Cheating: Clueless girlfriend edition
August 24, 2013 1:43 PM   Subscribe

How do I move on after infidelity? I recently discovered that my BF has been cheating on me. Need advice on how to proceed, mentally/emotionally - snowflakey details inside.

Last week I found out that my boyfriend (we have been together for four years) has been cheating on me. Cheating as in - He conducted a long-term (over a year) emotional and physical relationship with a coworker AND has admitted that there were also multiple random one-offs with people he met on craigslist and elsewhere.

I had NO...IDEA.

I know I must be the dumbest girlfriend alive to have been so completely blindsided by this, but I trusted him completely.

I am ashamed, sad, devastated, angry - I feel stupid, duped, ignorant, everything.

He initially expressed "regret" and a desire to reconcile, but I have not heard from him in over three days, so I assume that is off the table.

I guess my question (aside from why would someone do this?) is how to move on from this?
How do I trust the next man who comes into my life?

I am taking advantage of counseling - are there any specific questions/avenues I should be pursuing in regards to therapy?

We are late 30s/early 40s, if that helps.

I can provide more details if necessary.

Thanks in advance...
posted by tillei to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Realistically, it may help to turn this into a bit of a financial transaction for you.

#1. Inform him he is going to pay any copay for you to be tested for STDs.
#2. Find out how much his cheating cost you. I mean as in - did you financially intermingle enough over 4 years where you would have subsidized part of his escapades. If you did, let him know the dollar figure.
#3. Plan on therapy for at least a few months - if not longer. Let him know the cost of your weekly copay and a 6 month figure.
#4. Hey, sometimes therapy involves psychopharm - let him know the cost/copay of your medication - not what it is, just the cost. I gotta say - the psyhopharm helped with the constant anxiety attacks and lack of sleep that plagued me for a while afterward.
#5. Decide, whether it is worth it to never see this person again or collect reparations.

Personally, if a friend borrows $50 and I never see the $50 again, it was money well spent.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:05 PM on August 24, 2013

I disagree on trying to get money from him for any reason. Better to never have contact with him again. If you haven't already, get rid of everything you have that's related to him, delete him from your phone/email/chat/Facebook/Twitter/anything else.

Give yourself time to process, especially before you think about dating anyone else. Don't think about how you will trust someone again now. Just focus on your own emotional recovery.

Mourn this tragedy but don't beat yourself up - you are not stupid. He is stupid for throwing away a relationship with a great girlfriend and being a jerk.

When you are ready, go spend time with people who love you doing things that you love to do.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:15 PM on August 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am so sorry to hear this. Betrayal totally sucks. is where you want to go.
posted by Sublimity at 2:16 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nanuk's advice is about the worst possible i could imagine. Disentangle your life as soon as possible and start doing your own thing. And don't beat yourself up over it. This happens to probably millions of people a year. You aren't especially gullible, just unlucky.
posted by empath at 2:23 PM on August 24, 2013 [32 favorites]

Get Tested, and then tested again in 6 months or whatever they recommend
No Contact with him ever again
Therapy if you have trouble moving on or if this type of relationship becomes a common thing in your life (normal guys won't do this to you, so if you hit 2 in a row, find out what is attracting you to them).

This type of cheating is pathological, this isn't a reaction to you or anything you've done. This guy is a screwup or has some sort of compulsion. I also don't see him ever fixing it in any timescale I'd be interested in sticking around for.

You aren't dumb, normal people never expect their partner to break their heart or potentially affect their health like this guy did to you.

The ends of relationships can be messy and have some overlap, but this is not one of those cases.

This sounds like a broken-broken man. Don't give him any more time in your mind.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:34 PM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would not follow Nanukthedog's advice for several reasons but the biggest of them is that it is totally, completely unlikely that your ex is going to financially support your moving past the relationship or even getting and STD, and it is totally, completely likely that it would make you feel a lot worse.

It sounds glib, but the way to not approach relationships in the future with fear and mistrust is by really letting go of this guy and what he did that hurt you... and not holding it against the next guy. But there's really no reason to think about that now. That is going to take time.

And yesyesyes get tested, and tested again.
posted by sm1tten at 2:40 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FWIW, getting tested was the first thing I did.
Felt like one of the few things that I could control, you know?
posted by tillei at 2:49 PM on August 24, 2013 [17 favorites]

I had NO...IDEA.

I know I must be the dumbest girlfriend alive to have been so completely blindsided by this, but I trusted him completely.

I feel stupid, duped, ignorant, everything.

You aren't stupid. He's a liar. An affair can be a mistake one falls into, but random hookups from Craigslist are pretty straightforward intentional cheating. Some people are just dishonest assholes. I'm so sorry this one found you and exploited your basic decency.

are there any specific questions/avenues I should be pursuing in regards to therapy? Yes, how to move on from this? and How do I trust the next man who comes into my life? You can work on figuring out if there were any signs you missed, or ways to be a bit more vigilant. You can work on ways of valuing yourself more, and being less vulnerable to exploitative creeps.

I'm so sorry this happened to you. Get support from friends and family, and be good to yourself.
posted by theora55 at 2:59 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry this happened to you. It's one of the worst feelings. Overall just try to remind yourself that your partner cheating doesn't reflect anything about you as a person.

Take time to feel all the things you feel. They're all valid feelings. And keep repeating to yourself that the pain will lessen and then pass, even if it doesn't feel that way now.

One suggestion: In therapy you could specifically address how to not let this situation make you closed off. How to come to terms with the fact that yes, he treated you very badly, but no, all men won't do the same thing. Don't let this make you bitter and jaded - that happens to a lot of people, and it's sad. Try and retain your ability to be vulnerable and open to experiences, including new opportunities, friendships, and (some length of time down the road) love.

Good luck.
posted by fireandthud at 3:04 PM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

You're not stupid or dumb or ignorant. Trusting someone completely is what you're supposed to do when you're in love. You made the decision to trust him based on the evidence you had. You can wish you knew the truth earlier, but you can't (logically) regret not acting on knowledge you didn't possess.

To answer the question in parentheses, "why would someone do this?", there's a conversation over on the blue about infidelity that's probably too intense for you to read right now, but something Chanther said rung true for me: "I'm not a super religious guy, but the best way I can think of to put it is that to knowingly harm another person for your own benefit is the definition of sin." Your boyfriend hurt you for his own benefit. That's both simple and awful but it's not rare. If you want to wrestle more deeply with the 'whys' of it, you will be in the company of all the great religious and moral thinkers since time began. They have not gotten very with it and probably neither will you. I'm a big believer in empathy most of the time but I don't think it's worthwhile right now to try and tackle the Problem of Evil in regards to your boyfriend. From your perspective, he is a wasp that stung you, a brain tumor that hospitalized you, a bolt of lightning that hit your house and burnt it down. In other words, from this point forward, he is simply a motiveless agent of harm.

How to move on from this? Time, mostly. "Self-care," as the therapists say. So maybe: yoga, meditation, long walks in the woods, comfy pajamas, ice cream, a few glasses of wine, sad music, close friends, a cleansing ceremony in the back yard where you burn everything he ever gave you. Also, maybe by doing something really difficult and good - some intense volunteering, or seeing someone through an illness, or raising an astonishing amount of money for a cause. Do something huge and selfless that you never would have done otherwise, and tell yourself that you're doing it because this happened to you. So that it's like you're capturing all that hateful, hurtful energy and redirecting it so it does something beautiful in the world. "Fuck you, evil," you think to yourself when you cut the ribbon on the new wing of the children's hospital, or write a check for $10,000 and mail it to Operation Smile. (But not "Fuck you, Joe," because it's not about proving you're a better person than he is, though you are; it's about scoring more points for good in the world.)

Also This thread and this thread and this thread and this thread*

How do you trust the next man in your life? By accepting it as simply a bad thing that happened to you, and not something you could have prevented. Maybe that's not 100% true - maybe if you'd snooped in his email earlier, or asked a million intrusive questions, or refused to let him ever travel alone, you could have stopped it. But after doing a quick scan of your past for any obvious red flags, do your damnedest to forget this and move on. Make an effort to decide you're going to trust the next person in your life, and you will.

posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:06 PM on August 24, 2013 [21 favorites]

Man, this happened to me and frankly, I had no trouble trusting the next man in my life but there is no chance in hell I'd trust that cheater-guy (or any of the mutual friends who said nothing) ever again. Not for even a small thing. But I don't dwell on it--I rarely think about it now (no more than I think about anyone I once knew and no longer have any connection to) but I know that there are no circumstances under which I'd trust that person.

As for how to move on, you just do. You get tested, like you have; you get angry and then you let the anger go; you get sad and then you let the sadness go; you talk to someone therapeutically (either a therapist or a friend you trust), like you are, and you just live your life, slowly forgiving yourself for not noticing the signs. More importantly, when lights suddenly go on in your brain (usually in the middle of the night) illuminating some sign you can't believe you missed or don't want to believe you ignored, you just forgive yourself. You just do.

You are better off now, and you have to realize that you did not do this to yourself, even if you made mistakes in the relationship. Infidelity is 100% on the person who cheats, no matter what (if anything) has been going wrong in the relationship, no matter what (if any) signs the person who wasn't cheating ignored. It's almost like being a passenger in a car accident, you were not responsible for the car accident and it's not a signal that every car you're ever in will crash.

Go ahead and take things from the experience forward with you, but don't be destructive about it. Learn how to separate "this is how the last guy cheated" from your reactions to what a new partner does. Does it honestly make you uncomfortable that your partner goes out without you some nights or is it just fear that it will happen again? If it's just fear, confess the fear, but accept that your partner may sometimes what a night out with friends without you. In a good relationship--which you can have in the future--it's okay to confess fears born out of past hurts because in a good relationship, your partner will respect your feelings and want to know, even if you have to confront and let the fear go, rather than (for example) expect your partner to never leave the house without you.

I am so sorry this happened to you and so sorry you feel ashamed and dumb. That will pass because you're not dumb and you have nothing to be ashamed of. You picked a bad partner and you are better off now. The self-care advice above, especially the part about doing something difficult, good and/or fulfilling is excellent. Take a weekend trip to a city you've never been to alone. Learn a new skill. Train for a triathlon. Pick up a volunteer commitment.

Do all the things that affirm what you know--but are clouded by what has happened--that you are fine, capable, valuable human being with fine, valuable, human qualities to offer the world around you.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:24 PM on August 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

I know I must be the dumbest girlfriend alive to have been so completely blindsided by this, but I trusted him completely.

It's natural to feel that way, but it's not your fault. You held up your half of the deal and he didn't.

I am ashamed, sad, devastated, angry - I feel stupid, duped, ignorant, everything.

You're internalising it – assuming that you are at fault here somehow. It's your mind sorting through all of the possibilities of what went wrong, looking for the story that makes sense. The mind needs narratives. It needs reasons to explain things. That's what it does.

The reason is very simple. He cheated because he made the decision to cheat. Doesn't matter why really. The why often seems important, but will it change the result? No.

Do yourself a big favour and let your confusion turn into the anger it so desperately wants to be.

I guess my question (aside from why would someone do this?) is how to move on from this?
How do I trust the next man who comes into my life?

You move on by accepting it. Let go of the world where he did not cheat, for that world is now gone. Live in the world where he did cheat. So what? All it means is what you allow it to mean.

Does it mean you are a stupid, gullible person? No. Lots of smart people get cheated on.
Does it mean you are less valuable now than before? No. You didn't do anything to change.
Does it mean you can never trust a man again? No. Men didn't do this, one man did.

It probably helps to get very specific right now, rather than general. You got involved in a relationship with Man X. It was mostly good (4 years says that), and then he made a decision for himself that was not respectful of the relationship as you expected it. He changed the terms, and you do not want to accept them.

You did not change the terms. He changed the terms. That is very important. You did not do anything wrong here. Now, if you have been in five four year relationships and this has happened in each one, yes, you want to look at those patterns. But, if by and large, you generally have successful relationships, and in this case, a guy cheated, that is on him and not you.

How do you move on? Accept that it sucks. Accept that it hurts. Accept that he is no longer someone you want to be with. Take some time to heal. Focus on yourself for a while. And in time, you will meet another man, and it will be time for another story.

There was a fascinating study about accident victims who had lost limbs. In general, what was found was that after a period of time, their dispositions and demeanours returned to the same place that they had been previous to the accident. The sad people stayed sad – because they were sad people. The happy people became happy again – because they were happy people.

If you are a loving, caring partner who enjoys being in a relationship, then you are still a loving, caring partner who enjoys being in a relationship. This man did not give you those qualities, you gave them to him. And you can give them to someone else, when the time is right.

Don't focus on the future, that will be fine. You will live and love again. You're in shock right now, and you're trying to make sense of it. Maybe you're trying to repress the anger at the moment because in some ways you are afraid that by expressing it, you will ruin the chances for reconciliation.

If that is the case, the first decision is do you want this relationship to continue? If you do, then you need to accept his cheating as something that happened and move past it. If you do not want to do that, then you need to end the relationship immediately. Until you make that decision, you will probably go through a lot of emotions and be confused.
posted by nickrussell at 4:05 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're still waiting for him to reconcile. In other words, a part of you is still allowing him control.

This is an alarm for in-person therapy.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:24 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your kind responses and thoughtful advice, I knew would not let me down :)

kruger5 - not waiting for a reconciliation, just wanted to mention that he had initially suggested it.

pretentious illiterate, thanks for bringing some much needed laughter to my day, that link was fantastic!

I will, of course, be happy to hear from anyone else with stories/advice, every answer gives me more to consider and hope for...
posted by tillei at 6:40 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dating shitheads like this is part of what makes it so awesome when you meet someone so unlike them. It makes you look twice at some people who you maybe should not trust so quickly, but it also makes you look twice at those guys you might otherwise not have noticed right away. And you will notice one of those guys, and it will be awesome, and this will become one small thread in the huge tapestry of your romantic life. I can't say it will ever have been "worth it" but I am quite sure you will move on, grow, and change and this will be a distant memory. And then you'll give someone else advice like this someday, too.

Not everyone goes through this experience, but many people do, and you should really not feel stupid. Everyone makes mistakes, but cheaters gonna cheat. There's probably nothing you could have done differently.
posted by juliplease at 8:10 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're not stupid, you were behaving in the way humans have to behave in order to have fulfilling trusting long term relationships. He wasn't. Not your fault.

In a few weeks or months he's going to come back and promise everything will be better "this time", which will lead this turning from an admittedly protracted one-off deception into a long and destructive cycle. You must avoid that, it could really mess up your life. Disengage completely, no going back, dive headlong into the future.
posted by dickasso at 3:32 AM on August 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Ugh, I'm so sorry this happened to you. I've been in your shoes, I'm so, so, so sorry.

You're in shock and self-blaming. You are NOT stupid. He is a consummate liar, a cad, and a shit-sack dressed in human skin. His behavior likely comes from massive insecurity and self-loathing cloaked in entitlement, selfishness and adrenaline-junkiness. NONE of it is your fault.

Don't waste your time having a conversation that could even remotely open the door to your sympathy or forgiveness at this point. (Forgiveness comes later, after the possibility that his whining will worm its way into your heart.) If you do have a conversation, YOU control it -- you tell him what's what, what where to shove it and to get fucked. If he suggests that ANY of this is remotely your fault, hang up the phone and / or walk away. I tend to be a bridge burner anyway, but an evil person like this frankly doesn't need to suck up anymore of your energy. Block, delete, unfriend; it's hard to rip this bandaid off after four years, but it is truly better than the alternative of a slow, hopeful disengagement which (I promise) he will manipulate for his own selfish purposes.

Did you live together? Who's on the lease/deed/mortgage? Get that sorted out asap -- if you move, tell him to get a hotel or stay with a friend for a few days while you and your friends pack up. Don't be afraid to ask for help -- when the shit hit my fan, I was shocked at the people I classified as "casual acquaintances" who came out of the woodwork to help me pack, help me move, buy me drinks and hold my hair back. If he's the one moving, help him out by putting his things on the front lawn and changing the locks.

Call a trusted friend or family member to help you with some of the practical decisions. Give them the keys to your life for a few weeks while you process the sudden changes.

If you're not living together, rearrange your entire house anyway. Call your friends and family regularly -- I called my sister and my mom every day for about six weeks. Get rid of the reminders -- either trash them, burn them or box them up. In a year, open the box and decide what you want to keep and what would make a great bonfire.

You don't have to trust the next man who comes into your life, or the one after that. Slowly, this will fade and you'll eventually get past the trust issues. Take time to be alone -- four years is a long time. Is there *anything* you wanted to do, but put off for the relationship? Any sacrifices you made? Anything you thought would be fun but he thought was stupid? Now is your time to shine doing all those things. Don't even think about dating -- this douchebag has given you a cloud of war; it's going to take a while for it to lift completely. Don't rush it.

Journal every day, more than once if necessary. This will help tease out the things your counselor would like to hear, though from my experience sometimes it's money well spent to just sit there and cry for half and hour.

Again, I'm so sorry. It gets better, I promise.
posted by mibo at 4:40 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

"What's this? An itemized invoice from Tillei? Yeah, lemme put that on my to-do list... right under 'Don't serially cheat on my girlfriend...'"

Seriously, forget the money advice. As others have mentioned, drop all contact and so on. And do use the experience to help you remember what you DON'T want in a future boyfriend. We non-cheaters are out there, waiting to meet other non-cheaters like you.
posted by Rykey at 4:43 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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