I’m secretly dating a reformed sex offender. Is it a terrible idea? | Relationships

The dilemma In high school, one of the boys in my group had a tough time in the final year. We lost touch, but recently we reconnected and have now started a relationship.

Back in his early 20s, he was making a lot of mistakes, taking drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd. An underage girl he was friends with sent him a pornographic picture of herself, and one of her friends called the police, resulting in him becoming a registered sex offender for eight years. He’s now in the final year of this.

Am I making the wrong decision being with him? We are looking to move in together and to me he is a beautiful man with a heart of gold – kind and loving. This is the only fault (albeit a big one) that I find in him. He knows he made a terrible mistake and is in the process of trying to create a new and better life by enrolling in university. I haven’t spoken to any of my family or friends about this, because it is a sensitive subject and I fear the criticism and misunderstanding that may occur. I haven’t even spoken openly about dating him. What he did was appalling, but I truly feel he is a better person now. I just want to know that the investment I am making by being with him is not a terrible and obvious mistake.

Mariella replies That I can’t tell you. I do know that forgiveness is essential in this life and that it can seem in short supply in these binary times. If you are responsible for criminal behaviour your punishment is supposed to have a time limit, unless it’s a life sentence. As you describe it, this man appears to have paid the price for his misdemeanour – but is being further penalised by one-time friends and acquaintances bordering on mob justice.

Your description of events suggests this man has found himself onerously punished for a misjudgment and should definitely be deemed acceptable for re-entry into civilised society. But are you telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Or simply the version you think I’ll find palatable?

The fact you are afraid to mention this man suggests a darker story

To some it might seem an extravagant waste of your time to write to me if all you’re after is a voice from the wilderness echoing back at you that everything is OK. But as you’ll hopefully have discovered, writing an account is an excellent way of confronting your own thoughts and feelings. Whether you’ve told the truth or attempted to delude me, you’ve probably already answered your own question… I do wonder how much of the detail, under the influence of the golden glow of your new relationship, has been lost in the telling.

Human beings have a propensity to rewrite history to suit their purposes – and my instincts tell me that what you are offering is a sanitised version of events. The fact that you are afraid to mention this man to family or friends, based on his receipt of one photo, suggests a darker story than the one you are telling. You should not feel the need to make excuses for his behaviour or, indeed, contextualise it.

We all have corners in our closets where secrets are stuffed and if you get to adulthood without at least one shameful incident behind you then you’ve probably not been living life to the full. That’s why I keep coming back to the yarn you’re spinning and wondering if it knits up into something fit for purpose. You say that what he did was appalling, yet your version of his story has this man receiving an entirely unsolicited photograph from a girl and being given a criminal record for it. Even for a committed feminist and anti-pornography campaigner that seems pretty rough justice for simply opening his inbox. It would certainly be deemed forgivable in the eyes of most members of society. That’s why I’m wondering if one of you isn’t being transparent. Has it occurred to you it might be him? It is why I recommend that rather than keep this relationship a secret, you open it out to a wider constituency. By having the discussion with people you trust, you may learn things you need to know – or find that others also think he’s served his time.

A clandestine liaison is rarely the best basis on which to build a committed relationship and in this instance you really need to hear the voices of those with your welfare at heart. If it’s as simple as you make it sound, I’d be surprised if those who care for you don’t give the relationship their blessing. Of course, ultimately, it will be up to you to decide but, sometimes, having to defend our actions leads to clarity on why we have made certain choices. I definitely wouldn’t want you to find yourself in a vulnerable situation because you have chosen to isolate yourself along with your man.

If this relationship has legs you need to use them to stand up and show it off. Only then can you be sure if those things lurking in the corner are merely shadows or further secrets.

If you have been affected by any of these issues, contact victimsupport.org.uk

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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