In her former life, Emily “Gynomite” Gordon was a couples and family therapist licensed in 2 1/2 states. In this life, she’s a freelance fighter of your emotional woes with Ask Gynomite. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org- all emails stay confidential. Today, Gynomite takes on cheating and responsibility.
My boyfriend and I were together for 2 and a half years and he was my first real love and adult relationship (I met him when I was 27). I have never had what felt like such a healthy, loving, fun, and stable relationship until him. However, early into the relationship, I snooped through his email and found out that he’d been emailing Craigslist Casual Encounters looking for sex. When I confronted him, he basically begged me to stay with him and said that he’d never followed through on anything and it was just ‘fantasy’. I only snooped because I was suspicious of a friendship he had with an ex, but I didn’t expect what I found! Over the next year, I found an earring that wasn’t mine in his apartment, flirty texts and emails with other girls, and a public review he wrote online reviewing an escort he slept with several times. Whenever I confronted him, we’d fight about it, but always decided we loved each other too much to break up. Everything I found was due to my own snooping, and he blamed my inexperience in relationships on our trust problems and made me feel like I was crazy for always being suspicious. We are now broken up because I caught him on Craigslist again, I wanted to work it out, and he finally said he was done for good. I’m a mess about it, I ultimately blame myself for the demise of our relationship because I was so needy and suspicious all the time. Even now I can see how destructive he was to me, but he was AMAZING at hiding all of this and looking like such a great, successful, witty, funny guy to me and everyone else! So I guess I have two questions…1.) Why did he stay with me for so long (in what appeared to be a very loving relationship) if he was constantly cheating? 2.) Once a cheater always a cheater, or will he finally be a good boyfriend to the next girl he dates? I hate that I put up with all of this for so long hoping he’d change and the next girl will get the boyfriend I always thought he’d be.
I have a hard time knowing where to start with this question, but let me start here: your trust problems in this relationship were not a result of your “inexperience in relationships”, but instead, in your ex-boyfriend’s near constant infidelity. Period.
I am concerned that you appear to be looking at this relationship with what some people call “the Nixon effect,” meaning that you are glorifying it a bit more than it deserves after it is through. You two might have had wonderful times, great talks, and intimate connections for days, but this was not a healthy relationship. Let me repeat: this was NOT a healthy relationship. Any relationship where the expectation is to be faithful, and one person is consistently not faithful, has no chance of being healthy.
You weren’t crazy, you weren’t overly suspicious, and you weren’t being needy. You were responding appropriately to the situation put in front of you, which is having to deal with his constant sneaky behavior. I’m sure he stayed with you for so long because he did enjoy spending time with you, and also because he could have his cake and eat it too- he could have a lovely girlfriend and also have all the risky sex he wanted. But that is so unfair to you.
It really upset me that you blame yourself for the demise of the relationship- does he not have any responsibility for cheating on you? Is that not his fault? Is it not his fault for sleeping with an escort and then posting an online review?
I think about breakups like war- there’s never any one event that causes a breakup, even though it might seem that way. Hundreds of tiny things have to happen and build up over time, often with a catastrophic event being the final push into war. So for your breakup, the first thing I’d like you to do is to make a list of what you’re willing to take responsibility for, and what responsibility you are assigning to him.
That first snooping you did, when you thought something was going on with him and an ex, that is your responsibility. Now, I see that first snoop as your heart and brain trying to alert you to the fact that this guy was being sneaky. You weren’t sure what to be suspicious of, so you focused on this ex of his, but that was your instinct kicking in, and you should thank your instincts.
The other thing you have to take responsibility for in this relationship is that you continuously gave him permission to cheat on you by staying with him. There were no consequences for his behavior, so why should he change it? I know it’s a double-edged sword. To not put up with cheating means breaking up with a cheater, but to stay with a cheater without that cheater taking some serious responsibility for his mistakes (rather than blaming you for being suspicious) means that you okay with being treated that way.
After making a list of the things you are willing to take responsibility for in the breakup, be willing to admit what responsibility lies in him. Is it your fault that he cheated? NO. That’s his. Is it your fault that he couldn’t seem to stop cheating? NO. Again, that’s his. What else belongs to him?
I know you said that you stayed together because you loved each other too much, but love does not involve treating someone the way you’ve been treated.
There was nothing you could have done to change his behavior. Absolutely nothing. You have no control over his behavior, only your own, so if you were treated a way you weren’t happy with, your two options were to stay or to go. His constant cheating and risky sexual behavior will continue until he decides to change them, and no woman will ever be able to force him to change. He will cheat on the girl he dates after you, and the one after that, until the day that he decides he’s done with it.
You seem to be exhausting yourself wondering what you could have done to have made him into the man that you wanted to see, the man that you thought you had. Let me ease your burden: there was nothing you could have done. Figure out what lessons you can learn from this for the next relationship you get into, and let it go. You deserve a man who treats you better than this.