I’m not exactly proud of it. Not exactly. But I will proudly say that it’s the best decision I ever made. Now before you start calling me names and reciting the seventh commandment in my ear, hear me out. Cheating on my boyfriend may not have been right, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary.
Like most freshmen, I came to college with relics celebrating my high school life. Picture frames of my friends cluttered my desk while my best-guy-friend-turned-boyfriend stayed stitched into my heart: we had started dating weeks before our senior prom, and I felt like I had been living in a fairy tale ever since. He was funny, romantic, encouraging and close to his family, he was everything I ever wanted. And even though my parents didn’t approve and we were accepted to different universities, we decided to continue our relationship into college. I mean, he was only a hundred miles away, a distance easily diminished by a weekend train ride.
It worked out wonderfully. He drove down on Friday afternoons for dates that lasted until Monday mornings; he got along with all my new friends and we all frequented my college town’s hotspots together. We were both glued to our phones throughout the weekdays and we Skype’d at night while we fell asleep alongside our laptops. Against so many external odds, I was successfully maintaining a long-distance relationship. It was “perfect,” and I couldn’t remember a time when I was happier.
After a year and a half of sweet texts and weekend getaways, my boyfriend made the decision to leave his four-year university and attend our hometown community college. He moved out of his apartment and back into his parents’ house at the same time I transitioned from a single dorm room to a bunk bed – in a room shared with two other girls. There goes our privacy! Even more so, my parents had dished their disapproval of my love life to me all summer, telling me that I was so young and holding myself back. But he was really good at relationships: he always put in the work to solve problems, reassured me of our relationship and made sure we were happy together. So I defended him to others, even though I was starting my sophomore year with a new part-time job and an exciting internship opportunity.
And even though I was busy, tired and over-committed, I felt myself starting to get restless. I mean, college is supposed to be that time where you find yourself, right? Yes, and I was. I was finding that the person I came in as a year ago may not be who I was anymore, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for that…
…but I did. It’s not that I wasn’t happy with us, but it wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I felt guilty for wanting out of a relationship in which there was nothing wrong, at least nothing worth ending it all for. I was eighteen years old and with who I thought was “the love of my life,” the greatest guy I imagined I’ll ever meet and someone who could make a great husband and father someday. I shouldn’t want to break up with him; I should make sure I hold on to him until I want to married, even if that isn’t for a very, very long time! Right? At the beginning of the relationship, these facts were a dream, but it had eventually turned into a nightmare. And I cowardly thought that the only way out was to make him leave first.
So I cheated on him. It was a stupid, impulsive action with a friend of a friend and it only happened once.
I wish I had been brave enough to just break up with him before I did it; for that, I’m forever apologetic. Even though our relationship was so great, I now believe that the right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing. But even so, here’s the forgotten obvious: my boyfriend and I didn’t have a reason to stop being together, and none of us could see that there also weren’t any reasons left to stay together either – and that alone is a completely valid reason to leave.
First love dies hard, but I look back on that relationship with irreplaceable memories and without hard feelings: just because a relationship ends badly doesn’t mean the relationship itself was bad. Afterwards, I put down my cell phone, got closer to friends, had other relationships and seized the rest my life – free of the guilt I used to have for seizing my college experience while he was complaining about his own, switching schools and moving back home. I did so many things I would’ve probably never done if we were still together, on our way to planning a wedding and brainstorming baby names. Again, I’m not saying that cheating was the right thing to do. It was wrong, but I did do it. Call me a slut and a whore and whatever else, but I will still always know that the worst thing that I’ve done to someone else turned out to be the best thing I ever did for myself. And I’ve never been happier.
What do you think? Does cheating always mean that the cheater is intentionally hurtful, or are there times when it’s also a reflection of the relationship?