“I miss you too, babe. Yeah, I just woke up from a nap.” I make a point to sound groggy and muddled with sleep. It doesn’t taste like a lie. After several hours of raunchy, feral sex with a stranger I could truthfully say I missed my comfort zone and that, for some time at least, I had been laying in a bed.
We asked about the other’s day and said I love you to exhaustion. One of the things that had always grated at me – the verbalization of what should just be understood, like hunger. After we hung up I lay sprawled on my bed for a long time, sending up puffs of pot smoke thoughtlessly into the dark.
My boyfriend and I had been dating for two years and everything was…fine. He was handsome and sweet, caring and considerate. He made me orgasm. He was adored by my family and friends. He loved me to obsession. And complacency. Two years in and we were missing something essential. He lived forty minutes away. He hated nights out. He preferred comfort to adventure in all things. He was the steadiness to my frantic, urgent way of living. We were constantly fighting. It was complicated. It always is.
I was suffocating.
This is going to sound…bad. It’s going to make me seem like a cruel, heartless person, unworthy of love. And maybe I am. Maybe I’m still trying to determine that for myself. I loved my boyfriend in ways I had never been equipped to love anyone else before. But in my moments of silence and honesty, I could admit to myself that I’d been flirting with disaster for a while yet. I’d re-downloaded dating apps only to delete them days later. I’d sent dirty pictures to strangers I was too bashful to send to the man who loved me. I’d invited men (and women) into my apartment. I’d sat with them on the bed I fucked my boyfriend in, only to turn them out on my doorstep after a few fumbled touches. I’d gone so far as to kiss an old flame on a girl’s trip, taking advantage of my lack of supervision to meet up with him in the corner of a late night bar.
A few months later I’d gone home with a stranger, let him touch me to completion, and left immediately afterward, much to his confusion and my heavy shame. I was sending shouts into the dark like flares. It had nothing to do with any of them, my boyfriend included, and everything to do with me.
I’d been unfaithful in relationships before, no surprise there. Looking back I was human dynamite in the still water of my life. It was a pattern of self-destruction that I ignited at the point I was most repressive to my subconscious, maintaining relationships that no longer felt to me like a release or a canopy shielding me from my own problems.
Still, I insisted, he was different. I fed off his adult self-possession. His way of being was the structure I needed. For a while. Then life accumulated around us and broke into the sanctuary we had crafted out of each other and I desperately needed to escape. Again. Every time I danced on the edge between right and wrong I’d felt more alive. Then I’d scold myself and settle back into my “real” life. And that’s how it went for the entire second year of my relationship. I don’t know what made me feel like I was able to cross that one last little white line.
But I did.
“Have you ever played strip poker?” We were sitting on my porch in absolute darkness, a bowl and a bottle sat on the café table between us. I had been alone tumbling thoughts over in my head for what felt like forever. I needed a contrast, I told myself. A little bit of stupid to show me how great my relationship was and shock me back into my life. So I picked one at random and here he was, indulging in my cultivated sense of mystery and free weed at 10:30 on a work night.
I was not expecting what I got in return. A 6’4″ retired marine with all my niche interests and destructive tendencies who could fuck me for hours with his 7″ dick. He used words like “facetious.” He gave me multiple orgasms into the double digits. I was in trouble.
“Well,” he said, measured and low. I liked the strength of him, I decided. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
As it turns out, I am very good at poker.
A bottle of red wine and a few bowls later we were kneeling across from one another in our underwear, staring at each other with fixed intensity and surprising shyness. Sex I had already accepted as inevitable. Whatever this was, I hadn’t bargained for it.
“Your move,” I said quietly, still as an animal. He shifted closer to me in response. Then I was in his lap, straddling him, kissing each other like oxygen and flame. Consumptive and heated. I heard a distant crash as he hoisted me into his arms and onto the bed.
All I could think through the was when was the last time anyone has wanted me this badly? I hadn’t felt this alive in the two years of my relationship. And that was dangerous.
Once upon a time, I thought I knew how relationships were supposed to work. You grew up, fell in love with someone amazing and never looked back. In reality, even amazing people change. We grow up, and in the process naturally grow apart. Bottom line, people who judge people who cheat have never fucking done it.
After that first night, I felt something in me shift irreparably. I started going to drinks and dinners with my friends after work. I went out on the weekends. I threw myself into the lights and the attention the way I was used to, drinking in every stolen moment of selfdom. I went to concerts on a whim. I did drugs with strangers. I wrote for no particular reason. I read books. I went for long walks and spent time in my own company and couldn’t quite remember why I’d ever stopped. And through it all, I began to miss my comfort zone. I felt exposed, caught in a bluff I’d made with myself.
In the end, I was honest, both with him and with myself. While he insisted that he could move past it, I knew in my heart that I had broken the seal on something bigger than us. While I still loved him, there was no going back to the way we were.
Cheating showed me all the things I’d been missing, both within and outside of my relationship. Most of all it reminded me that while I had gone looking for them in other people, these things that I needed so desperately could only come from within. The pain I caused and the choices I made were my own. What I learned about myself in the process I will never regret.