Reader’s shoplifting dilemma
Dear Dr. Lukats, I have been seeing my boyfriend for just over a year. I could not have asked for a more loving and caring boyfriend.
We get along fantastically and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. However, it recently came to light that he shoplifted before he started college, mainly small things like bars of chocolate but he also has admitted to occasionally stealing CDs and DVDs and clothes; the most expensive item he stole being valued at €200. He has since stopped as he is studying to practice as a health professional and is aware that if he is caught he will not be allowed to practice. Yet he says he feels no regret or guilt for what he has done in the past. He comes from a wealthy background and this was not carried out as “necessity”. He admits that he just enjoyed the idea of rebelling and the thrill of the risk of getting caught. He justifies what he has done through his belief that no one faced any consequences as a result of his actions.
This goes against everything I believe in. If I had known this information prior to going out with him I would not have even considered becoming a friend of his let alone be in a relationship with him. I firmly believe it is wrong to take something that does not belong to you, regardless of how small the item is or how wealthy the person or company is that you are taking it from. It maddens me that he does not understand such a simple concept. We have discussed it at length and I have explained to him how I feel about it and he promises he will never do it again while he is in a relationship with me. We did not have an argument over it but it regularly plays on my mind.
I cannot discuss this problem with my friends as I am so ashamed of his actions. I love my boyfriend and the thought of leaving him really upsets me. Am I overreacting? Should I be more understanding and accept that it is impossible to find someone without what I consider to be a flaw or should I stick to my principles and end the relationship?
I would really appreciate any advice. Thank you.
Dr Victoria replies:
You certainly have a fair point and I think you’re right to have a problem with this. You don’t like the idea that he used to shoplift regularly and you dislike his seeming lack of remorse even more. I’m not surprised you ended up having a long discussion about his shoplifting. I might have even expected you to have an argument. You love him and you care about him. You weren’t going to just end the relationship there and then. Instead you did what any well adjusted person would do – you explained why you had a problem with it and you tried to look for any small glimmer of hope that he could explain his actions to you, that he could reassure you that it was a mistake and that he’d spent time considering his actions. But despite the long conversation, he did none of this.
When it comes to long-term relationships, it’s actually really important that you have similar moral values. You don’t have to be identical in every way but you need to be similar, especially if you’re the sort of person who tries to treat other people how they would want to be treated themselves not just because they fear the consequences of getting caught but because they genuinely want to do the right thing.
On the other hand, most people do things in life they later regret. Some teenagers do get involved with things like shoplifting. It’s not that uncommon but that doesn’t mean it’s ok. I don’t think the issue is whether your boyfriend has a criminal past – he hasn’t been convicted of anything and as far as you know, he has never been in trouble with the police. But he has done things that are illegal. Again, I don’t think you have an issue with the fact that these were illegal acts per se. I think it’s a combination of the repeated shoplifting being a step too far for you to accept and most of all, that he has no regrets.
So where does this leave you? No amount of rationalising or empathising is going to allow you to forget this. But don’t feel that you need to take immediate action either. You don’t need to decide whether to forget about it all or finish the relationship today, this week or even this month. But I expect things will go one way or the other within the next few months.
You don’t say how old you are or how long you’ve been together, but relationships can often start out being based on mutual attraction and enjoying one another’s company but then sometime between 6 months and 2 years there comes a crunch time when you end up asking yourself “is this someone I could spend the rest of my life with?”. If you’re very young, the question might be phrased more along the lines of “am I wasting my time?” or “could I be missing out on single life or meeting someone else?”. If and when your relationship reaches that crunch stage, maybe you’ll have either become able to accept his past, or you’ll have found other things that grate and you’ll end the relationship. This is a very personal and individual decision you have to make. Everyone will have a different take on it but personally, for all the reasons you have articulately explained in your email, I don’t think you are over-reacting. Even if you take no immediate action at all, your mind will keep mulling this over and things will work themselves out one way or another.