I kissed another man and learned cheating isn’t as black-and-white as it seems
Originally posted on October 17, 2019.
“We broke up because she made out with someone else,” is what my ex would tell you if you asked him how we went from (for lack of a better term) #RelationshipGoals to We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. While on paper that was the catalyst that made me move out of Marvin*’s apartment and into my parent’s house, cheating on my boyfriend was only the tip of the iceberg of our problems, which, unlike the Titanic, I saw from the second I got onboard our relation-ship.
And before you hate-read the rest of this, as perhaps someone broke your heart when they cheated on you (I can relate! It’s happened to me more times than I can count.), I want you to know that I don’t consider myself a cheater, given the situation I was in.
I can’t even say those words:
I’m a cheater.
Before this happened to me, I thought cheaters were always cold, heartless, and terrible people, but now I understand why people cheat. Cheating isn’t black and white. But it all boils down to one thing: It can take two people to cheat, and cheating isn’t always one-sided.
While I wholeheartedly believe that if you are going to or are tempted to cheat, you should get out of your relationship, sometimes it’s not always that simple. I tried to get out of this relationship many times but felt trapped.
I am writing this not to excuse my bad behavior, because what’s done is done. I own all my actions and all I can do is learn and grow from this. I no longer believe in the saying “once a cheater always a cheater,” as I could never put someone I used to love or myself through this again—ever.
There were many times in my relationship with Marvin when I felt emotionally cheated on by him; times, upon looking back, I realize may have been the perfect opportunity to end things.
Like the time he told me that before we started dating he was hooking up with a girl he worked with. He broke things off; she didn’t handle it well. Any night he’d be at the office late, a pit of fear would eat up my insides. I couldn’t sleep most nights, worried that he was cheating on me, and to this day I’ll never know.
Or how one day an hour after leaving his apartment, while I was at an event with friends, he tried to break up with me in a paragraph-long text message ending with an eagle emoji. We’d been dating for nine months at this point and had hit all our relationship milestones. “You deserve better,” the text said, and he was right, I did. But I was too focused on decoding the eagle emoji: Was he trying to tell me he loves America? He wants freedom? Or is it a bald eagle and he wants me to know he’s losing his hair? Instead I assured him we were solid and did everything I possibly could do to make him feel happy, never realizing you can’t fix a broken person.
Then there was the two months up until the moment I became a cheater, when I felt more alone in the relationship than I ever felt when I was single. We’d go days without talking or texting. And when we did talk, we’d have one-word conversations.
It was around this time I kept running into Richard,* a guy I went to high school with, who I always thought was cute, but he always dated my friends. He started talking to me over text more than my live-in boyfriend ever talked to me. I’d instantly smile any time his unsaved 203 number flashed up on my phone. He’d ask me how my day was, and what I was working on, questions my boyfriend stopped asking me months ago.
So when Richard asked if I wanted to grab drinks one night, I said sure, viewing it as harmless since we were just friends.
But three vodka sodas later, Richard kissed me and I kissed him back, because he asked me how my day was.
I knew I had to break up with Marvin immediately. But we had his best friend’s wedding the next day, and I didn’t want to ruin it for him. So I decided I’d come clean and end things when we got back a couple of days later.
But the guilt was eating away at me. I couldn’t believe what I had done. “I made out with Richard,” I texted my best friend from high school. She knew Richard and how unhappy I was with Marvin. “You made out with someone else. You need to tell Marvin,” she texted back the next morning.
But the strangest thing happened. Suddenly Marvin transformed from the grumpy boyfriend I never talked to, into the enthusiastic best friend I fell in love with. We were us again, making plans and supporting each other in any endeavor.
What had I done?
Back in New York, for the first time since Marvin and I moved in with each other, he came home in time for dinner. We were eating soup dumplings and watching Sabrina, when he said what I wanted to tell him the second it happened:
“I know you made out with someone else.”
Turns out he saw the text on my phone from my friend. Which brings me to the whole point of this essay: Always make sure your text previews are off.
The real point here is while cheating isn’t right, there are two sides to cheating. The side where the cheater messed up in a moment, and the other side where the cheater may have felt cheated on and trapped from the moment they got into this broken relationship but never spoke up out of fear.
It feels unfair that my two years spent in the relationship, all the loving and supportive things I did for Marvin, like uprooting my life in Los Angeles to be with him in New York, the thoughtful gifts, homemade couple’s costumes, breakfasts in bed, packed lunches for work, and gourmet dinners—devoting myself fully to someone who rarely put me first, means nothing because I kissed back a stranger and he (to my knowledge) didn’t.
But the bigger lesson for me here, aside from if you’re tempted to cheat it’s time to break-up, is you should never stay in a broken relationship because you’re scared like I was. All of those times it was crystal clear Marvin and I were done—I made it work because I was scared. I was scared to be alone in my 30s. And this was one of the reasons our relationship was so broken. I wasn’t ready for a relationship, from the moment I asked Marvin “What are we?” to the second I moved out of our apartment.
I realize now how backwards it is to stay in a relationship for the sole purpose of not being alone.
That is not a healthy relationship. It is only when you have truly found comfort in yourself and basked in your loneliness, like I have for the past ten months, that you are truly ready to be in a relationship. A relationship that you don’t necessarily need, doesn’t measure your worth, and you could live without. A relationship in which you mutually add value and happiness to each other’s lives, so it would be even more backwards to deny this connection solely based on the fear that you will get hurt again. Because most importantly, in this relationship, you feel calm.
Most of my time with Marvin I was anxiety-ridden, heart racing, shortness of breath, terrified it would end. And when it did end (in a way I wish I could rewrite but accept that I can’t) for the first time in two years I felt calm. If your relationship ended because you cheated, don’t beat yourself up; there was probably a reason. While you can’t edit your past, you can take your lessons with you into your future and grow from your flaws.