It was a wake-up call. Here?s what I learned.
Image by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash
I?d wanted him for months, but I knew he was attached, so I never acted on it. When he initiated, we eventually began to swap flirtatious messages until he was due to visit my city for a work conference. He told me the address of his hotel, and we arranged to meet at a bar close by.
It wasn?t his first rodeo. He was older than me, and I knew for a fact that he had cheated before. He was candid about being quite unhappy in his marriage. The knowledge of this was key for me. If he?d never strayed previously, I wouldn?t have gone through with it; I didn?t think of myself as someone who would or could tempt away someone else?s husband.
I rationalized that since he had cheated (many times) before, this one night was not the thing that would make or break his struggling marriage. It was destined to be a one-night-only encounter ? we would hook up and then both put our crushes away for good. And that?s exactly what we did. In the days, weeks, and months after our evening together, conversation petered out.
If he?d never strayed previously, I wouldn?t have gone through with it; I didn?t think of myself as someone who would or could tempt away someone else?s husband.
Several years later, he got back in touch and asked me to have dinner with him.
Once again, he was traveling for work. In the years since we had last seen each other, he had separated from his wife and gotten serious with someone new. He told me that he had recently asked his new girlfriend to move in with him. He seemed happy and I was happy for him. I hoped that he had left his cheating days behind. We spent an enjoyable evening together before platonically hugging goodnight.
But cheaters tend not to change. I realized this sad truth a year after our pleasant platonic reunion dinner. He found himself in my city again and suggested meeting for drinks. He seemed simultaneously restless and tired of life. His passion for his partner had evidently faded. I suddenly sensed his clear ulterior motive for the evening. It was clear that he was trying to pick me up ? again. I made my excuses and left.
His unspoken offer of round two was the wake-up call I needed. It saddened me to see the big picture. My old flame had cheated on his wife, divorced her, willingly settled down again, and then seemed prepared to repeat the same pattern once again. He had not learned lessons or changed; he simply continued to satisfy his immediate whims without regard for consequences. It proved to me that for so many people who cheat, it?s not a uniquely unfortunate situation that drives them to do so, but rather who they are as people.
How much blame truly sits with those that help others to cheat?
This is a question that I?ve grappled with a lot over the years. I have always believed ? and still do believe ? that the lion?s share of the blame must always lay at the feet of the cheater themselves; the person who is, in fact, breaking a promise that they have made to somebody else.
During the last decade, I?ve also lowered my tolerance for the willing partners of cheaters, as I once was myself, if only for one evening in my entire life.
These days, anyone who is currently cheating would be a hard no for me. I would also be incredibly unlikely to date anyone who has a history of cheating on a loved one in the past. Witnessing cheaters over the years has shown me that cheating is almost always a cowardly way of putting off solving a problem. Plus, it?s lying. And lying to people you claim to care about is hurtful and shitty.
It?s been ten years since our night together. I don?t think about him often, but whenever I do, the memory is tinged with sadness. I find myself hoping that he has found peace, that he is with someone that makes him happy and that he treats well in return, and that his former wife has found a more honest partner who deserves her love.
?When people show you who they are, believe them the first time?. This saying is among my favorites, and it?s especially apt here. Although people can change, not everyone does. When they do, it takes a lot of self-work and humility, not just the passage of a few years, and definitely not simply the arrival of a shiny new partner.
My advice to anyone in a similar position as I was ten years ago?
Try to tune out the butterflies for a moment, and see your crush for who they really are.
If I?d been able to step back from the fluttery, lusty excitement in my stomach when I first met him, I?d have been able to see that he was a bad egg. But that feeling can really take hold of you and it can be difficult to resist temptation.
By putting a little distance between yourself and the person who is probably a bad idea ? with friends, other dates, or any other harmless distraction ? you can put more energy into meeting someone more honest and decent. I?ve been following this advice myself a long while now. It would be great to be able to give this same advice to my younger self.
But I cannot go back in time; instead, I have to learn from my experiences. I don?t regret my actions, but I do feel relieved that I am able to choose to surround myself with better people now. We really do find happiness and peace when we?re ready. For me, it was a lot sooner than my wayward married one-night-stand.