“I’m never going to be that girl,” I thought... and then I was. It wasn’t until then that I understood that girl and I wanted to give that girl a hug, not a self-righteous lecture. I can still list every reason I stayed with my partner after he cheated, but none is more heartbreaking than the one where I convinced myself that it wasn’t really cheating. “If it wasn’t really cheating, then I could forgive him,” I reasoned. More importantly, I could forgive myself for letting it slide.
My partner’s infidelity took place not even six months into our relationship, but I didn’t find out about it until much later. It had been a spontaneous kiss and nothing more, he explained. It happened months ago and he meant to tell me, wanted to tell me, was dying to tell me. He just never did until I uncovered the truth on my own. I remember being alone in my car at the time, not really listening to the Hootie & The Blowfish song playing on the radio in the background and staring at the worst string of text messages I’d ever come across.
She turned down my partner’s weeks-long request for a date after they kissed because she found out he had a girlfriend.
It’s never easy to process being cheated on so I held on to this technicality for the next year we were together, flip-flopping from rage toward them both, then just at her, and at him, then weirdly to gratitude. In fact, I definitely posted one of those sarcastic, laugh-at-my-pain tweets years after the fact thanking her for refusing to go out with him after the alleged kiss. I know she didn’t really do me any favors by not pursuing a relationship with him. None of this was her — a single woman’s — fault. I also know now that my partner’s character flaws would come back to haunt us later on, but I still think about that fleeting moment of solidarity every now and then.
I think about how awful it felt to see someone I trusted belittle my entire existence in print (or text, I suppose) while a nameless, faceless stranger took my side. For months, I visited her Facebook and Instagram pages daily to see if he’d made an appearance on there or if she’d moved on with someone else. To be honest, I’m not sure which outcome I’d have preferred to find. What I did find, though, was that she was a lot like me. I came to know things about her my partner didn’t, like how we both had pets we adored, or how we seemed to like the same shade of lipstick, and that we somehow wore identical accessories on our birthdays years before our lives crossed paths.
I confronted my partner as soon as I discovered the incriminating text messages and sure enough, he tore her apart like he’d done to me with her. He said that his actions at the time were influenced by alcohol and that he was never really attracted to her. He vowed that she wasn’t even attractive to begin with, which was not only untrue but also hurtful. You might be wondering why I spent so much time sympathizing with this person but I felt like I knew her. Online, our lives felt startlingly similar and frankly, we also sort of looked alike, so my partner’s defense was more than just a little irritating. Don’t get me wrong. I did the whole comparison thing for a few days, picking at myself relentlessly and texting screenshots to the one friend I’d told so she could see how badly I didn’t square up. It’s normal to doubt your partner in this situation, but I knew things were bad when I started doubting myself.
I was exhausted. It felt easier at the time to let it all go. I told my partner I was ready to stop talking about it every day, which he was thrilled about, and so I did. That doesn’t mean I didn’t think about it, though. Since the only person I’d told lived hours away from me, the whole ordeal became an almost constant part of my internal dialogue. I thought more about what my partner had said about me (and later, about her) than I did about the kiss and wondered if I would ever be able to dismiss him as easily as he’d done to me.
It was as if our relationship had gone through a cosmic shift. We were together but we were never really the same.
When we eventually did break up for reasons unrelated to his cheating, I realized that I never wanted to dismiss him or hurt him. What I’d wanted all along and even then at the time of our breakup was an explanation. I wanted to know why and how my feelings — no, my personhood — didn’t matter. I spent months asking him that question and later, asking myself. The truth is, I do matter. If you’ve been cheated on and you have doubts about this very question, you matter, too. It’s not true that you have to love yourself before someone else can love you because some of us are simply incapable of doing so and that’s OK. It is true that you deserve to be loved and you deserve to feel loved. In the end, I no longer felt like that in my relationship and it wasn’t because I thought my partner had kissed someone else however long ago. It was because I hadn’t been a priority in my own relationship for a really long time.
I stayed with my partner after he cheated and I’m here to say I will never judge you for doing the same. I empathize with you. Whatever your restorative process is, whatever your reasons, I respect them. My story is just that — my story. If my partner didn’t cheat, I still don’t think we would be together today, which ultimately, is a good way to assess your relationship if you find yourself in a similar situation. No relationship is perfect and no person is either, but your relationship and your person should feel right to you. I started asking questions when I felt like something wasn’t right in my relationship. I uncovered a past indiscretion early on but eventually, I came head to head with hurdles even I couldn’t cross. That’s when I knew it was over and though I hope it never happens to you, if it does you will know when, too.
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