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.

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Jennifer Witt

A native Texan raised in Tenneseee, I'm a Southerner through and through. I believe anything tastes better fried and iced tea should only come sweet. I went to school with intentions of becoming a lobbyist. Then I moved to DC and actually tried it. Now I'm back home in Nashville where I own and operate a hot rod shop with my husband of two and a half years. We live in a very vanilla suburb with our two dog-children. There are few things in the world I love more than a good cup of coffee and my Tempurpedic matress. When I'm not blogging here I enjoy going to hockey games, watching hockey on TV, blogging about hockey...okay, so maybe I'm not 100% Southern after all! I also like to glue glitter to things, read non-fiction, cook and eat, take roadtrips, shoe shop, and sleep (preferably with a dogs snuggled in close). I do a little pin-up style modeling on the side, too.

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23 comments

  • Brilliant. Well written piece.

    It’s just too easy to jump on the ” Once a cheater” bandwagon. Couples can definitely survive a one off infidelity and some even grow from it.

    • I do think that can be the case, but given my experience, I think that the “guilty” party would have to admit the cheating for that to happen. Having been the one with the secret, and knowing what it did to me mentally I would have a bigger problem with someone who never admitted they cheated and was able to get over it than someone who cheated and admitted it (or who didn’t admit it, but never got over it).

    • once a cheater-always a cheater in that ”relationship”..simple as that.i believe that people can change for better if they try hard but i also wouldn’t and never did want to pursue nothing more than sex after hearing that girl i was with cheated before…. i don’t care if it was once or 100 times.that just gives me a prospect of a possible future.once cheated on in my life and having to go through that agony of betrayal and tremendous emotional and even physical pain is not something i would ever risk doing again.i am changed person now.i don’t trust people in general any more.not just women and i believe that it will never pass.if only cheaters could stick with other cheaters and leave the rest of us alone that would be great but….i know ,utopia right?

  • Some of us have seen the whole, once a cheater, always a cheater play out. Once you cross the line, the next time it is easier. And the next time, easier yet again. They don’t have to be serial cheaters. Just once you let your guard down once, the next time is easier, which is why we have that saying.

    I can’t say I would ever trust my heart to another woman, that cheated even once. It’s not worth the chance. Too many out there HAVEN’T cheated at all, to ever take that chance.

    • Sure, it happens. But I’d say that people for whom it gets easier or people who cheat multiple times, there are deeper issues there. And I’d also argue that there aren’t multitudes of people out there who haven’t cheated given that 50% of the married population has cheated at least once…I’d guess that the numbers in the dating population are just as high, and probably higher.

      Like Grams says below, that’s saying no one ever learns from their mistakes. That someone who smokes pot once is doomed to be a drug addict, or an actual drug addict can never get sober. People can learn and change; people who do not feel or accept the negative consequences of cheating suffer from more than just a cheating problem.

  • It’s difficult to trust someone with your heart once they’ve cheated, but (like TheOtherMe wrote) it’s also way too simplistic to assume they’ll do it again just because they did it once. Just like you, I cheated once and learned my lesson very well! It also took me a very long time to forgive myself and, honestly, the pain I caused my boyfriend and myself just were NOT worth it. Thanks for taking a deeper look at this issue! It gave me a great idea for my own blog =]

    • I truly believe that is is just as hard for someone who cheated and knows that it was wrong to forgive themselves, as it is for the victim to forgive them.

    • Yup, that’s true. People never think about that though. Cheaters are not the “victim” in these kinds of situations and onlookers are usually too busy chastising them to even notice that we may have hurt ourselves too in the process.

  • It think it fully depends on the person…some people cheat once, and find it so awful that they would never do it again, others cheat once like Rifter said, and it will only make them do it again and again. I dont think you can lump everyone into that always a cheater category. What about “learn from your mistakes?” some people do learn, others not so much, but its definitely a complicated issue! Depends on the person, and also the reason, if the guy/girl just wants some fun on the side, or if the relationship was failing already so they cheated before actually ending it, who hasnt let a relationship go on longer than it really should? not saying this makes it ok to cheat, but I think most of the time this is really the reason why cheating occurs, like it seems was the case with Jennifer. Im actually currently dating a guy who has cheated on an ex, and while I cant say its not always a thought in the back of my mind if he would do it to me, I do trust him, especially for telling me about it and the situation. I think if you have a good relationship, there likely isnt any reason for cheating…but again, its a chance im taking but im willing to give him the chance.

  • I think the “once a cheater…” saying caught hold because it helps people deal with their anger about being betrayed. It helps justify an immediate breakup (because the betrayal is intensely hurtful) while allowing the “victim” to never take a close look at what actually went wrong in the relationship (besides the cheating of course).

    Cheating is cowardly because the cheater is too scared to confront the issues in a relationship, but it’s especially sad when someone cheats because of problems they can’t/don’t know how to vocalize, and THEN they realize they actually have it very good. (ie. You idealized the dream guy because he wasn’t your boyfriend.)

    It’s just a shitty situation all around… I’ve seen a few cases where the cheater really wasn’t any more guilty than the cheatee in the demise of the relationship — it’s just that the stigma behind the betrayal of cheating makes it very easy to solely blame the cheater in the end, which is just kind of sad in the cases where the cheating was a result of a troubled relationship — not an uncontrollable drive towards infidelity.

    This was a really nicely written piece. 🙂

    • Thanks! I also think the cases we hear about the most are the HORRIBLE ones…whether it be among our friends or in celebity culture. I’d venture a guess that most couples that face a one-time infidelity do so privately, because I think that keeping it private would be one good way to overcome it. It doesn’t help to broadcast that to everyone you know, or to shame your partner in public. It wouldn’t be good for the cheater or the victim, in most cases, to blab about it to the whole world. And, bottom line, a couple successfully overcoming infidelity isn’t as sexy a story to print on the front page of a magazine or tell over drinks as the friend of a friend who’s husband slept with half the city.

    • I agree with Jennifer, keeping it as private as you can is best. My boyfriend’s cheating led to the calling off a our wedding, and in my hurt, I did tell alot of people what happened. Subsequently, we tried staying together, and it was very difficult because very few people supported that decision, including my family. Additionally, like was discussed above, there was/is a ton of guilt on his part – which really changes the dynamics of the relationship if the cheater doesn’t deal with it.

  • I think many people just find it easier to cope with reality when they live a life of black or white. It’s why we love stories about heroes versus villains, why we have liberals versus conservatives, capitalism versus communism, Axis versus Allies, Jedi versus Sith, monsters versus aliens, Jason versus Freddie (okay, maybe the last two are a stretch).

    The point is, life becomes so much simpler when we delineate it into right versus wrong. Unfortunately, life is never that simple, and when we make blanket statements such as “once a cheater, always a cheater,” we’re bound to be wrong quite frequently.

    Of course, that’s sort of the whole purpose of Musings–to explore that fuzzy gray area of life, and to show how simple rules and conceptions we have about other people are often flat-out wrong. 😉

    • Exactly. I’m a firm believer, however, in “everything happens for a reason” but even if you aren’t, you should grasp the concept that people *should* learn from their experiences. In the case of serial cheaters, they *should* be learning what else it is about themselves (or the relationships they choose) that is driving them to that behavior. For people who find themselves in relationships with such people, they *should* be learning what is causing that. It’s never learning and never changing that becomes a problem.

  • Thank you for this. I also don’t believe that just because someone strays once they are likely to stray again. Sure, it happens – but in my circle of friends I’ve also observed that the single fuckup outnumbers the habitual cheaters.
    This was honest, heartfelt, and well written.
    Also – perhaps this article can give some hope to those reading this site that may be encountering a cheating scandal in their own relationships… All is not necessarily doomed, and there is even potential for a relationship to grow even stronger.

  • Really enjoyed reading this post.
    Linked through Anne-Marie on trint.me, very great to see someone be open and honest about having been a cheater and realizing the fault in that.
    I think people can definitely learn from their mistakes and change no matter how difficult it may be.

    Read our blog about our dating and relationship experiences:
    http://brookeandmckenzie.wordpress.com

  • It sounds like you are a habitual cheater and therefore have some issues and are unable to think of anyone but yourself because of this. I hope you get some counseling.

    • Wow, that doesn’t even make any sense…did you even read the article? This comment, and the one below seem to imply that you didn’t.

      The entire point of the story is that I cheated ONCE, and there was absolutely nothing positive that came from it, and I’ll never do it again b/c I learned my lesson. It also clearly states that it was someone I was dating a long, long time ago. Yes, I’ve since gotten married to someone else…on whom I’ve never cheated. I am not, no have I ever been, divorced.

  • Your other articles say you are married. Are you dovorced?

  • Thank you for writing this article. It made me feel a little better about myself in that I’m not alone. I cheated once on someone I loved dearly over ten years ago now and to this day still feel the guilt of it. I don’t feel I ever really got any closure on the situation, but perhaps that’s my punishment and I don’t deserve closure for hurting another human being on that level. I definitely learned my lesson and have not come close to repeating that same terrible lapse of judgement ever again with future relationships. Once was enough for me.

  • I recently cheated on my boyfriend. On the most loving, caring, amazing person in this entire world. There was/is no issues between “us”, only in “me”, and that is the worst. I absolutely never, never, never in my entire life could see myself in this kind of situation. It was with an ex, which was more like a date. We were friends and never asked for more from each other. However, I “broke up” with him as soon as I realized how my feelings for my actual boyfriend were getting stronger. It was extremely painful to make this choice at the time, because I did have feelings for him too, but I knew it wouldn’t be right to stay with both at the same time. In the beginning, I was not sure if I did the right thing or not, but after some time I couldn’t believe how happy I finally was for having someone like my boyfriend. I do feel like my “ex” never really accepted our end (an end to what never even “was”). We really tried to stay friends, and we kinda did it. Until we get drunk playing cards with some other friends. I ensure to every person who claims “once a cheater, always a cheater”: if this cheater has a heart and a soul, truly, it’s NOT like that. People don’t realize, as Dennis Hong said above, that things are NOT that “black and white”. I was cheated years before and I know the other side. I wish I could have seen how my ex (at the time) was suffering as much as I am now. I feel like I lost my identity. I know I need to work hard on the acceptance, but I know I’ll never forget how I screamed and cried with this guy I cheated my boyfriend on that night. How I repeatedly asked to myself “WHY DID I DO THIS?”, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?”, “WHY ARE WE WHERE WE ARE?”. I always try to maintain control over myself, but I can’t see my face in the mirror and not think about how ashamed I am. I haven’t told it to my boyfriend or to anyone, and I won’t. This pain is not his to carry, it’s mine. And I know there is a lot of people that can recommend telling it, but I just can’t imagine his suffering. I know how much he loves me too and that would be the worst thing that could ever happen. I do believe the cheated person can truly forgive the cheater, but for the cheater to forgive himself (entirely) is truly a challenge. I feel like I broke this perfect, pure and unique feeling I had for my boyfriend and that’s the hardest part. Looking in his eyes and trying not to let the best we have go. But I will do whatever is necessary! For him, for us! It doesn’t matter how hard I’ll fight with myself to get over it, I will. I ask God to help me to forgive myself everyday, because I know, I do know I’ll NEVER let this happen again. I want to be a better person than I was that day and I will!

    • Hey Linda, I’m going through something similar right now. What happened to your relationship? Did you tell him? Were you ever able to get over it and move on without telling him? Have you forgiven yourself yet?

  • the author confesses and confuses, “one time” with a long-term affair with one person, All the lies a deceits while seeing two men over a period of years is not a one-time cheat. It is a huge number of cheats, with every single encounter.

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