When I was a college sophomore, I started dating a real scumbag. Ron had the slick tongue of a used car salesman (warning # 1) and was 9 years older than I (warning # 2). Within a month I tried to stop seeing him but he threatened to kill himself (warning # 3). Being 19 and naive, his pathetic manipulation worked and I stayed with him for 3 more years. Every once in a while, I would work up some courage and try to break up with him again. These attempts usually ended with him putting a knife to one of our throats.
I’m not sure if it was his unpredictable bursts of violence or his puppy dog eyes when he asked for forgiveness – but eventually I gave up on getting free of him. I felt trapped, I hated him and I wanted to ruin him. He was an abusive, arrogant piece of shit, definitely a liar, likely a cheater. My competitive nature wouldn’t let me risk looking like a fool if and when the truth came out so I decided that it was fair – heck, it was absolutely necessary – for me to cheat on him. If I ever found out that he had cheated on me with someone else, I wanted to be able to say “Ha! I cheated on you! TWICE!!”. I was a hostage in the relationship and cheating was the only arena where I felt I could regain some power.
I started acting like a single, slutty sorority girl. I fooled around with dozens of guys – anyone I wanted – whenever the opportunity arose and without an ounce of remorse. Ron was suspicious and jealous and would sometimes wait on the sorority steps for me to get home on nights I went out with friends. I’ll never forget a particularly warm morning when a very good looking guy named David walked me back to my house after he and his roommate fucked me until dawn – Ron was waiting for us. David went his way and I spun an impressive lie about why a hot frat guy escorted me home and why my socks were on inside out. After an hour long interrogation, Ron finally bought my story. We moved on and I swelled with pride at this grand new skill I had developed to protect myself. Lying.
As the years went by I got stronger and the short term affects of Ron’s escalating abuse started to fade – with that, he lost his power over me. I managed to break up with him about a year after graduating. Ron was devastated by the break up and used every trick in the book to try to get me back. To get him to give up, I finally told him about my years of cheating. I came clean primarily so he would stop harassing me – but also because I wanted the satisfaction of causing him a fraction of the pain he had caused me. With no emotion on my face I said to him “I cheated on you”. He started to cry and guessed a name “Brent?”. “Oh yes” I said. “Anyone else? Ben?” he asked. “Yep” I replied with a bit of pride. “Is that all?” he asked. And I told him in a tone that sounded oddly like I was bragging. ” Ted, David, Ian, Todd, Todd’s little brother, Chris, John, Aaron, Matt, some Fiji who lived by the bar, Jeff, Gordon, his friend Nick, the other John, Jonah, Thomas….” Ron lay on the floor in a fetal-esque position sobbing and begging me to stop. The power I felt in that moment was immense. We were even and I was free.
It’s unfortunate that my validation was derived thru fucking random guys to get even with my abusive boyfriend. But I will leave that dissection for another day’s post. By the way…I know from friends who still live in my college town that Ron remains a horrible person, that he still lies and definitely cheats, and has a wife who is trapped. I think of her often and consider reaching out to her, to tell her it’s OK to walk out. To let her know that there is, indeed, life after Ron. But I digress.
The most natural thing for me to do when my husband first cheated on me would have been to get even with an affair of my own. But I felt better than that – better than him – and I didn’t want to stoop to his level. I wanted to hold this over him so he would spend his life making it up to me. With my husbands knowledge I reached out to an ex for support, as a friend, but I didn’t cross that line to cheating with him for many years. Cheating on Ron had given me a warped sense of equality and satisfaction. But when I was unfaithful to my husband, there was no satisfaction, no sense that I had won and it didn’t ease any of the pain he had caused me.
My husbands cheating was unemotional and usually with nameless strangers. He loved me deeply through all of it, he never wanted to hurt me and never considered leaving me. He was sick. My affair was somewhat physical but very emotional. I had moments when I wanted to leave my husband for my boyfriend. I was being selfish and vengeful. So was my affair worse? Maybe. But despite the differences in relationships or who did what first, there is something about the experience that puts us on even playing ground now that we are recovering together. I don’t have the self righteous stick of fidelity to wield over him. We are both in pain, we were both wrong, we are both equal.
It would be unwise to believe with utter certainty that my husband isn’t currently cheating or won’t do so in the future. That being said, my personal experience with being unfaithful wasn’t the experience I expected it would be. With Ron, I felt fully justified and vindicated through it all. With my husband I just felt guilty and unworthy of love. I am grateful that my affair didn’t go any deeper than it did as it would have hurt all 3 of us even more. Although I believe this isn’t a road that I will ever revisit, I know how tricky the disease of sex addiction can be and I fully accept the risk that my husband could slip or relapse again. I just hope that he now has the tools to get help faster than he did in the past. At this point, that is about the best I can hope for.