a cheating heart

Infidelity has been a major theme in my love life since my love life officially began.

My first boyfriend, Daniel, came straight out of a failed relationship with my friend Tammy from P.E. class. I am not sure exactly how it started but I remember being aware of him when he was dating Tammy, and I remember us sitting together on the upper bleachers during a school assembly, and then afterwards the love letters started. The first one was written on a pad of paper he’d clearly gotten from his father, who was a medical doctor; it was printed with an ad for a prescription medication. (Something about heartburn or indigestion, which I found hilarious, considering the circumstances. Butterflies in stomach and all that.) After that it was notebook filler paper. He had nice handwriting, he was very sweet and sappy, and his letters smelt of Polo cologne*. The original. Green bottle.

I suppose I wrote back, though I don’t remember what now. I remember being pleasantly confused at the speed at which this was all progressing. I remember him opining that maybe one day we’d be married and living out on Highway 14.

He was my first kiss.

That all came to a screeching halt when Tammy came to me and said that Daniel was seeing our friend Maria from the lunch table. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Tammy could have had nefarious motivations in telling me that, but it was also true. I dumped him immediately and sent a hate missive to Maria**.

That day was the forty-eighth anniversary of Pearl Harbor.


I had a fairly active dating life after that, and there were mistakes and disappointments and missed opportunities, but nothing really pertaining to cheating. Closest I got was when I befriended Christine and she proceeded to snap up every guy I didn’t work out with from that point on***. By the time I graduated high school, I was dating Craig and we were engaged when I went into the Army.

That was when things went straight to shit.

Long story short, I went into the long-distance-relationship thing with the absolute best of intentions. Then a bad thing happened, and I am too often prone to all-or-nothing thinking, so I thought I was ruined, so I thought, fuck it, may as well do whatever. I had a one-night stand with one training classmate, then a bit of a fling with another (for an added dash of class, that one was married), and then I didn’t graduate on time and went into casual status and basically partied on the weekends. The holidays approached and I began to panic, so I confessed the married-guy fling to Craig over the phone. He went absolutely apeshit.

Not long after that I spoke with Marc, who was an ex but still (at that time) a dear friend, and he told me Craig had slept with Christine and that they were going around telling everyone I had cheated on him. I was angrier at Craig talking about me than I was at him cheating on me. That was the end of that.

Possibly Marc had nefarious motives in telling me; we did end up back together for a time. Craig earned that one, though. I realized a long while later that I still had his old letters from when I was in training and that he had confessed, BEFORE I ever fucked around, that he and Christine had kissed. (I had been exhausted from Basic Training Things and it had completely slipped my mind.) Soooooo…

But from that point on I was unstable in matters of love.

Cheated on Marc. Mentioned it to Christine. Christine tattled. (I am not my own best friend. I did deserve that one, though.) That was that.

Went through several other relationships where I would get to the point of realizing I didn’t actually want to be in that situation but didn’t want to fire the first shot to end it, for whatever reason. I was an introvert even then so it wasn’t like I desperately needed attention. It wasn’t sex drive issues; obviously I was getting that taken care of. I could not tell you what the fuck was going on there.

By the time I met Mike, the man I married, I was thoroughly disgusted with myself. I told myself this was my last chance to stop being a skank. I would just start over new with this guy, do right by him, and things would work out.

Yeah… no. There was a random guy I chatted with on AOL early on****, a kind of emotional cheating; and then later there was this local guy and I didn’t mean to mess with him, but we were somewhat drunk and I had the spine of a jellyfish. (Most of my sexual encounters up to that point, particularly the one-night stands, were me not necessarily looking for a lay but being talked into it.) After the second incident, which was just douchey on his part — I had forgotten my purse at a local gathering and he took me back in his car to get it, and exacted a kind of toll along the way — I gave up all my local friends just so I wouldn’t see him anymore, trying to save my marriage.

It didn’t do any good. I wound up in a downward spiral, Mike didn’t understand why, we had money problems on top of that, I’m pretty sure he cheated on me at some point along the way (I can think of a specific night it probably happened, but I’ll never be able to ask him), and then he became a felon and I had to turn him in. End of that.

I can’t think of a specific incident since then where I blatantly ran around on someone I was actively involved with — not physically, anyway. But I got it into my head that I must not be wired for monogamy: hence, I should look into polyamory. And that’s when my life REALLY went to shit.

As far as I can see, there were two main faults in my relationship with Matt, my most recent ex.

1. He didn’t actually want to be serious with me. I was only ever a toy, a distraction, a side quest.

2. But he wanted me around to achieve certain ends in his life, so he’d say anything to keep me dangling.

And so he managed, in a polyamorous relationship, to cheat on me and wrong me anyway.

It’s taken me a long time to try to come to terms with it all, and what made it painful and me furious was the constant lack of certainty. I went into the relationship knowing that I was one of his secondary partners, and that would have been fine, but he insisted on talking like he wanted me to be a primary (apparently, you can have more than one primary). His words were never consistent with his actions or with what the situation was supposed to be, but I wasn’t allowed to end things either, because he’d just beg me to take him back. It tore me up. I think I have actually become a completely different person now from that trauma alone. I am not sure I like all the changes.

But I’m trying to be philosophical about it. Probably this is my comeuppance for all those years I flitted around. Especially since I can count the number of men who’ve had sexytimes with me since 2002 on one hand. And that’s saying something.

The scales are balanced now, far as I’m concerned. So this has become one of my boundaries. From now on I will only take a man at his actions, not his words. I don’t care how prettily he dresses it up, if his dick is wandering then he wants his dick to wander. And he can wander it right on out of my life, and it can take him with it.

And no more married guys either. That was my other problem. No more. I’m done.

(And I was wrong about one other thing. No, I’m not polyamorous. Thanks for playing.)

*I will always regret throwing those letters away. In fairness, I probably would have lost them years ago. They’d probably be good for a laugh now, if nothing else.

**I will never understand how Maria could have wanted to speak to me again after that. She put up with a lot of shit, did Maria. But she never apologized for poaching him, either. In fact, the following year, they dated again and he knocked her up. That’s another story, and maybe I’ll tell it elsewhere.

***I put up with a lot of shit too, apparently.

****In case Mike ever reads this: No, not the guy who called to ask about me after I got you arrested. That was one of my online Pagan friends, he was happily married at the time and not flirting online, and we’ve never met in person — but he knew what you’d done, and he was concerned. No, the one I’m talking about was a muggle and we didn’t chat for long, and that was early early days on AOL for me.

[Last updated: 24 October 2023]

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