Over the last quarter of a century, I've watched infidelity unfold through a variety of lenses. I've seen friends cheat, and get cheated on. I've been cheated on myself (spoiler alert: it's the worst). I've unknowingly played the role of ~the other woman~. I — like everyone with a pulse and an HBO Go subscription — watched Beyoncé's Lemonade no fewer than 27 times. And in each scenario, I've debated (with myself and others) whether or not it makes sense to stay with the person who cheated on you.
As in all things, I think the easiest answer to give is, "It depends."
It depends on the quality of your relationship. On your partner's willingness to fight for your forgiveness and earn back your trust. On the severity of the offense. (Yes, cheating is always cheating, but I think I could get past a drunken kiss much more easily than a torrid love affair.)
But I think, above all else, it depends on what you think, and what you want to do next. In the wise words of Cardi B, who defended her choice to stay with her fiancé, Offset, after cheating allegations to Cosmopolitan, "I’m not your property. This is my life... I’m going to take my time, and I’m going to decide on my decision."
As young girls, we're taught to dish out forgiveness in the same way we're taught to share our fruit snacks: With abandon, to anyone and everyone who asks. But as we grow up, that willingness to forgive shifts from an asset to a weakness, especially when it comes to cheating partners. Some people see women who "stay" as spineless and weak, regardless of how strong or powerful their preceding reputations may be (cough, Beyoncé and HRC, cough).
I'll let you in on a secret, though, ladies. You're not weak for wanting to stick around and stand by your partner. Hell, I'd even argue that you're the rule, not the exception.
Here's a little anecdote for you: When I was cheated on, at the ripe age of 17, and I was devastated. Like, audibly sobbing in the middle of a suburban Panera devastated. My boyfriend had professed his love to one of my closest friends. He claimed that he'd "grown to love me with time," but his true feelings had always been with her. Before long, he was nibbling at her neck and thighs during a Michael Cera movie. (To this day, I refuse to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but that is neither here nor there.)
A mutual friend gave me the scoop, and I immediately called him to break things off — a decision I regretted almost instantly. In fairness, he'd been gaslighting me throughout our relationship and was a monster of a human being (no hard feelings or anything!). But I would have done anything to make it right. And while I don't think that would have been the best decision, I also don't think I'm weak for having had the desire to fix my relationship.
Love is complicated. Yes, it often warps our judgment (as, admittedly, it did mine). But it also has the capacity to rebuild burnt bridges and allow two people, broken as they may feel, to piece one another back together.
We all f*ck up, and we all — intentionally or inadvertently — hurt the people we're closest to, at one point or another. But we all just want to love and be loved, because human beings are confusing, complex creatures.
I guess what I'm saying is, it's OK to get hurt. And to forgive the person who hurt you. And to love them, and allow them to love you all the same.
Ultimately, you're the one in this relationship. If your partner is unfaithful to you, it's your choice what to do next — not your friend's, or your mom's, or your nosy hairdresser's. So if you're willing to give them a second chance, don't let anyone make you feel weak. You can still take those lemons and make them into some Beyoncé-style lemonade.