I’m not a perfect woman. News flash, I know.
Many of us can relate. We are not perfect human beings. We all make mistakes. We stray from the path. We hurt ourselves and others, and, hopefully, we learn from our mistake — but sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right.
Confession: when it comes to my history of monogamous relationships, I don’t have the best track record for fidelity.
I’ve gotten involved in emotional affairs, sexting, dating, and, on occasion, physical intimacy behind a partner’s back. Well, several partners’ backs.
It started in high school, junior year. I’d been with my boyfriend for over a year when I got drunk and kissed one of my best friends. It was a guy friend, and our relationship had always been platonic.
We’d flirted of course. We were both straight, we hung out non-stop together in our friend group. We did theater together through middle school and high school. (And we all know theater is basically just a bunch of talented horny people consensually touching each other nonstop.)
When my friend, after years of friendship, finally made a move and kissed me at a party — knowing I was very much in a relationship — I let him. And I kissed him back.
I’m not sure why I didn’t stop the kiss. I’m not sure why I let curiosity get the better of me. I just wanted to see what it was like to kiss this person — this guy I’d connected with and had countless laughs and serious conversations with. This guy I loved as a friend.
Also, I enjoyed the kiss. It sent my adrenaline pumping. It was new. It was exciting. But — it was tainted by my guilt. I knew I was doing something that was possibly unforgivable, and that my relationship with my boyfriend, whom I cared deeply for, might be over because of my decision.
The next morning I drove to my boyfriend's house and told him I’d kissed my friend. I couldn’t hold the secret in.
To me, the secret was almost as bad as the cheating. Or worse.
Cheating My Way Out
After I confessed my dark deed, my boyfriend forgave me.
He didn’t even consider breaking up over it. I think he was secure in the knowledge that I didn’t want to date my best friend, and he didn’t see the guy as a threat. He was right. I’d made a big mistake, and I felt like I deserved to be dumped. But I wasn’t.
You’d think I would have learned my lesson and never strayed again. I remember how terrible the guilt felt. Going outside of my relationship made me feel like a shitty garbage person.
But…I also remember the rush. The passion of kissing someone new — someone whom I connected with on an emotional level. I loved the exciting spark — new touching, new kissing, new feelings — it was a heady concoction.
From that first experience, I learned that I only have so much resistance before I give in to temptation. Unfortunately, there’s a scrambled version of that same story in every serious romantic relationship I’ve had since.
Take my first marriage, for example. My reasons for cheating on my ex-husband were far different than mere curiosity and teenage hormone-driven urges. And, oddly enough, I wanted him to cheat on me too. That way, I’d have an excuse to get out. I wanted one of us to sabotage our terrible, abusive marriage, and in the end, it turns out we both did. It was legitimately messed up.
Despite the fact that I wanted that relationship to end and I was too scared to do it in a sensible, mature way, I still felt guilty when I started talking to another man while I was married. And I felt really guilty when I fell in love with this other man.
It makes no logical sense. I felt bad for the way I was handling my dumpster fire of a marriage, but I was also going along with what I (incorrectly) felt was my only option. Eventually, I took my toddler and literally fled my house and my marriage.
I also continued seeing the man I’d had the affair with. More than a decade later, we’re still together. And, yes, we still very much love each other.
Straying Away From Monogamy
But even the love of my life — the man who gave me the courage to get out of a harmful relationship — wasn’t exempt from my wandering eye.
I guess the seven-year itch is a thing. Not that it’s any excuse, but it was seven years into my next relationship when I once again met someone who caught my interest. I randomly bumped into a stranger, a graduate student, at a bar during a girls’ night out. We happened to connect and talk for over an hour about things like books, psychology, and writing fiction.
I was interested in “starting a friendship.” But that friendship led to talking online, hanging out in person, and, eventually, making out in a park.
I went home to my boyfriend and broke off our relationship. I was honest with him at that point. I told him I was falling for someone else and was interested in dating him. I needed the freedom to explore.
My boyfriend moved out within a week.
Do you know how you can tell when breaking up with someone is a huge mistake? It’s when you wake up every morning, and your very first thought, even before you’re fully awake, is panic that you’ve made the wrong decision.
That’s what I felt every morning after our breakup.
I dated Bar Guy for a week or so, and we ended up having a pretty lackluster time. I knew that I’d made a huge mistake. Yet again.
And my poor, dumped boyfriend of seven years? He wanted me back. And, after a lot of serious work, he took me back.
I don’t want to make it sound like it was easy. I assure you, it wasn’t. In the weeks that we were broken up and contemplating getting back together, there was fighting and crying and hours of conversation between us.
He wasn’t sure he could ever trust me again, but he loved me and wanted to be with me. I wanted him more than I could put into words, but I was still afraid, as ever, of monogamy and the fact that I might screw it up again.
We ended up seeing a counselor together. And it helped us tremendously.
Because of that experience, I’d recommend relationship counseling to any couple out there who thinks they might need it.
Counseling isn’t a magic pill that will fix every relationship. But a neutral, professional third party can help you and your partner navigate through the heavy decision of whether or not you want to stay together or part ways after infidelity.
Working Through Infidelity and Coming Out Stronger Than Before
Is that old saying really true — once a cheater, always a cheater? Not necessarily. For some, cheating is the ultimate betrayal. Once a partner cheats, the trust is broken, and there is no rebuilding.
Others might see their cheating partner as a symptom of a bigger problem in the relationship — one which they’d like to work through. I’m confident I don’t thrive in monogamy, and the option of ethical non-monogamy is something my partner and I have been openly and honestly discussing.
He knows how I’m wired, and he loves me still. I sometimes feel I don’t deserve his love, and yet he gives it freely and constantly.