Once A Cheater, Never Again A Cheater
From the moment I laid eyes on him, I knew I had to have him. I figured he had to have a girlfriend. But he asked me out, and I didn’t even think about my boyfriend back home, 700 miles away.
The reasons I cheated were many. Distance, lack of sexual satisfaction, pre-existing lack of trust, excitement, a fear of being alone, and an inability to end a relationship all contributed to my indiscretion. I also fell in love with the other guy. Not that it makes what I did any better.
For a while, it was perfect. In the Big City, I had a smart, successful, connected, sexy Dream Guy parading me around like a trophy. And back home, I had my boring but safe boyfriend (just in case it didn’t work out with Dream Guy).
My tryst lasted two intense months, with another weekend rendezvous three months later. Yet, we lived hundreds of miles apart, so the end was expected, natural, and painless. Or so it seemed.
Back home, I still fantasized about Dream Guy. I was also constantly wracked with guilt. Not a single day went by that I didn’t consider confessing. I never did, though, because I couldn’t face the pain it would have caused my boyfriend.
A year later, I moved back to the Big City, this time permanently. And I couldn’t wait to see Dream Guy again. My boyfriend wasn’t able to join me immediately, so I had several months to rekindle my romance with Dream Guy and break it off with my boyfriend. Dream Guy and I ended up working in the same office, and it didn’t take long for us to pick back up where we left off.
Except this time, he had a girlfriend. I was still tormented by guilt and started second-guessing myself. Was it really worth going through this again if we were not going to work out? One mistake I could rationalize, but two? Dream Guy began to get frustrated with my indecisiveness, and every time we’d start to get physical, I’d freak out and change my mind. I was asking him to put his relationship on the line by seeing me behind his girlfriend’s back, but I’d never go all the way or break it off with my boyfriend and commit to him.
Once the possibility of actually being together was available, we quickly discovered that we had idealized each other. We allowed our sexual chemistry and physical attraction, which had been intensified by its illicit nature, to substitute for genuine compatibility. This time, it ended badly, and I had to change jobs just so I didn’t have to face him every day.
I stayed with my boyfriend for three more years, but I was never truly happy with him again. Of course, I only had myself to blame. My unhappiness was a combination of guilt and dissatisfaction. My secret guilt was eating me alive from the inside, but I also knew that I cheated because I wanted out and didn’t know how.
What bothers me today is the idea that “once a cheater, always a cheater.” When the very foundation of a relationship is violated with a sexual transgression, it’s easy to understand how it can’t be repaired. But that’s different from accusing someone of always being something because they did it once. We hear stories about serial cheaters like Tiger Woods and are told that these men will never change. That may be true, but not everyone is a pathological cheater to that level. Until recently, I had never been horseback riding. I went, I didn’t enjoy it, and I don’t foresee going on another. But I did it once. So does that forever make me a horseback rider?
I’ll admit I’ve even offered that piece of advice to friends who’ve been victim to a cheating partner. “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” I regurgitated confidently, as if that somehow solved all of the problems and erased the hurt and utter confusion felt by the victim.
Why? Because it’s easy, it’s simple, and it still achieves the same end result as hashing out all the dirty details: Just leave and move on.
Even when leaving is the answer, claiming that the cheater can never reform is overly simplistic. I know, because I cheated, and I will never do it again. Not only that, but I’ve known many people who have cheated in relationships once, who have gone on to have successful relationships or marriages, never to stray again.
In fact, looking back at all the cheaters I have known, the single-occasion fuck-ups drastically outnumber the chronic philanderers.
The reasons people cheat are as numerous as the number of people who cheat, and they can be simple or complex. I’m not here to delve into the reasons for cheating or the virtues (or lack thereof) of those reasons. Nor am I here to posit when it is advisable to leave or to stay. Whether or not cheating should end a relationship is ultimately up to the parties involved. In my case, it did lead to the end of the relationship. But either way, I don’t believe that once someone cheats, they are guaranteed to do it again, either in the same relationship or in future ones.
I learned that the grass isn’t always greener. I learned that the guilt of cheating is not equal to the benefits. I learned that the short-term pain of ending a relationship is nothing compared to the damage I could cause to myself and others by staying in it and looking for ways to appease myself. Cheating was one of the most awful and damaging things I’ve ever done, and it took years for me to get over it and forgive myself, even after that relationship ended.
Once a cheater, always a cheater? Not always. Not for me, anyway.