The Chicken You Can’t Unfuck

Dear Dategirl, My mom is cheating on my dad. I'm in my final year of college. To complicate matters, they both teach at my school, though in different departments. We all live in the same house. Their marriage hasn't been perfect, but I know my dad is devoted to her. They still have sex and are so affectionate that it can be a little sickening. I discovered the affair when I randomly saw my mother out with her lover. It was obvious that they were "together." I was with a friend who agreed that's what it looked like, but also cautioned that there might be some explanation. I checked my mom's e-mail account. It's an affair, and my dad definitely doesn't know about it. The other man is the head of her department. What do I do? Who do I tell first? I can barely look at my mom anymore. —Bitter and Betrayed A lot of people will tell you that you're wrong to feel betrayed—after all, she's not married to you. But I get it: She's your mom. She's supposed to be honest, forthright, and not spotted around town making out with her boss. Unfortunately, she's also human. Depending on how good they are at hiding it, discovering your parents are flawed can be more depressing than finally figuring out Santa is a scam. But it's important to remember that this is not your marriage. And as shitty as it feels to think of your father in pain, there's always more to a relationship than outsiders will ever know. You mention that you're positive your dad doesn't know about the other person, so I can assume this is something you gleaned from her e-mail? (BTW, please don't do that again.) If you're just going on gut instinct, I understand that you want to protect him, but don't assume he needs protecting. Maybe he's had affairs himself, or they have an open marriage. Maybe they're swingers. Did you ever see The Ice Storm? Unless you have direct evidence that he is actively being lied to, you have no way of knowing. There's also a very good possibility that he doesn't want to know. In an ideal world, you'd be able to forget what you saw and read, but you can't unfuck that chicken. It doesn't sound as if you're capable of putting it aside either. But before you confront your mother—and please, if you're going to talk to anyone, let it be her—think about what you hope to gain. Do you want her to apologize and promise to stop? Do you want her to divorce your dad or tell him what's happening? Do you just want to vent? This is a huge, potentially excruciating discussion, and you don't want to go into it without a clear idea of what you want to say. Writing it down will help you clarify things, as will talking it out with a trusted friend or therapist. Make sure it's someone outside your family, though, because involving relatives tends to up the potential for drama substantially. If you decide you need to clear the air, set up a time to talk to her. Alone. Tell her what you saw and what you discovered. Be honest about snooping. Tell her you're hurt/furious/whatever. Do not ask for details, and inform her that if your dad asks you anything, you're going to be truthful with him. This should keep her from making you her confidant, which happens way more than you might think. What, if anything, you want to do next is your call. But keep in mind that this is your parents' marriage, not yours. As difficult as it sounds, the sanest course of action would be to butt out.

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