I find cheating more or less unforgivable. Exes have cheated on me, and the poisonous mixture of self-doubt, jealousy, and heartbreak your mind cooks up for you in return is excruciating. It’s not something I’ll ever really be on board with, and if anyone ever cheats on me now, they’re written off for good.
That being said, I did cheat once. And it probably saved my life.
Forgive me if I sound slightly hyperbolic, but when two women are killed every week by a current or former partner in the UK, we live in a world where we need to protect ourselves, even if that means looking back on the past with whatever the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles is.
I cheated on my boyfriend nearly two years ago when I was away on a skiing holiday with my friends. I spent the week getting to know a certain ski instructor who took an interest in me. We ended up hooking up on our last night there.
Travelling home the next day I was a conflicted ball of nausea and joy. I knew I’d cheated on someone who said they loved me, but the guilt and shame I fully expected to feel weren’t really there. They were more like dull thuds at the back of my mind. I knew I’d done something bad, I just didn’t care.
Feel free to judge me — I certainly ended up judging myself. But I’ve replayed my choices over and over again since then, and I regret nothing.
I tried to make sense of what I’d done, and why. Looking back now, having drunk, chaotic, hilarious sex with someone else was the catalyst that meant I started making sense of the toxic mess I’d been calling a relationship. I got a new perspective, and it was the spark I needed to finally be set free.
Before the trip I’d been with my boyfriend for about a year. Over those 12 months he’d pinned me up a train carriage door, screamed insults in my face, and threatened to leave me if I didn’t submit to his demands. He used me for money. He never cared about my health, wellbeing, or what I wanted. He was incredibly selfish in life, love, and sex. He only gave me affection intermittently in minuscule doses — just enough to maintain his control over me.
I was dating an abusive, manipulative narcissist. A smart one.
I’ve been through some of the messages my now ex was sending me throughout my trip, but they just make me feel sick now. I would share them here, but that would mean reliving the fact he was ever in my life.
I remember them vividly enough. I was gone for a week, and he was constantly sending me hateful words about how selfish I was to dare to go away. I never did anything for him. I spent all my time with my friends when I should only be with him.
“Don’t even reply to this unless you’re going to apologize.”
Then something snapped. I didn’t deserve this. I was sitting in the cabin with my friends fighting back tears because I couldn’t even begin to describe what I was going through. I just knew it was wrong.
I turned my phone off and I truly escaped. I was skiing — my favourite thing — with some of the best people I knew.
I drove him out of my mind long enough to let someone else in, and I got a glimpse of my former self in the process. I realised I wasn’t just a tool for someone else’s needs. I was a real person, and I mattered.
The guy I met was was kind, funny, and he liked me. It felt good. It felt too good. It was like I’d completely forgotten how it feels when someone genuinely wants you. All he was doing was the bare minimum for a normal, reasonable guy to show their interest, but to me it felt like the world.
That really highlighted just how disgustingly I was being treated back home, by someone who was supposed to care about me more than anyone. A man I’d known for less than a week was making me feel more at ease than someone I’d known for a year.
I didn’t start to feel any guilt until I landed back in the UK. I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake, and over the next couple of days I wrestled with my choices. I could end things for good or try and make it work.
Hindsight is a wonderful, cruel thing. If I’d known what I know now, if I’d had the clarity, I would have gotten as far away from him as possible. But I couldn’t do it.
I tried to break up with him but I ended up going back a matter of days later. His control over me was stronger than I’d realised. I was so wrapped up in him and his own needs that I felt responsible. I needed to help him. He was so damaged. He needed me.
I mostly stayed out of fear. When he would tell me I was a selfish bitch, I would believe him. If he didn’t love me, nobody would.
I couldn’t completely fool myself — what was I doing? I asked myself why I couldn’t leave and why I was so weak. I would beat myself up time and time again about staying with someone who didn’t make me happy.
I would cry myself to sleep, wake up jaded and completely alone. There’s nothing as lonely as sleeping in the same bed as someone who hurts you.
I knew he loathed me through and through, and only wanted to cause me pain, but I let him convince me that he loved me. I let him silence my voice, my doubts, and my intuition. As quickly as I found myself when I was on the slopes, I lost her again when reality came crashing down around me.
There was something different though. It was as if I had more fighting spirit. I never told my ex I cheated on him. God knows what he would have done if he’d ever found out. But it stayed with me. Not like a dirty little secret, but like a story that was truly mine that he couldn’t touch. I knew someone had made me feel like myself again, and there was nothing he could do about that. He couldn’t take this away from me.
I think that’s what gave me strength, and he started to sense it.
He started to realize he couldn’t fully control me. He noticed a change in me, however subtle, that meant I wouldn’t put up with his abuse any longer. I fought back on his ridiculous demands, and he didn’t like it.
So he broke up with me a few weeks later. It felt like the worst thing he could ever do to me. He ripped my heart out, he stamped on it, and he didn’t let me move on for months afterwards. But to this day, I’m so thankful he did.
Of course it was painful. I was still bonded to him and believed him when he told me how much of a bad person I was. His manipulation wasn’t going to be washed away overnight. But over the next few months, the pain did subside.
It took a long time. Some days I thought I’d never get over it, until one day I woke up and he was gone. I was free, and I slowly started seeing him for everything he truly was. I started to be kinder to myself and I didn’t beat myself up anymore. I wasn’t stupid and weak, I was strong and he didn’t succeed in destroying me. His narcissistic ego needed someone who he could beat down every day and mistreat without any pushback.
I do worry sometimes if he has someone and what he is doing to her. He probably does, but I know from experience nobody can force you to that place of clarity. Unfortunately, if she exists, it’s completely up to her.
If I’d never cheated I wouldn’t have gotten there myself. I might even still be in with him. I have friends, stronger than I am, who fell for the same tricks for years.
It’s easy to see the horror and the cracks now, but at the time I was oblivious.
The mask of a narcissist is so captivating, and they’re highly skilled at warping your reality.
Two years later, my life is well and truly clean of him. I’m more resilient and my tolerance for putting up with bullshit is at an all-time low. I know what I want and I’m not afraid of drawing the line when someone falls short.
If I’d never cheated, I may never have become this person. I may never have known who I truly am and what I deserve. Being unfaithful to a monster lifted the fog, and saved the life I never knew I’d have.