A Chronic Cheater

An unfaithful man ends up alone, taking a fearless personal inventory, and vows to change.

Maybe I deserve
for you to go out and find some other guy
Maybe I deserve
for you to stay out with him all night
Maybe I deserve
for you to do all the things I did to you
Maybe I deserve…
for you to say yes I cheated on you
I won’t care after all I put you through
—Tank, “Maybe I Deserve”

The Cheater

I was a chronic cheater, terrified of commitment, and yet scared shitless of being alone. I wore a façade of being a caring boyfriend while repeatedly lying to conceal secret rendezvous. I cheated in nearly every relationship I had since my teenage years; the question was not “if” I was going to be unfaithful, but when and how often.

The “karma” of catching my girlfriend and close friend in bed together only exacerbated my behavior as I then used multiple relationships as a way of avoiding my feelings. I continued cheating until roughly one year ago; by that time I had left a trail of broken hearts in my wake, and was alone to ponder my carnage. Only then did I realize that I was suffocating my own heart.

Why did I cheat?

The Usual

I want to begin with stating the obvious reasons for my cheating behavior. I was selfish and inconsiderate: I cared more about my feelings and hedonistic desires than my partner. I was a coward: I was afraid to simply be honest about my intentions towards my partner and our relationship. I wanted sex with multiple people: I treated promiscuity like a drug, sex with a new partner was thrilling. Bragging rights: yes, the proverbial “everybody else was doing it” at the time. Even my closest male friends had “something on the side.”

What Lies beneath

Each of these factored in to my behavior. However the more I thought about it, I was masking insecurities related to emotional intimacy and to a lesser degree, sexual inadequacy. My behavior was not simply a relentless mission for sexual stimulation; I was literally having another relationship on the side, not strictly a sexual escapade, or one night stand.

Why did I feel the need to not only cheat on my partner, but live two different lives?

Fear of being hurt

I was terrified of being hurt, and through my infidelity I was able to avoid being vulnerable within relationships. I felt if I became vulnerable to my partner and she abandoned me, I would be devastated. My cheating was therefore a way to avoid being vulnerable and susceptible to being hurt. Cheating was my way of having a relationship back up plan, “just in case she leaves me, I’ll have her to fall back on.” I erroneously reasoned that, by maintaining several romantic options, I would never feel the utter devastation that comes with heartbreak and subsequently loneliness.

Too Close for Comfort

There were times when I would begin a new relationship determined to be faithful. However, as I grew emotionally close to my partner, my fear of being hurt intensified; I was then out searching for extra-relational opportunities. I both strongly desired emotional intimacy and was horrified at the thought of being that close to another person. Most of the time I did not need precipitating factors: I stayed on the prowl, looking to ensure that I would not be alone.

Need to Control

Being unfaithful was also my way of controlling my feelings, preventing myself from loving too hard or being open to being hurt. In doing so I was not only controlling my emotions, but through my secrecy, I controlled the relationship.

Poetic Justice?

My infidelity became a self-fulfilling prophecy: I never fully revealed myself emotionally, or allowed others to get to know me; therefore I was lonely, even while engaging in multiple romantic relationships.

Furthermore, the truth of my infidelity always surfaced, as either my lies would unravel, or, I would acknowledge my transgressions, after which I would lose everyone. In other words, by cheating, I created the outcome I feared most. In the process, I also left others devastated.

To be clear, there is no excuse for cheating. The bottom line is, I knew my behavior was wrong, therefore I deserved whatever consequences I experienced.

Confronting the Cheater

Having cheated my way to loneliness, for the past year I have remained single. 2012 has been the loneliest year of my life, yet it was precisely what I needed. During this time, I have looked at the womanizer within, trying to understand my behavior, and taking steps towards changing.

My first step was writing what amounted to a letter of apology for my past transgressions and the pain my cheating caused. The letter was not sent to anyone; it is my way of holding myself accountable for my behavior and ensuring that I am making the necessary changes to being a better man.

As with all things, this is a journey. There are times when I can feel the prowler in me reappear. I realize it is up to me to fully give myself to a future partner and treat her the way I would want to be treated.

The Apology

  • I´m sorry for lying to you about my intentions towards you. You gave me your honesty and I was not man enough to give the same to you.
  • I´m sorry for treating you as a sexual object.
  • I´m sorry for treating our intimacy like a pornography audition.
  • I´m sorry for failing to be a better role model of a grown adult male for my nephews.
  • I´m sorry for failing to be a better example to my niece of how she should expect to be treated by members of the opposite sex.
  • I´m sorry for paying more attention to my pocketbook and professional pursuits than my relationship with you.
  • I´m sorry for treating our relationship as a matter of conquest, instead of a matter of compassion, common sense and consideration
  • I´m sorry for taking you for granted. I did not realize how good I had it with you, and how lonely life can be without you.
  • I´m sorry for not recognizing and confronting my relationship destroying patterns sooner, before they surfaced and destroyed our relationship.
  • I´m sorry for not calling you back—I should have at least texted or called or hell, even emailed. My silence was controlling and a horrible way to treat you.
  • I´m sorry for being a coward. For not having the courage to tell you exactly how I felt. This is perhaps my biggest failure as it prevented us from truly knowing each other, and ruined the possibility that we ever will.
  • I´m sorry for disappointing you, especially after you defended me to your friends and virtually the world. I repaid you by breaking your heart in the worst way. I know you don’t believe it, but I am deeply sorry, and I will be a better man.

And every day you’ll see
How I try and be
A better man for you
By the things I’ll do
A better man, you’ll say
Has come to you today
I’ll try and be a better man
—All-4-One, “A Better Man”

 

Read more on Why Good People Cheat on The Good Life.

Why Do Good People Cheat? is the result of a joint call with elephant journal love and relationships. Begin reading their series with  the hit first piece, How to Be a Cheater.)

Image credit:  Eva Blue/Flickr

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About Billy Johnson II

Billy Johnson II is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the writer of a weekly column, "Dr. Bill," on The Good Life. He has previously published on racism, and reconciling masculinity. "Dr. Bill" is dedicated to becoming a more compassionate, loving, and forgiving human being. In his spare time he is working on his dance moves! You can follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Billy, wow. Thank you SO much for this honesty. I cannot imagine how much courage it took to write this and I admire you so much for that. Being brutally honest with ourselves seems like the only real way to change.

    What do you think of the idea that cheating – the affirmation of it, the excitement of having to hide things and wondering what’s going to happen next – is like an anti-depressant (albeit a shortsighted, doomed one)? Like staving off feelings of depression by never having a quiet moment where you’re really, truly honest?

    • Joanna, I really appreciate your validation of my article. The truth is I have been struggling with the idea of articulating my experience for quite some time and only recently summoned the strength to put it into words. Of course before I could write about my past behavior I had to be willing to understand myself better and ultimately dedicate myself to making the necessary changes.

      Seeing my behavior in print has itself been highly confronting, and the responses have ranged from shock, anger, resentment and disappointment to empathy and appreciation.

      In terms of your specific question about the short term payoff from cheating: I think it’s fair to say that such behavior is similar to an anti-depressant, or a distraction, or avoidance, or other types of coping skills we use to tackle deeper issues. In the case of cheating I firmly believe that it amounts to a refusal to confront deeper issues.

      I also agree that, like any drug, the “high” will soon wear off leaving the user to make a choice between permanent withdrawal, which may mean owning up to one’s behavior and confronting the deeper psychological issues within, or “another dose of cheating” which of course will perpetuate the cycle. In this sense cheating becomes an addiction, distressful yet irresistible to the user and horribly painful to the addicts loved ones. In this sense the payoff aggressively deteriorates with time and usage, leaving elements of the vicious cycle intact while subsequently destroying relationships. Sadly, I am all too familiar with this dynamic.

      What are your thoughts?

  2. You Are Forgiven. I have forgiven you.
    Reading the first few paras of this article, I started getting pissed off because it sounds like you’re just making excuses for yourself and your (past) behaviour. But then I got to the ‘I’m Sorry’ list and my heart just broke. Now I understand that it must be hard for you too. Having been cheated on and lied to by a husband who I would die for, I do have lots of hurt and bitterness. Now I’m trying to understand that maybe it is hard on him too.
    So do I forgive him as well? Yes, I do, and I promise to never hold his transgressions against him Only if he makes an effort, like you, to change. You are already a better man, Billy, God bless your beautiful heart…:)

    • Hi Joy,

      Thank you so much for responding to my article. As I shared with an earlier commenter it was perhaps the most difficult reflection I have ever divulged. There remain moments when I feel exposed due to my willingness to disclose painful events from my past all caused by my selfish behavior and my refusal to confront inner demons which also led to hurting those who cared the most about me.

      I am truly sorry to hear that you have been the recipient of cheating behavior by someone you cared for so dearly. I recognize that no amount of pain I endured as the perpetrator of this behavior is similar to the torment you and others have experienced as the victim. The fact that you are willing to forgive your husband is amazing and a credit to your courage.

      I don’t know your husband; therefore I cannot make comments about his level of contrition or the pain he has experienced as a result of his cheating behavior. I will say that if his experience is anywhere near the same as mine then my guess is that he has some issues to confront and must challenge himself everyday to be open and honest with his feelings, and treat you with the necessary love and respect which he would like to receive.

      Also Joy, I cannot thank you enough for your words of empathy for my experience. Your words of forgiveness were especially moving. As I already mentioned my article has been met by both friends and family with disdain for the most part. Therefore I am indebted to you for your willingness to convey understanding and compassion.

  3. Christina Cooksey says:

    I know how much courage and strength it must have taken to write this. It is wonderful to read, from a man’s perspective why he would do something. I have been cheated on, and I know, for myself at least it was very touching to see a man admit that the underlying reasons why he cheated were his own perceived inadequacies, so many men blame the women they cheat on, and that is just wrong. I believe you are a better person for having written this, and on your way to so me real healing.

  4. Melodie Ross Jackson says:

    You have to be very brave to admit what you did in this article, I think you are not a bad person for cheating because you are admiting you did it because you were afraid of being alone but sadly I believe most of men cheat just because they don’t care about the feelings of other persons.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I read the cheating bit and I will admit I am total shock. It would have been nice to have received a letter from you about this considering how much we went through

  6. It would have been nice to receive this letter from you

    Or an explanation at least

  7. As someone that has experienced a relationship with you being such a closed book it is nice to see that you are realizing the error of your ways. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. I should have read those signals when we were together but sadly I ignored them. Now I can say that I am a much stronger person. Coping with my life without you was one of the hardest things I have ever done but I did it and now I can say I have a much better relationship for it now. Though I would have like some sort of explannation or letter from you

  8. Angelica says:

    Great read Bill. It takes a real man to own up to his mistakes and wrong doing but the real test is making changes to better yourself. I wish you well on your journey. God bless

  9. Sara Pearson says:

    Bill,
    As I sat teary eyed reading your article I felt my heart burst open. It is both terrible and emotionally healing to see someone so accurately describe a problem many of us face. I am/was a female cheater and your words felt as though they had been placed from my mind and heart and into your article. I am happy to see that you have been single and cheat free for a year now, I am beginning again on my journey of healing from my self destructive ways. I aspire to be a better person the same way you have as well. Do you have any words of wisdom for someone who permanently wants to make this change in their life?

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