Betrayal and everything after
September 12, 2005 10:02 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend cheated on me this weekend. I am beside myself with grief. How do I cope, and where do I go from here?

We've been dating about a year. It's been long-distance for four months. I've had half a dozen serious relationships, and am 24. This one, I thought, had the most potential. I loved her. I still love her. She says she still loves me. Because she told me, I still feel I can trust her word, if not her actions. This makes me want to give it a second shot. She says she is sorry, and now blames herself (which is fine with me.) I have never been cheated on before, so perhaps my response should be to tell her to get out of my life forever.

At times, we had a more open relationship where it was OK to date other people. I took this option. She did not. Two months ago, we became more "serious" again and agreed not to see other people. Now, four days before she's slated for a visit to see me, she drops the bomb.

I guess I'll be open to advice such as "you should get out of this" but what I'm really looking for is strategies for dealing with my grief. I've been hyperventalating most the day. I can barely breath. My eyes are dialated and I'm surprised (grateful?) no one else has noticed. I want to smash the world to pieces right now. Where do I go from here? [People can e-mail me with comments or questions at]
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I'm a little bit older than you, so let me be frank. Leave her, but realize it doesn't really matter that she cheated on you.

In other words, maybe she wants to control you with grief, you know? Don't let her - move on. You will always feel pain, and hurt, but moving on is a part of achieving - you will never be more if you never leave behind.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 10:12 PM on September 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

If it was me, I'd find a good friend, drag em to a bar, calm down and talk to someone who actually knows me. Vent abit. Try to laugh. The internet is a bit of a lonely place, get out of the house.
posted by atom128 at 10:15 PM on September 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

If it bothers you that much, I say dump her. Don't give her the opportunity to fuck you over again. I mean, it's not like she needed to tell you.

That said, the best thing (IMO) for dealing with your pain is to try to ignore it. Those people who say that 'ignoring' pain and anguish causes them to collect in your mind like mercury and fester are out of their minds. Ignore it, get your mind off of it, and try to avoid thinking about it. This also means being away from the constant reminder, her. I'm not saying you need to break up with her but that breaking up with her will make it much easier to get over this. (I can't believe she told you right before she was supposed to visit. Bitch!) Cut off contact completely, and in a couple months, maybe even weeks you'll feel a lot better (I think).

For now I'd say rent a bunch of good movies, or better yet good novels from your favorite authors. Something fantastic, out of this world, etc.

I don't know what books you like, but I would imagine getting lost in Neil Stephenson's 3000 page Baroque Cycle will get your mind off of mundane things.

The point is to sort of 'lose yourself', focus your mind on something other then your own sorry state.

Also, lots of exercise Hit the gym and go nuts. Get in shape. Exercise is very effective at reliving depression, and reduces the chances of getting sick from being over-stressed (which can happen!)
posted by delmoi at 10:23 PM on September 12, 2005

The strategy for dealing with your grief and your strategy for accepting her back into your life are one and the same. She needs to back off and you need to deal with the grief for a spell before you take her back into your life. If you immediately take her back, you will wind up in a sickening place where she is simultaneously the source of your comfort and the original cause of your pain. You will neither get past the resentment nor be able to have an honest and loving relationship with her.

If you can back away for a day, a week, a month, however long seems appropriate, and deal with what's happened and THEN make a decision whether to keep her in your life or not, then you have a chance. I personally don't think it's too much to ask for someone to hold out and wait for you for a month after cheating on you, but that's for y'all to work out.

The circumstances of cheating can be wide and varied. Not all cheating is the kiss of death, especially in a relationship which has had "open" aspects from time to time and involves long distance. If anything, perhaps this is a sign that you should keep it open.

Anyway, what you can't do is make the pain go away tonight so she can be painlessly and everlastingly yours tomorrow. Sorry, but that isn't one possible outcome of infidelity. You have to get away from her long enough to be sure that remaining together is a conscious choice you make from a position of sanity and strength, not a response to grief which will leave you weak and resentful forever.

Remember, being with someone means loving and celebrating them and trusting them without a second thought. Right now you're just trying not to die from the agony she's caused you. You can't celebrate her. You can't trust her. Not now. Don't try. Everything has changed on you. Everything needs to change again before a relationship is possible again.

And btw, I'm sorry. It's a shitty thing to deal with.
posted by scarabic at 10:24 PM on September 12, 2005

I always dated with an eye toward marriage. And when I marry someone, I expect to spend the rest of my life with that person. I expect that we'll continue to be passionate people; and biology being what it is, I expect that we'll have crushes on other people from time to time. Over the course of 50 years, we may both even fall in love with other people.

Of course, commitment is about choosing not to act on every biological urge. But to be human is to stumble, to fall on occasion. We live in a sexually-charged society that silently condones infidelity -- and no matter how you steel yourself against those influences, they do exist. So it's not inconceivable that a good, trustworthy person can make a mistake.

I'd say do the Christian thing. If you believe she's sincere, and you have faith in the relationship, then forgive her. Put yourself in her shoes. Guys are always quick to say they'd leave a woman who cheated; but they tend to be the ones who cheat, and they usually expect forgiveness. "Do unto others..."

Having said all that: You're young. Maybe you're not ready. Maybe she isn't, either. "Open relationships" are always a bad idea, and usually a bad sign. So I guess my ultimate advice, without knowing a damn thing about you or your gal, would be this: Stick with the relationship, if only because you'll learn more than you would by walking away. Consider it life experience. My later relationships benefitted greatly from the lessons I learned walking into walls with previous mates.
posted by cribcage at 10:39 PM on September 12, 2005

"Open relationships" are always a bad idea, and usually a bad sign.

I just have to counterbalance this comment by noting that this is not true in my experience or acquaintance. And it never hurts to point out that monogamy and marriage have horrible track records, if we're going to start counting what is and isn't a "bad idea."

Pretty irrelevant to the discussion, anyway, I'd say.
posted by scarabic at 11:22 PM on September 12, 2005

I would follow scarabic's advice. You need to move on for a while to get some perspective. Don't make any decision about the relationship now, other than to not go back into it yet.

I would not ignore it. You feel betrayed and angry and resentful and hurt and a lot of other very emotional stuff. You have to give yourself a chance to actually get mad, sad, scared, etc. It's going to take some time. Let it. The quick fix is going through all the hurt and confusion. Trust me, it won't last for ever unless you try to ignore it.

After you have had some time to gain some distance, you may want to objectively revaluate what the relationship is all about. I would talk to her about what motivated cheating (is she unable to deal with being out of a relationship for 4 months? Is she passively telling you she is not ready to move forward? Did she get drunk and just give in to her desires?). The biggest issue you have is trust and you pretty much aren't going to ever get back to the level you were before. But if you do take her back, you can never ever hold this against her. You have to be able to really forgive and forget. If you have any lingering mistrust, move on. There are a lot of great people in the world and holding onto someone who is just good enough is never good enough.

Best of luck and don't be afraid to feel like shit for a while. It gets better.
posted by qwip at 11:23 PM on September 12, 2005

Am I missing something? You were cheating on her up until two months ago? Is that what you mean? And at that time she chose to be true to you? And now you are complaining that this true-love two-month monogamous relationship has been shattered by her?

Cheating, when it happens in an exclusive and apparently loving relationship, is one of the most painful things that can happen to you. But, if you are only 24, and if you have actually had half a dozen "serious" relationships, and if you were still "dating" two months ago, you don't have much invested in this. If you were into "open" relationships just weeks ago, why does this bother you so much?

I might be best if you both moved on. Stay busy, get exercise, don't drink too much.
posted by Prestocran at 11:29 PM on September 12, 2005

For Pete's sake, whatever you do, do NOT let her come visit in four days. If you want to deal with the greif, tell her to stay home, and follow atom128's advice instead. I'd throw in a strip club visit or two as well.

And yeah, you should dump her. This kind of behavior is unacceptable, and not enough people take a stand against it. If you can't do it for youself, then do it for the rest of us. If you bend she will do it again, either with you or the next unlucky guy.

There are plenty of fish in the sea. You will love again. I know it feels like ass now, but remember this is not the end of the world. Its not even the end of you.
posted by samh23 at 11:31 PM on September 12, 2005

cribcage said some of what I was going to say. If you love her and she loves you, perhaps you can view this as a mistake and chalk it up to human fallibility, and try to get your head around that and see where it takes you, rather than letting it be a big huge emotionally destroying relationship ender. Especially if you felt able to have a more open relationship with her in the past, and you took advantage of this, I suspect you might be able to remember how you thought you were going to handle it if she did the same and apply it to this situation. You might also remember how she handled your exercising the "open relationship option" and see if that gives you some ideas about how you might view this. Keep in mind that the fact that you a) wanted an open relationship in the past and b) acted on it, may well have had some influence on the way you both view your relationship.

I don't mean to be cavalier about this in any way, I do understand that you're hurting, but I tend to think that sometimes people want to pretend that human beings aren't animals, and sometimes our animal sides get the better of us. I think it's the emotional investments that really matter, not the occasional physical dalliance. She slept with someone else, she told you about it, either you can deal with that, or you can't. I think you can. Take a step back, really think about what you're actually feeling, and how it's different now than it was when your relationship was open (if indeed it is), and think about what you want. Sex is sometimes just sex, and not necessarily worth getting bent out of shape about. Love is something else entirely, and it's rare enough that I think it just might be more important. The real issue here is trust, and while many will say that she betrayed your trust by cheating, ten years from now, will you care more that she loved, trusted and respected you enough to tell you that she cheated, or just that she cheated?
posted by biscotti at 11:39 PM on September 12, 2005

The quick fix is going through all the hurt and confusion.

Yes, go through it instead of complicating it by piling the comforts of a reconciliation on top of it, instead of internalizing it, instead of pretending you're a great big lion of a man for being big enough to forgive it or pretending your love must be the greatest love of all because even this can be overcome. No. Actually giving your rage, disappointment, pain, and SHAME their moment in the sun is indeed the "quick fix." The other crap takes up months, years of your life and gets you to the same place in the end (actually probably somewhere worse).

The shame really is probably the hardest part. There's an old, old culture of masculinity that makes "the cuckhold" an object of ridicule, an utter fool to be laughed out of town, never understood or sympathized with. Nothing can make you hate Shakespeare like a cheating woman. But let me tell you, Shakespeare for all his talents is a dead man, and you, for all your burdens, are a man alive. Don't let ancient dogma about manhood add to your burdens, or stand in the way of a possible future together. Not worth it.

Here's a random idea: tell her that you accept her back, but she owes you one. If she can live with the knowledge that you may cheat on her at any time and she'll need to just accept that, then she may have gotten an inch closer to understanding what it's like for you to try to accept that she's already cheated on you (with no warning and no agreement).
posted by scarabic at 11:57 PM on September 12, 2005

If you take the wise option and leave her, do not speak to her again. Even one time, six months from now, will break your heart all over again.

Do you deserve a woman that will cheat on you?
posted by Saydur at 12:37 AM on September 13, 2005

you should just buy her something really expensive every couple weeks
posted by Satapher at 12:43 AM on September 13, 2005

As far as strategies and universal truths and questions go:

Everyone cheats.

Infidelity is not the end of everything. Not even close. You've been (and would again were there no consequences to your sense of honour). Give her the same privilege.

Do you need her? What do you need her for?

This is a blow to your ego; nothing more.

Do not fuck someone else anytime soon if you've any
respect for yourself or others, unless you're amazingly drunk (yeah, that is excusable; just make damn sure it's not only consensual, but that random she comes to you).

Do dwell on it. Let the questions about yourself come.

Realise that we impose these pseudo-contracts upon each other (if you don't screw someone else, I won't).

Feel all due humility. You've done the same and would in a second.

Listen to her asking for your forgiveness and permission.

No bonding of the type you're looking for can ever exist. The type we all want really does. Yeah, that does mean one night stands.

Did she make you stronger? Did your relationship to her make you stronger?

If you really need the excuse, make yourself better. You are not a bad person (guessing), but motivation can always be used. No, that does not just mean hit the gym.

Is she someone to whom you can talk or fuck? Of what use to you is she?

Realise that evil is truly mundane (and banal), and we are all capable of such. Blame her for her failures, but accept her, thus, as an equal.

Your personal world is in shambles. You let someone else do this to you. Accept that and understand it means you based a large part of your self worth on someone you met randomly.

Again, realise, you'd and you've done the same.
posted by converge at 12:58 AM on September 13, 2005

Tell her you need some time to get over this.

When she asks how long, tell her a year.

Tell her you're fully aware that either or both of you may find someone else in the meanwhile. Tell her you're not even sure that would be a bad idea, and mean it.

Wait a couple months and then start dating again. Follow things where they may lead.

Do not mention your old girlfriend to your new one. Do not mention her to anyone. Do not, in fact, think about her.

Set a tickler in Outlook or wherever to remind you when the year has passed.

If, at that point, you want her back, and she wants you back, and you're not with anyone, and she's not with anyone, then you can revisit things with a bit more perspective. Which is what you lack at the moment, being freshly wounded and twenty-four.

Maybe you will decide it doesn't really matter and that you were setting yourself up for it anyway with the whole long-distance thing, which seems like it could work when you're twenty-four but somehow hardly ever actually does.

Or not.
posted by kindall at 1:01 AM on September 13, 2005

you should just buy her something really expensive every couple weeks

I don't think that is helpful. Either you are joking, and Ask.Mefi isn't the place for that - or you are serious and your suggestion makes no sense at all. Anyway you look at it, that was a waste of effort. Don't clutter the green with un-advice.

Back to the topic, it's been covered pretty well by everyone. I hope you have enough information to get through the next few days well enough. Best of luck and hang in there!
posted by qwip at 1:02 AM on September 13, 2005

If I am reading this right, two months ago this would have been considered acceptable? If so, I wouldn't treat it like a calamity. Chalk it up to willpower and transition bumps and move on.
posted by Manjusri at 2:41 AM on September 13, 2005

It's quarter til seven in the morning, so I don't have the brain capacity at this time to be eloquent, so I'll boil it down:
1) Tell her you don't want to see her again. Period. You both agreed to remain faithful and monogamous. She cheated. You deserve better. We all do.
2) Get off the damn internets and find someone local. LOCAL. As in the same area code or at least within 25 miles. Long distance relationships, kept barely breathing by emails, phone calls, IM's and face to face meetings every 2-6 months are more fantasy based than reality based to begin with.
3) And yes, you will need to mourn, get pissed off, get drunk and get over it.
posted by willmize at 3:48 AM on September 13, 2005

Anon --- I disagree with all the commentors who are saying "dump her" or "don't talk to her for a year (or ever again)."

In some cultures dancing with another man would be cheating. In some cultures looking at another man would be cheating. In some cultures, being seen by another would be cheating. In our culture, having sex with another man is cheating.

To get over your grief, I recommend realizing that she is human, and that she made a mistake, and now she wants to be close to you again. The fraught meaning "cheating", where it equals the end of the world, doesn't exist intrinsically in the events.

What are you like with this person? Do you think you could build a life with her? Does she make you a better, stronger, more compassionate person? Then stick with it. Stick with her, warts and all.
posted by alms at 4:52 AM on September 13, 2005

p.s. one other option that works for some people: flip the emotion. Rather than being overwhelmed at the thought of her being with another man, see if you can get off on it. This doesn't mean you want her to do it again. But it does mean that she's healthy and active and full of life, and that you are happy to have someone like that in your life. Forgive her and have joy for her.
posted by alms at 4:54 AM on September 13, 2005

Everyone cheats.

Not true (unless you're talking metaphysicals). Find someone that doesn't destroy your faith in humanity so much as to think something like this.

Practical advice? Get out and exercise.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:00 AM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

anon - people treat uncomfortable emotions as though they are the problem. Emotions are only messages. They are large summaries of your internal state that you might or might not be conscious of. Take the time to connect with what your emotions are telling you. Be there, listen to yourself, and let the understanding of what your emotions are telling you come to you. Once the message is conveyed, a few things will happen. First, it will be easier for you with your emotions. Second, you will have more understanding of what you are really going through, and be in a better place to figure out what the right thing for you to do is. Being honest with yourself in this way is the best thing you can do for you and for her. By coming to terms with what it is exactly that is bothering you about what happened and what it means to your expectations about the relationship is the best thing you can do for yourself and for the relationship, whether it has a future or not.
posted by blueyellow at 5:17 AM on September 13, 2005

I'm sorry, what a shitty thing to have to deal with right now.

I'm not sure what kind of advice to give you as there are far too many different possiblities for how your life could work. I will ask a question, though. How come she told you about sleeping with someone else?

I know that you see that as a plus, but it isn't necessarily. You now have to deal with this grief. You would never have known otherwise. I'm not at all cavalier about cheating, but I would simply suggest that there are two betrayals here: her infidelity, and her subsequent insistent that you react to that infidelity. So, what does she want from you? Does she still want to be in the relationship? Is she sending you a message? I don't think she's evil or Machiavelian, just that she made a choice about how to handle her first betrayal, and that choice has made it harder rather than easier for you. You should spend some time figuring out why she made the choice she did.
posted by OmieWise at 5:58 AM on September 13, 2005

And yeah, you should dump her. This kind of behavior is unacceptable, and not enough people take a stand against it.

I am so disheartened by this comment and others like it. If you're casually dating that's one thing, but if you're in a serious relationship and love the other person ... dump her? Cheating is a BIG mistake, but it's a mistake (by "mistake," I don't mean accident; I realized that she made a choice). If you dump someone for making a mistake, however big, then either you don't really love that person or you're weak of character. When a loved one makes a mistake, you try your hardest to work through it. You do this, because the relationship is important. The relationship is worth fighting for.

You also do this because one day YOU might make a mistake. Maybe you won't cheat, but you might make some other sort of mistake. And you want to know that your partner will forgive you. No one wants to be in a "one strike and you're out" situation.

You dump the person when the mistake becomes a habit. When you forgive her and she keeps cheating. Then it's no longer a mistake.

Meanwhile, you deal with it in all the great ways people hear have suggested: you talk to someone (offline) about it, you cry, you scream. You tell your girlfriend that you're really really angry at her. You demand from her whatever you need (back off, etc.). You dive deepend into an activity (an activity is better than an escape, like drugs or movie-watching. try volunteering or building something complicated). Seek professional help if necessary.
posted by grumblebee at 6:35 AM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Well, speaking in generalities, I'm with the dump-her crowd, but if you decide not to dump her there's one thing I know for sure:

Given your present state, it's quite clear that any exposure to her, whether it's some form of reconciliation or just a monthly how's-it-going phone call are going to significantly prolong your grief. As someone noted above, even the smallest reminders can bring back this feeling of betrayal (regardless of whether it may not even be justified).

But realize that it too shall pass. Time and the distance afforded by future relationships are the only things that will ultimately help. Even then though, this is just a part of being human. The feelings will always be there, but in time you will forget it like a childhood memory. In the meantime, spend as much time with your friends as you can.
posted by drpynchon at 6:54 AM on September 13, 2005

Have you talked with her about why she cheated? I mean really why, not just "because she made a mistake." Was she trying, consciously or not, to get back at you for having taken advantage of your open relationship when that was still going? Was it just that the distance between you made her lonely?

If you and she are seriously in love with each other and want to make this work, you need to find the answer to this, I think. You may need to see a counselor together in order to do that, but you could give it a try on your own first. If you don't know why it happened, how are you going to be able to trust her again?
posted by cerebus19 at 7:14 AM on September 13, 2005

do what you need to do to take care of yourself. don't blab to everyone about what happened. ask questions. give it time. eventually it will become clear to you whether you'd rather stay or go. good luck!
posted by whatnot at 7:16 AM on September 13, 2005

First, and aside -- I took the trouble to check, and for some reason it doesn't supprise me that, aside from biscotti and maybe one or two others, every single comment here is from a guy. I guess its that whole "don't think about it, just dump her and move on" ethos that's going on here.

The real question you need to deal with right now is not "why did she cheat on me" (and, as a second aside - what does "cheat on me" mean? You use the word "date". Does this mean "sleep with"? Or just go out with, make out with, whatever? You might not think that it makes a difference, but it does....) ahem

The real question you need to deal with right now is not "why did she cheat on me" but "why did she tell me". Since your relationship is long distance, I'm sure you could have gone on forever not knowing. In any case, she told you for one of three reasons:

1) she feels awful about it and wants to come clean
2) she thinks you'll find out anyway, and she thinks she'll have a better chance if you hear it from her
3) she wants you to break up with her, and this is her way of getting you do to that.

Only you know (or at least have the tools to guess) why she told you. If its reason 2 or 3, then, clearly, this relationship is going nowhere and you need to end it.

But if its reason #1 .... well, its possible that your whole relationship can be stronger coming out of this that it was going in. But only if you don't withdraw from her. The stages of grief for something like this are the same as any other: Denial, Anger, Barganing, Depression, Acceptance. "I'm beside myself with grief" tells me that you've moved straight on to stage 2 (Anger), but there are still other places you'll need to go.

Don't withdraw from her. If you think this relationship is worth saving (i.e. If you think she told you because of reason #1) then you and she need to spend a lot of time this weekend talking things through. You need to understand both why she "cheated" (whatever that means) and why she told you. You also need to try to understand why you're so upset and what that means about the relationship.

Relationships take hard work, and good communication. Shutting down from her and saying "I need some time" isn't communicating, its withdrawing from the problem. The best way for you to cope with the grief is to try to work through it ... with her, and hopefully the two of you will end up stronger as now you've had to deal with this "Moment of clarity" that forces you to figure out what point your relationship is at.

Good luck.
posted by anastasiav at 7:29 AM on September 13, 2005

I am so disheartened by this comment and others like it.


Look, you have a complicated relationship (long-distance, fluxuating notions of "openness"). If you're only 24 and claim to have had "half a dozen serious relationships", then I don't think you truly understand what a serious relationship is.

What I'm getting at is that I look at the setup and the outcome doesn't surprise me.

This is not the time to cut off communication with her, but intensify it. You need to really find out why she did what she did- I suspect that beyond the oblique "I made a mistake" excuse is a reaction to a confusing definition of your relationship. It's difficult for me to define what she did as "cheating" within the confines of your relationship. Truly being in an open relationship is very difficult- I couldn't do it, and I applaud those who can handle it maturely, but it often seems to me an outlet for someone's emotional immaturity. Who was the initial drive toward an open relationship? If it was you, how keen was she to get on board?

Take the time to better define your relationship with her. I think your gut is telling you to choose her over the possibility of someone else. Make that clear and run with it.
posted by mkultra at 7:32 AM on September 13, 2005

1) she feels awful about it and wants to come clean

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Just because someone feels guilt because they wrong someone doesn't mean they necessarily want to get stay together. I would be willing to guess that a great deal of those who "come clean" do it not for the sake of the relationship, but only to assuage their own feelings of shitiness. In other words, blind self-pitying self-interest. In such cases, forgiveness is the last think you want to do: it would only serve to reinforce the negative behavior.

Do not let people take advantage of your good will. It breeds further bad behavior from them, slowly saps your generous spirit, and gradually turns you into an invertebrate.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:52 AM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I hate the feeling of being cheated on - it's been a long time (that I know of), and I can still feel how bitter and hopeless it made me. I remember be frightened that another person could reduce me to such a state, and it took a while to recover - but I did recover. I'm sorry you're going through this, and I won't weigh in on the dump/don't dump debate, since only you know if this relationship is worth the grief. But here are some strategies I used:

- drpynchon is right - friends are one of the best cures right now, especially if they can take your mind off your troubles. When you're alone, your brain is going to obsess about the infidelity, replay it from all available angles, delve into self-doubt, indulge in rage-fantasies. These are all unavoidable, granted, but their useless, and other people provide a welcome distraction.

- Movies are a great escape, especially dumb summer movies. Just keep in mind that, if you're like me, all media you experience at this time will be forever tainted with the association of the affair. So make sure the movies are enjoyable, dumb, and disposable.

- Drinking might be a brief respite, but it can also increase your rage and/or self-pity. Exercise will give you the happy happy endorphins and spare you the hangover. I've found that rage can be a great physical motivator, and I've had some of my best workouts to equivalent music (Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, and the like, in my case). You'll find an outlet for your anger and you might feel good about your exertion. Plus, if you exhaust yourself, then you can sleep.

- Spring clean. Take all the stuff that reminds her of you (even if you are going to stay in the relationship) box it up, get it out of site. Go shopping to replace anything you need with something that has no associations with her (if you were female, I'd say go shopping regardless, but I'm not sure how well that translates genders). It may sound a little martha, but I've found that reorganizing your space is a great external motivator for realigning your psyche.

- Spend time in the company of the opposite sex. This does not mean indulge in retaliatory fucks, but an evening or two surrounded by people who make you feel good and remind you that you are a desirable human being can do wonders for your self-esteem.

These suggestions are only distractions; they won't remove the pain. I defer to the wisdom drpynchon above - time and future relationships will greatly diminish these feelings.
posted by bibliowench at 7:58 AM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I agree with the person that said that you should cancel the visit in 4 days. You both need time and space to think this over and decide what the next step is.

Her actions changed the whole scope and feeling of your relationship, and that's not an easy thing to just put aside and move on from.

You need to decide what is right for YOU and what you're willing to accept as ok behavior.

Talk to her and find out what the hell she was thinking - or not thinking - when she decided to cheat. Ask her where she sees things going from here now that she's caused you so much pain.

I'm not a huge advocate of long distance relationships, so my opinions toward them may be a bit skewed. Is there any hope for either of you to move closer to where the other one is, if you think there's any hope for his relationship in the long run?

I guess my bottom line advice is take things slow. Don't rush in to any major decisions until you're past some of the hurt and can think clearly. And when that time comes, again, do what's right for YOU.

Good Luck.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 8:08 AM on September 13, 2005

I dunno whether you should break up or not. I think that depends on her reaction to you saying you don't want her to visit in the next few days. If she reacts poorly, break up. If she understands and is even supportive, there may be some legs to the relationship yet. These legs may be stubby and clubfooted because of the long-distance thing, but they're there.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:32 AM on September 13, 2005

I think Kindall has it right. Give it time, a long time, and see.

When I was about your age, I cheated on someone I really cared about. It blew up in my face and got truly horrible and I've always regretted it. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I think I did it out of fear: we were getting too close, he was beginning to mean too much to me, I just wasn't ready to settle down and (this is important) I was deeply angry with him for one specific life changing incident, but I wasn't able, at that point, to see it. We broke up and it was a sad, messy breakup, but in retrospect I needed to be away from him, or I wouldn't have learned anything. It took me a long time to come to terms with all the reasons why I had done what I had done, the anger, and the fear, and of course he was gone. If I hadn't had that time - a couple years, I'm a slow learner - I would never have realized what happened, and why, and what we had to begin with. Unfortunately then I began to realize that he might just have been "the one."

Several years later I went after him. Moved to a new city, tried to get things going again. It didn't work. He was never able to trust me or give me another chance, and I'm really sorry about that and I've always wished it could have been different. Of course, it was my fault. I screwed up and had to live with the consequences. All of this was a very long time ago now and life goes on.

So this is a long winded way of saying what Kindall said more briefly and eloquently: give yourselves both time to work through it, to figure out why it happened, and then, maybe try again. Or not, that's up to you. But in the meantime, only time is going to help either one of you.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:54 AM on September 13, 2005

If you dump someone for making a mistake, however big, then either you don't really love that person or you're weak of character.

This is called "blaming the victim." I don't think it's that helpful.

Anon, this woman has told you by her actions that she doesn't want to be in a monogamous relationship with you. Committing to exclusivity and then sleeping with someone else a couple months later is not a "mistake," it is an expression of her thoughts and feelings and desires more vivid than anything she might say. Count on it.

If you want commitment, then, she is the wrong woman for you right now. It doesn't matter how much you love someone or how strong your character is if the two of you want entirely different and mutually exclusive things.

The "year off" I suggested is as much for her to get act together and figure out what she really wants as it is for you.

As for dealing with the grief, an antidepressant might help. Some will say it's "just a crutch." I say when your leg gets broken, you use a crutch until it's healed, so there's nothing wrong with a crutch for your broken heart, either -- and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I know a man who had a similar revelation at one point, and only medication allowed him to move past it. It's not the first thing you should turn to by any means, but don't rule it out, either, especially if the grief goes on for weeks and weeks and seriously affects your ability to live your everyday life.
posted by kindall at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2005

delmoi: Exercise can help, but I find, as with alcohol, that it can often backfire horribly. I'm a chronic depressive though, YMMV. Start slow, build up, don't go overboard straight away; especially when you're in a fragile state, lest you find your mind/body doesn't really fancy having your endorphin/noradrenaline/dopamine levels shooting up and overcompensates in the other direction.
posted by Freaky at 9:35 AM on September 13, 2005

MeFi: This does not mean indulge in retaliatory fucks.
posted by woil at 9:51 AM on September 13, 2005

Everyone cheats

An ignorant untruth. I have never been unfaithful in any of my serious relationships. Not once.

As for advice, I have the following observations:

1. Those who say you need time out to let the grief and anger subside are bang on. If you do decide to see her again, don't do it until you've got a good grip on yourself and those pupils aren't dilating any more. Allow at least two weeks longer than the time at which you think you've reached this stage. That means a clean break in communication. No phone calls, except one to explain that you need this time out. Keep it short and civil. Trust me on this.

2. I, too, find myself feeling a degree of cynicism about the fact that this relationship of yours was, until two months ago, "open", and that you availed yourself of that situation to do a little field-playing of your own. Okay, so you agreed to stop that but it's less than surprising to me that in such circumstances she lapsed. A lapse doesn't seem so bad to a person when, hey, it used to be okay. Know what I mean?

3. If you really want to make another go of this you need to learn from what your violent reaction to her infidelity is telling you: that you are the sort of person who is extremely unhappy about someone you love being unfaithful. Not everyone is, but you are. That means fidelity has to be a given in future, both for you and your partner. Otherwise you will be hurt like this again, and you must understand that you could be hurting someone as badly if you are unfaithful to her.

Some people can get over infidelity fairly strongly, others can't, others can but only with a significant emotional cost. It seems you are not in the first category. This is an important life lesson, so learn it well.

Finally, this particular relationship might be down the tubes. However, if you both do decide to try again you need to have a long, careful and serious discussion about the importance of future fidelity. I don't think you could survive another breach of trust. And then you need to keep fighting to put this behind you and rebuild the trust.

Good luck.
posted by Decani at 11:09 AM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Well, Anon, I went through a similar situation. Here's some things from my experience:

My girlfriend was on study abroad; when I went to visit her, I thought we were getting closer. It was the first girl who I had dated for over a year, we were at about 18 months. We talked about breaking up before she left, and she was the one who wanted to continue the relationship. As time went on, I fell for her more and more. Then, out of the blue, I got a call from her that she had cheated on me.
I was pissed.

I imagine that you're feeling the same way.

Now, I have a feeling that most of the people in this thread who are counselling forgiveness are people who have cheated. I don't know if you have. I'm going to say that you should dump her. You can always get back together later if you want, but you should have a clean break and you shouldn't bother seeing her when she comes to visit in four days.

Now is the time to be selfish, Anon. Not seeing her is kinda a dickish move, but fuck it. She committed an essentially selfish act and you're absolved from having to think about her feelings for a while. What you need to do is this: think about what you enjoy on your own, then do it. Go to shows, read books, play sports, hang out with your friends. Things that you enjoy.
Which isn't to say that a drinking bender is contraindicated, just that it's only a temporary band-aid. Take stock in your life. Think about what you want.
One of the nice things about a long-distance relationship breaking up is that you're already halfway there. It's not like you're going to run into her at work or at the store or at a party. She's out of your life for a while, and you should go back to being single.
(I found that shooting games at the arcade also helped, but that may just be me).
Flirt with other girls, don't bring her up, and don't think about her. Ignore her. You're not dating now. You haven't been dating since she slept with the other guy.

In a month or so, you should think about whether or not you'd like to go back to dating her and talk to her about it. If you like, you can tell her not to sleep with anyone for that month while you make up your mind. She may or may not agree to that. Doesn't matter. Take it as it comes.
But when you start dating her again, if you do, start over from scratch. Talk about what you expect and what you don't want, and be honest. And if she betrays you again, cut her out.

As far as my experience goes? Well, about two months after breaking up with my girlfriend, I was going out on dates again and met a girl who I thought would be a rebound. She was cute and cool, and so we hooked up. I've been dating her ever since (abotu three years). I still think that my ex-girlfriend is a great person, smart and attractive, but I deserve to be treated better and I'm not going to go sniffing after her. I've got something different and better.
As for my current girlfriend, well, she'd better not cheat on me because I can't afford the rent alone if we broke up. ;)
posted by klangklangston at 11:35 AM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Everybody cheats. Really. Not much to be done here. There's even a divine commandment and, well, you can see how well that works. Once you accept this, you can take a more critical eye to the situation. Some cold, hard analysis is the best thing for yourself and your relationship.

How exactly did she hurt you?

Did she lie to you? Nope. This is a big one. The worst thing somebody you love can do is lie to you. Compared to lying, cheating is nothing.

Did she abuse your feelings for her? Nope. She didn't use you or manipulate you. She came clean with full expectation of the consequences. She respects your feelings and judgement. Perhaps she wanted to make you break up with her... but, er, there are easier ways to break up with somebody. Is she the kind of girl to play this sort of game?

Did she betray your trust? Yeah, she did. Suckage. One of the few things you thought you could count on, and it turns out... It's a terrible feeling. She hurt you and let you do that. Humans, unfortunately, tend to do that, particularly to the ones she love. But is she willing to regain your trust? Is she willing to put in the intense effort to save the relationship? Does she see a future for the relationship and is it a future she's willing to make sacrifices for?

You should probably ask her these things.

Give in to your grief for a while, cry on a friend's shoulder, smash something, scream, dig a giant hole in the park and bury something. (Be careful about the last one--cops are suspcious of people digging holes in public parks.) These things can help in the short-term.

But eventually you'll have to sit down and decide what you want. You need to think very carefully about exactly what will make you happy. The answer is not 'being with her will make me happy'. You need to think about how. You need to think about if you can ever really trust her and what she might do to regain your trust. But once you know what'll make you happy, you need to have a long talk with her and ask what will make her happy. Again, it's important to nail down the specifics. Do not push her away. The whole 'run away and hope your memories fade' is a childish response. Identify the problem, confront it, and hammer out a solution. This will mean a lot of soul searching for both of you. Again, don't think of this in terms of how to 'save' the relationships. Think about exactly what it'll take to make each of you happy.

And really, the whole long-distance thing is not such a great idea. In my experience, most long-distance relationships end up precisely like yours did. It's not such a terrible shock. One of the things you should figure out and reach a definite answer on is whether you want to do the whole long-distance thing again. I'd recommend against it.

I will say this though: life is short. If you just give up on a loved one everytime she hurts you well--long term, you'll end up with a lot of lost loves and bitter memories.
posted by nixerman at 11:55 AM on September 13, 2005

Everybody cheats. Really.

Again, no, they don't. Really. I guess you didn't see my post. There a few things more annoying, self-justifying and self-deluded than someone who insists that their own moral failings must apply universally.
posted by Decani at 12:31 PM on September 13, 2005

Well Decani, perhaps you know that single perfect person who's never cheated at anything or on any one. Is it Jesus? If so, put in the good word for me.

Another way to see the phrase: humans aren't perfect. They make mistakes. They do stupid things. Sometimes, repeatedly. Deal with it. In the end, your happiness is more important than any sort of moral feeling of power you have from being cheated upon. I know a lot of couples (dare I say the majority(?)) where one person has strayed from the path and the relationship only came out stronger.
posted by nixerman at 1:23 PM on September 13, 2005

Your only way to deal with the grief is to endure it. Someone else said rent movies and books. That is a great suggestion. Pamper yourself. Be selfish. Play WoW to level 60. Take long walks or run. Don't spend too much time lamenting to your friends, they'll get sick of it. It will take time to get over her but you'll be stronger afterwards.

My strong gut feeling is that she wants you to break up with her, or she wants to prep you for impending breakup. Possibly she wants to get out of coming.

If that is the case, you absolutely must break up with her and never look back. Be civil to her by all means but be firm and don't give in. You'll love someone again and you will respect yourself more in the future if you are true to yourself now.
posted by jockc at 1:34 PM on September 13, 2005

Some ideas for you to consider...

--) AFAIK, brains run predominantly on sugar and oxygen. So, 1) adopt a new emergency habit of many many deep breaths thru the day and 2) keep your blood sugar stable. Eat small meals every 2-3 hours. I strongly believe that these two tactics will help you perceive the whole ordeal with much more strength and clarity.

--) "Reciprocity". Or "balance". It's an idea foreign to this culture of either "forgive" or "ignore". Consider this WTF!?-sounding advice: when someone commits an injustice against you, hurt back but a little less. If the principle is sound (and I won't argue either way), "hurting back a little less" restores balance. The concept of this idea isn't catharsis or revenge or to make the person suffer. The intention is "This injustice must be balanced."

(It's a disconcerting idea, I know. But, FWIW, it single-handedly turned around my relationship with my brother.)

Strength and love to you.
posted by Moistener at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

As bad as you're feeling right now, she probably felt equally devastated when you took advantage of the "open" period of your relationship. You should acknowledge that, even though it breaks the implicit rule of the open relationship. Yes, she probably said she wouldn't mind, but the fact is that you slept with someone else and she didn't. It's really hard to get beyond human nature, especially when there are a few million years of evolutionary conditioning set against you. She had to be jealous and hurt.
posted by evariste at 1:43 PM on September 13, 2005

Everybody cheats. Really.

And again: really, NO, they don't. Evidently you have cheated, and evidently everyone you've been with has cheated (or you at least presume they have). That's your life, your behavior, and the behavior of your partners. It doesn't describe everyone on the planet.

nixerman: Well Decani, perhaps you know that single perfect person who's never cheated at anything or on any one. Is it Jesus?

Nice sleight of hand there, attempting to equate "cheat on signficant other" with "cheat at gin rummy." But it doesn't hold water. The subject is being unfaithful in relationships, and it is a fact that there are countless numbers of people who aren't Jesus and yet have never cheated on a significant other, and never will. Just because you're apparently not one of them doesn't mean such people don't exist.

(Note that I am not making any claim to be such a person myself, either. I cheated in a serious relationship many years ago, but I'm capable of not mistaking my youthful folly for some two-word truism about the full range of all human behavior.)
posted by scody at 1:52 PM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I recommend you meet. Talk,yell,make love,cuddle,eat good food,plan a few excursions. See if you two have the right stuff to be partners in life.(in this serious business of life,her fucking ain't nothing but a little itch) See this crisis and her visit as a opportunity to learn and evolve.
posted by JohnR at 2:09 PM on September 13, 2005

scody, it's interesting that you consider relationships as some sort of special category of objects. I'm not sure why you do, but, me, I don't. Cheating on somebody you're dating, your taxes, and a card game are all the same to me though they obviously differ in extent. I suspect cheating is one of those things, like flirting, that humans just do. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it'll always be. It is a fundamental element of human nature. Or perhaps it's just been bred into us over the millenia. You can imagine that successful cheaters must've had quite an advantage over their honest neighbors. Suckers. So, yeah, I maintain that everybody cheats.

I don't mean to sound flip about such a sensitive topic, but I tend to reject the primitive taboo against cheating that elevates it from a normal human failing to a "sin" which is just inherently wrong--particularly when you consider the complexity of human relationships. Not only are there situations where cheating in a relationship is perfectly understandable (which might apply here, has evariste points out), but even when it 's a clear error it is an inherently forgivable error. This notion that the instant a person cheats it means she doesn't love her partner and the relationship is doomed is not just silly, it's harmful. In the long run, such incidents just don't matter.
posted by nixerman at 2:22 PM on September 13, 2005

I can't possibly disagree with you more, nixerman. In the context of an obviously expressed monogamous commitment, cheating is not natural, and it's not some kind of accidental mistake. It's a conscious decision to act in very bad faith. If you're unhappy in a relationship, the appropriate thing to do is either to end the relationship or try to fix the problem within it. As anonymous can attest, even in a relationship which was previously open, cheating is usually incredibly hurtful -- it's a major emotional scar for those who are cheated on.

I can attest to the fact that I've never cheated on anybody with whom I was explicitly monogamous. Not only that, while I've seen lots of couples try to get over such an incident, I think it's very rare to find a relationship that isn't plagued with unending resentment, distrust, and unhealthy power dynamics following sexual indiscretions.

If there are people out there who are so impulsive as to be able to lose sight of the incredible harm they may cause by cheating (and I know there are), then I wouldn't want to be romantically involved with such a person under any circumstances.
posted by drpynchon at 2:53 PM on September 13, 2005

It is really, really hard to remain monogomous in a long-distance relationship. It sounds like this was just a random drunken hookup (I have to assume, you didn't give any details) for her. Personally, I don't consider this to be a major violation of the relationship pact.

If she was just lonely and overstimulated in an isolated incident, you have to cut her some slack I think.

Now if this is an affair (e.g. she has had sex with this person more than once) you have a more serious problem on your hands.

In the latter instance, it's pretty much "all over but the shouting" as the song goes, but in the former instance, I think you still have some options.

First of all, you have to consider the health of the relationship aside from the cheating. If there are other problems, then you might just want to move on, but if everything is good, with the exception of this incident, then you might want to give it another go, but you have to be ready to forgive - and your mileage may vary with that, it depends upon your personality. [If cheating is a big self-esteem issue with you, this will never work out, but if it isn't, you still have a shot.]

But this is all coming from a person who believes that insisting on monogomy puts too much stress on a relationship anyway, so what do I know?
posted by lilboo at 2:58 PM on September 13, 2005

This notion that the instant a person cheats it means she doesn't love her partner and the relationship is doomed is not just silly, it's harmful. In the long run, such incidents just don't matter.

Amen to that. And, for the record, klangklangston, I have never once cheated in a relationship. Not. Once. Even when opportunity knocked. But that doesn't mean I don't understand why and how it can happen, nor does it mean I take the Puritanical view some people have which denies what is often basic human nature, while glorifying retribution and punishment as somehow the "right" thing to do. Interesting that you'd think that it's impossible for people to advise forgiveness and understanding without also being "sinners" themselves.

If you love someone and they love you, why let something as silly as a one-time sexual dalliance ruin a good thing? If you feel you can't trust someone, you shouldn't be in a relationship with them, but I don't agree that trust and cheating are as inextricably linked as some seem to feel. I just can't see cheating (a one night stand sort of thing) as all that important, and it's not because I've ever done it, just that I don't see why it's such a big deal. I think people tend to get so overwrought about this that they don't really stop and think about it, and decide whether they're actually the sort of person who can't handle cheating, or whether they're just following along with what other people tell them they should feel. Looking after yourself can sometimes mean cutting off contact with people who hurt you, but it can also mean finding out how you really think about things without letting other people's personal views get in the way. It's not empirically right to find cheating abhorrent, any more than it's empirically right to find it understandable. This is not a one size fits all, black and white issue, despite the efforts of those who wish to make it seem so.

(and incidentally, I married my long-distance sweetie three years ago, long-distance can work really well for some people)
posted by biscotti at 3:01 PM on September 13, 2005

This notion that the instant a person cheats it means she doesn't love her partner and the relationship is doomed is not just silly, it's harmful. In the long run, such incidents just don't matter.

This notion that cheating occurs in an instant and is merely another manefestation of man's imperfection isn't just stupid, it's irresponsible.

Cheating on someone takes time. It takes time to consider the options, time for a situation to unfold, time to pour the drinks, time to unzipper your pants, unbutton your shirt and remove your clothes, time to build up, time to fuck, and time to smoke the cigarette afterwords. At each and every moment of the process, the cheater has to either be completely oblivious to their prior commitment, or more likely, aware of the dishonesty, yet plowing ahead regardless. This isn't like putting your hand on a stove--Whoops! I fucked up!

As I alluded to previously (perhaps you missed it), unless you're being obtuse, not everyone cheats. Oh, "cheats on tests, cheats on taxes"-- you know perfectly well what we're talking about here. Everyone may lie, everyone may cheat, everyone may not be perfect, but I can most certainly assure you that not everyone cheats on those they love (i.e. fucks around, in case you're still unaware of the original poster's problem).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

Well Decani, perhaps you know that single perfect person who's never cheated at anything or on any one. Is it Jesus?

Nice sleight of hand there, attempting to equate "cheat on signficant other" with "cheat at gin rummy."

What that nice respondent said, nixerman. This thread is about "cheating" in the sense of being unfaithful to a partner, and therefore so was my comment. Playing definitional retreat in the hope of scoring a cheap, lazy point is a fallacious waste of time. And one which tends not to fly here. Too many smart people, old son. Bear that in mind next time, eh?
posted by Decani at 6:56 PM on September 13, 2005

Decani: was perhaps a rhetorical overstatement on my part to say "Everyone cheats." Assuming you speak truly, apparently not everyone does.

Just most people.

To pretend that most people do not fail their own morals is a "fallacious waste of time" and "ignorant" as well.

And, no, that doesn't justify it. No one said it did.
posted by converge at 10:54 PM on September 13, 2005

To pretend that most people do not fail their own morals is a "fallacious waste of time" and "ignorant" as well.

Good thing I didn't do that then, eh? What I did was refute your absolute statement, "Everybody cheats. Really".

Anyway, I'd like to see your evidence for your qualifed restatement of your position. I hope it's something a little more persuasive than "In my personal experience this is true".
posted by Decani at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2005

Break up with her. Without trust there is no relationship. This is too new a relationship AND it's long distance to really make any amazing attempts at reconcilliation. You needn't explain; just give her the news. Make it a clean break. Wrap her shit carefully, put it in a box, and ship it to her. Ask her to do the same.

Call your brother or best buddy. At least vent on the phone if not in person over a beer. Don't do anything rash but hit a strip club or maybe a trip to Vegas next weekend.

Some exercise will help with the stress.

If you're in school you might talk to your advisor about dropping out for the rest of the quarter or at least drop any classes that will be especially challenging; you'll only fuck up your GPA by trying to stick with it. Even if deadlines to drop are past I know people who have retroactivley erased entire quarters due to mental distress from a bad breakup. Similary, if you're working, it'd be worth taking some time off and, no need to go into details, but let your boss know that you'll be a bit out of it for the next few months.
posted by deanj at 9:40 AM on September 16, 2005

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