“I cheated on my fiancé”.
Silence overwhelmed the room.
“I know. I know. I’m an asshole.”
She must have noticed my face completely change.
Liz and I had been talking almost non-stop since we had matched on Bumble earlier in the week. Light-hearted banter had shifted into a groove of conversation mixed with perfectly timed sexual innuendo in a way that resulted in her consuming all my attention on the app. Eventually, we had exchanged numbers and it had only been a couple hours earlier that I had texted jokingly that I was just stopping for some “duct tape, zip ties, and bleach” before I’d be at her door.
And then there I was standing in her apartment hallway and she was absolutely gorgeous. The minutes had flown by as I sat on her couch laughing and flirting. Then suddenly amidst a moment of awkward quiet the conversation took a turn to seriousness as she asked “why are you divorced?”
It was a heavy question for what amounted to a first date, but we had been talking so much prior to that day and been so open with each other I felt comfortable vaguely explaining in short that my ex-wife had cheated on me. Then I had grabbed the beer she offered me from the coffee table and turned the question back around on her.
“What about you?” I asked.
Her voice had trailed off and I had assumed it was the hurt resurfacing since her break up had been much more recent.
“I’m sorry. I know it’s a painful feeling.”
And then there was an embarrassed chuckle as though she was preparing for the awkwardness that was going to ensue.
“No, you don’t understand. I was the one that cheated. I cheated on my fiancé.”
So there we were. At one corner of the couch, Liz sat with her legs curled up beneath her as the perpetrator of an affair and myself at the opposite corner a victim of cheating silently trying to process my next move. She represented everything that had hurt me the last couple of years – first my ex-wife & then my first serious relationship after my divorce both ending in dealing with the emotional turmoil from the aftermath of infidelity.
For the longest time, I had been working through that hurt and struggling with commitment, waiting patiently for the woman that could bring about a sort of clarity in being the “one for me”. Finally, I had felt like I had found this person that just radiated an energy so similar to me that we connected from the start. Obviously, it was ridiculous of me to have believed she was perfect, infatuation tends to lead us blindly to believe so, but I wasn’t expecting to have this sort of bomb dropped on me.
How could I even trust someone that admitted to doing an act so untrustworthy, especially when that act is what had caused so much emotional trauma in my life?
“Why’d you do it?”
Honestly, I don’t even remember what she had said at that moment because my mind was completely ignoring the words that came out of her mouth. I was scheming in my head. I was considering simply continuing to give her attention, continuing to reel her in and working toward getting her emotionally attached.
And then I was going to hit and quit it.
There was just one problem. She was incredible.
I left her house the next morning and as badly as I wanted to let her know how shitty of a person she was after spending the night getting intimate with her, I found myself enamored with her existence. I hated what she did. I hated she had hurt her fiancé in the same way I had been hurt.
And yet everything that was awesome about her seemed to outweigh this absolutely shitty thing she did. Suddenly, I had gone from loathing this guy that was dating my ex-wife, wondering how he could ever want to be with someone that cheated on someone to doing the exact same thing. Continuing to date Liz was going to result in me becoming the other guy that her ex was going to loathe and he would question how I could ever want to be with someone that had cheated on him.
Over the course of the next few months, I would continue seeing Liz. As our bond grew, I began to peel back the layers of her prior relationship and at times I would see myself in the stories she would tell. She would call me late at night crying about a text she had received that was full of anger and hatred. I would struggle to console her because, despite the words that would exit my mouth to comfort her, I found myself soothing her over so many of the same words that I had sent my ex.
I had spent so much time wrapped up in my own pride that I was the victim and that my ex was at fault of this heinous action that I don’t think I ever really gave myself the opportunity to realize, though I refuse to accept blame for her choice, I had my own faults that led up to her infidelity. I don’t forgive what she did. Ultimately she made a choice and I think that choice was unjustified, but the longer I got to know Liz, the more I became self-aware of my own contributing faults.
Liz and I didn’t work out romantically. We still talk as friends to this day, but despite the hopeless romantic in me suggesting this girl was perfect for me, in time we would find we just didn’t quite vibe as perfectly as we thought. Turns out, juggling a recent divorce alongside a recent breakup while being parents to two children each and living an hour apart isn’t necessarily an awesome foundation to build upon. And for all the things we did like and enjoy about each other, there was so much more about us that just didn’t quite fit.
But meeting Liz was one of the best things to happen in my life post-divorce. For one, it taught me I could care about a woman again in a way I didn’t think I was capable of feeling again and that relationships aren’t so black and white, especially when throwing the victim card around. The complexities that cause people to cheat aren’t binary in whether those people are wholly good or bad. I learned that honest, transparent people are just as capable of finding themselves in over their head with their emotions and choose to react in ways that aren’t justified.
Maybe, after hearing the remorse in Liz’s voice, perhaps the “phrase once a cheater, always a cheater” isn’t as true as we might believe.
I realized that I had become so focused on seeking pity for being the victim of infidelity that I hadn’t stopped to consider for a moment that maybe I had taken my ex-wife for granted and that success in my next relationship requires confronting that. I had become too comfortable in a marriage certificate locking our love together as something perpetual.
I needed my divorce to learn that I could lose someone important in my life if I didn’t continue working to put effort in. And I needed Liz to find that perspective, because I was so caught up in how my ex-wife had hurt me that I ignored so much of what she said when I asked her and rejected so much of what I did hear when it didn’t align with me being the complete victim.
Sometimes, the biggest hurdle in being the victim of infidelity is coming to terms with our own flaws. The easiest course of action is to upload a video to TikTok casting our exes as demons, playing the pity card, and completely wrapping up our identity in everything we’ve been through. We become so focused on our victimization we don’t allow ourselves to see our short comings.
But because I cared for Liz I wanted to listen to what she said and I wanted to sympathize with how she felt in ways I was unwilling to attempt in my disdain for my ex-wife. In doing so, I began having these light bulb moments where I was reflecting on how her ex was responding so similar to how I did. I’ll always cherish the relationship I had with Liz for a lot of reasons, but most of all, I appreciate the perspective she gave me.
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