I lurched awake suddenly at 3 am. I instinctively reach for my phone. No missed calls, no texts. He didn’t call me back. He always calls me back. He’s cheating on me. He’s with a girl right now. I am more certain of this fact than I’ve ever been about any other aspect of our relationship. We were always on shaky ground. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And now it has.
I don’t want to be right. I really want to be off about this, so I do something that always served me well in my love life, I lean on my remarkable capacity for self-deception. I wake up the next morning and treat it all like a nightmare. It never happened, everything is the same.
So I go about my day, brushing any awful thoughts aside. He and I were in a long distance relationship for the summer because I was home before starting my senior year of college. While I really loved him, at least I thought it was love at the time, the relationship was unhealthy, codependent, and horribly toxic. I didn’t just love him, I needed him. And he needed me. We were basically everything to one another. We didn’t have much going on outside of the relationship and as a result, it felt like he was a part of me, and not in a good way.
I was interning at a magazine that summer and was scrolling through Facebook to pass some time between assignments when I saw something I couldn’t unsee. A girl, a very hot girl, posted on his wall. I tried to find some other explanation, but she was obviously referencing them hanging out together and I just knew.
He called me later that night acting like everything was normal. I wanted to participate in the charade, but I just had to ask.
“So why didn’t you call me back last night?”
“I was just hanging out, you know.”
“Hanging out with who?”
“You were hanging out with a girl.”
“And you cheated on me,”
“Yes. I’m so sorry.”
“I can’t believe you. Never talk to me again.” I hang up the phone and cue the tears.
We talk again later that night but it’s useless. I want him to beg for my forgiveness—I’m ready to forgive before he even asks for it!—but he doesn’t. This is the end. He didn’t just cheat on me, he’s leaving me for her. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything more painful in my life, not even childbirth.
I was literally gutted, ripped open from end to end. I didn’t understand how I could function in the world without him. It just felt wrong. I walked around constantly sick to my stomach, my world perpetually tilted on an axis to the point I couldn’t even walk in a straight line. It was like I had gone through the looking glass, nothing made any sense without him.
But I knew he would come back. He has to come back. I know everything about him. I know his past, his pain, his demons. I’ve been there for him through everything. I don’t have friends anymore, I don’t have a life anymore, I’ve spent every moment of the past year being there for him and helping him get himself together, how can he survive without me?
A few weeks later I’m back in Boston to start my senior year. I feel certain that now that we’re back in the same city he will definitely want me back. It’s like the last time we broke up, he was begging for me back within a few weeks even though he said we should try not to speak for three months. He’ll be back. He will.
But he didn’t come back. Instead, his new girlfriend flaunted their relationship all over social media. And being the masochist that I am, I couldn’t stop myself from tuning in to see the show. They were making bold declarations of their love for one another, posting pictures in bed together (yes, seriously), of them making silly faces, of them making sexy faces, of them, wearing matching thick rim glasses because how adorable is that? It was never-ending.
The worst part was he became the man I always wanted him to be … with her. He wouldn’t even call me his girlfriend to other people and here he was flaunting it to the world with her. He didn’t say he loved me for six months, and he only said it when we were breaking up the first time, and here he was showering her with loud declarations of love after three weeks. He didn’t take me out on fun dates or do anything exciting with me, he just wanted to stay home, order in, and mope. What did she have that I don’t have?
I wasn’t only obsessed with him, I was obsessed with her. I needed to know everything about her. Why wasn’t I good enough? And what makes her good enough?
When the questions got to be too much I called him for some answers. I needed closure, I needed to understand. But what a waste of time that was. It was like talking to a cold distant stranger. All the love he once felt (if it actually existed) was long gone. He just gave me short, “what do you want me to tell you?” answers, followed by sighs of annoyance. If I didn’t feel like nothing before this conversation, I certainly did after.
The pain was too much. It was unrelenting and suffocating. So I dealt with it the only way my 21-year-old self knew how. I partied like a monster. I mean, take the wildest party girl you know, multiply her by 10 and that was me.
I was on a tear like you wouldn’t believe. I was on a mission. My mission: drink to the point that I can’t feel, and also make every guy in the room ache for me. I didn’t care to hook up. I just needed them to want me more than they’ve ever wanted anything. That was my game and I played it well. But oh boy, did it come at a cost.
Soon enough, I discovered that I didn’t need the booze or the boys to feel numb. I was just numb. I was a shell of a person. No more feelings, no more emotions, just black empty darkness. There was a lot of hurt in there, and a lot of rage, but I couldn’t feel it anymore. I turned my feelings off and became almost like a vampire. I came out at night to prey, got my fix, and then retreated at dawn until the sun went down again. It was a sad and sick way to live. And almost tragic. I was punishing myself for someone else’s mistake. And why? For what?
I think that breakup was the hardest thing I have ever had to overcome in my life. Looking back, I don’t even know how I got through it. The healing came, but that was after many years of darkness and of needing to undo faulty beliefs that got deeply wired into my psyche, sabotaging me and my love life for many years after.
I was a classic case of what not to do. But I learned a lot, and have used my knowledge to help countless women heal their ravaged hearts. And with that, here are my tips to recover from being cheated on, the healthy way.
1. Deal with it
Don’t run away from your feelings, they will always find you. Don’t shove them to the side or bury them under drugs and alcohol. Don’t self-destruct, because what sense does that make?
My default was always self-destruction and many years later, when trying to overcome yet another heartbreak, I was heading in that direction but finally, a voice of reason kicked in!
I had a sudden epiphany, a mature, responsible voice inside that said: no, not this time. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. I’m going to take care of myself and be healthy. I’m going to go to the gym instead of the bar. I’m going to invest in my relationship with myself so that I learn to like myself again. After that, maybe even love me. And it worked! I actually changed for the better and that one resolution put me on the path to actually finding and having a healthy relationship.
So write about it. Talk about it. Maybe talking to your friends and family will be enough, maybe you need to find a good therapist (the right therapist can literally change your life!). And be kind to yourself! Don’t beat yourself up, physically and emotionally. Work on healing, work on being better.
2. It’s not personal
Believe me, I know it feels so personal. He chose her, he didn’t want you, hence, you are not good enough. You are worthless. You are unattractive. You are just plain bad. You will never get what you want in life.
I know how that song goes, I’ve sung it many times over. When you allow these beliefs you get wired in, you ruin yourself. And you blame him for ruining you but it wasn’t him. It was your reaction to what he did that was your undoing.
Honestly, it had nothing to do with you. It was about him. He needed something. Maybe he needed validation, maybe he needed someone shiny and new to worship him, maybe he just needed to feel good about himself, whatever it is, it was his need that lead him to stray, not your lack.
Men don’t usually cheat because they no longer love their partners or find them attractive. It’s because they need a certain emotional fix. In my relationship, he felt like a worthless loser (these were his words, we talked about this a lot but I’ll get to that later). I saw his real, raw self and I wanted to take care of him … and in doing so, I kind of became his mommy. I cared for him like he was a little boy and there is nothing sexy about that dynamic.
I’m not saying what he did was right, what he did was absolutely awful. But can I sort of understand the appeal for him of having this hot sexy girl who worshipped him and thought he was manly and amazing? Yes, because I didn’t look at him that way anymore. I looked at him as a problem I needed to solve. And I did care about him deeply, but not in the same way. He had an opportunity to start fresh, to be with someone who inspired him to get his life together (as opposed to me, who made him feel all too comfortable in his misery), and he took it.
Everyone has what they want to give and get from a relationship. Sometimes it isn’t a match — what you want to give is what he wants to get and vice versa — and sometimes it isn’t. He and I just weren’t compatible. We weren’t good together. It was always too hard, always full of issues, always so sad and dreary. It just wasn’t a match and that’s not such a big deal.
3. Don’t punish the next guy for the last one’s mistake
This is probably the number one question I get from women who have been cheated on: how can I trust again? And it’s not easy to trust a new guy when the last one left you absolutely shattered. But here’s the thing, you will never get the love you want unless you are able to open yourself back up again.
Try to get to the root of what went wrong in your last relationship. What red flags did you ignore? In what ways was the relationship not right for you? What qualities should a long-term partner have?
Trust starts with you. It’s not that you don’t trust men anymore, it’s that you don’t trust your own judgment. If you can really get to the root of what went wrong, and what you would do differently next time, then you will be better able to trust your judgment going forward.
You can’t punish the next guy for the last one’s mistakes. This just isn’t fair. Try as best you can to start anew. If you need to take things more slowly this time, that’s totally fine. As you get more comfortable with the new guy, be open and honest about your pain. Vulnerability is scary, but this is how we emotionally connect so it’s important to let the vulnerability out in doses you are comfortable with.
4. Choose wisely
This ties into the previous point. The best way to trust again and find lasting love is to choose wisely.
I’m not blaming you for what happened. But chances are, you saw some red flags but chose to ignore them.
We all have the power to choose. This is what determines if we get the love we want or not.
I chose poorly and I knew it, I just couldn’t pry myself away. I did what all of us do when we’re entangled in toxic relationships. I clung to the belief that it would get better, and someday everything would be different. As soon as he starts doing better in his career … as soon as his depression lifts … As soon as the stress of our daily lives subsides a bit … then everything will be perfect.
I never could trust him. In the back of my mind, I always knew he would leave for someone else. I always knew I was a placeholder, but who wants to admit something so awful and painful? So I didn’t admit it. I chose not to look at how things were in the present moment and fantasized about what they could be in the future. And boy was my fantasy future off base!
5. Stop waiting for closure
When you wait for the closure to come, you just keep yourself in a holding pattern. You don’t let yourself move forward. You convince yourself that you need this magical closure to open the gates that will allow you to enter the next phase of your life.
Maybe you need answers, maybe you need an explanation. Maybe you think these things are owed to you. But the closure rarely comes, unless you want to wait a really long time. You don’t need him to give you an explanation of why he did what he did. Even if he does, the answer will never satisfy you. He’ll either give you some half-truth to spare your feelings, or he’ll give you the real truth and this will just hurt you. Sometimes closure is just running into him at the grocery store and not feeling the urge to call your best friend immediately and re-hash every single detail. Just like you have the power to choose, you have the power to close the loop.
So what happened to him and her? Well, they broke up after less than two years together. Around that time, I reached out to him to get my closure. We had a very long closure talk, but I didn’t learn anything new. He just confirmed what I knew all along so I wasted over two years of my life convinced that I can’t move on until closure came.
And then we started a website together (don’t even ask how we got from point A to Z, but if you really want to know I can write a different article about that!) And so a business was born, a website about relationships written by a set of exes.
It was hard and complicated and crazy. Feelings were resurrected from the dead, stupid mistakes were made, but that’s all ancient history now. Since I’ve worked so closely with him over the last decade, I know without a doubt he was not, and never was and never would be, the right guy for me. I guess I was lucky in that way because I was able to truly see that it was all for the best. That our relationship ending in such a spectacularly dramatic and devastating way was how it needed to happen.
The point is, you can’t panic in the middle of a sentence. You need to keep going and I promise, one day the clarity and the closure will come. In the meantime, be your best self. Take care of yourself. Don’t punish yourself and adopt negative, destructive beliefs. Know that one day you will find love and happiness and you will be so grateful that you didn’t end up with the guy who broke your heart into a million pieces.