I’m not a psychology major, and this post is not about the psychology of cheating.
The first time I heard this phrase, it was from the episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, the one where Rachel and Ross get back together. They are in bed, discussing their relationship breakdown and Ross’s one night stand. Rachel goes on to tell Ross that her mother never thought they would work, “she was all, ‘once a cheater, always a cheater!'”
Being a pimply, unpopular fifteen year old at the time, I could not relate. I had no idea what constituted a relationship and exactly how damaging cheating was to a relationship. I laughed along with my brothers as Ross yelled, “WE WERE ON A BRRRREEEEAAAK.”
It was years later, after having been both a victim as well as an instigator of cheating, that I begin to understand how cheating affected my personal relationships.
Being cheated on came first. It was a long term, long distance relationship. We both understood the risks and we were both willing to communicate our needs. We made it work for three good years. The cheating happened in the summer, and I found out by snooping. I was blown out of the water. The man I knew so well was suddenly a stranger to me. Before that night, I didn’t think there was anything he withheld from me. I knew every single extraordinary to ordinary event in his daily life. We talked on the phone every waking moment. How did this happen?
I confronted him that night. There was a lot of shouting and a lot of tears. My anger knew no bounds. After the shouting came the questions. I need to understand the reasoning behind his actions. So I listened as his sad sob story came pouring out. I had been neglecting him, he was lonely, he needed sexual attention, he needed to know that he was still wanted by somebody.
Funnily enough, while he was speaking, I thought back to my first Law 12 class. I thought of the day we first learned about mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reus (guilty act). The two make up the standard test of criminal liability–and the absence of mens rea behind an actus reus has been used as a defence, most commonly as the insanity defence, and almost always in the defence of duress (committing a crime under pressure from a third party).
The more he talked, the more I realised that even though I was in a world of pain, it had not been his intention. He had an itch and he scratched it. His real crime was his inconsideration–he didn’t consider the consequences of his actions, but that is not the same as planning to hurt me on purpose by cheating.
I forgave him, at the same time making it clear that I could never forget. Interestingly enough, my trust was not broken. Why? Because after the three years of talking every night, I had already known this about him. He was young, and so was I. Being in your early twenties meant that you didn’t think about much beyond your own needs. And I suppose I knew as well that he would rather lie than have to admit an uncomfortable truth. His decision to cheat and then lie about it was selfish–but at the same time, after I really thought about him as a person, it was no surprise to me.
A couple of years later, in the second and most serious relationship of my life, I hid an uncomfortable truth about myself and I put my relationship in jeopardy. While the actual incident didn’t constitute cheating (cuddling, and it was in the first two months where I didn’t think my boyfriend and I were a couple), I lied and said that there has never been anyone else the entire time we knew each other. I did not lie to hurt the man I loved, but it hurt him all the same. This time I was the selfish one, lying to avoid an uncomfortable conversation when he deserves the truth.
Is my ex a cheater? Will he cheat again in another relationship? I don’t believe so. Knowing him as I do, he would never have cheated if it hadn’t been for the unhappy circumstances of our relationship. He was a kid, stuck in a shitty situation. As for me? I’ve learned my lesson. Trying to hide an uncomfortable truth will always come to bite you in the ass.
My point is… people learn from their mistakes. We’re not defined by our mistakes. It’s how we learn from our mistakes.
If my point is still not clear… then contemplate this phrase: “Once a failure, always a failure.”
How much can you agree with that statement?