Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I have been with my same-sex partner for seven and a half years now (we are two women), two and a half of which have been long distance due to job obligations. The distance has been really hard, and I have found myself in a couple of blackout drunk situations in which I did regrettable things. I am usually able to control myself when I drink, but very rarely I get blackouts. I’m not sure if it’s to do with the type of medication that I take mixed with it, or if it’s genetic or what.
The most recent situation is the one I’m having a lot of trouble with. I have been trying to make more friends in the gay girl scene, and I met one girl who I 100% was only interested in friendship with. And I told her that I was only seeking friendship from other women. We hung out a few times, and on the last hang out we were at her place. I again got blackout drunk, and the next thing I remember is waking up in her bed with no memory of what happened (a couple of flashes but nothing else). I am completely repulsed by this because a) I am in a relationship and love my girlfriend with everything I am, and b) I have zero attraction to this girl.
I freaked out and told my girlfriend that I needed a break / some space because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t tell her what happened because I know it would absolutely crush her and I swear I would not have ever done this if I was sober. I want to stay with her and I have even had suicidal thoughts because I just can’t deal with this. I know alcohol is not an excuse, I just can’t make sense of why it happened. I am so disgusted! Even though I remember almost nothing, I feel as though this person, although really nice, took advantage of me / coerced me, and I feel so much anger toward her for that. And even if that is true, why did I seemingly become an active participant? She was quite drunk too, but I don’t believe she was blackout drunk. I have cut off all communication with her, even though a friendship could have been had this situation not happened. I want nothing to do with her.
My girlfriend was initially extremely upset that I ended things / asked for a break. But then we saw each other one weekend and we kind of just melted back together to the way things were before. But every time I look at her, every time she compliments me, every time she calls me a good person, all I can think of is what I did and I absolutely hate myself for it and would do anything to turn back time.
I have started seeing a therapist, but it isn’t doing much yet. The guilt is eating me alive, but I feel that if I were to tell my girlfriend she would leave me in an instant (she is extremely insecure) and that would be even more excruciating. We go so well together and have a blast together, and are genuinely just the best of friends. I have been planning to move to her city eventually, there is a company that has expressed interest in hiring me, I am just working on strengthening my portfolio before switching jobs.
I am driving myself crazy reading all the articles and forums online about blackout drunk cheating. I honestly can’t make sense of any of this and I am hating myself and beating myself up about this. I don’t know how I will ever move on from this. It consumes my thoughts day and night. First thing that comes to my mind each morning when I wake is, “You are a cheater You are a horrible person. She did not deserve this. You don’t deserve her.” I already suffer from severe depression and anxiety due to my mom passing away last year and my best friend committing suicide.
I can’t handle this. Please help. Thank you very much.
Barely Holding On
OK BHO, I want you to take a really deep breath. Breathe in for the count of 5. Hold it for another count of five. Breathe out to the count of 10. Now do it again. And a third time. Let your anxiety flow out with your breath as you feel your heart rate start to slow. You are working yourself up into a panic for no good reason and it’s causing you to get worked up for no good reason.
Now, as you calm yourself down, let’s go over what you actually know. Not what you have inferred, not what you think happened, what you actually know. You know you blacked out. You know you woke up in her bed. You don’t know anything else. Pretty much everything else going on right now is equal parts guilt, shame, and assumption. And it’s totally understandable; finding out that you may or may not have done something that you don’t remember is incredibly disconcerting. I’ve been there, done that and had the massive hangovers to show for it. But your guilt, and your response to that guilt, is massively out of proportion to what you know and what may or may not have happened.
I will preface this up front: I’m not a believer that cheating is the worst thing that can happen in a relationship, nor do I believe that it’s an automatic relationship extinction event. I’m a pretty firm believer that not all affairs are equal and there is a world of difference between an honest-to-God slip up – particularly when alcohol is involved – and someone who thinks that monogamy and fidelity are things that happen to other people. So I think that you are really overreacting, especially with your race to immediately dump your girlfriend over your possible, but not proven, misdeed.
Right now, this is Schrodinger’s Affair. You may or may not have cheated on your girlfriend. If you did… well, that’s not great. But it’s also not the end of the world. Relationships can be hard, monogamy can be harder and the combination of long distance and monogamy is harder still. This is something that, frankly, we don’t like to talk about. We as a culture like to pretend that relationships are easy and that love is all-consuming; if you love someone, you’ll never think about anyone else or be interested in someone else. And while there are the occasional folks who will say that this describes them to a tee, the truth is that the human experience doesn’t bear that out. The fact that you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean that you won’t be attracted to other people. The fact that you love someone doesn’t mean that you’re never going to find other people sexy, that you won’t develop crushes on folks or suddenly find yourself thinking about just what noises they’d make if you licked that soft part of their neck. Love, in short, doesn’t turn off your junk. Experiencing attraction, even stupidly powerful attraction, to other people doesn’t mean that you don’t love your partner or that there’s something wrong with your relationship. It just means that you’re a primate with a sex drive.
So it’s not impossible that the combination of loneliness, the thrill of meeting someone new and alcohol meant that your inhibitions went out the window, especially if you blacked out. And while it would be better if this had never happened, I think we can call this an unfortunate slip-up, not proof that you’re the worst of the worst. And to be perfectly honest, I think rounding a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God event up to YOU ARE THE WORST is not just unfair but unproductive. If you’ll forgive an inelegant metaphor: you don’t shoot a puppy the first time it piddles on the rug. You clean things up and you teach it to go to the bathroom outside.
This is why I think you are overreacting to all of this. I think the guilt you’re feeling is out of proportion to the actual crime and I suspect it’s exacerbated by your girlfriend’s insecurity. And while I’ve got plenty of thoughts about that, none of it is helpful in this circumstance. But neither is this feedback loop you’ve thrown yourself into. Nothing that you’re doing to yourself is terribly productive or helpful – either for the health of your relationship or your sanity. I think that the longer you hold on to this, the more likely it is that you’re going to end up damaging a relationship that might otherwise work out.
So let’s stick to what actually works and, more importantly, what will actually help. First and foremost: you need to accept that this happened. Past tense. As in: it’s in your past. And you need to leave it there. You’re carrying this millstone around and while you may feel like it’s appropriate punishment for your crime, the truth is that it’s not only over the top but it’s making things worse. There’s a point where guilt turns into self-flagellation, where it’s less about paying for your sins and more about punishing yourself for existing and being human. If you want your relationship to work with your girlfriend, then you’re going to have to stop picking at this wound and let it heal.
Second of all: if you regret this and want to make things better, then you’re going to have to make sure that this really was a one-off-lightning-strike-never-happen-again event. And that means making sure that the circumstances that lead to this never line up again. That means you need to stop drinking. Normally I’m not a big believer in the necessity of complete and total abstinence, but if drinking is leading to blackouts and behavior that you regret, then the drinking’s gotta go. Maybe, MAYBE, you can have a drink or two again if you find out it’s an issue with your medication and you switch things up… but until further notice, you have to go teetotaler. You can’t lose control if you aren’t doing the behaviors that negate your control entirely.
Third and possibly most importantly: you need to forgive yourself. Yes, you did a bad thing. But that doesn’t mean that you are bad by definition. It means that you’re human. You made choices that you shouldn’t have, but you’ve learned from them and now you’re going to make sure you never make them again. But to do that, you have to be able to move forward, and you can’t do that if you’re constantly holding onto this pain or insisting that you’re the evilist of evils ever to evil. You fucked up. You fell down. So pick yourself up and don’t f*ck up again. Forgive yourself for making mistakes and for being human, go forward and be better than you were before.
What I don’t suggest you do is tell your girlfriend about this. I know a lot of people will insist that you have to and that she has a right to know and that keeping this secret is only going to make things worse. But by the same token, she also has a right to not know. The most common thing that people say when they find out that their partner cheated? They’d rather not know. Because, to be perfectly blunt: what good does it do? It might – MIGHT – make you feel better to get it off your chest. But what will it do for her to know that this happened? What positive outcome will result from this that wouldn’t happen if she were to remain in ignorance? Telling her is going to inflict pain on her for no good reason and possibly end a relationship that might otherwise survive.
You’re holding on to a lot of guilt and a lot of anger and a lot of sorrow. None of it is productive, or particularly helpful. Learn from this, make changes and strive to be better because of this. But forgive yourself and let it remain in the past where it belongs.
Previously published here and reprinted with permission from the author.
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