I don’t know a single person who’s been cheated on whose initial thoughts after finding out didn’t revolve around their worth as a human being (and beating the shit out of or getting their hands on the offending party).
They question whether they were good enough or assume that something must be wrong with them in order for their partner to even consider hooking up with someone else.
There is so much pain and heartbreak in the aftermath of cheating, because not only are you disillusioned from the relationship you thought you had, but you’re also likely partnerless and questioning whether anyone else will want to be with you again. Surely, if this person who loves you, cares about you, and knows you so well would choose someone else over you, then the next person would as well.
But cheating is never about the person being cheated on. It has nothing to do with your value or worth. It doesn’t happen because you’re not good enough or because you did something wrong.
It happened because your partner wasn’t ready to commit to you, and that could be for any number of reasons. Maybe they wanted to play the field more but were afraid to say it, for fear of losing you. Maybe they weren’t able to communicate their wants, and instead of doing the hard work of learning how to speak up for themselves, they sought instead to get what they wanted out of someone else. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t have to do with you.
I speak from experience, because I, too, know the pain of being cheated on.
My first long-term partner was divorced. We met a year and a half after their separation, the divorce finalizing a couple months into our relationship. About six months and a move to another state later, he had second thoughts. He wasn’t sure he was ready to commit to another partnership, not without having experienced being single first, not that he really knew what he was looking for as a bachelor.
So I agreed to leave for a few months to do volunteer work, leaving him the house and the opportunity to be his single and free self.
A few months after my return, he still wasn’t satisfied, so we tried it again. My constant thought during this time was: “I’d rather give him the space to do this now and see what happens than be years down the road with him resenting me and regretting that he never lived the single life.”
The second time around, he met other people and hooked up with them, but in the end, we wound up together. The experiment was over. While being single was an experience, he was ready to commit to a serious relationship, or so he thought.
A little less than a year later, he cheated on me with a 95 pound chick we both worked with.
I was humiliated. Our friends knew and hadn’t told me. I was living with the guy, completely unaware, until one day I came across a conversation he’d had with one of his guy friends, outlining his exploits and conquests.
I was devastated. I had given my partner the space to explore, I had been more than fair and accommodating, and this was how I was rewarded for being a patient girlfriend. To make it worse, when I asked him why he did it, his response was, “I always wondered what it would be like to fuck someone who’s really tiny.”
As someone who’s battled anorexia and bulimia, that was a huge hit to my self-esteem.
I cried for days, questioning what to do. I loved my partner and couldn’t fathom life without him—he was my first in so many ways—but at the same time, I couldn’t look at him without picturing them. Without seeing him in the bed of our former home, fucking this girl.
I asked questions relentlessly, as if any of the answers would give me peace. Was she on top? How many times? Did you cum? Did you like it? Was it loud? Were you hard right away?
It didn’t matter what the answer was, whether it was true or a lie meant to placate me. None of them made me feel any better.
I felt worthless, less than human. I felt like the world was caving in on me. I felt unloved, unlovable, and unwanted.
My partner, the man I had committed two and a half years of my life to, slept with another woman and lied to me about it. Then told me it was because I was fat.
I wanted to stop eating. I wanted so badly to go back to my old ways, to binge and purge. I even wanted to cut. Anything to make the pain go away. Anything to get away from feeling not good enough, a feeling I knew all too well and thought I was done with.
For a while, we still slept in the same bed. As he fell asleep each night, looking peaceful and calm, I wondered if he regretted his actions, wondered if he’d ever do it again. Like they say: once a cheater, always a cheater, right?
I didn’t want him to look at me, couldn’t bear to have him see me naked. Sex was robotic, completely devoid of pleasure. Because every time we went at it, I couldn’t help but wonder if he still thought it was any good.
We talked about it for forever. He gave me every little detail I asked for, not once complaining about my neverending questions. But I never let it go. It came up in every argument. I couldn’t, no matter what happened, move past it.
That was the beginning of the end. It took a little over a year to finally end the relationship, to move on and meet someone else.
And when I did, the pain I experienced in that relationship resurfaced.
I questioned my value as a girlfriend, my worth as a woman. I hid my body, had sex in the dark, ashamed to let my partners see me as I was, afraid that they might also find me lacking.
The pain and heartbreak from being cheated on doesn’t just go away like that. It takes time. And it takes looking at your wounds and tending to them.
You can’t drink the pain away, not that I tried. You can’t stuff it down, which I definitely tried. Because when you least expect it, when you’re wrapped up in a whirlwind new romance, its ugly face will surface, and again you will be contemplating whether you’re good enough the way you are, if anyone will love you the way you are.
You can try not to face it. So many people do. But it pops up here and there to sabotage relationships. Just when things are getting good, you run away scared, find a way to sabotage the relationship, because someone uttered the word “love” or wanted to become more serious. It’s fine when it’s just fucking or dating, but as soon as it gets serious, those old hurts come out full force.
If the people who love us hurt us, leave us, or cheat on us, who wants to be loved?
That’s why we have to look at ourselves and start doing the hard work of unpacking that story, unpacking that hurt. We have to feel the depths of our betrayal, the ache of our heartbreak. We have to feel the roil of anger and worry that we will never find somebody who loves us the way we are. By turning toward these things instead of running away or hiding from them, we heal them. We allow ourselves to move forward without letting these past hurts get in the way.
I refuse to live a life closed off from love. I can’t imagine what it would be like to continue to push people away for fear of being hurt, for fear that they might find me unworthy of their time, love and affection.
There is so much more to life than waiting for one person to approve of you, because if they don’t, someone else will. Being afraid of rejection, of being cheated on, is not worth missing out on love completely.
We’re not guaranteed anything in life. We can hope for fidelity, we can hope for a lifelong romance, but we can never know for sure if that’s what we’re in for. The best we can do is hope and have faith, choosing to love with our hearts wide open.
Yes, it will mean we are more vulnerable. Yes, we will be more likely to get hurt, but it truly is better to have loved, to love, to be in a constant state of love, than to have never loved at all.
Love wins over fear every time. If you get to choose which you focus on feeling, choose love.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Shannon Lagasse
Editor: Catherine Monkman