The other day it occurred to me that maybe he’s glad I left him. I’d never really considered the version of the story where he wanted me to leave… Somehow in my mind he was missing me more than I was missing him and he was sorry. Strange to think he could move on, too.
That’s not the way the world works, though, and, really, it shouldn’t feel new to me that he doesn’t want me. There were a million little ways he didn’t want me before.
For today, I find myself considering the less-frequent-but-more-significant ways he didn’t choose me. Maybe that’s not the right way to say that- I’d like to think it was was less about not wanting me and more about just wanting someone else.
However you want to say it, I think it happens more than we realize. Infidelity, that is. None of us can talk about it- sometimes to protect the integrity of a relationship, sometimes because we’re afraid. Maybe a little of both. Sometimes that’s okay. What isn’t okay: when secrets are kept so well that we isolate ourselves, unable to talk to those we trust about the blurry lines between normal and intolerable. This hyper-privacy breeds isolation and only allows bad behavior and poor decision making to perpetuate. We shouldn’t be shutting out the wise guidance and input of those we trust.
Either way, secret or not, I hate that cheating happens. I hate it for me, and I hate it for everyone else who’s had to deal with it. I hate that it calls into question everything we thought we knew. Trust. Worth. Desirability. Are we good enough? Are we worth loving? Are we worth faithfulness if we’re busy, or tired, or not having as much interesting sex as other girls in the world? If we are covered in baby spit-up or tired from night shift or we forgot to shave our legs one too many days in a row?
It’s sad. Sad and hard. However, truly, I don’t think it’s impossible to come back from unfaithfulness. I really don’t. I think if there’s respect and transparency involved, real vulnerability and love, there can be redemption. I believe in redemption. I have to.
So do I believe that once a cheater, always a cheater?
I think not. If that were the case and we all were stuck with the sins we committed on occasion, we’d be doomed to the faults of our childhood. Once a liar, screamer, biter, fighter, etc., etc., etc. We grow up and grow on.
On the other hand, I wonder if I didn’t so passionately believe in second chances if I would have let things get so far. Sometimes I wonder if I brought this on myself. Maybe I treated my relationship with a boyfriend with a grace and permanency it didn’t deserve. I put in the work, poured out forgiveness, and took back what I probably should have let go.
Or maybe I just got damn unlucky when I tied myself to someone who forgot to grow up and just grew worse. Or better, possibly, but at lying. You tell me.
* * *
The first time it was just a kiss at a club that I found out about a couple months later. When I got home from studying abroad he told me about it: it was nothing, really, he was drunk, it was quick, he didn’t even know her name. Somehow, though, he was able to Skype me, email me, call me, even visit me overseas without mentioning it. For months? Weird. But whatever. It was small. He was probably lonely. He was drinking, he didn’t mean it, fine. Somehow the delay in disclosure was because he was worrying what I’d do. Okay. I lighten up. I don’t tell anyone.
But then it happened again.
Let me put a disclaimer in here. I’m telling this story to remove the isolated secrecy of the past, however, I am also aware that this one-sided story telling might not lend itself to a balanced narrative. So, in the spirit of fairness, I will admit my own weakness. I will tell you that this was the moment that should have been the red flag in the damn mountain of sand. This was what should have told me to run for the freaking hills as fast as I could. This was when, instead, I pulled that flag out of that sand and promptly buried my head in as far as it would go. I was hopelessly naive, stupid, young…All of it. All in the name of love. I take some of the blame. No, I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I did. And no, this doesn’t excuse shitty behavior. But should I have been smarter? Probably.
Anyway, let me set the scene. We’re juniors in college. He’s at a military school, stressed and busy. I’m in nursing school, stressed and busy. I’m having significant problems with anxiety and mood swings (nursing brings out the best in us, amiright?).
Somehow we make it to Christmas break, where he tells me a story about a party he had at his house that fall. There were some friends over from high school, some of them girls he used to know. Everyone’s drinking and ends up spending the night, and one of those girls sneaks into his room. She comes onto him, starts fooling around, he manages to fend her off in his drunken stupor. I buy the story, wondering why he waited so long to tell me. Wondering why I only heard about her persistent phone calls weeks after that.
I tell the tale to some friends, really very proud of how loyal my guy was being. So tempted! So amazing! So loyal!
They pull me aside a few days later and ask me if I’m sure I’m getting the truth. They don’t really buy it and something isn’t sitting right.
I ask him about it again. Is there anything else I’m missing? Any parts of the story you want to fill in? No, that was it.
Let’s fast forward some. We’re engaged. It’s summer time. He was able to hold onto his damn lie for that long and had the balls to PROPOSE to me in the meantime. Turns out, they had slept together. She convinced him I was going to break up with him soon. We’d been fighting a lot, mood swings are a bitch, school sucks for everyone. We were obviously donezo.
My consolation prize was that he was too drunk to finish.
I wish I had left then. Not just because he had cheated. Not just because I was betrayed. Not just because I was working really hard to save sex for marriage and he turned around and gave it away to some girl he barely knew.
The real problem was the lie.
It still blows my mind that someone could be capable of such deception. To go day in and out telling me they loved me, telling me they were faithful, picking out rings and promising forever, when all along they were carrying that shit around.
And still, I didn’t talk about it.
Even after we got married, as much as I tried, it was always in the back of my mind. If I was too busy, if I was too anxious, if I wasn’t cute enough or fun enough or just enough, there would be trouble. And I was gullible enough to buy his stories once, what was to keep it from happening again?
It didn’t help that there were a couple bizarre things that fed my pet suspicion. Not enough on its own to ring alarms, but enough all put together. Like how I wasn’t allowed to look through his phone. Couldn’t know his password, couldn’t look at his messages, couldn’t look at the browser. Wasn’t allowed to track him, even when we were on road trips.
There was the girl who called in the middle of the night once, wanting to know where he was, wanted to know if he would meet her out. Was shocked when I picked up the phone while he was sleeping. Said she was from college and didn’t know he had a wife.
And then, like times before, he couldn’t keep it together during sex and was getting withdrawn. Wasn’t telling me when he was coming home or picking up his phone, wasn’t inviting me out anymore or putting any effort in to talk to me.
And of course, there was that weird bump I thought was a spider bite. Found it right after our anniversary last summer. I remember making a joke to him about herpes and we both laughed.
L to the O to the freaking L.
Even at the end he said there was no one else. I’ll never really know for sure, which sometimes makes it worse. Even when that bite came back last February and, shocker, wasn’t from a spider, he still denied it. I get it, that shit is a virus and it can come up anytime from anyone. Just unusual to have that first outbreak when you’ve been in a monogamous relationship for four years.
But, again, whatever. You can draw your own conclusions about where it came from. I tried to ask about it, and all I got in response was “leave me the fuck alone” and “watch out.”
I’m sorry if it’s happened to you.
I’m glad if you can find a way to heal. I’m glad if you hold out hope for redemption.
Just know, more than anything, that you are not alone. You don’t have to hide. I see you. And you are good. You are loved. You are beautiful.
You are enough.
And that’s the truth.