Help! Can I Trust a Business Partner Who Cheated on His Wife?

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 23 2012 3:08 PM

Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on whether an unfaithful spouse can be an honest businessman.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below.

(Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get to it.

Q. Cheating Partner: A co-worker and I have recently begun to discuss leaving our company and setting up our own business. We've worked together for several years and he has good knowledge in our field, so I was all ready to go ahead. Then I discovered that he is going through a divorce because he cheated on his wife. This gives me serious alarm bells over his trustworthiness, integrity, and character. If he's willing to cheat on the one person he swore to love and stay faithful to for life, how do I know he's not going to cheat me? What is your take on this?

A: This would be a good question to put to the candidates in the Republican debate tonight! If this guy were just a co-worker, this would be none of your business. But as you’re about to put your financial future into each other's hands, any concerns you have about his character are legitimate. Do keep in mind that whatever happens, your co-worker won't cheat on you in quite the same way as he cheated on his wife. I've never been aware of any evidence that Richard Nixon cheated on Pat, yet if you considered marital fidelity as the primary indicator of integrity, you'd have been badly misled about him. The number of sexually profligate politicians is too numerous to mention, yet some have been honest and effective leaders. Marriages end for many reasons, and his intimate life is not your business. But you should have a broad sense of this guy's character. Since your future will be so intimately tied up in his, I think it's fair to sit down and tell him that you're not prying into the reasons for his divorce, but infidelity does raise concerns about personal honesty for you. Then see what he says. If he's hostile and defensive, if he bad-mouths his wife, then weigh what you hear. If he responds that he doesn't want to discuss his personal life, but he understands your concerns and wants to assure you this private matter is separate from his professional life, you'll have a different sense. And if he tells you what you've said is the most despicable question imaginable, don't give him a standing ovation.

Dear Prudence: Vacation House of Horrors

Q. Bride Is Embezzling: My husband and I are invited to a wedding in February. She is the office manager in my husband’s office, and it was just discovered that she was embezzling from the business. We already accepted the invitation for the wedding. If the wedding still happens, we are not sure we should attend. What is the etiquette for now saying we won't attend the wedding?

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A: Let's hope you're saved from having to make this decision because the bride is not only wearing white, but also an ankle-monitoring device. If you cancel she's already paid the caterer for your meals–with money she's stolen from your husband's employer! Only under the most dire circumstances should an invitation be rescinded, or an acceptance revoked. If there's no question about these accusations, that's pretty dire. If you and your husband do not have a true personal friendship with this woman but only an office one, I'd say it's understandable if you send her a note as soon as possible saying you are deeply sorry that you will be unable to attend her wedding.

Q. Dental Disaster: I'm 24 years old, engaged to a wonderful man I've been with for four years, in my last year of college, and am generally a very content and peaceful person looking forward to what the future will bring. My fiance and I have a good relationship, we love to be with each other and tell each other everything. But there is one thing that I just can't bring myself to talk about without inducing a panic attack (and honestly writing to you is giving me a little bit of one right now). When I was a teenager I had a severe problem with bulimia (which my fiance knows about) and it wreaked havoc on many things in my life, including my smile. My mind and body may have recovered but my teeth never did and they look horrible. I'm embarrassed to smile and constantly worry about what other people are thinking while I'm speaking to them. I know that I need to see a dentist, but I obsess about what he'll say when he sees a 24-year-old who possibly needs dentures. I worry about the cost, if they'll lecture me, and I worry about being made fun of when I leave the office. If I do get them fixed, I worry that people will notice and comment on it. I'm just scared honestly, and it's taking over a lot of my spare time and thoughts. I know this is absurd, but I just don't know what to do. Please help!

A: Good for you for dealing with your problem and for being honest with your finance. Now that you've told me, you've got to admit writing this and seeing it appear isn't as bad as you thought. Please stop thinking that you're going to need dentures. There are so many cosmetic fixes dentists can offer that will preserve your existing teeth and make them look tons better. It will cost you, but it will be worth it. Look at any local consumer publications for recommendations for dentists who specialize in cosmetics, and also start asking around. No professional dentist or staff member will mock you or lecture you. If one does, say: "This is making me uncomfortable. I think we're not a good fit." You deserve to have a radiant smile to match your happy new life, so march confidently to the dentist's chair and get one.

Q. Facebook Husband Gaffe: I made a huge mistake. An old high school friend I haven't seen in several years recently got married. She posted pictures from the ceremony on Facebook, where I saw them. She made her profile picture a photo of her dancing with a handsome but noticeably older man. I commented, "Father-daughter Dance! So cute! What song did you pick?" When I began clicking through her wedding pictures, I realized the handsome older man was her husband, not her dad! I was mortified and deleted my comment, but not before her brother "liked" it and her best friend corrected me. I haven't heard any response from my friend, and I feel like I should send a quick apology message. I feel terrible and want her to know it was an honest mistake. Should I? And what should I say?

A: Enough with the Newt Gingrich questions for one day! This is a good lesson in people's new need not only to post every aspect of their lives for everyone they know to see, but for everyone they know to offer commentary. You made an honest mistake, and despite the bride's brother's cheeky response, you rectified it as soon as you could. Your note is no longer up. Drawing further attention to your faux pas: "For an old guy, your new husband is really handsome" or "I should have remembered from high school your father wasn't that good-looking" will only compound the error. Let's hope your friend didn't see it, or if she did, she and her new, mature husband have a good sense of humor.

Q. Cheating Partner: I'd be more concerned with the fellow's being able to make good business decisions while his personal life is in crisis—that's a lot of change going on at once, and he may not be in a frame of mind for the amount of attention the business plans need.

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