This Is What Cheating Is Actually About, Because It’s More Than Just Lust

tattooed woman holding man's hand
Felix Russel-Saw

There are so many shared theories on infidelity. Iʼve read them all, been lured into clicking on all of the articles. How a womanʼs reasons for cheating are different from a manʼs. How women seek attention, wanting to fill voids and how men look for the physical. Iʼve analyzed it all with the best of them.

I donʼt know thereʼs any merit to these theories, really. Everyoneʼs reasons for cheating are different. Everyoneʼs path to cheating is different. Some couplesʼ willingness to work through cheating and stay together are all different.

Thereʼs no formula to cheating, as much as weʼd like there to be so we could avoid it. No matter how many articles are written that analyze or predict it, no matter how many red flags there are in a relationship, no matter how many lists we read about the signs of cheating, no matter how much justifying is done, it happens and it will continue to happen. Itʼs terrible, but it happens.

I do believe there is a constant truth about infidelity and itʼs quite simple: we are selfish beings that want and crave attention.

Period. And most times, we donʼt want to do the real work with our
partners to get to a healthier place. We take the path of least resistance. Cheating on a partner is an act of selfishness and cowardliness that begs to be judged, (and trust me, I do still judge when I hear stories of cheating spouses), but few realize, or will admit, that it could be any one of us on either side of infidelity. We want to believe it would never be us, or happen to us, yet it is and it does.

Iʼve been married twice. Iʼm now twice divorced. I choke on typing that in solid print. Itʼs embarrassing to me that I failed at marriage twice.

Many people in my life might not even know about my first marriage. I even tend to forget. I was 24 and was in a rush to be in love, to be loved, to be married, to do what all of my friends were doing. I was set up with a guy on a blind date. He was kind-hearted, funny, and he adored me. Our relationship moved much too fast. We moved in together after only four weeks of dating and we were engaged within months.

If Iʼm being totally honest, I never loved him. I knew that from the start and I ignored it. I wanted the wedding, I wanted the adoration. I was really good at pretending. We had very little in common but in retrospect, I didnʼt even know myself well enough to know what my needs and wants were at the time. He was a good person and he deserved more. I was on a rebound from a long-term love when I met him and he paid the price. Itʼs unfair and it was shitty, but it was the
reality.

I made a conscience decision to cheat on him only three months into our marriage. Not to be confused with a premeditated plan to cheat. I donʼt know that anyone actually does that. Not many look to outwardly and blatantly lie and live a double life.

How many times have you heard, “It just…happened”? And it does, just happen. This is not a dismissive or an excusable fact, but it is the truth. Cheating is really about trying something on for size, seeing how it fits.

I met a guy at work, a much younger guy, that I had a ridiculous amount of chemistry with. Because he was so much younger, I didnʼt notice the chemistry immediately but when I finally acknowledged what was happening, it was over. I was involved. I was emotionally cheating from that moment on and physical cheating wasnʼt far behind.

Once the physical relationship began, I became a different person, one I didnʼt recognize and one I absolutely couldnʼt face in the mirror. I hated myself but not enough to stop the affair. I knew I was in love with the person I chose to cheat with. I knew I had to leave my husband, and I did, after only five months of marriage, two months into the affair.

It was awful, being on that side of infidelity. It wasnʼt fun, it wasnʼt an adventure, and it didnʼt feel good. I couldnʼt eat, couldnʼt sleep, and the lies felt like razors punishing my lips each and every time I had to tell a lie.

It wasnʼt in my DNA to pull this off, nor did I want to. I was too consumed with how people viewed me to be honest with myself, and with him, about not being in love, about not wanting to get married, and about what I needed from a relationship.

Love and lust stole all logic from me. Thatʼs not an excuse, but itʼs what happened. I allowed that to happen. I should have stopped the affair, been honest with my husband, left him, knowing I wasnʼt in love, and stayed on my own until I gained complete clarity. But, I didnʼt. I was too afraid to lose love.

I left my husband for another man.

Iʼve never outwardly admitted this to anyone before. Not to my then husband, not to my friends or family, and not to myself. But thatʼs the truth. I live with guilt about this every single day, still.

I never forgave myself completely. I broke someoneʼs heart in the worst imaginable way and it was unforgivable.

I married the “other” man in this story. And infidelity came full circle five years into our marriage, 12 years into our relationship. It was me on the receiving end of betrayal.

Iʼve never been convinced about the concept of karma. We all talk about it as though itʼs real but Iʼve, more often than not, thought of it as a coping mechanism, something to make us feel better when weʼre wronged. However, my second husbandʼs infidelity sure did feel like karma.

It completely broke me as a person. I allowed it to completely break me and it felt awful. I wasnʼt just broken, I was shattered. I hated myself. I couldnʼt eat, I couldnʼt sleep, and I couldnʼt look at myself in the mirror. My self esteem wouldnʼt let me. And I felt like I totally and completely deserved it.

It felt eerily familiar.

As much as I wanted to play the victim, and at times I did, it was undeniable that this happened for a reason.

My darkest moments lie within both sides of these infidelities, within these betrayals. And within dark moments lie truth and learning. I learned what I am capable of. I learned what rock bottom looks like. I learned what complete loneliness feels like. I learned what self-hatred is.

On both sides, all of these same lessons took place and looked very similar.

Oddly, or perhaps not odd at all, this all brought me to a path of self-acceptance. It was all within the learning. I just needed to pay attention. Cheating is simply a symptom of much deeper issues and if it happens to you, no matter which side youʼre on, you just need to try to pay attention to the message. It wonʼt be easy, it wonʼt be pretty, but you must listen.

If you listen closely, it should peel back every single layer of your soul and teach you what you need from a partner. It should teach you to rebuild your heart. It should teach you how to love yourself. These lessons are so very costly, though. No one comes out of betrayal unscathed.

I forgive myself. I forgive him. But, the scars are brutal. TC mark

More From Thought Catalog