How I Forgave Myself for Cheating and Hurting Someone I Once Loved


“The best apology is simply admitting your mistake. The worst apology is dressing up your mistake with rationalizations to make it look like you were not really wrong, but just misunderstood.” ~Dodinsky

It was January 2016 and Baltimore was in the midst of a blizzard. Outside, the city was covered in a three-foot blanket of snow. Inside, we were having a blizzard party. My boyfriend, five friends, and me.

We’d been coloring, listening to music, dancing, and playing games. Already, I knew it was one of the most cozy and fun nights of my life. Everyone was happy. The energy was easy and joyful.

As the night went on, my boyfriend turned on his light display in the basement. It was a combination of LED lights and infinity mirrors that he built with our friend E. They both controlled the light show and music from an app on their phones.

With the exception of one friend who went to bed early, we were all in the basement listening to music, dancing and enjoying the lights.

Eventually, the basement group started to disperse. I went upstairs, and so did our friend E. A few people were in the kitchen. Someone stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. I noticed my boyfriend was the only one still down in the basement, then heard him coming up the stairs.

As he entered the doorway, I noticed he was eerily calm, but I also sensed a rage bubbling beneath the surface. He approached our friend E, poked him in the chest, and said, “How long has this been going on?”

I instantly knew what “this” was. So did E. But everyone else was clueless.

My boyfriend told everyone to get out of the house (in the middle of the blizzard). Everyone except me, E, and another friend who he asked to stay as a neutral party. Someone woke up my friend who was sleeping upstairs. Everyone left and trudged home in three feet of snow. (Luckily, we were all neighbors, so they didn’t have to journey far).

I have no idea what they were thinking, but I imagine everyone was confused and concerned.

My boyfriend began to interrogate E and me because he’d read a message between us on E’s phone.

It was a message from me that read: “I can’t wait to kiss you again.”

Oof. I wish I could say I dreaded this moment. But I did not, because I honestly did not think this moment would happen.

I didn’t think it would happen because earlier that day I had vowed not to mess around with E anymore. I had figured out that I was no longer in love with my boyfriend, and I was going to wait until he was finished with his dissertation in a few months to break up with him. In the meantime, I would not pursue anything that I felt with E.

I thought I could simply tell my boyfriend that I had fallen out of love with him and was leaving. It was a good plan.

I was guilty for having made out with E, and for the feelings I had for him, but we had not had sex, or even come close. Plus, I knew that my being unfaithful was a symptom of the fact that I needed to get out of this relationship. I had crossed a line, but I knew why, and I was going to stay on the right side of the line until I talked to my boyfriend.

It was a good plan. Except for the fact that my boyfriend suspected something was going on. (Of course he did. People know. People always know.)

So there we were: midnight in the middle of a blizzard in an intense interrogation. Time was moving slowly. It was all very surreal and nightmare-ish.

The interrogation went something like: When? Where? How often? Why? To our other friend: Did you know? (He had no clue).

The questioning went on and on until eventually, my boyfriend told E and our friend to leave. Then it was just the two of us.

The thing I remember most about the rest of that night is lying together on the couch, crying. I was crying because I had hurt this person who, at one time, I loved deeply. He was crying because he was hurt by the one person he thought would never, could never, do such a thing.

What I remember most about the next week, before I moved out, is lying in bed with him, watching Rick and Morty, and having the most open, raw conversations we’d had in years.

I remember how sad I felt.

I also remember how relieved I felt.

I didn’t have the language for it at the time, but the relief was from the death that was occurring, and the re-birth that was to come.

I can’t say I regret the outcome because, in truth, I am now happy. And from what I know, my ex is happy too. And this happiness would not have existed for either of us if I had stayed in that relationship. In the words of Liz Gilbert, via Glennon Doyle: “there is no such thing as one-way liberation.”

But I do regret how it happened. I wish I had been mature, wise, and strong enough to recognize that I no longer wanted this relationship, before it got to the point of cheating.

I wish I had known myself better.

I wish I had known that I could have just left without doing this horrible thing and causing so much pain.

I regret how I made my ex feel.

I regret how I let down my friends who thought I was someone who would never do something like that.

I regret how I strung E along for so long and toyed with his emotions, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not.

I regret how little worth I had in myself, which led me to stay in this relationship far past its expiration date.

I am still healing from this experience, and I cannot blame anyone for my pain, except myself. It’s a really weird thing to be healing from the pain you caused yourself.

It’s also weird to be healing while living a happy, nourishing dream life, which is exactly what I am doing.

The night of that blizzard a death occurred. A death of a version of myself that I did not like. A version of me who did not speak her mind, who was in the background, who did not like having sex, who was too scared to imagine a more expansive, beautiful life.

This death opened the portal for me to return to myself, which is the journey I have been on for the last seven years. And it’s a beautiful one.

If you’ve been hurt by someone who was unfaithful, I am sorry. I feel for you. You did not deserve it. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Learn from it. Forgive the other person, for the sake of your inner peace.

If you’ve hurt someone by being unfaithful, I am sorry too. I feel for you too. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Learn from it. Forgive yourself.

I’ve learned to forgive myself by:

  1. Acknowledging the pain I caused and apologizing for it.
  2. Communing with my inner child to learn about her unmet needs (the need to speak up, to be heard and seen, to stop people-pleasing).
  3. Remembering that I am imperfect and that making mistakes is part of the human experience.
  4. Asking myself what I learned during this experience (for one thing, not to stay in a relationship when my instincts tell me it’s over), and then applying that learning moving forward.

And know this: if you are in a relationship in which you are unhappy, you do have the strength to get out of it, without hurting the other person through infidelity. (Please know that I am not talking about abusive relationships here; that was not my experience and is not something I am suited to give any kind of advice on.)

Also know that you do not have to stick in a relationship just because your lives are intertwined and it’s hard to imagine the logistics (moving out, dividing finances, breaking a lease, etc.) of breaking up. If you’re most worried about these logistics, then it’s time to go. You will figure it out. And you both will be better off for it.

The last thing I’ll leave you with are these words that my friend-turned-mentor shared with me: People do shitty things, but it does not necessarily mean they are shitty people. Let’s have grace with ourselves and each other. Let’s love even when (especially when) it seems another is not worthy of our love. Let’s have compassion for the lonely child that exists inside most of us.

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