Is It Really Cheating When It’s Virtual?
Illustration: Michael Kennedy

Is It Really Cheating When It’s Virtual?

How to handle your homie’s infidelity online — plus advice on finally tackling that creative project

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I’ve been stuck in the apartment with my roommate for a month now. Things have been fine between us, except that he’s been cheating on his girlfriend. Kinda. She’s in her own place, and has been slammed with work-at-home stuff, so she can only talk to him once a day, if that. The side chick is also quarantining, but they FaceTime all day. Sometimes it’s casual, sometimes he closes his door and comes out looking flushed, if you know what I mean. He’s been with his girlfriend for like six months, and she seems great; the whole thing just gives me bad vibes that I don’t want to deal with on top of everything else that’s going on. Any guidance here?

Why do you have bad vibes? Is it because you feel like you’ve been conscripted into becoming your roommate’s auxiliary conscience? He’s out here hurting his girl with what seems like no remorse, and you’re holding onto all this guilt for something you didn’t even do. (And if it’s not guilt, then it’s righteous outrage, or moral squeamishness, or something else entirely. The point is, you have feelings about it.) The natural reaction then, is to seek to displace those feelings onto someone who can better process them. And who better than his girlfriend? She has the proper context to consider your roommate’s previous behavior, his level of commitment, and the flagrancy of his offense. Plus, she’s in the best position to actually do something about it, right? Maybe she’ll break up with him and demote his cheating to mere flirting, or maybe she’ll at least yell at him enough to put him on the straight and narrow, or maybe she does nothing, but at least you won’t have to worry about harboring your roommate’s secret anymore because you did the right thing. Right?

I don’t know the relationship you have with your roommate’s girlfriend, but it sounds like y’all don’t know each other well enough for the kind of familiarity that would make all this easier — “[Name], he’s dogging you.” If she suspects something and approaches you, then tell the truth. Easy. But if she doesn’t, don’t just dump this information on her. Because that’s what you’d be doing. You might have an idea that she’d respond with gratitude, that your roommate would wither in shame. But who says it goes that way? If you tell her, she might not believe you. Or, she might already know and pretend she doesn’t. Or, she does believe you and your roommate denies and lies his way back into her good graces before he gets back to business, bringing even more bad vibes into your quarantine. Anything could happen. And not to be cavalier, but if everyone is staying inside and keeping to themselves, then at least your roommate is passing on heartbreak instead of a debilitating virus, corona- or otherwise, which hopefully counts for something.

Your personal issue with the situation, it seems, is that your roommate thinks he’s slick. He’s taking advantage of a pandemic to violate — even if virtually — and you’re tired of it. So let him know that he’s not slick. Unburden your discomfort at the source, and tell your roommate that what he’s doing is bothering you: When people are allowed to go outside again, and his girlfriend comes over, you don’t want to deal with the awkwardness. Maybe he’ll set things right, maybe not. If he knocks it off, great; if he doesn’t, then at least you’ve got it out in the open. Tell him that if he’s going to be doing his dirt, he should at least be discreet about it. If not out of consideration for his girl, then at the very least out of recognition of the dilemma he’s putting you in. Besides, if he’s this sloppy with it, it’s only a matter of time before he blows up his own spot.

Between working remotely and sheltering in place, I feel like I can finally take the time to get started on the graphic novel I’ve been planning in my head for years. I’ve wanted to do this forever, so I really don’t want to waste a second getting through this. How do I optimize my time so that I can be as productive as possible before I go back to work?

Congrats on taking the first step toward tackling your dream project! The gap between “I want to” and “I did” is larger than a lot of people realize. But before you dive into this, there’s a question you need to answer for yourself: What’s the rush? If this is a project that you’re taking on because you need to pay some bills or offset some of the income you’re losing, then by all means shoot for efficiency. Plan things out decisively, set ambitious but achievable goals, and get to work. But if you’re doing this because it’s a passion project, then treat it like it’s something you want to do instead of something you have to do. Allow yourself to get lost in the sauce a little.

Go read Anne Boyer’s twin poems “Not Writing” and “What is ‘Not Writing.” In the first, she catalogues all the things she’s not writing that she thinks she should be writing — a novel, a memoir, a book of political philosophy, a screenplay, poetry, the list goes on. In the second, she discusses all the things that have kept her from writing: thinking, processing, laying by the pool, sleep, lapses in mental health, an unwillingness to confront the pain that writing causes her. This isn’t to say that you need to excavate the demons in your way — maybe your project is just something you hadn’t gotten around to yet — it’s just that the act of creation isn’t just a matter of shoving an idea out of your head and through your hands into the world.

You say you’re starting your graphic novel now, but really you’re just starting a new phase of it. All these years that you’ve been reading other graphic novels and gathering life experience that’ll help you put it together and doing little sketches here and there? That’s all work too. Now you need to continue it, to let it evolve, to allow your graphic novel to be a hobby or a serious artistic undertaking or whatever you want it to be — just don’t make it an obligation on your to-do list. Art takes time, and just because you haven’t created the thing you wanted to create doesn’t mean that you’re taking too long to create it.