A big thank you to my guest blogger for emailing with me about his story. I have pulled some portions of his response into quotations that I felt were particularly relevant. It’s my hope that we are able to shine a light on why good intentioned people do such hurtful things. This is a story I’ve heard before, and maybe you’ve heard it too. How can we learn from stories like this to prevent ourselves, and our friends, from making the same mistakes? Read on, reader. Please keep your comments respectful, as I’ve come to expect. If anyone else would like to share their story please use the contact page at the top of my site to reach out.
Let’s learn a little more about you, first.
What is your age and where in the world do you live? Would you consider your upbringing to be conservative? What kind of sexual education did you get?
I just turned 22. I lived in Texas for the first 18 years of my life in a small-medium town, and then went to school in Colorado for two years before transferring to south Florida to finish up my bachelors. My upbringing was indeed conservative–my family was never religious, but all of my friends and peers were. My parents also tended to have more conservative values. My sexual education was pretty limited; I didn’t have much in the way of talks about contraception almost at all and the main focus was on abstinence.
I am an atheist now, and consider myself very liberal.
Can you describe your relationship to us? How long did you date, how did you meet?
My relationship with L was unconventional. We actually met through a mutual friend that I had pursued previously. Our relationship was cultivated almost entirely online, starting with Facebook and transitioning into long phone conversations and Skype–She was from my Texas hometown, but I was in California when we began messaging.
We fell in love and declared as such in July of 2013. She was 18 and I was 21 (a large gap considering she was entering her senior year of high school and I my senior year of college) but I found her incredibly mature and insightful and saw numerous qualities that made me say “damn. I just may have found the girl I’m going to marry.”
Without going into excessive detail, we decided on having an open relationship. I had read significantly about the concept on your site as well as others, and felt that I wanted to give it a shot. L was hesitant but with further education and discussion came to be amenable to the idea, as we were so far away from each other and we did not want our life experience to be hampered by the obligations that a fully monogamous relationship entailed. However, we were very much in love and wanted to look towards the future and go to school in the same city the next year–possibly NY. We planned on possibly being exclusive at that point.
Things were happy for the first four to six months, I would say. But eventually, we began to have problems that I detail in the next question.
I consider L my third “real” girlfriend. I had two previous relationships in high school as well, but for various reasons I consider them more superficial, though they shaped me into my current self. L is my longest relationship to date and also the only person I have slept with.
Why don’t you describe the details that led up to the infidelity. What do you think brought you to that moment?
I believe a few key factors laid the groundwork for me to cheat:
1. I had concerns that I was too young to fully settle down.
2. I begun to suspect that L was not quite the person I thought she was; she had emotionally volatile tendencies that I perceived as immaturity issues, but I assumed that moving out of our hometown would mellow her out and she would undergo significant growth into who I thought she was originally
3. A, the other woman, possessed numerous qualities that L lacked that alerted me to things I was lacking in my current relationship and needed to have in a life partner.
At a certain point in our relationship, we were having significant problems–jealousy, discrepancies in the amount of attention one was giving the other–that were causing both of us unhappiness. L strongly hinted that the open relationship was to blame, and I thought so at the time as well. (I now realize it was just sheer incompatibility as well as poor communication from both sides, particularly mine.) I knew at that point I either had to become exclusive earlier than anticipated with L and incur the possibility of never sleeping with or having a relationship with another girl again, or leave L. I felt strongly that I had so much love still to give to the world and so much discovery I wanted to do via relationships with others, but i did think that eventually, L would be the person I ended up with, so I made a judgment call and decided to initiate exclusivity and sacrifice the single life. This was my first mistake.
Was this primarily emotional infidelity or physical infidelity or a mix of both?
It was both. I met A on a two week trip about a month after I became exclusive with L, and we had an instant connection. Before long, she confessed her feelings to me. I decided to tell A about L’s existence before i took action on these feelings. However, i tell A that although I am seeing L, we’re not going to be in a relationship until the fall, which is a lie. I also told her that I wanted to explore our connection but did not want to create an expectation that we would pursue it after the trip was over. I didn’t want to outright lie to A but I also did not want to jeopardize all of my chances at a relationship with her. I go into the rationalizations I made for my behavior in the next questions, but one of them was that as long as I had good intentions and was “mostly honest”, the “right” outcome would happen. In truth, I realize now that I felt I wasn’t strong enough to turn down a potential two week fling, so I tried to set the stage for her to do it for me. Not my best plan of attack.
I kissed her when she decided that she wanted to go through with it and essentially dated her throughout the rest of the trip–nobody else on the trip was aware of L’s existence. What I didn’t expect is that I fell in love with A over the course of the trip, and she with me. She, in many respects, embodied a person that I had always wanted to share companionship with; someone with incredible drive and a fervent sense of empathy for anyone and everyone else.
She, in many ways, revealed to me many things that I was lacking in my current relationship.
In many ways, the relationship between A and I ran its course like it would have if L didn’t exist. While we didn’t sleep together (she’s saving until marriage), we did everything but and it felt incredible. At the end of the two weeks, I cried after I said goodbye to her. We wrote final letters to each other. It was an incredibly meaningful experience for both of us.
At no point did I feel like I cheated because I needed sexual gratification; there was a significant emotional void that A filled for me. I felt like A trusted me and believed in everything I was and stood for with such admiration.
I felt like she /got/ me, and I was at a point with L where I felt like a part of her detested who I was.
That juxtaposition was incredibly powerful.
During and after the infidelity explain how you felt. Was the infidelity on going or did it happen in a singular experience?
As stated above, it was an ongoing affair. It was a surreal experience; while I had feelings of guilt during the two weeks, I also had strong feelings that it was the “right” thing to pursue my feelings towards A. I made numerous rationalizations for my behavior:
– “well, I still love L and I’m going to still ship her a really elaborate and thoughtful gift for her birthday.”
– “A and I aren’t realistic options for the long term, so this will be perfect for me to be better for L! I can get my desire for another relationship out of my system and will have peace of mind for the rest of my relationship with L”
– “I really do love A and am expressing that the best way I know how. How is expressing love to the fullest at every possible moment wrong?”
– “I would hold resentment towards L for the rest of my life if I cut myself off from A during this trip. I don’t want to hold a grudge.”
I consider myself a highly emotionally aware person, so I just made everything make sense morally. Of course in hindsight, it was an immense betrayal of trust that I built with both A and L, which is the exact opposite of what love truly should be.
But I had such strong feelings for A that the blinders were on in full force and I couldn’t see that at all. I think a part of me didn’t want to.
Also, I think it’s important to note here that L actually had a ‘side relationship’ during our time being open. She was clear to him as well as me that I was much more important, but her having someone else, especially when I didn’t, caused a lot of issues for us.
To elaborate, during our time being open, I had failed to meet anyone and fulfill my desire to have a fling or even someone to make out with. I think I was already a bit sad for that when I left for my trip. It feels weird and selfish to say that but I felt like my youth wasn’t sufficiently lived–I was always fairly awkward growing up so I have only in the past year or so felt confident in flirting and talking to women. Meeting the “right” person so early in that period was awesome, but at the same time I held some sadness about it that I think I just denied to myself until it was too late. I think in the end I held an idea in my head of what an open relationship was supposed to be–what I wanted it to be–and it was a bit unrealistic. Eventually I think the right(wrong) circumstances came along in the form of A and I just lashed out without giving myself a chance to think.
After the infidelity, what happened?
I eventually decided on telling both parties that I cheated, with intentions of repairing the relationship between L and I. I tell L first, and I tell her that I kissed A at the end of the trip. I rationalized it by thinking that I shouldn’t have to hurt L more than necessary, but I should be honest that I emotionally and physically cheated. I left out that I fell in love with A but I mention that the connection was incredibly strong.
I was so focused on getting her forgiveness and minimizing her pain that I didn’t bring up at all why I cheated.
I.e. the problems we were having in the relationship that led us to this point. I think I didn’t feel like I was in a position to do so. I can’t decide whether I regret that or not. L was, of course, wildly upset and decides to take some time and evaluate our relationship on her upcoming vacation in Germany, where she wants to be single. However, we would keep in contact and if I could prove that I would better myself from this experience, she would take me back.
I told A everything, including that I hid the full truth from L, which she is obviously upset at me for. She is also incredibly hurt by the situation and we decide to break off all communication.
L and I emailed every day while she is abroad, and I realize that a central issue of our relationship was that I felt the need to hide certain details from her because I felt like her feelings would be hurt or that I didn’t trust her to emotionally process things the right way. I knew that if I were to pursue any sort of relationship at all, I needed to be 100% honest with her all the time, consequences be damned. I made a decision then (about two weeks after the first conversation) to tell L everything that happened, and iterate a commitment to total honesty moving forward and a desire to rebuild our relationship. She then is furious and breaks off all contact with me.
I try to reach out to A and let her know that I did the right thing and told L and that we were done, but A, understandably, never responded.
It has been about a month and I have not spoken to A since. L and I have had sparse conversations about exchanging possessions of each others’ we’ve had, and she still holds a lot of bitterness and hate towards me for the situation. I can’t say I fault her for it. We are planning on meeting in September to make a single exchange, and we will have a final conversation then about everything. One of the hardest things to deal with from this is that she may never forgive me.
Do you feel that you could have prevented the infidelity from happening?
My feelings on this question are complicated. I believe the only thing I could change about the situation is that I should have had the courage to break things off with L before cheating.
However, the bond I experienced with A was so strong and so eye opening that although I would never put myself in that situation in the future, a part of me is glad I experienced it.
You don’t lose someone like that and make the same mistakes twice.
Everything was so hazy during that two weeks. I really did have an overwhelming feeling at the time that pursuing A was the right thing. It resonated deeply inside me and overrode all reason and logic. I’m incredibly remorseful for my actions, but I almost felt helpless to my heart. I understand that sounds like an excuse–it’s sincere.
I was cognizant that my actions were traditionally wrong, but since I had good intentions and wasn’t cheating maliciously, it was fine. Which is of course, not fine.
As the person who was unfaithful in the relationship (presuming your partner was not also unfaithful) are there any sentiments that you feel are important to share that others would not like to hear or are difficult to say? Do you feel it difficult to share your side of the story with others?
I would say that my biggest lesson from the situation was that you should constantly ensure that you evaluate any relationship you are in based on current realities rather than assumptions.
I was so caught up in assuming that L was perfect for me that I spent a lot of time performing mental gymnastics to keep her in that role.
Really, our relationship had simply run its course, and I should have had many more honest conversations about that possibility early on. Perhaps it would have saved our relationship, or perhaps it would have ended naturally before my trip and I would be free to pursue A to this day without having truly lost both L and A.
I would never condone cheating. On no level do I feel like what I did was the right thing to do. I lost two of the most influential people in my life–two people that I both loved–through actions that were entirely my fault, and I will live with that pain for a long time, maybe forever. That said, the experience that I’ve gained as a result of the choices I made will serve me incredibly well. The pain I continue to go through will serve as a motivator for constant self-evaluation.
Sharing this story with others has actually been manageable and has also been the biggest part of me recovering from the fallout. I encourage anyone in this situation to reach out to anyone you can about it–I’ve explained the situation to and received feedback from mutual friends of L, mutual friends of A, and friends that never met either of them. I was surprised to discover that other people that I held in incredibly high esteem had cheated before in their lives as well, and was also surprised at the level of empathy shown from people that had been cheated on in the past.
People will surprise you.