I am a single female who happens to have always had many male friends. I had a single episode of cheating on my partner in my 20s, which I came clean about immediately and paid the price for (breakup, loss of friends, deep reflection and change of self, and so on). Somehow, the relatively public knowledge of my crime has made my married male friends feel as though they can come to me with their secrets: cheating on their wives in monogamously defined relationships, being married to a woman but a closeted gay man, exploring their gender identity, depression in their marriages—the list goes on.
On the one hand, I want to be supportive of my friends. On the other hand, it's made me fairly jaded about marriage and men in general. But that's not really the issue.
Here is my question: How do I handle these confessions? I'm pretty in touch with how to help someone with gender identity issues and mental health concerns. What I'm not good at is helping my friends when it comes to talk of their marriages. I advocate that they be honest with themselves and their wives and seek counseling, whether just for them or as couples. But it's not me, and it's not my marriage, so there's a limited amount I can do.
For the one man who has taken my advice and owned up to it and is working out his marriage, that's cool. But now his wife is suspicious of me. She doesn't love him talking to me, which I get on a lot of levels. But why am I investing my time into helping my friends when what I get in return is suspicion or treated like I'm this honesty box they can spill their feelings into? I don't for a minute misunderstand the fact that their wives are humans with feelings too. And I feel constantly caught between a rock and a hard place wondering, do I tell them? Or, if my friends come clean, will we still get to be friends? (Do I even want to be their friend?)
I do have male friends who are happy and honest in their relationships and marriages, so not all is bad. I'd just like advice in this not-so-hot area.
Not Sure How to Proceed
Well! It seems that you are your circle's Bonita. It's great to be so trusted by your friends, but it's also a lot of emotional labor. People often don't think about the emotional strain it puts on people who constantly provide a shoulder to lean on—the people you trust with the deep, dark shit that you wouldn't dare tell your partner or family. And you've got several people seeking your ear with some pretty gnarly stuff, the kind of things that have you rethinking certain friendships.
The gender dynamic here is important. You're a single woman who is a close friend to partnered men who tell you things their main squeezes don't know. A sad side effect of jealousy culture is that girlfriends or wives will look at you sideways for gaining a trust from their partners that eludes them. It might be worth it to reach out to the woman in question and let her know that you're sort of just counseling this guy through his troubles, no funny business involved.
You’ve gotta lay down some boundaries with these guys. Let them know that you're their friend, and they can always talk to you, but they can't let you in on infidelities or downright freaky shit with the expectation that you'll stay silent or help them be sleazebags. Hell, give them my contact info if they need confidential advice. I'm a “hos before bros” gal to the core, and I would definitely let a lady friend know if her man was cheating on her. It's hard when you’re friends with both people involved, but there's a principle at work here, and you don't want your reputation to be dragged down with his as someone who aided and abetted instead of doing the right thing.