Before you judge me, listen.
We grow up thinking cheaters are disgusting excuses for humans -- once a cheater, always a cheater.
I thought that too, and it hurt me more than accepting my actions with hindsight's 20/20 vision (which took me years to see).
There are three types of scenarios of cheating on your significant other. I'm not encouraging this dicey and potentially diminishing act, but if you have ever cheated on someone, there is a bright side to your decision-making.
The first boyfriend I cheated on (yeah, yeah, yeah, I've done it more than once) was my first legitimate boyfriend. He was my best friend, and he made me laugh.
Eight months into our relationship, I became fond of this tall blonde in my confirmation class at church (starting off real moral, right?) This, I believe, was when I first felt what wanting what you can't have was like.
My feelings for my boyfriend had already began to falter by this point, so my decision to go to the movies with the church boy wasn't too filled with guilt.
This non-date was also the first time I experienced a modern day "Netflix and chill."
We went to the movies and were probably two of six people in the theatre. Not long into the movie, his hand was on top of and then inside my pants.
It's super awkward thinking about how I just sat there, not really sure what to do.
Eventually, he stopped, and somewhere between the time his mom dropped us off at the theater and me hiding my ticket stub in case my boyfriend saw I had seen a movie without him, the boy and I kissed.
And it was pretty much awful. Lots of teeth and too much tongue.
So, of course we hooked up one more time at my house. Again, I did not like it.
The first consequence that can come from cheating can prompt you to acknowledge the simple fact you do not feel bad about cheating.
If there was ever a wavering feeling about your current relationship -- feeling trapped, confusion or in my case (reason for breaking up with my boyfriend,) attraction to other boys -- you sure as heck will know you no longer want to be with your less than significant other.
The second time I cheated on a boyfriend was a bit more "mature" (I was older).
I was out of college and dating a man 13 years my senior. We were in the toddler stage of our relationship -- basically, we loved each other, and my parents hated him already.
I was working at a fine dinging restaurant at the time and there was a very charming, goofy and hot-weird line cook.
He was known for cheating on his girlfriend (whether she knew and ignored it or was that dense, I'm not sure).
We flirted a lot, so one night when he was bartending at the club next door, I let the free alcohol take the reins.
In the middle of his shift, we went down to the cellar to get something and ended up half naked making out.
Before my pants hit the ground, I came to my senses and stopped the poor choice before it became too hard to come back from.
"I can't. You have a girlfriend, and I have a boyfriend."
He said something about me being hot and since we're attracted to each other, we should just hook up and get it over with, but I kindly declined and we went back upstairs.
In the days following, I felt the guilt building and I couldn't believe how I'd jeopardize the wonderful relationship I had (which laughably ended in flames months later).
I was happy with my boyfriend, and I felt horrible for even doing as much as I did with line cook boy. I decided not to tell my SO and swore to myself I'd never do it again.
The second consequence to cheating is it makes you feel so disgusting and awful you never want to do it again.
If anything, it can solidify your commitment to commitment and make you realize you do want to be with your SO.
The third time I cheated was when I was the one someone was cheating with.
I started hooking up with my friend's boyfriend in my junior year of college. (Yes, this is the grodiest thing I've done and yes, I did pay for it later).
He and I were very close (and quite literally -- we were neighbors).
We started seeing each other a year into his and my friend's relationship.
It began with one night of drinking and him coming clean about his feelings for me, ones he had since we met.
We kissed that night and I immediately felt filthy and unworthy of my friend's friendship.
But then, seeing him every time after, I couldn't shake the strongest passionate urge to be with him.
Eventually, we slept together.
It wasn't too long before we were basically in our own relationship, all the while he was in a relationship that was crumbling.
The third consequence of cheating is when it kind of, for the time being, defines you as a pretty big sack of garbage.
When you lie to people's faces, sneak and cheat over and over again, you'll notice you're in a really sad place in life.
I was at my lowest.
It's no consolation, but my addiction to being drunk and making drunk decisions definitely carried into my sobriety, which in turn caused me to do stupid things.
In my head, I was living a separate life. My friend was never a part of the equation.
I did not feel like I was doing anything maliciously because I would never intentionally hurt her.
But cheating, in the end, will hurt you more than the ones you're hurting.
Your cheating can and will be uncovered.
You will have drinks thrown at your car and have to call the cops on your friend; you will find yourself without friends.
Your lover will also continue dating your friend and then later, you'll date for a while and break up simply because you don't like him anymore.
Cheating is bad.
It is mean, selfish and wrong.
But in my experience, it has shown me when to leave or stay in a relationship.
It taught me what truly matters and what the ugliest side of me looks like. It put a spotlight on deeper issues I was ignoring.
Please do not cheat on purpose to reach any type of realization, but if you have cheated, take it as a lesson.
Don't beat yourself up and define yourself as someone who does not deserve love or friendship or anything good in life.
In doing this, I found myself in darkness.
But in a different perspective, I can look back on my cheating as something that happened for a reason.
It's unfortunate it took cheating to help me grow as a person, but here I am today, confident enough to share the tale.
So, once a cheater, not always a cheater -- you're just probably a person who has to learn the hard way.