In the Trenches: I Cheated!

cheatedDear C,
I cheated on my girlfriend, Bev, about a year ago. Things weren’t that bad between us, but I was bored with the relationship and wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in it. When Bev found out, it really hurt her and I felt like crap. I never wanted to see the other girl again and realized Bev meant something to me. Since then, we’ve been trying to make things work, but I feel like I am walking on eggshells. I can tell she doesn’t trust me and it puts an edge on stuff that used to be easy.

Fast forward to last week. I finally landed a really good job after months of competing in a very tight market. My second day there, the “other woman” walks in. Turns out she was recently hired in another department — she’d been out sick the day I started.

I can’t just quit after all I went through to get here. It would make me look like an idiot and be a stupid career move. And I don’t want to have anything to do with this other woman again. But if I tell Bev about it, she is going to flip. We promised to be honest with each other from now on, but it seems like telling the truth here would just be stupid. I’m not sleeping with anyone. I just want things to get back to normal. Why stir up trouble? Am I right?

Dear Joe;

What are you, nuts?

Let me explain something about cheating: When one partner screws around behind the other’s back, it isn’t just the sex that is hurtful — it’s the lie that is the worst betrayal. It’s the idea that someone you gave your trusting heart to turned you into a pathetic cuckold. They gave the best of their energy to someone else behind your back, then came home and handed you a line of crap. Maybe (you could imagine) they even called you “the old ball and chain” and laughed about you … and the whole time, your partner let you go on thinking that you were still the special one. There’s something really awful about this, whether you are a man or a woman. When you find out the truth, you feel like the asshole idiot of the universe. You don’t ever want it to happen again.

But walking on eggshells and telling more lies is not going to regain Bev’s trust. If she finds out about this situation three months in, and realizes you kept it from her the whole time, it’s deja vu all over again: You lied, the other woman knew, but good old Bev was kept in the dark as usual. How is this supposed to regain her trust?

Look, I understand. It’s an instinct we all have — to try and please or protect the person we’ve hurt in order to make it up to them. But none of that does anything to convince them you won’t do it again. You probably put on the same act while you were lying through your teeth and cheating.There’s only one thing that is going to regain trust. You need to prove that you have the guts to admit to a difficult truth.

This one shouldn’t be that hard. Right now, you’ve got no sins to confess, just an unfortunate situation. Later on, you will be guilty of the sin of omission, so I’d go for it while your odds are low. You are right about one thing — Bev is probably going to flip. In fact, she might just tell you to go f___ yourself and walk out. But after her initial anger, she’s going to simmer down and start thinking. If she’s smart, she will realize something: You had the guts to tell her a difficult truth. Maybe there’s hope after all.

People would be a whole lot better off if they ran their relationships the way they’d run a business. A business can’t last if one partner is making deals behind the other’s back. And a business can’t last if there’s a problem and one partner knows but hides it from the other. The idea is to keep the business going, not to play some asinine game of manipulation to keep things smooth on the surface while underneath everything’s rotting away.

The way I see it, you have nothing to lose. If Bev walks out the door and never comes back, I’m guessing that’s a choice she would have made anyway. Sometimes when you cross that line, there’s just no coming back.