Infidelity is a loaded word. It conjures up images of lust and jealousy. It carries with it gendered assumptions about the likelihood one's spouse is to cheat and what one can do to prevent it. It carries with it the idea that anyone who participates in it is unable to commit themselves to another. "Once a cheater, always a cheater," our friends warn upon the discovery of finding out our new love interest had an affair in a previous relationship. We have a lot of misconceptions about infidelity.
At least until we become the cheater.
"And what's your name?" he asked as I sat down. It was one of those moments of instant chemistry. You know, the ones where your chest feels heavy, your head light, and everything slows down just enough to pay attention to it all.
He wasn't really my type, not that I really even knew what my type was at the time. I had spent the previous six years in a committed relationship. I wasn't looking for love, or lust, or any of the complicated mess that tends to come with the in between.
But there was a spark.
"We're going to head out, you're welcome to join us." They announced as the bar started to empty. "Should we go?" my friend asked.
I guess I could've just gone home to fall asleep on the couch. The place I often slept because I didn't want my boyfriend touching me anymore. But I missed being touched.
Even more than that, I missed being in control. I missed having sex out of desire instead of coercion. I missed owning my body. I missed wanting to really give consent. I wanted to say yes, instead of just not saying no.
"I'm not ready for the night to end," I responded not only knowing what might happen but secretly hoping it would.
This was uncharacteristic of me. I take my commitments very seriously. I choose who I remain loyal to and committed to every day. I try to be fair in these choices and at least tell people when I am no longer willing to uphold a part of a spoken, or assumed, contract. I try to be completely honest about what I am bringing to the table, what I'm taking and what I expect to share. There's constant negotiation in all my interpersonal relationships.
But sometimes renegotiating the terms of a relationship is unsafe. At least that's how I felt with my ex. In a healthy relationship, I would've broken things off or suggested opening the relationship up, long before pursuing intimacy with another person. But this wasn't a healthy relationship; it was emotionally and physically abusive. I was no longer staying out of desire, love or loyalty, but out of fear.
Our contract was broken long before that night. It was broken every time he attempted to break me down.
I cheated and I felt no remorse.
"I should've done this a long time ago," I thought to myself during the ride home. Not because I found value in myself through male attention. Not for revenge or because I thought he'd find out and it would hurt him. But because I was taking control of my own body for the first time in years. It was my resistance.
I was being selfish. The biggest fuck you was the fact that it had nothing to do with him at all. This is what I would've done had I been single. I started asking myself what it would be like to follow my heart more and stop giving him any space in it. I was playing with the idea of not being with him anymore.
Those are the reasons I cheated.
But when I tell people that I once cheated, they usually don't ask what he did to push me away. In a culture saturated with the belief that men cheat because they can't control their lust, women who cheat — despite being seen as anomalies — are easily painted with the same brush. They're called sluts and thought of as insatiable. They're asked whether or not they know who fathered their children even if the infidelity occurred nowhere near the time of conception. It's an extension of the stigma single women face when they admit they're sexually active with more than one partner just as much as it's a mirror of the beliefs we hold about men who cheat.
But men don't face the same stigma. Instead, when they cheat, their partners are asked why they didn't do enough to sexually satisfy them.
This is what happened to me when I suspected my ex cheated. I was made to feel that by not giving him a blow job every night of the week, I deserved his betrayal. But yet, somehow, I'm told he didn't deserve mine.
But he did. And I don't feel an ounce of guilt for it.
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