Is it possible for an otherwise happy relationship to survive an act of willful cheating?
May 17, 2007 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible for an otherwise happy relationship to survive an act of willful cheating?

I've been together with a lovely girl for about eight months. 99% of the time, we are tremendously happy together. She says she's tremendously happy, and moreover our friends go out of their way to tell us we're good together. We've taken out a lease to move in together starting in June.

Here's the story on the other 1%. There have been three previous incidents at parties, when she was extremely drunk, in which she has openly tried to hook up with another guy--the same guy every time. I've been present on each of these occasions, and I have intercepted her, talked to her about it, and nothing ended up happening with them. The next morning she is always very, very apologetic and swears up and down that it won't happen again.

This past weekend, I was away. She called me Sunday to tell me she'd slept with the same guy. To make it even less forgivable, from my perspective, she was stone sober. She says she "really fucked up" and she wants to remain with me if at all possible.

We've discussed it, and her explanation for the cheating is basically that she was feeling lonely when I was away and didn't know what to do with herself. She hated the feeling that she was dependent on me. She said she is also scared by how much she loves me. So she found a 'fucked up way to deal with it.'

Now, her previous relationship broke up because of her cheating--and she says she cheated on him for similar reasons, when things were getting serious. These are all obviously big scary red flags with fangs. I don't need metafilter to tell me that. BUT...I love her, and I love the relationship. I'm genuinely happy with her, all except for these awful incidents.

I would like to stay together with her if I can. For obvious reasons, I don't trust her at all right now (because of what's happened before with this guy, I asked her explicitly a couple of weeks ago whether I could trust her while I was away. She assured me I could.). I've naively assumed that people who cheat do it because they're not happy in their relationships...from what she's been saying, though, it seems that she's cheating because she feels seriously about me and that scares her. Ditto with her past relationship, which ended in cheating.

Is it at all possible for me to build trust in her again? That's the only way I can imagine going on with her. If so, are there any specific recommendations for how? She has invited me to come with her to therapy next week to discuss this, but beyond that we don't have any concrete plans for dealing.

Thanks so much.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (86 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
she might be sabotaging the relationship because she's afraid of success/afraid to get too attached, but if it's been the same guy every time, i suspect something else is going on.

it's up to you whether you stay with her, but it sounds like unless she gets some counseling, she'll cheat again.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:32 PM on May 17, 2007

I have seen it happen. Someone willfully ran out and cheated in a horrible way. It was followed by monumental, wracking guilt, a full admission, a near total break, weeks of agonizing, apologies and prostrations the likes of which had never been seen before. New ground rules for honesty were set with a strict no-bullshit understanding.

They're now quite happily married, years later, with a family.
posted by scarabic at 9:34 PM on May 17, 2007

I am so sorry that this happened to you...and wish that I could offer a better prognosis - but this looks pretty damn bad. First of all, it seems clear that alcohol is a major factor - the first three times, surely. Anyone who lets alcohol control their behavior to the extent of infidelity has a problem, IMO. But the most recent incident - while sober - is just jaw-dropping, as is her excuse. Basically, she did it because she wanted to - that simple. Her attempt to rationalize it by saying that she is "scared" of being dependent (ie, in love with) on you reveals a level of emotional immaturity that is not likely to be resolved via simple marital counseling.

This is all amateur pop-psych, and I could very well be wrong...but this situation looks pretty bleak, unfortunately. Your ability to ever trust her again might be permanently broken, sad to say.

Good luck.
posted by davidmsc at 9:37 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

her explanation for the cheating is basically that she was feeling lonely when I was away and didn't know what to do with herself

that part's pathetic BS

She hated the feeling that she was dependent on me.

Probably true, which, if it is, is a serious problem. Reacting violently to intimacy is not some little issue you can just solve.

She said she is also scared by how much she loves me.

That sounds flowered up so as to get back in your good graces. Manipulative.

So she found a 'fucked up way to deal with it.'

So she's saying in some punk-rock way she did the right thing? Cheating's not "dealing with it." It's very specifically running away from it.
posted by scarabic at 9:38 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

I find it a bit odd that it was always the same guy that she made the moves on. That suggests that its not just about being insecure in the relationship, but also something unresolved with that particular guy.

You ask if its possible to trust her again. I think with a commitment from her, you can rebuild trust, but it will take a lot of time and effort as neither of you can assume trust. I would think that the bigger concern might be that she can't trust herself.
posted by zia at 9:39 PM on May 17, 2007

Oh and I agree with scarabic - her rationale is self-serving at best and manipulative at worst. Cheating is definitely NOT dealing with how strongly she feels about you.
posted by zia at 9:41 PM on May 17, 2007

It might behoove you to find out if this is a common thread is her past relationships as well. Patterns of behavior are very hard to break.

But thinkingwoman has the point. Props to her for being so honest. That is good great start.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:42 PM on May 17, 2007

Here's a good question to ask yourself: what do you think she'd do tomorrow if you went over tonight and broke up with her? Do you think A) she'd keep calling you and try to work it out?B) that she'd be devastated by her mistake and take some time to look in the mirror and sort herself out? Or C) do you think she'd be with that other guy in 20 minutes flat?

If it's C, I'm not sure she has the desire to really work things out. She needs to make a pretty big life change with this. She'll only do it if she loves you as much as life itself and will sacrifice anything to keep you. If she doesn't have that kind of commitment, it's unfortunate but you are probably just another stepping stone in her long and futile quest to fill some void she has inside.

Sorry to have to put it that way. Hope things get better.
posted by scarabic at 9:43 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Hey, I used to date her clone. If you are more man than me, then sure, you can rebuild trust and be happy and so on. I couldn't do it, and really, I don't want to be a person who could do it. If someone values me that little, then they aren't someone I want to be with.

Her reasons (as you explain them) are pretty bullshit, and offer no hope that it won't happen again. Basically, she is hurting herself by ensuring that any happy, healthy, and positive relationship falls apart, and your feelings are collateral damage in the process. If she wants to hurt herself in this way, there is no way you can stop her. I don't know you from Adam, but I'd say that you probably deserve someone who will treat you well, who values you, and who values herself at least as much. This girl doesn't meet any of those criteria, and probably never will.

(And get yourself tested for STDs before hooking up with the next girl, ok?)
posted by Forktine at 9:49 PM on May 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

The honeymoon period, wherein thoughts of cheating would seem inconceivable, ought to last *at least* as long as eight months. The fact that it doesn't is worrying. The fact that this woman claims to be committed to your relationship but has tried multiple times to hook up with a specific individual within an eight month period is also worrying. The fact that there would seem to be a connection between this behavior and her drinking - yet she continues to drink to the point where she's "extremely drunk" is also worrying. If her drinking causes her to lose control to that extent, I'd aver that she's an alcoholic. But since she hooked up with the guy while sober, I'd say that she's also a total liar.

You were gone *one weekend* and she hooked up with this guy? She'll cheat again, I guarantee it. That whole "I cheated because I was worried about being happy" thing is a bunch of crap; the fact that she's got a history of doing this is evidence. At the very least, she's too screwed up to be in a relationship with.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:52 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is very clearly self-sabotage happening here and until she resolves this, it will continue. I'm not sure how much of a role you will have in this process. If this is something she has continued to do through past relationships, she needs to take the initiative to work through it. Sure, you will be there to support her, but if she isn't willing to dig up whatever bs is causing this (from her past, her familial relationships?), then you both are out of luck, sadly.

I'm not sure if an ultimatum on your part is in order, clearly stating that she figure this mental/emotional clusterfuck out, but I believe you do need to make this clear that you're not down for a pattern of this behavior. Good luck, and find out if it was protected sex.
posted by Asherah at 9:57 PM on May 17, 2007

Been there, not as bad, but it killed a 4 year relationship.

You're going to have to break up with her until you work out what you want and it is very likely that what you want is out and you should be extremely ready for that.

Go to one therapy session with her but limit to one and tell her that it will probably be as much about closure as anything else.

Its not a bunch of crap about cheating because she's afraid to be happy, but that isn't a help for you anyway.

Finally, deal with the fact that your GF is fucked up. Everyone gets really attracted to other people while in relationships but when a person acts on it with multiple people, it is the type of problem that doesn't get better overnight.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:02 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you can't keep your underpants on for the first year, you're going to have problems staying faithful when the other person's housekeeping habits start to piss you off, or the way they brush their teeth begins to seem like a personal insult.

I know you have feelings for her and would like to make this work, but... either she's a jerk, or she's (sub-)consciously trying to sabotage your relationship. Either way, those are her issues, and not something you can fix.

If you were my friend, I would encourage you to go to therapy with her if you really want, but more so you can break up amicably. This doesn't sound like a relationship with a splendid future.

Sorry, man.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:02 PM on May 17, 2007

Do not move in with her under any circumstances. I didn't see it the first time I read it.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:03 PM on May 17, 2007

She wanted to screw him more than she wanted to be faithful. Dump her.
posted by Benjy at 10:03 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Dump her, have words with the guy she cheated on you with.
posted by electroboy at 10:07 PM on May 17, 2007

I think the key word in your question is "willful." She's basically saying that you can be the Number 1 Awesome Best Boyfriend and your relationship can be the best in history, but it won't matter because she won't hold up her end of the bargain. It's not that she can't; she won't.

Can you build trust back up? Yes, but it would probably depend on either near-catastrophic personal change on her part, or your ability to turn off your bullshit detector permanently. Is she that person? Are you?
posted by samh23 at 10:07 PM on May 17, 2007

Looking at this from the perspective of an unbiased third party with no horse in this race:

- She actively tried to hook up with this particular guy on multiple occasions in the past. If she was simply in the habit of being flirtatious when she gets a few drinks in her that is one thing. The fact she always chose this one guy to seek out leads me to believe this is beyond just acting silly while drunk and she may have more attraction to/feelings for this guy than you may want to admit

- When you were out of the picture for a weekend she took little time in seeking this same guy out for the sole purpose of fucking him

- She has behaved in a similar manner in her most recent relationship before you.

Sorry, but to me, regardless of all the psycho-babble she's used to justify her behavior, telling you exactly what you probably want to hear ("It's not that I don't love you, it's just that I'm scared that I love you too much") this does not sound like a woman ready for a serious relationship. At the very least, I would halt all plans to move in together as there is enough evidence here to indicate this might not work out in the long term to make cohabitation seem like a foolish, and possibly masochistic, choice at this point in time.

Seriously, what are you going to do when you move in together if/when something similar happens and you two are stuck on a lease together?
posted by The Gooch at 10:10 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Clearly, what you need to do now is immediately be ten times as unfaithful. Yeah. That will even things up.

Or not.

Look, you clearly care about this woman. Many things are possible, including that she's just been horribly disappointed by fantasy becoming mere reality, and that she's learned from this. Go to therapy with her, then make a plan.
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 PM on May 17, 2007

She doesn't seem trustworthy, and her explanations are the worst kind of manipulation. I've been in a similar situation, and I realize the powerful forces that your mind can bring to bear to try and convince yourself that, yes, maybe this could work out, but in reality the odds are against it, and you can expend a lot of emotion and heartache ramming your head against a wall. Dump her.
posted by brool at 10:31 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dump her. She'll never change.

Guys and girls who cheat just don't stop very often, in my experience. Ignore the pathetic rationalizations--they're just meant to lull you into trusting someone who simply isn't worthy of trust.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:38 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Coming from experience with a relationship with a serial cheater:

posted by mhuckaba at 10:43 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

She's trying to get into the pants of the same guy over and over again (and succeeded). SOMETHING is wrong beyond whatever BS she slipped you. I wouldn't trust her worth a damn.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:58 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's dead.

Don't wait til it really starts stinking to bury it.
posted by jamjam at 11:02 PM on May 17, 2007

Go tap some ass on your own, and if she gives you any shit about it at all, dump her ass.

Either way, it's time to can this girl.
posted by drstein at 11:05 PM on May 17, 2007

Dump her, have words with the guy she cheated on you with.

Those words should be:

"You can have her, she's your problem now."
posted by formless at 11:16 PM on May 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

The fact that she continually went after the same guy drunk is a troubling pattern. The fact that when she finally acted on it, she was completely sober is even more fucked up. It sounds manipulative in some way, as if she's saying, "I need you here to watch over me every moment, otherwise I can't stop myself from fucking this other dude."

I had a boyfriend who did something similar. He fell into a girls arms repeatedly when we had temporarily broke up. That was fine. The fact that she fell into his bed after we got back together, (along with the fact that he denied there was any reason it was that girl in particular) was not so fine. I spent two years trying to fix that relationship (surprise surprise, a month after he and I broke up, he was dating that same girl).

If you're seeing a pattern in her behavior towards this guy, there is probably a pretty simple reason behind it. You have to ask yourself if this is worth the effort it is going to require to salvage this relationship so early on. Patterns like this are really hard to break and are going to require a real effort on her part as well. You also need to ask yourself if you see her capable of making such a drastic change.
posted by piratebowling at 11:37 PM on May 17, 2007

She is not in love with you in any mature 'real' way.
Therapy and promises are unlikely to fix her problems.

Unless you want to be the used and abused cuckold, do not stay in any sort of long-term relationship with her.
posted by D.C. at 11:52 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

The fact that she confessed this to you is probably more pathological than the infidelity. She's fucked in the head. Get out now.
posted by Crotalus at 12:04 AM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Can you get back her trust? Sure, if you're willing to ignore the evidence in front of you that she fucks around at the drop of a hat.

Or you can wait until the other guy dies of old age. That should only take another 60 or 70 years. Then you'll know for sure she won't fuck him any more. (I hope.)

Her excuses are just excuses and she needs a lot more time in therapy to figure out what the truth is. Realistically until (if) that happens you can't trust her because she doesn't know.

I won't repeat the DTMFA advice, that seems obvious. If you are determined to fly in the face of reason and stay with her at very least:

1) First thing tomorrow go down to the clinic and get tested. Both of you. Together. No sexual contact until you get the results back.

2) Forget about moving in together.

3) Get more space in your relationship. Since you're not going to be fucking for the next 7-10 days, it should be easy the start the habit of not staying at each other's place. Only see each other every other day.

4) Continue until she cheats on you again.

5) Break up with her.
posted by Ookseer at 12:10 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

4) Continue until she cheats on you again.

That will happen before the VD tests get back, so 2 and 3 will take care of themselves.
posted by Crotalus at 12:14 AM on May 18, 2007

Ookseer's advice re: getting tested is good.

I think most people have it right in that the cheating is clearly her problem, not yours. If it was me, I would step back for a bit. Like, you don't have to decide if you want to stay with her right this second. When she's all "I only cheated because I love you so much," it is probably hard to really think about what you want to do. I say, tell her you need a week or two to think about it. (Upon rereading the question, maybe until you go to her therapy?) Don't talk to her, don't email her, block her from IM, etc. Honestly, if it was me, I would probably take the week apart and realize how much I don't need someone who would cheat on me for any reason in my life. Because it's not like there's anything you personally can do to make her not cheat. But I would take the space, maybe you are a more forgiving person than I am, or maybe you want to be with her more than you want not to be cheated on. I don't think I could deal with that, but I'm not you.
posted by SoftRain at 12:38 AM on May 18, 2007

I think my biggest issue with her is that she seems to think infidelity is alright, if
a. she's drunk or
b. she's bored or
c. she feels like it

I think you guys just don't share the same values, and fidelity aside, it would end in heartbreak anyway.

I went back to a guy a long time ago who was unfaithful, and though for the rest of the relationship, I don't know if he stayed true to me, the words he said when he confessed still stick with me (about 20 years on). "I've got something to tell you, but it's not really important." I was devastated when I found out what it was. I felt like I'd been kicked in the chest. I forgave him and went back, but the truth was, our values were very different, and I didn't have the life experience or wisdom back then to realise that while it's great to have different hobbies, interests, friends, careers etc, it's really hard to make a relationship work, when someone doesn't value honesty the way you do, or courtesy or a hundred other things you don't think to discuss before you fall in love.

Move on. Find someone who deserves you.
posted by b33j at 1:24 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, the Metafilter DTMFA Brigade are out in force, and if that rings true for you should probably do it. However, just in case you actually love her, ie, you want a happy life for her, you'll be coming at this from a different perspective than, say, Dan Savage and his many MeFi acolytes, the self-fulfilment-is-absolute-and-non-negotiable crowd.

Of course it absolutely might be the right thing, for you and her, to end the relationship. Or maybe you don't really love her but are unhealthily dependent on her. Maybe you're the kind of person who too easily lets themselves get walked all over, and nobody would want to encourage that. But if none of these things apply, the question will be how best to help someone you love through her very obvious confusion without hurting yourself too much, and that might or might not involve breaking up.

I know that's not a specific answer, more just another perspective.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:29 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yes, I have seen relationships survive willfull infidelity. But four incidents with the same guy? If that doesn't tell you something, I don't know what will. Let him have her.
posted by meerkatty at 1:30 AM on May 18, 2007

It can be done.

But (usually) only once. After that one time comes a much effort, on both parties part. Remember, if you want to stay with her, you're going to have to forgive her and move past this. She's gonna have to work hard to regain your trust. It's a huge, almost daily battle for a while and you both have to realize that you guys might not make it.

There also have to be ground rules from you. Namely if it happens again, with anyone, you're gone, no ifs, ands or buts. and you have to stick to that.

But don't move in with her.

Get tested.

Realize she has issues that you can't fix.

And remember, she tried to hook up with him, while you were present and then finally did, when you weren't present. Do you want a girlfriend or child you constantly have to look over?

99% of the time, we are tremendously happy together.

That's not the main point. It's what happens when you guys aren't tremendously happy that makes a couple.

Love may be blind, but you don't have to be stupid.

Me, I would have been long gone, especially if I had to repeatedly talk my GF out of sleeping with a certain guy, repeatedly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:02 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think she cheated on you for the same reason you're considering taking her back and have already forgiven her for three near-misses in eight months: you don't really value yourself.

Until you learn to respect yourself more, you're going to have problems in relationships. Start by breaking up this one. I'm sure you feel rotten right now, but saying "I wish you well, but I deserve better than this" can be really empowering. You'll remember the feeling, and it'll help you to assert yourself better the next time. Good luck.
posted by teleskiving at 2:23 AM on May 18, 2007 [5 favorites]

Chastity belt, punishment, therapy.
posted by Chunder at 3:07 AM on May 18, 2007

didnt read the responses

sorry mate, its over. you cannot regain trust in a relationship like that.
posted by phritosan at 3:11 AM on May 18, 2007

I hope she is very young, i.e. mid-twenties maximum, because the kind of severe emotional trouble could only be considered understandable in a young woman who comes from an abusive background and is still trying to work out serious issues. If she's older and still having difficulty to this extent, then I'm sorry to say she's probably permanently fucked up at this point.

She needs to get into therapy as soon as possible. She should find a therapist she really clicks with, who really "gets" her, and she should get to work on her issues intensively as soon as possible. If you choose to stay with her through this, know that it is going to be incredibly difficult and require massive amounts of patience from your part. You must also keep with you the knowledge that it may just be unfixable and that you will leave this relationship with massive heartbreak and your own set of resulting issues to deal with. Is she worth it? Only you know the answer to that question.
posted by hazyjane at 3:17 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your question was about how you could trust her again. There are quite a lot of books and internet pages that deal with this question (google something along the lines of "affair trust betray survive"). Key is the cheating partner being completely honest and being willing to be completely transparent to the person they betrayed for as long as it takes (sharing e-mail, sharing cell phone records, taking check-in calls every twenty minutes, whatever).

Personally I think this sounds like a huge undertaking. The sort of thing that people will go through to salvage a relationship with the parent of their children, for instance. The way you describe your girlfriend I'm not positive she would be willing to put herself through the effort required to be trustable.

Because at this point it's not about you learning to trust. It's about her becoming trustable. Trusting someone who is not trustworthy is not mature and evolved, it's stupid. You aren't stupid, therefore you aren't trusting her. Very simple.

I'd hold off on the apartment for a year. If she has been able to make herself trustable in that time, sure, move in together. If she doesn't see why she should put any effort into being trustable - if she thinks it's all up to you to forget everything and act as if it had never happened - then you have your answer. She isn't mature enough for an adult relationship.

But maybe you aren't either? If you guys spend your weekends getting hammered, not much good is going to come out of it. Like a lot of people you can lurch from drama to drama and have a chaotic personal life. Millions do. If you don't mind joining their ranks, by all means just move in together right away and enjoy the ride. Seriously.
posted by kika at 4:51 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Three times during the course of what was (presumably) supposed to be an exclusive relations, in your presence and teh presence of your friends/acquaintances, she attempted to leave you and leave with someone else, with the object of having sex with him.

Three times you, and your relationship with her, she publicly treated as disposable. Three times she told the world she wanted to cuckhold you with this other guy (this guy who apparently also has so little respect for you he went along with it).

Three times you've been publicly humiliated.

Then, as soon as you're conventionally out of town, she promptly forgets that she explicitly promised that you could trust her not to do this aian, and went and did it.

It's time for some serious introspection here.

The fact that this other guy felt no fear or guilt hooking up in public with your "girlfriend" suggests that you are -- not just to your girlfriend, but generally as well -- sending a signal that treating you disrespectfully has no costs.

If the only cost to doing this to you is your meek complaining, well, then unscrupulous people will treat you that way. In particular, your "girlfriend" and -- hate to say this so baldy -- the guy she prefers to fuck.

Why's she with you? Presumably, that guy jus likes to fuck her.

I'm going to guess that in your meek and mild way, you provide her something that he doesn't, namely security, either emotional financial or both. When you move in together, who'lll be paying the lion's share of the bills? He's hot and fun, you're safe and you do as she tells you.

Basically, it's the sexy son hypothesis being played out: if you're willing to support her (and potentially his offspring with her), you can have shared sexual access to her, but he (or someone like him) will be who she's more sexually/romantically into. If you're willing to have a lifetime of being second choice, go for it!

Otherwise, man up and dump her hard, fast, and permanently. She's not hot for you, she doesn't respect you, and she doesn't care if she hurts or humiliates you. To her, you're not love, you're a meal-ticket.

She may think her confession was motivated by guilt, but I suspect her real motivation is to train you, habituate you to this. She's basically telling you that the terms of the relationship are that you provide the security, and he'll get her kicks with someone else.

You've been publicly humiliated, treated as disposable, and would have been cuckholded except for your "interception" three times, and the cuckholded as soon as you were out of town. Why is this a question for you?
posted by orthogonality at 4:53 AM on May 18, 2007 [15 favorites]

I have to go with ortho on this one. Unless you enjoy being taken advantage of and being made the fool, walk the fuck away.
posted by purephase at 5:10 AM on May 18, 2007

Ditto. Ortho is so extremely spot on with this one. Run, and fast.
posted by Plutor at 5:30 AM on May 18, 2007

Time to walk away mate. Be a man about it and let her go. You taking her back isn't going to do either of you any favours.

Good luck.
posted by MrMustard at 5:36 AM on May 18, 2007

You clearly love her, and you clearly want to be with her. I'm sure she's a fine person in many ways. I'm sure you are too. Here's the question to ask right now: are you the right people for each other at this particular time?

I would think very, very carefully before moving in together. Here's the key thing to remember: actions speak louder than words.

Her words have been saying she's sorry, it won't happen again. Each time, it happens again.

You know what? It's going to continue happening again--if not with this person, then with someone else. I know; I've been in your situation.

I find it striking that she a) tries to hook up with this guy right in front of you when she's drinking and b) she not only slept with this person when she was sober, but she didn't try and hide it, she called and told you about it. I wonder if she's trying to give you a message here.

It doesn't matter that your friends say you're good together. No one knows what goes on in the inside of a relationship, so don't listen to them when you make your decision.

It doesn't matter what she says to rationalize what she's done--don't pay any attention to that. Pay attention to what she does. A one-time cheat is not good, but it can be chalked up as a lesson learned. A pattern of behaviour (in this and other relationships) is something else entirely.

It doesn't matter if you go to therapy or talk things over with her extensively. Bottom line is that she has to want to change, and she has to demonstrate that she wants to change by taking the initiative to get herself into therapy, continuing to go, making changes. Otherwise, it's you trying to change her so that you can be more comfortable in the relationship. That's doomed to failure, and there will be a lot of grief and struggle before you see that. Again, I've been there.

You have to live with whatever decision you make. One thing I can tell you, speaking from experience, is that if you stay together, you will never really trust her. You will tell her and yourself that you do, you'll maybe even forget for a while, but the mistrust is going to jump out periodically--including every time you are out of town. It might not be at the forefront of your consciousness, but it will be present.

I'm sorry, because I'm pretty sure that this isn't what you want to hear. I wish you all the best, because this is going to be tough no matter what decision you make.
posted by purplesludge at 5:50 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

She's nuts. Dealbreaker.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 5:53 AM on May 18, 2007

We've taken out a lease to move in together starting in June.

Break that lease, pronto. Whatever else you do.
posted by canine epigram at 6:03 AM on May 18, 2007

not to add to the pile-on, but whenever anyone says they cheat/dump/etc. because they're 'afraid' of their feelings toward you, it's either a hot plate of bullshit, or a very clear sign that they don't deal with things rationally.

I'm sure she's a lovely lady. But there are lovely ladies in this world who won't cheat on you while you're out of town. Find yourself one of those.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:11 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

We've taken out a lease to move in together starting in June.

Woah! I missed this key detail the first time through. Repeat after me: bad idea, unless you are a guy who is into cuckold fantasies. Does the idea of a woman commanding you to "clean her off" after she has been serviced by a real man turn you on? Then you are in business, and you have made the best choice possible. But there is pretty much zero chance that she will not cheat again until she decides to stop self-sabotaging, and she isn't showing any signs of that: "It's because I love you so much" is not a convincing answer to this.

Don't dump her if you think the relationship really has potential, but I sure would argue that you shouldn't be moving in with her right now. For example, are you ready, financially and emotionally, for her to move in with this other guy three months into your year-long lease?
posted by Forktine at 6:11 AM on May 18, 2007

Ortho's got it right.
posted by Malor at 6:38 AM on May 18, 2007

Her pathetic, transparently self-serving "explanation" of her behavior is, in and of itself, grounds for immediate dumping.
posted by myeviltwin at 6:49 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

orthogonality highlights the thing that most struck me about your story, and which most posters seemed to overlook: she tried to hook up with someone else, in your presence, three (3) times!!!!

Read that again, I don't think it can be emphasized enough. To my mind that's significantly worse than actually sleeping with someone else because it shows a lack of judgment and a lack of care that's mind numbing.

The answer to every question about preserving relationships is the same: can you change enough, and can she change enough, to obviate the problems.
posted by OmieWise at 6:49 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

This gal sounds like a potent mix of insecurity, immaturity, and unthinking impulsivity. She may love you, but these acts of sabotage will probably continue until she grows the fuck up or gets a REALLY GOOD analyst. Are you that patient?

I wouldn't be.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:56 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

The fact that this was the same guy in all the incidents is pretty troubling. We're not talking about her grabbing whoever's handy like Blanche DuBois, we're talking about an obvious interest, over time, in one person which she eventually consummated.

Eight months isn't very long though. It's scary to fall in love, and that first year is a doozy-- you are so excited about the potential of your relationship, but increasingly aware of the freedom it has caused you to sacrifice and increasingly needy for affirmation that you're making the right choice. I can see how this happened to her.

But whether this is going to continue is really up to her and how badly she wants to/is able to make it up to you. Her foul, her clean-up. Don't make her crawl across broken glass or anything, but certainly she is on probation with you awaiting proof that what you want is still possible.

I'm so sorry. I'm glad you are willing to keep trying, because you're clearly no dummy, and I think you'll be realistic if the time comes when it's clear she's incapable of a relationship with you.
posted by hermitosis at 7:11 AM on May 18, 2007

Lots of multi-sentence thoughtful responses above but the answer is actually quite simple: NO.
posted by Area Control at 7:19 AM on May 18, 2007

You probably shouldn't go and beat the living hell out of the guy she slept with, because though it will feel good, you'll still have to dump her. But this is totally first-degree cheating, with malice of forethought.

So repeat after me: "I thought we'd dealt with this every prior time. I'm not going to put up with it. I am dumping you because of it."
posted by klangklangston at 7:31 AM on May 18, 2007

It is virtually certain she will not be faithful, so you should stay with her only if you can accept the idea of an indefinite number of repetitions of the cheating - confession - tearful "it'll never happen again" sequence. If you can't accept that, best to move on. Sorry. (If you do move on, you will find other women to love. This is not your last chance for happiness.)
posted by languagehat at 7:43 AM on May 18, 2007

I have to respectfully disagree with klangklangston. This is one case when you probably should go and beat the living hell out of the guy she slept with, not necessarily for gratification (although that is an added bonus), but to demonstrate that you won't passively be treated in that manner. Otherwise, why wouldn't this guy do the same thing again?

In either case, you do still have to dump her, though.
posted by Gamblor at 7:44 AM on May 18, 2007

I'd have said maybe you can fix things, but she's tried to hook up with him 3 times before, and you've discussed this 3 times before. Yeah.
posted by chunking express at 7:50 AM on May 18, 2007

To expand on a point that orthogonality mentioned: This wasn't some momentary lapse while she was away on a business trip, something personal and private that the two of you could work through. It was done very publicly. This has been happening at parties within the same circle of friends, and there is no doubt that everyone else knows about her cheating. None.

The whole situation is toxic. Think that guy isn't still going to show up at the same parties? Think your friends won't be gossiping about this? Think they won't be watching and waiting to see how you respond? Now ask yourself how much respect she has for you.
posted by Gamblor at 7:58 AM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

ortho is spot on.

leave her, now. don't be nice about it. just get out and break that damn lease.

she doesn't respect you and she never will. she has no problem breaking her promise not to get drunk and go after the same guy over and over and over again. And then when you're gone, she finally succeeds. She's pathological. Break it right now.

She doesn't love you in any real sense of the word. You can't save her. Your "love" can't overcome her infatuation with that other guy. She's not as happy as you think you make her feel. You feel for her things she doesn't feel for you.

Stand up, walk out, and don't look back. If you don't, then you have no real respect for yourself. It's time to gain some.
posted by Stynxno at 8:04 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

The cheating is a symptom of the problem. She's just not that into you, on an lizard-brain attraction level, but she lacks the courage to break up with you. Don't be that pathetic bastard that puts up with any behavior just to bask in her presence. Self-respect, man.

No marriage, no kids, not even a one year anniversary? This one's easy: Kick her to the curb.

She'll try to get back together, both to soothe her conscience and to assure herself that she's so valuable that she can treat men badly and they'll stick around. Don't. Dump her, then block her number, block her e-mail, whatever it takes to not hook up with her in a moment of weakness.


Plenty of great girls out there.
posted by LordSludge at 8:11 AM on May 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

I am not going to tell you to break up with her, because that is hopefully apparent at this point. I am going to ask you that if you decide break up with her that you make sure not to be a pussy and do not get back together with her again. Do not drag this out do not talk to her, do not take her calls, block her in whatever way you can. You need to move on and this girl ought to be considered poison. If you see her incidentally ignore her and get on with your life. You can find another girl who will make you at least as happy as this one did, without treating you like shit. For all of the advice you are getting to take her feelings into consideration, ignore it, she didnt take your feelings into consideration when she made some bullshit excuse and you need to worry about your own wellbeing.

Also get a VD test before you risk exposing someone decent to whatever she (hopefully didnt) give you.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2007

Maybe she's just not good at monogamy. How would you feel about giving her permission to flirt with and sleep with other men, as long as she only dates you? If that's not something you can live with, though, you should probably break up.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:09 AM on May 18, 2007

Did you sign that lease recently? Like, shortly before you went away? She thought she's got you locked in, and that gave her the liberty to finally fuck the other guy. In other words you're now a commodity in her life, not a person.

Break it off today. Today.
posted by Hogshead at 9:16 AM on May 18, 2007

Zapping past all comments which I'll read later and I'm sure I'll find someone who said this better already but there you go:

Yes there are plenty of situations where an otherwise healthy and happy relationship can survive an act of wilful cheating but er, no, sorry, yours doesn't really sound like one of those.

Why? Because:

- you were away only a weekend, so the 'I was lonely' excuse doesn't hold, it's a the worst excuse anyway, except when the absence is at least a couple of months, in which case it may be acceptable rationally, if not emotionally

- she was seriously flirting with this guy before, in front of you, and as soon as she finally slept with him, she told you; this is not just cheating, it's cheating plus emotional blackmail, flaunting it in your face under the guise of 'honesty' (see, see I'm finally coming clean, I'm such a reliable person you can trust, am I not?), unloading her guilt on you, watching for your reactions to it, waiting for you to decide what to do about it, and topping it all with a nice cherry of 'I did it because I love you too much and it scares me and I am resenting getting too dependent on you'.

(This is the kind of crap people tend to come up with when they cheat and can't stand the guilt so they feel this urge to tell 'the truth' as if it was an act of contrition in itself, and to hell with the consequences and the hurt you're inflicting on the other person.

I'm not going into the ethics of all this, it's all very subjective and relative as far as I'm concerned, I'm just saying, from an emotional point of view, most of the time the confession part carries with it a lot of self-serving motives and no regard for the other's feelings. It may sound too hypocrite/bourgeois/French to some people but sometimes lying by omission may be a more mature and responsible course of action once the damage is done.)

Now, having said all this, I firmly believe that love can forgive anything, because love is not supposed to be 100% perfect and healthy and reliable and morally sound, it just is or isn't. So, sometimes, love can overcome lack of trust, too.

However, I also firmly believe that there's one thing that not even love can forgive, and that's being taken for a total idiot. Pride and self-respect are, usually, worthier things to keep.
posted by pleeker at 9:16 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Electroboy has my vote on this. Her response reeks of BS - I'd have more faith in a drunk stand-up comic.
Ask yourself this - have you always been around when she's drunk?
posted by Umhlangan at 9:21 AM on May 18, 2007

She will do this again.

If you're absolutely not ok with that, break up.

But give some thought to croutonsupafreak's comment above. Some people really just aren't hardwired for strict monogamy. There's nothing wrong with those people. (In fact, monogamy's a continuum - I'm willing to bet that even though you're in a relationship with her, you didn't magically lose your ability to find other people attractive).

It sounds like she might be one of those folks who's able to sleep with more than one person, but have an emotional commitment to one person. They're more numerous than you might think, but there's a whole host of reasons this culture brings us up to think that's impossible or deviant.

If you're willing to negotiate it (it takes trust - a different kind of trust than the one you say you don't have - and a lot of emotional maturity and independence on both parts... things which are prerequisites for healthy relationships anyway, really), try it out. If you're not, be honest and break up.
posted by poweredbybeard at 9:22 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

She's just not that into you, on an lizard-brain attraction level, but she lacks the courage to break up with you.


Or she's capable of being in to more than one person. We all are, to some degree.

Gah! Sometimes sex is just sex. (I don't know if that's the case here, but it needs to be said).
posted by poweredbybeard at 9:26 AM on May 18, 2007

Is it possible for an otherwise happy relationship to survive an act of willful cheating?

In theory, possibly. But this question doesn't describe your relationship. If your girlfriend repeatedly attempts to cheat on you right in front of you and then does cheat on you when you are out of town after assuring you that she wouldn't, your relationship isn't otherwise happy. The cheating issue isn't a 1% of the time thing.

I don't buy the "i'm scared because I love you and this is my messed up way of dealing with it" excuse. I think experience cheating on people in other relationships probably taught her that that is an effective excuse to use. The "my love for you is so intense and scary, I cheated on you to curb the fear" excuse is the cheating equivalent of the old "you are too good for me, so I am leaving you in the hope that you'll find someone better than me" break-up excuse. Both are "feel good" excuses and keep the person from having to take responsibility for their real thoughts, feeling and actions.

Personal responsibility is the issue here:

- She doesn't take responsibility for her attempts to cheat on you in your presence, she blames it on being drunk. That might be true the first time, but there is a really easy way to avoid repeat episodes: don't get that drunk. Not too difficult. If she wanted to take personal responsibility for this behavior, she would know when to switch to water, not just for her sake, but out of respect for you.

- She doesn't take responsibility for actually cheating on you. Instead of saying she just really had a crush on this guy, couldn't control herself and had to get it out of her system - probably not too far off since it is always with the same guy - she blamed it on fear of depending on you and loving you too much, and feeling alone while you were away. It is almost like she is trying to manipulate you into absorbing some of the responsibility for her cheating.

So take a closer look at this relationship you want to hang onto. Is it really "otherwise happy" or is that just a fantasy?
posted by necessitas at 9:31 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is one case when you probably should go and beat the living hell out of the guy she slept with, not necessarily for gratification (although that is an added bonus), but to demonstrate that you won't passively be treated in that manner.

Not to derail, but I've never understood this mindset.

This guy (the person the OP's girlfriend cheated with) didn't make any commitment to the OP. His girlfriend did. The OP's anger should be directed at his girlfriend who made a promise to be faithful and broke it, not at some guy who did the same thing many guys would do when a woman explicitly lets him know that she wants to sleep with him. I mean, seriously, it was THIS guy's responsibility to make sure the OP's girlfriend didn't cheat on him?
posted by The Gooch at 9:31 AM on May 18, 2007

you shouldn't be moving in with her right now. For example, are you ready, financially and emotionally, for her to move in with this other guy three months into your year-long lease?

That was worth repeating. Think about it carefully.
posted by fuzz at 9:37 AM on May 18, 2007

Some people really just aren't hardwired for strict monogamy. There's nothing wrong with those people.

Well, but obviously since she did the whole 'confess and offer self-serving rationalisations' routine, she is thinking in monogamous terms too.

Otherwise, if she didn't think much of sleeping with someone else, and saw it as simply 'non-monogamous behaviour', human nature, a personality difference, whatever, she would have said nothing about it, rather than using it to play with her boyfriend's feelings.

Nevermind that if you're not into monogamy, then you could maybe be gracious enough to make that clear from the start, so that you can find yourself a partner that's on the same page as you.

Being non-monogamous, and cheating in a monogamous relationship, are actually different things.
posted by pleeker at 9:41 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

The Gooch: ...I've never understood this mindset

Then I'll explain it: The other guy isn't a stranger. They're at the same parties, they know the same people. They may not be friends, but they know each other. He knew full fucking well what he was doing, whose girlfriend he was nailing, and whose life he was affecting. It was an incredibly selfish, disrespectful, asshole thing to do.

It's not exclusively his responsibility (the lion's share of the blame falls to the girlfriend, obviously), but the guy needs a serious correction.
posted by Gamblor at 10:20 AM on May 18, 2007

Some people really just aren't hardwired for strict monogamy.

What the hell does this mean? Monogamy is a behavior, not a wiring diagram. The only time when you momentary desires about monogamy mean anything is when you're setting the terms of your relationship with a potential lover. After that, unless you revisit it with your lover, what matters is your behavior, not your desire.
posted by OmieWise at 10:28 AM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

an otherwise happy relationship

I don't think that's what you have, if your girlfriend macks on guys in front of you and you don't like it. Get out of that lease. Whether you continue to date her or not, she does not demonstrate adult behavior. Do not move in with anyone who does not display a strong sense of responsibility.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:41 AM on May 18, 2007

Gamblor, following your line of reasoning, the OP should beat up his girlfriend, too. Perhaps you should rethink your position.

Chiming in to reiterate what pretty much everyone has said: Break up with her and don't look back.
posted by kitty teeth at 11:03 AM on May 18, 2007

The guys an asshole, but resorting to violence will only make a bad situation worse. Cut your losses. It will hurt at first, but eventually you'll look back at all the hurt she caused you and be happy that you no longer have to deal with it.

Love's a bitch. It's even worse when the person you're with is crazy, manipulative, or both. Add this asshole and you've got a recipe for destruction. Find someone that deserves your attention.
posted by purephase at 11:11 AM on May 18, 2007

Gamblor, following your line of reasoning, the OP should beat up his girlfriend, too.

I missed the part where I ever even hinted that a man hitting a woman was acceptable.

Some things in life are worth fighting over, some aren't. To me, an acquaintance having sex with my girlfriend and publicly humiliating me would be one of those things.

Opinions vary. I fully recognize that some people would knuckle under and take that kind of abuse. Maybe the OP could go and rationally discuss his feelings with the guy. Politely ask him not to screw his girlfriend again. That might convince him of the error of his ways.
posted by Gamblor at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2007

Politely ask him not to screw his girlfriend again.

Whoa, she's a possession? Newsflash: this isn't about the other guy -- it never is, despite what our fragile (in this case, male) egos would rather accept. This is about the girl -- or, more precisely, this is about the relationship between the OP and the girl. Taking out your insecurity on the other guy only makes you appear weaker and less confident in the eyes of your girl; if he weren't a threat, it wouldn't bother you.

If she's not into monogomy, or she's into monogomy but just not with the OP, that's her deal. She's an adult; she can do that.

Similarly, OP is an adult, and he doesn't have to (and shouldn't, for his own self-esteem's sake) put up with it.
posted by LordSludge at 12:33 PM on May 18, 2007

Some people really just aren't hardwired for strict monogamy

Irrelevant. I'm unable to perform surgery on someone, with regards to both ability and legality. Therefor I do not undertake surgery, since to do so would be to cause harm to others.

Cheating is not poly, nor is it a road to poly.
posted by phearlez at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2007

LordSludge, read my previous comments. I said the majority of the blame is with the girlfriend. The general consensus has been to dump her. And for the third time, the other guy is not a stranger, which is why we're even discussing how the OP should deal with him.

if he weren't a threat, it wouldn't bother you.

If the OP wasn't threatened by another man plowing his girlfriend, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

I have a wife. I refer to her as "my wife". Back when we were dating, I referred to her as "my girlfriend". That's just the way English works. If that makes her a possession, I never got a bill of sale.
posted by Gamblor at 12:51 PM on May 18, 2007

Gamblor, thing is, the OP didn't ask how he should deal with the other guy, he barely talks about him, so it seems obvious he doesn't care about him. He asked about how to deal with his girlfriend and what she did, of her own initiative, as that's the person he cares about, has a relationship with, and a problem with. The other guy is a stranger.

Besides, really, it's too late to go ballistic on the other guy now. You either punch his face in a fit of rage when you catch him with your girlfriend or never do it. In theory you could always hit him next time you see him around at a party or bar, out of the blue, so that everyone looking will know for sure you're insane, which will help your self-respect and social life a huge lot, or, you could go round to his place a week after, gangster style, but then it has to be murder, else it would make the delayed revenge look really silly and unrealistic. Or, if it's a David Lynch movie, you can get away with paying Polish gangsters to do the deed but then no one will understand what the fuck happened and will complain about it endlessly on IMDB forums.
posted by pleeker at 2:27 PM on May 18, 2007

Man, it's never too late to go all Begby from Trainspotting on somebody ;)
posted by Gamblor at 2:55 PM on May 18, 2007

If you care for her, as you dump her you should maybe let her know something about how she can do better in the future. Presumably you want her to be happy someday, and it sounds like she (at least sort of) wants a long-term monogamous relationship with *someone*.

Or even a simple "Please please please don't hurt someone else the way you've hurt me." Okay maybe that is twisting the knife a bit but it sounds like she really needs a wake-up call, and clearly she didn't learn after she destroyed her last relationship.

You don't deserve this. I hope that you can let this go to a degree where in your next serious relationship you don't end up ultra-paranoid about thinking the person is cheating. There are many women out there who are wholly deserving of your trust, and best wishes in finding one.

Oh, and the people advocating violence are, shall we say, unwise. Like you really need an assault charge and all the nonsense that can cause in your life at this point, amirite? Not to mention that this sort of macho shit just may not be your bag (from your question I would guess that you are rather non-confrontational).

You *do* need to stand up for yourself and this should be obvious but that doesn't mean you need to pound someone's face in. (And frankly what if he is a better fighter and really fucks your shit up? Is this worth going to the hospital?).
posted by marble at 11:43 AM on May 19, 2007

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