"For a long time, I thought that being a cheater was just who I was and who I was meant to be"
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein

The sound of my cell phone ringtone blaring in my ear shocked me awake. It took me more than a few seconds to open my eyes and figure out where I was. Half my body was awkwardly twisted on a bare mattress; the other half was strewn on a cold cement floor. There was a young woman-a co-worker and acquaintance, as it turned out-passed out next to me. I was butt naked.

Shit.

My eyelids felt like lead from more shots of tequila than I could recall, and there was a big gaping hole in my memory between the previous night's burlesque show and the scene in which I now found myself. A vague recollection of bare skin and raw sex darted through my mind.

I looked at my phone and realized I was late for work. I had 10 missed calls-five from my boss and five from my girlfriend.

Shit.

I scrambled to find my belongings and slipped out into the painful morning sun, careful not to stir my co-conspirator.

This was not the worst thing I had ever done. This was a regular Tuesday night for me.

I'd dry out. Spend a couple nights at home with my girlfriend in nervous domestication, the air between us heavy with the weight of deceit. Then another invitation for drinks would come from a lover or friend, and with it, the prospect of new hookups. Rinse and repeat.

I spent the better part of my teens and twenties letting this pattern play out. I almost always had a "monogamous" girlfriend, but I was never faithful, and rarely honest. Sometimes I got caught, and occasionally I fessed up all on my own. It never ended well.

It's easy for me to blame bad models around me-dysfunction in my family, an adolescence influenced by the wrong types of friends, my own naiveté about what should and shouldn't be expected in a relationship. I could argue that I always settled for the wrong partners, which left me feeling unsatisfied and unhappy. Rather than acting like an adult and leaving, or communicating, or negotiating more open arrangements, I did the worst thing I could have done and betrayed the people who cared about me. It took me years to realize that I was also betraying myself.

For a long time I thought that being a cheater was just who I was and who I was meant to be. Though it never felt good. I felt a constant pang of guilt and unworthiness. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop and for my girlfriends to find out how I was wronging them. I lived in a house of fear constructed on a foundation of my own stupidity.

It finally came to a head in my mid-twenties. I was living with a girlfriend while dating another woman on the side. I was essentially two-timing both of them, and yet neither was a particularly good match. I wish I could say I had a lightbulb moment when I realized the error of my ways and decided to be a better person. I wish I could say that a heavenly angel descended from above and reminded me that I was a good soul who deserved to find someone compatible and stop the cycle of hurting others. But there was no epiphany. There was no aha moment.

I stopped cheating simply because I was exhausted.

It was incredibly draining-emotionally, mentally, and physically-to maintain this constant web of deceit. I was just too tired to keep up the charade and keep lying not only to others but to myself, about what I actually wanted in life, and who I was as a person. [For the full story, head to Refinery29!]

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