Our society has many rules of dating, some of which make sense, and others not so much. For instance, there’s the common rule not to sleep with someone on the first date. Or the rule that says you have to wait a certain amount of days before calling or texting someone who just gave you their phone number. Personally, I think these dating rules are best when they are broken—after all, not every situation is the same and not every person is the same. So why should we all play by the same rules?
While I have broken many of the dating rules out there (starting with my first date, when I didn’t order the lady-like and easy-to-eat salad and instead opted for hot wings, fries, and cheeseburger pizza….also I was wearing old, ratty jeans and a T-shirt that belonged to my brother), one of the big rules I have broken is taking back my boyfriend Fred after he cheated on me. Before I go any further though, I should explain one thing: I have been a cheater myself, and taken back myself. So yes, I know both sides of the experience.
I never thought I would cheat on someone. It seemed like something that was obviously fundamentally wrong, and how could I ever do something like that to someone I cared about/loved? Why not just break up if I wanted someone else? But life happened, and I jumped into a relationship right after ending one that lasted 2 years. I never processed the breakup, and I ended up dealing with those feelings in a really awful way, by cheating with my ex. It was the biggest and worst mistake I’ve ever made, and while I have forgiven myself I will never forget it. Long story short, both the relationship and the cheating blew up in my face and left me miserable and alone. But months later, that same person I cheated on took me back.
I was incredulous that this person would want to be with me again, let alone not hate my guts. After all, I had broken their trust and not owned up to it until much later. I lied again and again…so why take me back? Well, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that in-between these two relationships I found out that I had been cheated on in the 2 years I spent with the very person I cheated with. It was then that I owned up to my own cheating, and realized just how badly I had hurt the person I cheated on. As silly as it sounds, you just can’t realize the pain cheating causes until it happens to you.
So let’s jump forward onto the timeline to this past March, when I officially took back Fred, aka Mr.2 years. After yelling at him again and again, and then not speaking to him, I had realized I still had feelings for him, and he still had feelings for me. So we decided to explore them, and see if we still could get along and function together on the regular. But then we realized we both wanted to make it official—neither one of us wanted to see other people. So we called it a relationship, and here we are months later.
How do I trust him? How do I not worry about repeating the same mistakes? Well, it’s not easy. If I didn’t believe that this person wasn’t worth spending the rest of my life with, I wouldn’t be with him. If he hadn’t changed his behavior and started being honest and open, I wouldn’t be with him. If I hadn’t learned to deal with the insecurity and mistrust the cheating instilled in me, I wouldn’t be with him. A lot of work has gone into repairing the damage, and a lot of serious talks between us had to happen before I felt like we both knew exactly what we were signing up for again. And even now, it is still a process. Honestly is something that has to constantly maintained, and that will never change. We both have promised to keep each other in the loop, to talk about whether or not we are happy, if we are feeling tempted by someone else, or if we are doing something (or in the position to do something) that might upset the other person. He works on not sugar-coating the truth or hiding things, and I work on actually speaking up when I’m upset or feel insecure. By dealing with the hard stuff directly, we are able to have room to truly enjoy the happy, easy things.
All in all, the cheating made our relationship stronger, opened both of our eyes to the ugly parts of each other, and forced us to grow up a bit and realize what we want. But other people don’t always understand that part of the story…when you tell your friends and family that you took back the person who cheated on you, there tends to be some judgement. Luckily, everyone I’ve told has been supportive and happy for me, but I still feel the need to justify my decision when I talk about how my relationship is going.
See, it’s really easy to say, “Don’t ever take back a cheater!” when you’ve never been in the middle of cheating. It’s not as black and white as you would think—yes, it is wrong, no doubt about it. But the person who did it still may be a good person. If I hadn’t cheated myself, I probably couldn’t have forgiven Fred. But after my own experience, while very different, I saw how confusing and trapped someone can feel in that situation. When I cheated, guilt swallowed up my entire life and ended up destroying my relationship. I couldn’t take it back, no matter how much I wished I could, and I couldn’t seem to convey how deeply I loved the person despite cheating on them. But people hated me and judged me for cheating anyway, and while I understood that I wished they realized that I was still the same person, just one that made a very terrible mistake.
So that’s why I’m breaking the rule. Ultimately, I am in charge of my life and my happiness, which I don’t have to explain to anyone. Fred makes me happy, and I make him happy, so we are working hard to make sure that we maintain our relationship and prevent any cheating. The bottom line is: you can’t change the past, but you should give people the opportunity to learn from it. I’m not saying that everyone in every circumstance should take back their ex who cheated, just that people are more than ‘cheaters’ and more than ‘cheated on’. We are human, we make mistakes and hurt others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change or that we don’t deserve love.
My ex-girlfriend posed an interesting question last night. She said, “If you can’t forgive Fred for cheating on you, how can you forgive yourself for cheating on me?” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the jist of it). I sat there in silence and both loved and hated her for asking the hard questions.
This all came up last night in her kitchen. We were sitting there all pleasant, just soaking up each others’ existence, when she asked me about him. I shrugged off the conversation because I don’t exactly like to be reminded of people who broke my heart that I’m trying to forget. But then she started talking about how she wishes I would forgive him because it sounds like he’s really sorry. Say whaaaaaaaat?? This I just don’t get. #1. She still loves me #2. Fred is the person I cheated on her with #3. What ever happened to her having my back? All signs point to her benefitting off of my beef with Fred. So I pressed her about it. Guess what she says? “I mean, he didn’t do anything wrong to me,” she shrugged. WHAT??? Now on this response I call bullshit. That is a bonafide bullshit response. Everyone else has my back with this; my roommate has personally called him an asshole/dick at least five times, my best friend back home has already offered to key his car, but my ex who is supposed to love me and back me up? Nada. So I questioned her further, and that’s when she hit me with the interesting question at the beginning of this post.
Let me break down my answer:
- Context matters. Fred and I were in a 2 year committed relationship and spoke frequently about getting married, moving in together, having a kid, etc. My ex-girlfriend and I had been dating 3/4 months.
- I deserve to be angry. It is my right to feel betrayed. I did my best to love Fred and make him happy, and frankly I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was sometimes. So I’m not going to curb my emotions so he feels better. He should have thought about losing me whenever he was fucking someone else.
- And, just for the record, whenever I told my ex-girlfriend I cheated on her I expected her to be mad. I gave her permission to punch me in the face. I thought we would never speak again. Because that’s what I deserved. I was mad at myself for cheating on her and hurting her, but it’s true, I had also forgiven myself. Why? Because I believed in true love. When I cheated, I thought I was cheating with my soulmate, the person I was going to end up with. And while that doesn’t make it right, it does make it understandable. I fucked up, and I’m human. I know Fred is human too, and I’ve accepted the fact that we are over. But I’m just not at the point of forgiving him, because he never told me he loved this person he was fucking, and I didn’t even know they still spoke to each other. My ex, on the other hand, knew I was still in love with Fred, that I was still sad about us breaking up, that I still talked to him and hung out with him. I wasn’t honest, but I was pretty transparent. Fred, on the other hand, completely blind-sided me. And that makes a difference.
It’s all sort of beside the point, though. I’m done wasting time thinking about Fred and my feelings for him. There’s nothing more to figure out, anyway. And I’m done pointing fingers at myself. I’ve made mistakes and I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve love or self-respect. I’m not going to do any self-hating behavior that could cause a major depressive episode. And besides, I’ve got other stuff on my plate. There are other people in my life to consider, and I’m still figuring out what part they play in my life. (Namely, Issac, the guy I referenced in “Look At Me, Growing And Shit”). So even though I hope to get around to forgiving Fred someday, in the meantime I’m not concerned.
This is one grudge I’m willing to hold.
So I found out that Fred cheated on me during those two years we were together. Needless to say, I told him to never speak to me again. And you know what? Life is actually going alright. Not much has changed, really. I still go to my classes, I go to work, I hang out at home with my roommates, I sit outside and listen to music in between classes. I’m thinking about creative projects I could start and homework I should probably be catching up on instead. I’m planning my tattoo. Life goes on.
That’s not to say that I didn’t call him Monday night after a week of silence and scream and cry at him over the phone. After all, he deserved to hear how much he hurt me. But it’s all really for the best—it’s useless to fight for a person who lied to you and betrayed your trust. So I am happily embracing life—because my life is mine now. No more trying to plan a future around Fred or his failed attempts at finishing his degree. No more boundaries around when I can go travel (well, except money…:/), no more trips home unless I actually want to drive those two hours.
As if that wasn’t enough, I came out to my dad earlier that Monday. He was lecturing me about having lesbian friends and straight up asked if I’m interested in girls or guys. After a long pause I finally said, “Both”. It went better than I expected. Naturally, there was yelling and I almost walked out on him, not to mention him subtly threatening not to pay for my college anymore, but by the end of the conversation I said, “Love you Dad” and he said “Love you too.”
Another part of this honesty project I’ve got going on was admitting to my ex-girlfriend that I cheated on her with Fred. It was the worst mistake of my life, and I told her she could punch me in the face, but she didn’t. “I still love you,” she told me. “I knew you cheated on me, but what hurt was that you wouldn’t admit it to me.” So, amazingly enough, this incredibly kind, caring person forgave me for being an absolute dick. Just like that, I felt myself become a better person for admitting my mistakes. After all, I don’t want to be Fred, and use people at my leisure.
Another thing. I’ve been seeing this guy. Now I know I don’t need anymore drama in my life at this point, but that’s the great part about him—he doesn’t stress me out. It’s very casual, and he’s a really nice person. We only see each other about once a week and we don’t have to constantly text or commit to any labels. Basically, we’ve just been getting to know each other. (Although for me that means omitting all of the current events on Fred and my ex-girlfriend….we’ll see if I get there with this guy.) But I’m really happy with it. Sometimes it’s nice to surround yourself with new people when your life is becoming a whole new experience.
I wasted years of my life loving someone who put in minimal effort and didn’t show me respect. It’s time to just figure out what I want my life to look like, and go with the flow.