Almost as soon as I started dating, I started cheating on my boyfriends. I was young, pretty, manipulative, used to getting my way, and horribly selfish. I’ve since reformed (don’t believe that old adage), and can offer an insider’s look into the mentality during my experiences.
Part 1: The Cheating
The first time I ever faced any consequences for my actions was at a bar during my sophomore year of college. I was telling my flirtation of the evening that I’d cheated on every boyfriend I’d ever had. He took a step back and said, verbatim, “Wow, you are a horrible person.” He smiled while he said it, but shook his head in disbelief at my callousness. Believe it or not, I’d never experienced this kind of negative reaction before. I used to wear my past as a kind of badge of honor—it seemed to amuse people. But his candor made me stop and think, Was I a horrible person? Eventually, I figured I couldn’t be that bad, since that guy ended up dating me for a few months. Still hadn’t learned my lesson though, because I started seeing someone else before our time was quite up.
The reasons people cheat vary—in my case, it was usually because I had someone else I was interested in, and wanted to test the waters before I fully committed to breaking up (unfortunately, the excitement of cheating clouds the fact that people who will engage with someone in a relationship generally suck). If my partner found out and got all emotional about it, I would feel guilty and stay, but it was just prolonging the inevitable. I continued this pattern because they always took me back, so I never faced any consequences. Don’t enable cheaters. Real talk: Unless you are married/have kids, a relationship with cheating is doomed 98% of the time. You might as well come out of the ordeal looking like you have some backbone. Maybe you’ll even help the guilty party reform.
Part 2: The Cheated On
“Espero que sepas que no sabia que en junio de 2009 tu estabas con X, estube con el en verano.”
I received that message via Facebook from a girl I didn’t know in Barcelona, to whom I am forever grateful. My boyfriend and I had just moved in to our own apartment in Milan. Things seemed stable outwardly, but the message was only proof to what my intuition (listen to it!) had already told me. It put an end to the snooping, destroyed the naïve bliss of living with someone for the first time, and answered the question I’d been wrestling with for months: It was time to go home to the U.S. At first it made my life easy; I knew what I had to do.
The certainty lasted a paltry two weeks before I took him back. Then things got difficult. It’s hard as hell to simultaneously love someone and think they’re filth. You want to know all the details of what happened and pretend it didn’t. This is my karma, I thought, as I experienced the agonizing cognitive dissonance I had caused so many before. I had told all my friends and family, incredulous about what happened, but then I had to deal with the humiliating fact that everyone knew. I hated pretending to be a normal couple and wondering how long and how much guilt/anger/groveling was appropriate.
As much as you try, forgiveness may just be impossible. I remember my boyfriend yelling at me after I brought it up during yet another argument, “Are you ever going to forgive me? Because I can’t take this.” If you can’t let go, it’s time to end the relationship. I would spontaneously dissolve into tears for months after, thinking I had failed, that I wasn’t good enough, and I should have been able to forgive. But gradually I felt relief. I didn’t have to worry about where he was, whether or not he was still logged into Facebook on my computer, and what the f*ck he meant in that message to that girl. I never cheated again.
Part 3: To the Cheaters
I’ve been there. I’ve been you. It’s not worth it. You are putting your partner’s health at risk and will cause them a world of pain, self-doubt, and issues. It’s much easier and more rewarding to be in a relationship where you don’t have to remember how you said you got home or fear someone will catch you and expose you. The ONLY exception to this: If you cheated one time, feel horrible, want to stay together, are absolutely positive your partner will not find out, and you know it will never happen again, do not tell your partner. All you’re asking for here is for them to ease your guilt, and by doing this you burden them. You are the one who did something wrong, you need to live with it. I’m not going to give advice on how to seek forgiveness, and really everyone’s situation will be different. Just be honest with your partner and yourself that it’s really for the best.
It’s hard to look back on a time in your life when you were a terrible person, much less write about it for the Internet to see. I’ve (mostly) made my peace with who I was, though I feel like a recovering addict—vigilant about keeping myself out of perilous situations. It will always be hard to reject the attention, but I never want to cause to feel the worthlessness, humiliation, and confusion that I felt, just for a temporary high.
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