What I Learned When My Boyfriend Cheated On Me

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slide 6Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
You think you know someone...until they break your heart.

It had been a year since I first broke up with my ex. Our five-year relationship was creeping into serious territory, and we just weren't ready for it. I loved city life; he loved the suburbs. I wanted challenge and growth; he wanted comfort. We were both 26, and in the end, going our separate ways was the only logical answer.

There's nothing as empowering and fun as being a young, single, professional woman in New York City. I spent the next 12 months dating new men, dancing and walking around 'til the sun came up. Still, I felt incomplete without him, my best friend, the love of my life. Perhaps that's what made it so easy for us to fall back into a pattern of hooking up every few months. Eventually, I didn't want to date other men, and it turned out, he didn't want to date other women. More importantly, we were ready to compromise. Finally, we'd made it — the point of complete and total confidence in each other, the road to our happy ending. Or so I thought.

For our last few months together, I was stupid in love. And, as anyone who knows me can attest, I am rarely that girl. I'm a realist, pragmatic and self-deprecating to a fault. I'm the girl who mistakes compliments for sarcasm, who prefers Edible Arrangements over real flowers, and who laughs uncomfortably at love notes. So, of course, as enamored as I was, I downplayed my feelings to friends and family. But, with him, looking into his lightest of brown eyes, stroking his delightfully thick hair, there was no downplaying anything. The truth was I loved him more than my parents.

We talked about marriage, moving in together, and yes, financial planning. He even talked me into wanting kids — "You'd make a great mom, honey!" — something I was always uncertain about. But, even with all this future talk, I couldn't shake the feeling that we were in two different places in life: I was ready to settle down, and he still wanted to party.

"I'm at the tail end of that," he said when I brought up my concern. "I just want to be with you."

"If you want to party, date, whatever, do it now. I don't want to get married, only for you to have a midlife crisis someday and cheat on me," I reasoned.

"I would never, ever do that. I would never cheat on you," he said with such conviction that I felt guilty for even bringing it up.

Five hours later, his other girlfriend called me to tell me otherwise.

slide 5Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
I think I thanked her. The details are murky because of the shock. And, when he called me five minutes later to own up to everything, I still couldn't believe it.

"We're done," I said calmly and coldly.

"I know," he responded. And, that was that.

For a while, I just sat on my bed, leaning against the wall, staring into space. No tears. Just sitting in the dark as Netflix continued to stream season four of Breaking Bad on my TV. It took about 24 hours before a flood of tears began to flow...and it felt like it would never stop. Just a few weeks before, I was pleading with him on the phone to consider a small wedding as I picked up a new comforter set for us. And, now, swollen-eyed and sleep deprived, I debated calling my best friends to tell them — picking up my phone and setting it down, again and again.

I felt so confused and, worse, embarrassed. How could I have been so stupid? Did I do something to deserve this? Was I deficient in some way? I mean, why didn't he love me? A monster inside led me down a scary road, one that left me doubting everything — humanity, myself, even my faith.

When I finally awoke from days in a ZzzQuil-induced coma, I had to face the world. At work, when I wasn't fantasizing about breaking his car windows, I'd just look at words, but they didn't mean anything to me. I kept my earphones in so my coworkers wouldn't talk to me. Just looking at them could trigger the waterworks. So, I sat there, editing on autopilot and listening to music that expressed the emotions I couldn't. Yes, Miley, all he ever did was wr-e-ck me. I was emotionally and physically depleted. My coworkers kept pushing food my way, sensing that something was wrong — even seasoned curly fries from the deli downstairs, my favorite — but I politely refused. And, I kept refusing until I was about 10 pounds lighter. They knew. I was basically communicating through deep breaths and long sighs and an unintentional hunger strike. Still, I had to keep my composure, for myself and no one else.

Of course, when the sadness did become too much, I let myself indulge. If I needed to call my brother to vent unintelligibly through uncontrollable sobs, I did. If I needed to take a few mental health days in Puerto Rico, I went. Misery loves a cerveza on the beach much more than it does sitting at a desk all day — believe that. But, even there, I still cried in the shower, trying to mask any yelps with running water. With every step through the lush rainforest came a freeze-frame of our hikes up to Mount Tamalpais' idyllic waterfall. I'd look at the turquoise water and only remember waking up to him after a blissful nap on a Caribbean beach. He violated every past memory we shared together and invaded every present moment I had alone.

Today, I'm feeling much better. At least in this moment. Because I might feel worse tomorrow or even weeks from now, and I understand that. It's a process. But, when I'm down and out again, thankfully, I have amazing family and friends to turn to. People who will fly 3,000 miles to drink whiskey in PJs and discuss man's inherent morality while watching Catching Fire with me. People who understand that I will be a black cloud on a very, very sunny island and love me anyway. It may be cliché, but my people helped me survive, even when I didn't want, or couldn't bring myself, to talk. For the one relationship I lost, I've gained other deeper, more meaningful ones.

This breakup has been the hardest thing I've ever endured, but even through the sharp edges of my pain, I am getting to know myself better than ever before. I know that I want a family, and even more important, that I'm being honest with myself. Which means admitting that a small part of me still loves him and aches for that happy ending — to be his family, to protect his sister, to help his parents. Just not enough to betray myself. I'm not going to settle for anything less than what I fully deserve and want. I want a successful career. I want to be Beyoncé-style crazy in love. I want it all. And, for that, I'm thankful. So, for now, I might need to listen to "Jar of Hearts" on repeat while lying on the floor of my apartment — until I decide to get up to dance. Because eventually, that has to happen.



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