When you’re right in the thick of it, when you’re crouched in the corner of a bedroom while your partner is taking a shower, flicking through text messages and seething with a combination of rage and validation when you find the evidence you have been looking for for months, you can’t imagine it. It doesn’t feel like you will ever be fully human again, like you will escape the prison of doubt and insecurity and self-hatred that you’ve been put in by seeing someone you love find their happiness somewhere else. There is a part of you that feels profoundly shifted, like the first time you got to go out with all of your friends and no parental chaperone — you are some kind of adult now, and you know things that you are never really prepared to learn.
Being cheated on makes you look at more questions than you would ever have willingly asked yourself. You wonder if you are good-looking, if you are interesting, if you can ever offer real satisfaction to someone in the long-term. Even though you know that it was your partner who did the bad thing and who should be looking inwards, all you can do is berate your ugly, insufficient body for not being able to hold onto what you loved so dearly. There must be something fundamentally defective with you if you can experience such love and never have it fully reciprocated. How could someone who is so worthless find love again?
And why would you want to? The whole world around you now seems a game to which you only know a few of the rules, something that is constantly going just slightly over your head and out of reach. Even if you could fall in love with someone, how could you ever trust them? How could you let them go to the grocery store, or a friend’s house, or a night on the town, knowing that at any moment they could decide to lie about their activities and make you become the frantic, jealous fool again? It seems far too risky an investment, even if there were a chance of them loving you back. You had that once, and you saw where it led you.
But as time passes, and you draw further and further away from that half-person crouching behind a bed searching for proof, you start to feel a strange sense of pity for the one who cheated. What a sad thing, really, to be constantly running around behind another’s back to find scraps and facsimiles of open happiness. What a tragedy for the person they were cheating with, to have to live with the discarded moments and parenthetical outings that live on the outskirts of the real relationship. All they had was Wednesday nights after 9 PM, and they somehow had to convince themselves that it wasn’t insulting to have to keep their love tucked away in a dirty corner.
It wasn’t love. Even if you have feelings for someone, if you are only willing to engage in it insofar as you can hide it from someone else, that is too selfish to be real love — and you know that. And you start to wonder why you allowed so much of your time to be taken up by someone who was clearly not interested in respecting you or themselves. You start to wonder why you allowed their sad half-relationship ruin the prospect of a new one of your own. You start to wonder why you think no one can be trusted, just because one specific person can’t be.
You go out on a date for the first time in a long time and it feels nice. It feels like the moment in class when you pulled out a fresh sheet of looseleaf and put your pen on the very first line, and nothing was wrong yet. You realize that you cannot be promised love. You cannot be promised fidelity. But you can be promised that new start, the construction of something that doesn’t have anything to do with how badly you were hurt or how bad the people in your life used to be. And while some people may amuse themselves with carrying on affairs in seedy hotels and late-night emails of all the things they wish they could do, you are ready to have something out in the open. Because that new sheet of looseleaf feeling — of not knowing how wonderful this could be — is worth all of the risk that you might get fooled again.
The Thought Catalog Dating Playbook is brought to you by Silver Linings Playbook, an Academy Award® winning romantic drama about getting back on your feet after falling apart.
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