I cheated on my partner—here’s what happened

I’m a cheater. But in contrast to what most books and movies would have you believe, I am not particularly promiscuous, dishonest, or without compassion.

I’ll give you some context: My hobbies include Disney movies and chewing with my mouth open. I only dress nicely for weddings and funerals, I order mac and cheese at almost every restaurant I go to, and I am never without Magic: The Gathering cards in my purse. I return movie rentals on time, I never forget to tip my waitress, and I always press the button at crosswalks. I cried at the end of Marley and Me, I refuse to pass people on highways because I think it’s rude, and I have a cornucopia of stuffed animals on my bed.

Bottom line, when most people think of cheaters, I don’t fit the bill. I’m no cunning vixen, or femme fatale. Most people who cheat aren’t the kind of people you’re picturing, myself included. In fact, I think most of the details of an actual affair are a lot different than most people imagine.

For starters, I was in a fantastic, fully satisfying relationship when I cheated

Hollywood tends to paint affairs in one of two lights. Either the cheater is an entirely unsympathetic person with an overhyped sex drive where their heart should be, or they’re in a lackluster relationship with someone they don’t love anymore, and cheat to escape. I was in neither of these positions.

I was in a relationship with someone that I loved very much, who treated me well, and kept me very engaged. It was one of the best relationships I’ve ever been in, and as cliché as it sounds, I sincerely never wanted to hurt him.

He was an art school dropout, who spent most of his time sketching strangers and obsessing over obscure bands. He injected a sense of sensuality and wonder into his every action. I was in love with him. Let’s call him William.

The beginnings were not at all dramatic

William and I had only been dating a couple months when the man I would eventually cheat on him with came into the picture. Let’s call him John.

John wasn’t a gorgeous, Casanova type who swooped in and stole me away. He wasn’t suave or sexy. He wasn’t rich or powerful.

John wasn’t at all who’d you picture as “the other man”. He was a stout, dorky, virgin with big, clunky coke-bottle glasses. He was quiet and we started hanging out when my car broke down and he gave me a ride to work.

John and I were just friends. When I told William that, I absolutely meant it. Every now and then he would come over and watch a movie, usually something old and classic, or we’d go out for lunch, usually something in a takeout box. At first, there was nothing strange about it. It was the definition of the “friend zone”.

John was everything that William wasn’t. He was quiet, predictable, and easy going, where William was ever the moody, brooding artist. John was a great friend, trustworthy, loyal, and always up for a good time.

But, we truly were just friends. It was honestly, pretty boring.

There was never any intentional planning, or decision making to enter the affair

A few months later, I started feeling things for John. I don’t know why. Emotions are funny that way. One minute he was just a friend, and the next thing I knew he was a romantic interest. I very much so “fell” into it. I never really stopped to think about what was happening, because I didn’t even fully register what was happening until it was too late.

It started innocently enough. John and I would sit unusually close during movie night. This progressed to sharing a blanket. Then, there was open touching, and we would rationalize our behavior out loud, trying to prove to ourselves that our actions weren’t unusual. Plenty of friends cuddle!

Things got weirder from there.

Our takeout meals turned into date nights, that we would carefully avoid classifying as such. The food grew more extravagant, and our nights would stretch into midnight and beyond. We would talk with our lips very close together, not quite kissing. We would get as close to tangible romance as we could without ever saying it, or crossing into forbidden territory, though we got closer and closer every time we met.

I was still in love with William. I didn’t tell him about John. I justified my secrecy to myself by saying that I hadn’t actually done anything wrong, so why call it to his attention?

And then, very suddenly, I was in a full-blown affair

It was business as usual. John came over on a Friday night to watch Goonies. We decided to watch it from my laptop, in my bed. Which, in hindsight, was a very dangerous move. We said it was okay, as long as we didn’t lay beneath the blankets. We had all sorts of weird rules like that.

Right at the part where the gang finds the treasure, John confessed to me that he’d never kissed a woman.

The dialogue from that point on isn’t really important. The tension we’d had built up for months finally broke. He had his first kiss. Next, he told me that he was a virgin. You can guess what happened after that.

The guilt is crushing

The next thing I knew, we were naked, staring at the ceiling, awkwardly avoiding touching each other while I cried. John quietly collected his things, and left. I was overwhelmed by my grief at what I had done. I was still very in love with William. He was my world. When I wasn’t with John, I was out adventuring with William, texting William, planning a future with William.

I called William, and in a panicked mess, I told him that I’d slept with John.

We really loved each other, so we tried to work it out. He came over, and we spent the better part of two hours babbling and crying. A week later, I broke up with him. I left his stuff in a box outside of his house. I couldn’t take the guilt, and I knew our relationship would never be what it was before. We don’t really talk anymore.

You have to live with an affair, forever

The affair never really ends. I’m always replaying the moments in my head, double and triple analyzing what I could have done different. I will always feel remorse for my actions, and the guilt of the affair is always going to be present with me. I cheated. There’s nothing I can do to change that. It’s my own personal scarlet letter, and I can never take it back. Not a day goes by that I don’t pay an emotional price for what I did. I never wanted to hurt anyone, especially not my partner.

An odd thing I discovered from my affair is that my life is still a pretty good place to be. I have great friends, great family, a job that I love, and everything appears to be looking up. A couple months after the main event, John came back into my life, and we’re in a very fulfilling, steady relationship. Despite all the things in my life that make me happy, the guilt from cheating is the sort that sticks with you. Even though it’s two years down the line, and I’m in a great place right now, I still have to live with my actions.

Cheating isn’t how it’s depicted in movies. Normal people do it, for surprisingly mundane reasons, but the consequences of cheating are just as hurtful to all involved off screen  as they are on screen. My affair taught me that everyone, including myself, has the capacity to do something that hurts people they love. I don’t believe in “once a cheater, always a cheater.” Just like everyone has the capacity to do something bad, everyone has the capacity to do something good. It’s all about who you decide to be. I am a cheater, but the mistakes I’ve made will remain in the past, where they belong.

Stella Perez is a cat loving, book toting, stereotypical nerd. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading books about teenage wizards, unironically mismatching my socks, and battling the forces of evil.

[Image via iSTock]

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