Auntie SparkNotes: Did He Cheat?
AN IMPORTANT NOTE FROM AUNTIE: Pssst, Sparklers! I'll be on vacation starting this weekend and returning Monday, April 8th, so there'll be no columns next week. Stay strong. Be good. Don't set anything on fire.
So straight to the story, I'm a high school sophomore and I've been dating this guy "Derek" for about 4 months.
Our relationship was pretty unexpected, but it's worked out well. We have a ton of fun together and he makes me feel super special. The only spot of major tension is that he always wants to go further sexually. He promises he'll respect my boundaries, but at the same time I usually feel pushed to do things I'd normally say no to because I want to make him happy.
A few days ago, a mutual friend told me that he had "done things" with a freshman girl who's known for her... questionable values, to put it the nice way. I confronted him, and he admitted that she had sent him sexts. He said he thought that was better than pushing me to do things I wasn't comfortable with, and it wasn't cheating because they'd never done anything physical. At that point, I basically screamed at him for a while about how he was a horrible boyfriend/person and told him it was over.
So I guess my problem is what is cheating and what it not? Is he right, cheating has to be physical? I've heard that he thinks I'm overreacting and once I calm down, we'll be a couple again. I think my reaction was justified and I can't even consider getting back together because "once a cheater, always a cheater."
Alright, you guys. Before we get started, I'm going to let you all in on a little secret about the ubiquitous idiom, "Once a cheater, always a cheater."
And that secret is: it's a bunch of horse-dookie.
Cheating isn't a nice thing to do, but it's no more a life sentence for awfulness than any of the hundreds of other not-nice things people do. It's a mistake, like any other. And a person who cheats is just as capable as anyone else of choosing to change his ways, just as long as he's able to admit fault, examine his behavior, and learn from the experience.
But alas, Sparkler, your ex-boyfriend is not that person. Because while he may not be a cheater forever, he's certainly a giant entitled jerk right now. The only thing more horrible than a person who wrongs you is a person who wrongs you, gets caught, and then cheerfully tries to both blame you for the wrongdoing while at the same time claiming that he didn't do anything wrong. And all those protestations of total innocence are belied by his own actions: if this was no betrayal, and no big deal, then why did he hide it from you?
Oh, right: because it was a betrayal, and it is a big deal, and he's just too much of a weenie to own it.
And that, not a semantic argument about what constitutes bona fide cheating, is what makes his behavior so abominable. Being in a relationship means being honest enough to admit when you're not getting what you need, open enough to talk about it, and brave enough to end it if your partner can't or won't give it to you. But this guy, being neither honest nor brave, took the easy, deceitful way out—and denied you the chance to make your own choices about how to deal with the relationship.
Which is why it's good that you broke up with him, and why getting back together would be a very bad idea.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE.
Because while I've no idea how things were in your relationship (and if I'm way off the mark, you should tell me so), I can't end this post without first addressing how blithely you punted the responsibility for going beyond your sexual comfort zone.
Which is, frankly, no good. If you choose to do something out of a desire to please your partner, that is still your choice. If you're not happy with that choice afterward, then you need to own the fact that you made it and figure out how to choose differently next time. Your boundaries are yours to decide upon, but that means that they're also yours to enforce; your partner can't respect your limits if you don't respect them yourself. (And if you aren't ready to do that, particularly in the event that your partner wants more than you're ready for, then you really aren't ready for sex.)
Which is to say: if you were engaging in by-all-appearances-consensual sexytimes with your boyfriend—and then, after the fact, turning around and blaming your own actions on him having "pushed" you—then what you get is a situation where something bad was bound to happen. A guy who can't trust you to be honest about your feelings is infinitely less likely to be honest with you about his. And when honesty doesn't seem like an option, some really gross things can creep in its place.
Like, say, secret sexting followed by outrageous justifications that it wasn't "technically" cheating.
Which is not to say that you're at fault for the cheating; you're absolutely not. Your weenie of an ex is the only one to blame for his crappy and deceitful behavior. But even though you're the victim, not him, there may be a takeaway here for you, too: the importance of being straightforward, taking responsibility, and seeking out the truth in your relationships. Think about that, okay? Because if you learn from this experience now, then chances are good that you'll never have to repeat it.
Have you ever cheated, or been cheated on? Share your story in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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