Groom Duties

He (Sorta) Cheated, She (Sorta) Cheated: What to Do Now?

female reader writes:

“My fiancé is stationed in Portland, I’m on the east coast. I found out that he has been picture messaging and text messaging random numbers from all over the country, and a couple online dating sites.

He says that he was just bored and wanted to talk to new people, and that he didn’t think it was a big deal. He didn’t think that it would upset me, he was just talking. He claims it wasn’t dirty pictures or dirty talk…but isn’t that just what you do on dating sites?

And why did he need to exchange pictures? We have been together on and off for the last 6 years….whenever we have broken up it has been because of the distance. This time he made it real, he proposed and he made the commitment.

Now with a year until our wedding he is still dating online. I don’t know, he doesn’t seem to think it’s that big of a deal. I thought I would get a male perspective on this. Obviously he isn’t ready to get married.

The wedding is off… But now I am trying to decide the degree of how bad this was… does it warrant a full out break up? Or should I give him another chance to rebuild the trust? 

To add yet another dimension to this, the day I found out and confronted him, well we talked all day and he didn’t really have any answers… I was all torn up about this…my friends took me out to cheer me up…I got drunk…and well, messed around with a guy…I didn’t let it to sex, but it was headed in that direction. And I had to stop. I couldn’t cheat, but then being physical and cuddling and some feeling up did happen… so I guess that is cheating.

I feel bad about it but at the same time I don’t. I felt like I needed to do something bad. I have been a faithful, loving, supportive fiancée for so long, and to be rewarded with him talking to other random girls, I just felt so hurt. I needed to do something to hurt him. I know it was wrong, and it probably didn’t help things, but I actually feel better now.

I feel like maybe now he will have something that he needs to forgive. But at the same time, as far as I know, what I did was worse than what he did. But then I thought about it, is this really a kind of relationship I want to be in? Where I feel like I need to do something bad to keep the score even?

“Sorry, I know I am kind of all over the place with this letter. I just want some advice…do you think this is something we could ever get past? Or should I just dump and move on? Or give him a chance to rebuild?”

-[Redacted]

[Update: a few days after the original email, she sent us this brief follow-up]

“Also another note… I told my fiancé about what I did. He said he understood, and that I had every right.”

I speak the language of Guy. And trust me. No guy ever goes to dating sites just to “talk to new people.” That’s like a dude saying, “Honest, Sweetplums, I only go to the strip club because they give you a free bowl of pretzels.”

Guys don’t like to “talk to new people.” We hate new people. They’re the worst. And I’m curious–of all the people your fiancé was just “talking to,” how many were men?

See also: How Do You Cope With Irrational Jealousy? 

Let me be very, very, clear on this: he was unfaithful. Don’t let the bullshit smokescreen of “no dirty pictures” cloud the hard truths. To be a cheater, you don’t need to talk dirty. To be a cheater, you don’t need to send raunchy photos. (Quick aside: what self-respecting dude sends dirty pictures of himself, anyway? Not only unfaithful: cheesy.)

And one could argue–with plenty of ammunition–that his flavor of dishonesty is more of a betrayal, more of a breach of trust, more of a stake in the heart, than a sloppy drunken hook-up. He searched for new partners, and he did it with premeditation. (Arguing about whose betrayal is worse, however, is pointless, as we’ll get to in a bit.)

Six years? And he’s still pulling stunts like this? This guy’s damaged goods. Yes, it’s theoretically possible that years of contrition and staying-the-course and couple’s counseling could rebuild your trust, just as it’s theoretically possible that the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan will simply vanish over the weekend. It’s not mathematically impossible. But it’s not going to happen.

All right. Now let’s get to the other issue. So where does your cheating come in? (And since we’ve been pretty tough on the dude, we’ll be equally candid with you. Let’s call it what it is–you cheated.)

Yes, it’s a problem. But not for the reasons you think.

Your “retaliation” is unfortunate because it might, paradoxically, extend this doomed relationship. Here’s what will happen. You will feel guilty. And you might use it as an excuse for the dude, a way to feel sorry for him, and use it as a specious reason for staying together. Even if it’s just subconscious, you might say, “Well… Yeah, he made a mistake. But I made a mistake, too, and I love him, and he loves me, so things are more or less even, and now we can move on.”

Nip this in the bud. Stop that line of thinking. It’s not helpful and it’s not sound.

Your drunken cuddling–right or wrong, warranted or unwarranted, shrewd or childish–is as irrelevant to your future as, well, the fact that he didn’t send raunchy pictures. Don’t let it trick you into giving him a second (or third? fourth? fifth?) chance. Yeah, maybe what you did wasn’t fair. Too late. He already crossed the Rubicon.  His online dating means game over, period, regardless of whether you, seeking vengeance, cheat on him or slash his tires or go all Lorena Bobbitt. Game over.

See also: Real-Life Dealbreaker – Exes and Trust

Let’s say you hire a housekeeper. Once a week she cleans your kitchen and bathroom. She’s a little flakey–sometimes she’s late or forgets to scrub the stove–but overall she does an okay job, and it’s a pain in the ass to find someone else, so you keep her employed.

Then you catch her stealing from you.

I suppose that you coooooouuuld take the bold, wacky step of stealing the housekeeper’s purse, which you think will teach her a lesson, balance your crimes, calibrate your moralities, and continue the awkward, strained relationship that will eventually end poorly.

Or… Maybe… Since she’s a thief, and since you deserve more–someone honest and true and faithful–you could fire the housekeeper.

Good luck.

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