I’ve been a serial dater from the very first, “Will you be my girlfriend?”
That was nine boyfriends ago.
During my time with boyfriend number eight–let’s call him Brandon–I invited over an old friend with benefits to my apartment. We didn’t have a full-on affair; we didn’t even have sex. But we cuddled on my couch, and I let him squeeze my butt a few times.
I knew full and well that I was taking advantage of that fact that Brandon was away in Mexico, and I didn’t care. I’d always dreaded being cheated on, but here I was doing to someone else what I feared. And I’ll be the first to say: that’s fucked up.
We can do one of two things here: throw our hands up and yell, She’s a cheater! We’re done with her! or we can understand why it is that this happened.
My relationship with Brandon started at the same time my previous boyfriend left me. I was in shambles. Boyfriend number seven, Smith, and I talked about a future together. We planned to move to Seattle the next year. We talked about marriage. I even looked past that one time Smith choked me during an argument.
But we ended. And like a knight in rusty armor, Brandon swooped in to console me. After several rocky months, Brandon officially became boyfriend number eight.
But what Brandon was working with was a somber, broken version of myself. I was hurt by Smith and covering it up with Brandon’s affection.
Then, Brandon revealed several weeks into the relationship that he wasn’t looking for a serious girlfriend, just someone to have fun with.
In my sad state, my insecurities ran rampant. In my heart, I knew I shouldn’t be with Brandon. I could never fully commit myself to this guy, mentally or emotionally. I told myself that if someone better came along, I wouldn’t hesitate to leave.
Again, fucked up. I know.
I didn’t trust that Brandon wasn’t cheating. I was jealous of his female friends; I picked fights over his feelings for me. Most nights, we ended on the sweet note of a horrible argument.
But I stayed because I thought the pain of being alone would hurt more than what we had. That fear kept me in the relationship. That fear caused me to get to the point where I could justify cheating.
On the night when my friend with benefits came over, I didn’t question the reasoning for my actions. I believed Brandon was most likely cheating on me. I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal if we didn’t go beyond cuddling. I did a lot of things I wouldn’t have done if I truly cared for my boyfriend.
What I should’ve done is broken up with Brandon. I should’ve started my journey of singledom much sooner. I should’ve respected him simply because I made a promise, and he’s a human being.
But I let my fear of being alone get the best of me. I promised myself that I would never cheat on someone, and I did. But it was the slap in the face I needed to realize that something was seriously wrong. Not just with the relationship but with me.
I had a lot of work to do around forming healthy boundaries with men. I didn’t know how to say that I needed time to let my feelings build. I would ignore red flags. I’d prioritize their happiness over mine. I even let emotional and physical abuse slide.
I lacked self-confidence. I sought validation for myself in the people I dated. I believed that I was only worthy when I was wanted. I clung to the meaning I created for their words. My insecurities then seeped through into nit-picking my partner’s every action.
I needed to stop being so selfish. When you date from a place that is rooted in your own issues, you drag down the other person; that’s not fair. There’s no reason for someone else to be tangled in your emotional baggage you refuse to work on. That’s exactly what I did to Brandon, and it wasn’t right.
I also needed to learn how to be alone.
It’s easy to excuse someone as a cheater, but harder to acknowledge the reasons behind their actions. People walk around with the emotional baggage, unclaimed and unprocessed. They get into relationships and ultimately hurt the other person.
And if we shame these people, this vicious cycle of hurt people hurting people will only continue.
There’s no excuse for cheating, but I believe that if I loved myself and genuinely cared for Brandon, I wouldn’t have done what I did.
Since then, I’ve taken the time to reflect on that relationship. I bit the bullet and admitted to myself that I fucked up. I’m not perfect, not even in relationships. But if I wasn’t willing to admit that, how could I ever expect to change?
I worked through messed up beliefs I held. With a therapist, I uncovered why it was I didn’t think I deserved a healthy relationship. I discovered why I let abuse slide; why I couldn’t create boundaries even for the sake of my health.
Then I saw my intentions for dating as what they were: a veil over my eyes so I couldn’t see the pain in my life. I dated so I didn’t have to feel alone. I dated so I could feel cared for.
Cheating is horrible and traumatic for the person involved. But the underlying issues will never be fixed until we’re willing to look past the physical act.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to check-in with themselves and realize how their traumas could be affecting their relationships. Not just for their sake but for the other people involved too.