“You don’t know my boyfriend.”
“He’d never do that.”
“You don’t know my wife. I’ve been married to her for 15 years, together for 6 prior. We’ve practically grown up together, since college. She’s so loving and honest. We have two kids, a house, a business together. I’m with her all the time. No way.”
But there might be a flicker of doubt in your stomach. Or your throat gets tight. Your blood rushes and you feel some heat collecting on the back of your neck. Something is off, but you can’t put your finger on it. And, to be sure, you don’t want to seem be suspicious. Are you paranoid?
Last week’s podcast episode of This American Life, called “The Perils of Intimacy,” struck a nerve with me. This was one of the more powerful episodes I’ve heard in a long time and I resonated on multiple levels. Starting out with a woman whose identity and money is stolen for over a year to ending with a man who talks about falling in love with someone he just can’t quite figure out, Ira Glass reminded me of my own personal experiences in matters of trust and intimacy.
I felt my boyfriend growing distant, paying even more attention to his phone than before. He talked about work and his coworkers with excitement and greater interest, something he hadn’t done in ages. I felt suspicious when he traveled to Oregon to visit his friend twice in a couple of months, but chose to believe him when he said he was going there for a big festival weekend and his friend was having a hard time after his recent break-up. He would return from weekends away and start fights with me. I remember one time he had just gone out of town for a half work-half fun trip with a friend/coworker and the next day we were heading up to Massachusetts for a vacation with friends. He was distant and sullen for part of our trip, and the rest of it, buried in his phone. When I called him out on this antisocial and embarrassing behavior, he said I was being paranoid. He offered to give me something to worry about, since I was accusing him anyway.
How generous. But really, I hadn’t brought up anyone or any instance of cheating. That was his guilty conscience. I merely asked what was up that caused so much distraction on our vacation. I should have seen the red flags.
* * *
My close friends and even some of his alerted me that his behavior was inappropriate; that when you’re with someone, it’s appropriate to pay attention to them and be social with their friends in public settings. I experienced self-doubt and excused his behavior, justifying the phone time by thinking he was crafting long, well-penned emails to potential clients. I saw random phone numbers or texts out of the corner of my eye pop up on his iPhone screen and he said they were the assistants of his business associates or people interested in carrying his product. It felt weird when he took another trip with his friend, and then said he was his “best friend.” Hmmm. He didn’t have best friends. He said I was his best friend.
His words and our time together felt so special, and that’s why I thought I knew him the best. I thought I was special, our relationship was precious, and he was morally sound. He said I was The One.
Boy was I wrong. I defended him and said in retort to swelling concerns and longer absenteeism, “you don’t know my boyfriend.” But really, maybe I didn’t know my boyfriend.
He said he didn’t want to hurt me. He was trying to protect me, to keep up the image of our wonderful relationship. He was trying to shake the “demon feelings and dark shadows” from his character, much like someone shakes sand off a beach towel. But then you get home and there’s still sand in the terry cloth loops of the towel. It won’t go away. It only goes away if you work on it or if you don’t put yourself in those situations. His lying and cheating was braided into his character, part of who he was, something he’d learned as a child watching family members behave this way. He was slippery and sneaky.
The cheating wasn’t a one-off occurrence. It was a full-on affair that had been going on for over a year, plus some weekend trysts. The affair was nowhere near finished, I would later learn. Yup, the trips to Oregon and Texas were just what I’d suspected.
* * *
I felt like a fool. I was “had.” I experienced shame and viewed myself as a sucker. In the past, I believed him and defended him. In fact, I believed in him much more than he believed in himself. I thought he was amazing and invincible. Never did I think he would cheat, lie, or rip out my heart. We were close to being married. His mom and I were good friends. We owned a dog together. All I could do was shake my head in confusion.
Well, he lied and cheated, and I forgave him too many times. I let him back into my life. Most of us do this. Those of us who are cheated on are usually somewhat naive and trusting because we’d probably not do this, so we can’t imagine that another person would do this to us. That statement, “you don’t know my boyfriend” is really something we have to reframe: I don’t know my boyfriend.
So what’s the advice I offer to you?
Join the relationship even if you’re scared. Love deeply, love with all of your being. But when you catch a whiff of something that smells foul, looks distinctly off, or sounds unbelievable, trust yourself. Like they say at airports, “if you see something, say something.” Don’t play naive or live in denial.
And for the cheaters and liars out there: before you hurt your spouse, your significant other, your family, and yourself, have some self-respect. Please try on some empathy. Wear that empathy hat everywhere. Let it remind you that cheating, lying, and stealing are immoral acts. Instead of carrying on with the relationship, end it before it gets worse. If you’ve truly fallen for someone, let go of your original person. If your needs are not being met, instead of cheating, communicate. It’s simply not fair to hang on “for the family’s sake.” If you truly want to protect your partner, don’t live in a false relationship.
Nobody wants to be deluded. I’d guess that most people want to live within an honest, trusting relationship where you’re on the same page. Our hearts are big, and they can be broken. We want you to be happy, sometimes at the expense of our own happiness. So do us a favor: care for us and let us go if someone else makes you happier or if cheating and lying are what you need.
I am a Life Coach and work with people who experience heartbreak and discomfort. Please contact me at my website or via email.