“Sometimes walking away is the only option because you finally respect yourself enough to know that you deserve better.” ~Unknown
When I was cheated on, I was hit by an ongoing blizzard of conflicting emotions.
There were the initial tears that I failed to hide from anyone. There was a cold ruthlessness as I told her that I couldn’t be with her after what she did. There was a wave of misery, there was a wave of anger, and all of it was dotted with periodic moments of calm and even gratitude that she was finally out of my life.
There were also random spikes in my productivity as I sought to get on with my life, followed by horrifying loneliness, feelings of betrayal, doubting my own self-worth, and the inevitable relapse back into misery at the discovery that she had hooked up with the guy she had cheated on me with less than twenty-four hours after I had ended our relationship.
Grief, I learned, is non-linear. It will go, and it will come back. Sometimes I’ll be perfectly happy doing the food shopping, and get depressed over a memory of us doing it together. There’s no predicting when this will happen.
It was an ongoing spiral, as we had a number of mutual friends, and on top of that, two of our mutual friends lived right below me, and she would visit them often. So she was sticking to my life like gum in hair. There was no escape.
It wasn’t the first time that she had cheated on me. On the first occasion, the man in question told me that my girlfriend had justified her actions by saying that I had hit her.
This allegation swept me off my feet. In fact, I was speechless. I mean, it’s one thing to be cheated on, but to have the person I am in love with say a lie like that, something potentially so damaging, it actually broke my heart more than the act of cheating.
I broke up with her then, and she burst into tears. Her tears were so genuine, the pain of losing me was so obvious, but at the same time contradicted by what she had done.
The following day she begged me to take her back, and with tears streaming down her face she told me that she had been manipulated, and that the other man had made up all that stuff about me hitting her just to split us up. And she seemed so genuine. I took her back.
Things proceeded as they had before, both of us determined to put this into the past and move on together, into a bright future. We got a place together, and poured all of our efforts into making it our dream home.
At some point she lost her job, but I told her to leave the rent to me, since we were partners and money shouldn’t come between us. And during the months that I was supporting us both financially, she cheated on me again, this time with a guy who she insisted was just a friend.
In the past I had noticed a lot of flirting between them, but she had always told me that I was being paranoid, and hanging on to what had happened in the past. It was like my memory of the first guy had been weaponized to use against me if I dared mention that she was making me uncomfortable with her flirtatious behaviour toward her new guy.
When it came to light that there was more between them than she was letting on, I ended things, and instantly fell down this well of despair.
Several of our friends had given me plenty of emotional validation in the sense that I had treated her perfectly, and that anyone in their right mind would be appreciative. But at the initial time of heartbreak, such words do little to stand against the relationship grieving process.
Our mutual friends informed me that she was officially dating this guy less than twenty-four hours after I ended the relationship. That was expected but painful. What wasn’t expected was the revelation that there was a third occasion where she cheated, in the months in between the two that I knew about.
This was with a friend who she had mysteriously fallen out with, and urged me not to speak to. We had mutual friends who knew about this third occurrence, but had kept silent in the hopes that my girlfriend would tell me.
When this all came out, I did speak to this mysterious third person, and found out the horrifying realization that my girlfriend had also told this person that I had hit her. What a coincidence.
This statement not only hurt, but it unravelled all of the trust she’d rebuilt with me when she convinced me that the first guy was lying and had manipulated her. Now it not only hurt to have my partner lie about me, but I learned that she was lying to me, too.
Her mysterious fall out with her friend was caused by her refusal to leave me, her friend feeling led on, and when confronted by why she wouldn’t leave me, giving the explanation that as long as she stayed with me she could live somewhere rent-free.
Cue emotional tidal wave. I mean, this is a lot to process. It was as if the person I had spent every day with was suddenly a completely different person. I had been lying in bed next to a stranger. Behind every “I love you” had been a hidden smirk. I felt like the punchline to a colossal joke that everyone knew about except me.
I coped badly at first, ending the relationship but being unable to embrace the sudden void of free time, which would otherwise have been spent on her. And in the free time, my mind wandered back to the good times, unable to match the person I had fallen for with the person who I had just broken up with. I couldn’t quite believe that they were the same person.
I sought out moments where she could have changed, and wondered what had changed her. Had she been manipulated by the people she cheated on me with? I grasped at a lot of straws in a vain attempt at thinking that maybe this relationship was fixable.
The apartment we had moved into together was our creation, having decorated and furnished it together. It was our dream home. Now it was just mine alone, but haunted by my memory of her presence. And at the core of all of this was my own self-doubt. Had I done enough? Why was I so easy to just casually hurt? Is she evil? Am I just undeserving of love?
But all of my time wallowing in our apartment alone did give me time to think, and I came to the conclusion that all I had to do was think differently.
A lot of my trains of thought had elements of truth, but were completely lacking in logic. Here are the things that I told myself in order to move forward.
Firstly, what was my ideal scenario?
I was mourning the relationship, but what did I hope to happen as an alternative to what was actually happening? In my head I said, “I would love to have her back, having decided that this guy she’s with isn’t actually that great.” Or better yet, “I would love it if she’d never met him.”
But you see, even if she had never met him, she’d still be capable of doing what she did. In fact, her repeat offences were proof enough that this was a very real side of her, and I needed to acknowledge that.
If she’d never met this guy, she would have met another guy. So really what I’m ultimately saying to myself is “I would love it if she was the person I thought she was, and not who she actually is.”
This can be simplified and translated to “I’m wishing for a different person. A better, more suitable partner, that isn’t her.” This thought came as a shock because at the time I didn’t want to accept it, but it’s the truth—she isn’t suitable for me.
So secondly, what did I actually lose?
On the surface, it’s easy to say that I lost my girlfriend to another man. This isn’t the case. All I lost is time out of my life that I had spent committed to the wrong person. I didn’t lose the relationship because it was a lie. And I was losing more time out of my life by fixating on it. Again, it’s a harsh truth but one I had to accept.
So thirdly, it was time to address my own thoughts of self-doubt.
Was there self-esteem to be recovered?
I told myself repeatedly that I’d failed her, and that I wasn’t enough, while those who had seen our relationship grow and collapse had reassured me that I had done all that I could. How does one get out of this rut of self-doubt?
A friend pointed out that the questions I was asking myself, such as “Did I do enough?” in spite of its negative tone, revealed a strong commitment to my relationship. When we were together I was doing my best out of fear of not doing enough. My doubts about this now were the exact same caring, positive characteristics that I was proud of when we were together. I had nothing to be ashamed of.
So my fourth train of thought: Is she evil?
It’s a perfectly rational conclusion to come to. Logic would say that if the blame isn’t on me then it must be on her. At first it feels great to say that she’s evil. Misery transformed into anger works, for a little while. But it isn’t productive, nor is it healthy. And I had to come to the hard conclusion that no, she wasn’t evil. In fact, when I last met her, she was downright miserable.
I asked her, “Why aren’t you happy? You got everything you wanted. You got the guy you wanted, you got rid of the guy you didn’t want. You still have your family and your friends. I just get to live alone in the home we decorated together, with all of our memories.”
Okay, so I was slightly bitter when I said those things, but one look at my former partner revealed that in spite of everything, she wasn’t happy. Nor was she prepared or willing to make amends. She just shook her head sadly and said that she still felt empty. And that’s when I realised that she was very lost too.
Her cheating on me was not a reflection on me as a person not good enough for her. It was a reflection on her insecurities.
She was trying to fill a void in her life, and she was making the classic mistake of looking for the answers in other people, but being unsatisfied because the problem was in her. I was just unfortunate to fall into her destructive path, a path that was just as destructive to herself long term as it would be for her short-term partners.
Maybe she’ll continue this cycle. Maybe her current boyfriend is the one that will snap her out of it. But in that moment I just felt sorry for her.
I told her goodbye when she confessed that even though I dumped her, she was planning on leaving me for this guy anyway. I may feel sympathy, but I don’t think a sympathetic side should mean that I’ll let her insult me.
I still know my worth. Many would say that letting her back after the first time was me being a doormat, but I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. I never lost sight of my own worth.
I think it’s worth pointing out that even though I’m lessening the pain with these lessons, it’s also important to still let myself feel things. Sometimes I’ll be so sure of myself, and then walk past the place where we first met, or something will remind me of her, often something odd and obscure, and tears will form in my eyes. And that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. The trick is to let myself feel it without letting it hinder my own productivity.
An important lesson is that it’s okay to be sad.
It’s hard to display emotions when people throw out phrases like “Man up” and “Get over it.” Phrases like that invalidate emotions that are perfectly valid. Why should I hide my emotions? Something bad happened to me, I sometimes feel sad as a result, and that is 100% okay.
A friend told me recently, don’t bury it alive. Deconstruct your relationship, through communication and letting your emotions breathe. Give the relationship a metaphorical autopsy. Do not bury it alive, or it will come back to bite.
The things I tell myself have aided the healing process. They won’t erase the sadness completely, but nor should they. Our emotions are good for us.
On a final note, one of my areas of concern is my trust issues. I have yet to encounter them because I haven’t yet attempted to get close to someone else, but I know that they’re waiting to pounce on me.
After what I endured, it would be crazy to assume otherwise. But does this mean I’ll be avoiding relationships altogether? No, it doesn’t. I’m re-writing my train of thought, and as far as I’m concerned, my trust issues are just another part of the screening process. I know what to look out for. I know my worth. I will not be hurt like this again.