Do they deserve a second chance?
He stood on the other side of my door, begging. It was late. Probably around midnight. We’d broken up three days ago. Now here he was, telling me what a huge mistake he’d made.
I’d won. That was my first thought. I’d beat the competition. Now I had a tough decision to make.
Take him back? Or dump his ass.
Instinct took over, and I opened the door. Kept the chain on. I said, “We’re done. Get the fuck out.”
Of course, it wasn’t my building. I was 25 and still lived with a roommate. A poet. She smoked a lot of pot. In fact, here she comes now to ask me what’s going on. So I tell her it’s Conrad.
My roommate tells me congratulations, and goes to sit on the toilet. Meanwhile, Conrad wails please over and over, with increasing amounts of desperation and longing.
I broke the fourth wall for a minute. Sorry.
Here’s the thing. Conrad humiliated me. Made me feel like garbage. Like I wasn’t good enough. Now, he’d done a total 180.
Could I trust him again?
At the time, it didn’t matter. So I gave into the wailing. Opened the door. His hug felt so damn good. My decision took three seconds. After I’d already taken him back in my head, I only agreed to a cup of coffee to talk everything over. At least I made one smart move.
Three months later, we broke up again. Got back together. And then broke up one final time.
Almost everyone will face this question at some point. Can you trust your spouse again, after they’ve done something terrible? Sure, we weren’t married. It wasn’t exactly high stakes. On the other hand, he’d meant everything to me at one point. When we broke up for good, a year later, part of my heart froze over. Still hasn’t thawed.
I’m a little more cynical and suspicious of everyone now. Because of him. When you love someone openly, with everything you’ve got, and they crush you, that pain never goes away. Not entirely.
You just find ways around it.
And you resolve to never let someone else hurt you like that again. Even when you decide to trust someone, it’s always a calculation. Part of me is always ready for betrayal from my closest friends.
Early in life, we trust people without question. Later, we learn that trust takes effort. Trust gets harder with experience.
You have to trust people, even if you don’t want to.
Maybe you think that’s unhealthy. But I say the opposite. For people like us, victims of abuse and such, there’s no other choice. It’s not like I have revenge plans or a kryptonite ring waiting in my bat cave. I’m just emotionally prepared to be abandoned by everyone I ever thought cared about me. What’s wrong with that? I can foresee a future in which that happens, and I’m able to continue on caring for and supporting myself.
Let’s put it this way — I trust myself to keep my shit together no matter what happens, no matter how bad things get.
Cheating’s the number one American pastime. We’ve normalized infidelity. Twenty years ago, the idea of a U.S. president sleeping with an intern shocked the nation. Now, nobody cares if our president’s sleeping around. We find it hypocritical, not scandalous.
Sometimes, the cheater confesses. Other times, you catch him. Or her. Honestly, it helps if they come clean first.
That’s what happened to me. Conrad told me before I caught him. You see, he’d been texting and skyping with an ex for months. Leading her on. Telling her they would get back together. The other girl lived out of town, so they only met up a couple of times while we were dating.
Finally, the ex started pressuring him to make good on his promises. When she threatened to cut him off for good, he came clean with me. Not to make things right. But to end our relationship.
That was a painful conversation. It left me feeling empty and worthless. Like a fast food wrapper you see blowing down the sidewalk. Nobody even wants to touch you.
Except a squirrel. They love fast food wrappers.
Oh, and raccoons.
But I’m getting off topic.
We like to recommend an instant breakup anytime infidelity’s at play. My take, cheating never happens in a vacuum. Not many people would kill a good relationship over one problem.
Trust works in lots of ways. When someone decides to cheat, that behavior usually comes with other bad behaviors. Lying. Secrets. Coming home late. Ignoring your texts. Forgetting your birthday.
Context also matters. Let’s say things get rough in my marriage for a few months. Then he meets a friend at a conference, out of town. They share a few drinks. Talk about their problems. She mentions she’s always had a little bit of a crush on him. And so they have a lapse in judgment.
The next day, guilt sinks in. He confesses to me, and we start counseling. No, not great. But manageable. In a different context, like sexting a minor Anthony Weiner style, that’s more of a problem.
Cheating isn’t just about sex with another person. It’s about all the other things that tag along.
Breakups and divorces happen for one main reason. One person wants different things. Or they don’t know what they want. Or maybe nobody knows what they want. Same difference, really.
Conrad cheated on me because he didn’t know what he wanted. He came back for the same reason. And that reason also played a lead role in our final split. I’ve had my share of problems, but at least I’ve always known what I wanted. That’s why I’ve never cheated on anyone.
Once, I almost did. Late 20s, I accidentally developed feelings for someone else. The choice seemed obvious. Either suppress my emotions. Or end a serious relationship. That weekend, I ripped off the waxing strip. It hurt us both. But not nearly as much as months of cheating.
My mom was a paranoid schizophrenic. She didn’t trust anyone. Not the government. Not the police. Not her parents. Not my dad, her husband. Not me. Not my bother. Nobody. She died alone.
That’s what happens when you decide not to trust anyone. Or some mental illness tricks you into mistrust of everyone. Me? I’ve got a choice. Even if I don’t want to, I operate on trust. The alternative is ice.
So if anyone cheats on me, spouse or otherwise, I’m going to give them a second chance. Not a third. Probably.
Also, your heart can have security clearances. Just like the CIA. I’ve given my partner level nine for the time being. If he fucks me over, I may have to move him down to a seven. Or a four.
Bottom line: If someone betrays you, make them explain why. Or at least try. Talk. Be clear about what you both want. Don’t offer fake forgiveness and then guilt-trip them later. If reconciliation doesn’t happen, they’ll just keep cheating on you. Or you’ll break up for other reasons. And remember, raccoons love fast food wrappers.