I cheated on my girlfriend with another girl for about a year. She doesn't know about it, and is very happy with me. Besides that I am a very good boyfriend, and when we are together we are happy. Now, my close friends have told me that I should tell her what I've done, because it was wrong, and she has the right to know. I agree that it was wrong, and that she indeed has the right to know; however, I also feel that at this point, it is over with. She has never known, and is all the happier. Meanwhile, I am eaten up inside every day with guilt. I knew I shouldn't be doing what I was doing, but I did it anyway; I have no excuse, and what I did was wrong. If I told her what had happened, I would no longer feel guilty, but it would crush her. I would rather live my entire life feeling like the worst person in the world, if maybe she would never have to find out and go through that. I would never do what I did again, because I learned that under no circumstances is it worth it to cheat. Am I right or wrong?

This sounds like a classic "Consequentialist vs. Deontologist" dilemma. A consequentialist defines morally right action as whatever produces the best consequences. In this case, you predict that the best consequences will be produced by keeping your infidelity to yourself and resolving never to do it again. But a deontologist defines morally right action as whatever is required by duty, and if someone has a right, then there is a correlative duty binding someone somewhere. In this case, you acknowledge that your girlfriend has a right to know, which would entail your duty to tell her. So the consequentialist "right thing" and the deontological "right thing" are at odds.

Or are they? Perhaps your predicted consequences are incorrect. Your girlfriend may find out without you telling her, especially if several friends think she should know (things like this do happen, and not just in the movies). Then in addition to being crushed by your infidelity, she will be further hurt and alienated by your dishonesty. And not just dishonesty, but a deliberate and calculated kind that disrespects her as a person (she may well conclude that you've merely been using her for your own selfish purposes).

I've answered a similar question about a drunken one-night stand. There, I found it more difficult to identify "the right thing." But if I read your question correctly, you're talking about a clandestine extracurricular affair that went on for an entire year. At the risk of ruining anyone's image of philosophers as aloof and nonjudgmental, my answer is that you've not only wronged your girlfriend and continue to wrong her, but you've probably wronged the other party as well. You say your girlfriend is happy with you, but it seems more accurate to say she's happy with an illusion of you. I think most autonomous adults would prefer to forgo a false happiness (especially one crafted by the deceit of someone they trust) in favor of honest pain. Pardon me for saying so, but you OUGHT to be eaten up by guilt. Both the consequentialist and the deontological approaches suggest the same answer to your question: You are wrong.

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