I have a very strange dating problem: I always attract guys who already have boyfriends. This is fine if he and his partner are open and good communicators, but a lot of the time, they aren’t. And, of course, The Guy With a Boyfriend never tells you right away — because then you wouldn’t go out with him. Here’s how it always goes: I’ll be on a second or third date with a guy, and I think it’s going really well. He says commitment turns him on. He’s way into cuddling. He knows Scorsese is not a type of pasta. I think I can trust him. We’ll go back to his apartment, and the night starts to turn into that Ludacris song. I think I might have sex with him. And then he stops the sexual momentum to tell me something: He’s had a boyfriend for nine months. He guesses it’s getting serious. But maybe he’s not happy. He doesn’t know. But he’s having such a good time with me, and he doesn’t want that to end.
The last guy this happened with I really liked, and I thought there might be something there. He sat through a three-hour independent film about post-9/11 guilt for me, which is the universal sign of a keeper. And when he dropped the Already-Have-a-Boyfriend Bomb — in the middle of some extreme, 9 ½ Weeks-style kissing — I was devastated. But in a moment of weakness, I went back to making out with him. His face just felt so good pressed against mine — our beards rubbing like sexy, morally ambiguous sandpaper — and for a split second, I didn’t care that maybe his boyfriend knew that style of fighting that only Israeli soldiers and Hilary Clinton know. For a split second, I could pretend this was still what I needed.
When I got home that night, I called my most zipper-lipped friends to get some guidance about how I should handle this. I knew what I had to do, but I needed a Sassy Gay Friend to tell me how stupid I had been. I needed to know that I was doing the right thing in never seeing this guy again — unless there were multiple glass windows between us and my arms were stapled to a chair.
However, this was not the feedback I got. You know how they say common sense is not that common? Almost every person I polled had the exact same advice: Keep seeing him. If he’s cheating, it’s his problem, not yours. This was all except for one, who told me I should tell him to get lost, delete his number and leave a horse head in his bed as a parting gift. This friend was like that one mythical dentist in the toothpaste commercial who disagrees with all the other dentists. As it turns out, if we only listen to the four out of five, we may all have more cavities than we think.
Confused and swayed by the majority, I decided to go see him again, because maybe I was just being too much of a puritan about these things. I called him and we met up.
Even though part of me really wanted to go through with it, to embrace my inner Fatal Attraction and take him on the countertop, I broke if off that night because I remembered everything else that happens in that movie. Then I remembered what it felt like to be cheated on by the person I loved most in the world. We had been together for two years, and I couldn’t believe he would do this to me. Even though it felt like I was cutting off my arm, I told him that I couldn’t be with him anymore because I knew I would never be able to trust him again. Just a few weeks before, we had walked together holding hands during a Prop 8 protest. Did that mean nothing to him? What were the thoughts going through his hand as the fingers on his hand squeezed mine so closely on that wet November night? Were they holding on forever, holding on for warmth or holding onto a lie? I didn’t even want to think about it.
But I did think about it, all the time. I cried for months — in supermarkets, on the train, to complete strangers. I regularly had emotional breakdowns in my grant advisor’s office. I stopped eating and had a hard time going to class. I stared at the corners of walls. I blamed myself. I believed that I drove him to cheat on me with my frigid loins. I thought I was the problem.
I had to learn the hard way that no one deserves to get cheated on, and no one has a reason or an excuse to cheat on you. This isn’t a moral grey area. If you are getting cheated on, don’t listen to those who say it takes two in a relationship to cheat. It doesn’t. It takes one person who is in a relationship and one other person (who is not you!) because a cheater doesn’t cheat alone. With this guy, that one other person could have been me, and if I went through with it knowing what I knew, I would have been as responsible for causing someone else’s pain as he was for not telling me he was in a relationship right away. I wouldn’t be any better than he was.
When I voiced these opinions, a friend told me I was just keeping myself from being happy. I should keep seeing him and wait out the end of their relationship (because “he said it’s not working out!”). But I couldn’t pull an Angelina Jolie: my pleasure could never be the source of someone else’s heartache, and if I did start a relationship with someone that way, I would never be able to trust him. Not after how we got together.
Sure, popular psychology has called into question the “once a cheater, always a cheater” notion, but just because they may or may not cheat on you, too, doesn’t mean they deserve your trust or deserve to be in a relationship with you or with anyone. Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt put it best: If a guy already has someone else, he’s just not that into you. We say it’s complicated; it’s not complicated. If he wanted to be with you, he would find a way to be single before he has sex with you. Because otherwise, if he’s taken and that into you, it’s not going to be in a way that will make you happy. Guys who want to make you happy will do it in the right way, no moral baggage attached.
For instance, I have another friend who had been in a relationship for two years with a guy who wouldn’t break up with the partner he’s cheating on, and all of our acquaintances have been begging my friend to just break it off already because we knew he was miserable. Even though the partnered guy said he loved my friend, my friend deserved so much more than being the third wheel in a bicycle built for disaster. Last week, he finally broke up with the partnered guy, and I’ve never seen him look happier. He finally realized he deserves better, because we all deserve better. We don’t just need a relationship; we need one that makes us feel happy, fulfilled, safe and cared for. And at the bare minimum, we need to be with someone who cares about us enough to be single. If that’s not already common sense, it should be.