I always thought I would be one of those people who believed that cheaters didn’t deserve second chances. If things are going well in a relationship, then there’s no reason to cheat, and if things aren’t going so swell, then you either fix the issue before you feel the need to cheat or you end it. It’s as easy as that; something that’s black and white with no room for any shade of grey.
Then this weird thing happened. I wasn’t cheated on, but one of my very close friends was, and it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Granted, it didn’t happen directly to me, but my feelings weren’t as I expected them to be. I had always thought that if a friend came to me saying her significant other had cheated on her, I would say something along the lines of, “You really should dump him. You deserve better than that.” Classic, right? But it turns out that when you’re actually in the situation, things don’t always go as you imagined they would (shocking, I know).
Recently, a friend confided in me that her boyfriend of four years had cheated on her. They were high school sweethearts, making the transition to college. Here’s the thing, though. If it’s possible to “kind of cheat”, then that’s what he did. The problem with the cheating issue is that two people in a relationship rarely take the time to consciously talk about what they think of cheating to be. Is it flirting, kissing, or having sex? Or, is it more about the emotional side of things? How do you deem that your partner has established an emotional connection with someone that qualifies as cheating? To complicate things further, what happens to the definition of cheating when we add online cheating to the mix? Affairs used to take longer to develop, especially because you had to leave your house. But now that social media and technology are so accessible, one can be in constant communication with someone other than their partner without being suspiciously absent physically. Then my question is, how do you decipher between what is an emotional affair (or emotional sex since that’s the emerging phrase) and what’s just establishing a friendship?
In my friend’s case, her boyfriend cheated on her with a girl with whom he had an emotional connection. But, according to his story, he wouldn’t have had sex with the girl if she hadn’t initiated and if he hadn’t been drunk. Does his intoxication make the cheating okay or was he just giving her an excuse?
When you hear someone has been cheated on, it’s easy to begin to bash the cheater. But you have to remember that even though you might think the worst of them, your friend is still under their spell. They still care about the person who has cheated on them, even though they know they’ve been wronged. They remember all the reasons they chose that person as the one for them, whether that’s for a lifetime, a few years or a few months. Love and hate are centered in the same part of the brain after all, making both feelings extremely passionate and usually irrational.
Now, keep in mind that when my friend told me this, I had just come off of a Grey’s Anatomy binge watching spree. I truly found Dr. Bailey’s words so applicable, which is why they were the only thing I really said to her. “He did a terrible thing. It doesn’t mean he’s a terrible person.” When I told this to my friend, she burst into tears. She had kept a straight face through the entire story, but it was at this moment that she broke down. Everyone who she had told prior to me had said to dump him. They said he didn’t deserve her. He wasn’t good enough. But, she loves him. He’s a part of her, and four years (especially when you only have eighteen under your belt) are tough to just let go of. When you’re cheated on, it’s the ultimate betrayal. You love someone so much and therefore want to satisfy them every way possible, and when they turn their back on you and explore other options (either emotionally or physically), you can’t help but feel at a loss. What do you do? How do you recover? Do you even recover from this?
As for my friend, she ended up staying with her boyfriend. Some may call it young and naive love, but she thinks it’s the real deal. Sometimes it’s still hard to come to the realization that their trust has been broken, but little by little, it’s being rebuilt. They’re putting new boundaries in place and restructuring how their relationship works. In a sense, I like to look at it as the cheating marked an end of an era for them. They had been highschool sweethearts who hadn’t faced too many struggles in their relationship, but now, because of the cheating, they made the decision to move on and start a new chapter. With a new sense of perspective and outlook on what it takes to make a relationship work, they were able to catapult into the next phase, a more mature one. They understand that the things you want most in life are worth fighting for, and that’s where they are right now: they’re working each day to, like Tim Gunn says, “make it work” and update the pieces they put in place four years ago that are no longer working.
At the end of the day, it’s a choice you have to make. Do you move forward with the cheater, knowing that there’s a broken piece in the relationship that may never be able to be pieced back together, or do you break it off? I think cheating is one of those things that, without a story to put behind it, is easy to see as black and white. But the minute you factor in memories and love, the line gets smudged. The choice should be individual, and we shouldn’t be shaming people for giving cheaters a second chance. They might get hurt again, but it’s their choice to make. And who knows? Maybe the cheater learns their lesson, but we will never know if we don’t give them a second chance.
Update: This post has now been featured on Feminspire. Check it out here!