Cheating is generally considered to be the number 1 cardinal sin in a romantic relationship. In spite of that, it’s still incredibly common. Most people will confess that they’ve been cheated on in some capacity, yet you’d be hard pressed to find someone jumping to admit that they once cheated.
So where the hell are those people hiding?
The fear of being permanently branded ‘a cheater’ with the red-hot social iron is pervasive. It’s unsurprising, given the nature of people to hold prejudices and biases against one another, that we’ve created a culture in which we don’t have healthy conversations about cheating. But if we avoid talking about it entirely and stamp out people’s willingness to share, we’re not exactly helping the bigger problem.
We spoke to 5 people in Aotearoa about their experiences cheating on a romantic partner. How it went down, why they did it, and how they would feel if they were cheated on now.
VICE: Could you describe the relationship you were in at the time?
Michelle: The relationship that I cheated in was mutually exclusive and fairly new, we’d been together for about half a year before I cheated. Even when he found out we stayed together for around three years in total.
Could you explain the situation itself?
I physically and emotionally cheated with my manager at work, who definitely shouldn’t have been sleeping with a 19-year-old girl. It happened once before my then-boyfriend found out. I slept with the guy multiple other times after, but by then my boyfriend and I were in an on/off type of state.
This isn’t a self defence, because I deeply regret cheating, but I think I should’ve never gotten into a relationship with my ex-boyfriend because he would obsess over other girls whilst with me. That insecurity combined with my own abandonment issues from having an absent father was hellish.
How did you feel after it had happened?
I felt manic. After I slept with him I had the biggest rush of adrenaline. Freud was right, nothing like a girl with daddy issues sleeping with an older man she shouldn’t be with.
And how did your boyfriend find out?
I was planning on telling him, but I’dd confided in a friend about what had happened because I was really distressed. I trusted her because she knew about my past traumas. But instead she got drunk, gossiped about what I had done, the wrong people found out, and then my ex found out.
I admitted to it straight away when he confronted me after hearing this gossip.
What’s your relationship like with your ex now?
My ex-boyfriend was emotionally abusive and would confide in my best friend about other girls he liked, whilst with me, so I left him nearly five years ago. The only thing I have to apologise for is the cheating.
Did you ever do it again?
No, I genuinely believe I’ll never cheat again. I’m a lot more healed now, and my current angel of a boyfriend, who knows about my one time cheating, is so healthy and good for me.
How would you respond now if someone cheated on you?
Oh I’d leave, for sure. I’m so about protecting my inner child and healing, so no girl or guy will ruin that for me.
VICE: Can you describe the relationship you were in at the time?
James: Okay, so the relationship was with my very first boyfriend. We were in a long term exclusive relationship. However, we had recently started to have threesomes. So there was certainly the implication that things were a little more open, but it was always together. And there wasn’t ever a formal conversation about whether or not we were opening things up to other people or doing that on our own
And how did the cheating come about?
At the time of the cheating, we had been together for about a year and a half. The cheating situation itself was with a mutual friend of mine and my boyfriends. It was emotional, I would say, aside from like, cuddling in his car, but there was never any, like, sexually physical contact.
It happened multiple times, always with the same person. AT the time my boyfriend was going through a lot of sort of emotional distress, with personal confidence, self confidence, etc. And so I definitely was feeling like I wasn’t being filled emotionally at the time with my relationship. And I was growing close to our mutual friend.
I think also I was into the sort of teasing aspect of it, the forbidden aspect of it. That made it even sexier. And I think, because that got me a little more riled up sexually, it made me want more of that feeling.
How did you feel about what you’d been doing?
Well, I was born and raised Catholic, so hashtag Catholic guilt.
So did you talk to your boyfriend about it?
I told my boyfriend and told him that there wasn’t anything physical. So at the time, I naively thought it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. He was obviously very upset about it. And the person that I was with, he was a mutual friend, so he knew about the fact that I was in an exclusive relationship as well.
Did you consider it cheating, yourself?
I think that at the time, I didn’t consider it to be cheating. But as I’ve matured both physically and emotionally, and have a much better understanding of the emotional requirements of a monogamous, long term relationship, yes. I would certainly consider what I did cheating at this point in time.
Do you still have a relationship with that boyfriend?
10 years later, we are still really good friends. We’ve talked about it, I’ve apologised, and it’s not that big of a deal anymore. It took time, but later down the line we rebuilt that friendship.
Did you ever cheat again, in any way?
I didn’t ever do it again. I wouldn’t ever do it again.
It has happened to me with another ex boyfriend of mine, but I was on the receiving end of it. That one was more physical, as opposed to just emotional cheating, orI guess I’d call it digital cheating. Sexting, etc. It made me feel really shitty from a self confidence perspective, and also made me feel worse about what I had done years prior.
So, do you think the experience has changed you?
I think that now I have a much better understanding of what’s required of someone emotionally, to be in a relationship, let alone a monogamous relationship. I have a much better understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. And that isn’t always associated with monogamy.
I’ve been with partners, and I’m specifically with a partner, where I guess you could call us monogam-ish. It’s all about an open dialogue. And as long as that dialogue is honest, and both about what’s going on, but also about how you feel.
It’s not shameful to feel jealous, that’s a normal feeling. It’s also not shameful to feel uncomfortable with a scenario where a partner is doing something with another person, either emotionally or physically. But again, the key is that openness, and that honesty with each other. In both of the scenarios from the past, both where I was the cheater and where I was the one being cheated on, there wasn’t an openness in the relationship around what we both wanted sexually or intimately emotionally from each other and other people. And that was ultimately the downfall.
VICE: Can you describe the relationship you were in?
Matt: So, I was 19. It was an exclusive relationship that had been going on for 2 and a bit years. It was our first serious relationship for both of us, monogamous as well. And, basically, it was really good and really healthy for the first like 2two years and then got really toxic in the last three to four months.
In what way was it toxic?
I fell out of love for her and it took me a while to even realise that that was happening. And then when I finally got to the point where I was like, this is probably not healthy anymore for us, I tried to break up with her. But I was too much of a coward and pussy to do it properly at that age.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by “tried to break up”?
Yeah, it took me way too long to build the courage to do it. I was thinking about it for like 2 months, which is awful.
When I finally did say I wanted to break up with her she was so sad that I redacted it essentially and we stayed together. And then we had a really unhealthy 2two or 3three months. The trust wasn’t there anymore, because she knew that I wanted to break- up with her in the first place, even though I hadn’t cheated at this point.
So in what way did you cheat on her?
I guess in some ways, I emotionally and physically cheated. I checked out of the relationship so much that I found myself flirting with another person, the same person, for a while. And yeah, then I cheated on her physically. I had sex with another woman.
How did the cheating actually happen?
I had a party where I got really drunk, like black- out drunk, and then ended up waking up next to someone in the morning. I don’t actually remember any of the sex itself, I kind of just left in a hurried state. But I talked to her later on to gauge what actually happened. But even though it happened when I was blackout, obviously the lead up to it was the few months beforehand.
I was shocked in the morning, to be honest. I think I didn’t really feel anything that first day.
Did you tell the person that you were with?
Yeah, so I spent a day with her before I told her. Admittedly, a bit of that was more me trying to like gauge what the fuck it was I’d actually done. A bit of a Hangover Part One scenario.
Were you nervous about what would come out of you telling her?
Well, this is gonna sound pretty fucked up, but I was kind of relieved. Not relieved, in a way that I was happy or felt good about it. But being honest felt easy because it was then very obvious we needed to end things. But also it kinda ruined me a fucking a bit.
The whole scenario, and like the fact that I did that, kind of ruined my confidence in myself and stuff for a long time afterwards. I decided not to not to date anyone for three and a half years, as post that.
What’s your relationship like now with the person that you cheated on?
We have a really good relationship. And I’d say that we’re still best friends. But it took a while. At first she hated me for like 3three months afterwards. But then we started talking again, it was mainly her who started pushing for us to talk again. She missed me and she talked about wanting to get back together, but that wasn’t a healthy thing to do. But really slowly, we just built up our friendship back up because we still cared about each other.
Did you ever do it again?
Cheat on someone? it nearly killed me, so no.
How do you feel about cheating now?
It hasn’t given me empathy towards cheating. Because at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have cheated if I was just being a good person at the beginning and broken up with her when I should have.
Do you have any advice to someone who has cheated on someone and doesn’t know how to dealto like deal with that?
Own it. Like, if you’re someone who’s cheated, or has been cheating and your partner doesn’t know it, you need to be honest. Because at the end of the day, if you’re keeping it secret, then the relationship isn’t honest, even if you’re both happy. You haven’t given that other person the choice to be in a relationship that they actually, fully, understand.
VICE: So, how old were you when it happened?
Gabby: Well, it’s happened more than once. But the first time I was 19. And the second time was a year or so later.
How did it happen the first time?
It was a retaliation cheat. It was my first boyfriend, he cheated on me first, and then I forgave him and was still with him for another 6 months. I thought that I was over it, but when the opportunity arose, I slept with someone else. I broke up with him the next day… or, like, the next week.
And was it similar the second time?
No. So, the second time I was with somebody who was a lot older than me. We intended it to be casual, mostly due to the age gap, but fell in love. Or, retrospectively, I’d say maybe just fell into the habit of one another. We partied a lot and our relationship seemed to revolve around that. But it was exclusive and monogamous.
How long were you together?
So what led to the cheating, how did it go down?
It was definitely not a premeditated situation. Somebody else, who I knew well, expressed their sexual and romantic interest in me. I think it was a lot to do with the flattery and the heat of the moment and the excitement. We ended up having sex, which led to it happening again another time.
I think the second time that we did it, it was because we had only had each other to blame. We shared that same guilt. But at the same time, it was still exciting.
And at that point, did the person who you had cheated on know? Like, they were not aware?
They were not aware enough. Yeah.
In the immediate aftermath, how did you feel?
I felt guilt. But, simultaneously, and I still to this day don’t know if it was something that I’ve kind of constructed, or whether it was a genuine thought process, but I was not in love with the person that I cheated with.and I considered myself to be in love with the person that I cheated on. So in my mind I can separate, like, a physical mistake from an emotional one.
It didn’t make me feel better, but I just felt secure in my feelings, and that I hadn’t romantically betrayed the person that I was with.
So the person that you cheated on, did they ever find out?
How did that happen?
It was sort of an intuition that they held, even at the time. But it wasn’t until years after our relationship that we actually discussed it. He just point blank asked if it had happened, and I told him the truth.
Why did you decide not to tell them at the time?
Selfishly, I knew that it would mean more to him than it did to me. And I didn’t want something that had felt so small to me, in the grand scheme of our relationship, to hurt them.
Looking at it now, do you feel like you would do it again?
I don’t rule out the possibility of making that kind of mistake. But I think I’ve definitely grown to be a more honest person.
And how would you feel or respond if someone cheated on you? Has cheating given you a particular perspective?
I think yes, I definitely feel as though I would be a lot more lenient than some. But it really depends on the situation. I definitely don’t have tough enough skin to not be hurt. However, I feel as though I do understand how things like this can happen.
So can you tell me ?
So I’d been in a long term relationship for five years that had ended. But then in my next relationship, I was this guy’s first boyfriend, and it wasn’t a very well balanced relationship. I don’t think that I loved him as much as he loved me, or I certainly didn’t think I did. But around six months in I found that he cheated on me.
And that’s when I sort of realised that I did love him, because I was kind of devastated by it and I didn’t think I would be. And I understood his reasoning, I really wasn’t very attentive, and I really didn’t give him the attention, you should give a partner.
But shortly after that I also had the opportunity to be able to be unfaithful. And I think I was unaware of the level of resentment I held for him for doing it. And so I kind of saw it as free rein for me to be able to do whatever I wanted. And did for a while after that.
And where did things go from there?
We both slept with a couple of other people, it was this very childish and defensive mentality. We very briefly broke up and then got straight back together because I think we just panicked. But those last couple of months we were together we were just awful to each other and quite openly screwed each other over. We kind of destroy each other.
Did you actually tell him that you had slept with other people or did he find out another way?
I left my messages open on my computer when I went to work and he saw my messages with this guy. But I think he didn’t want to push it because we just got back together after him cheating.
Why did you stay together, even knowing about the cheating?
I think we just didn’t want to be alone. But we obviously didn’t want to be together. So we both “forgave” each other in theory, but very much didn’t actually.
Also my previous relationship had been longer and we didn’t make it to five years on an easy path. So I was prepared to look at the bigger picture. It wasn’t until I started cheating too, that I was like, well, obviously I am not moving past this.
Having the perspective you have from both sides, if someone cheated on you now, how do you think you might respond to that?
I think it would really depend on the relationship. You know, I think it’s, if it’s someone you’ve been with for a couple of months or a few months, I think for me that would be like, well, we’re clearly not as into it or as serious as I thought we were. If you were far deeper in, then I think there’s a bigger picture to look at.
Most people don’t cheat just for the sake of cheating. I think particularly with men, it can come down to many of us having an inability to convey our needs, wants and feelings. And so a lot of men will blow something apart, rather than confront what they actually need to confront. They’ll get caught cheating, so they can get broken up with so they don’t have to be honest about something.
So I think now if it was a serious long term relationship, I would have to really look at why the cheating happened, who it happened with, whether it was ongoing. I don’t think it’s as black and white as you’d initially think.
What was your relationship like?
We’d been together for about a year and a half, and we lived together. It was one of those relationships that had started off really passionate and fulfilling. It was a long term, exclusive relationship. Then we moved in together and it sort of started getting a little bit iffy.
He was quite emotionally unavailable and if I ever tried to bring anything up with him, he would tell me that I was being dramatic. So that’s how it was, by the time I did cheat on him.
How did the cheating happen?
I had been friends with one of his friends for years before I even met my partner. He started becoming my emotional support person when my partner was being argumentative. Whenever things would start going awry, I would go to this friend for help. And I think that’s kind of what led me to cheating. It started off as I needed this emotional support. And then it turned into a physical thing after a while.
The first time it happened, I had a massive argument with my partner. I was trying to explain to him that something he had said had really hurt my feelings and he started saying that I had completely misunderstood everything and that I was being insane.
I remember I left our flat and I drove around for a while trying to think about what I should do. In the end, I drove to our friend’s place.
I sat with him and his flatmate, sort of not really knowing what to do and how to explain it. And that was the first night the cheating became physical and we slept together. And it did happen multiple times after that with the same person. I was fully aware the entire time that I was basically having an affair.
How did it feel after it happened,
I felt awful. The first time it happened, I pretty much assumed that this was something I would never tell my partner. I definitely felt a lot of regret and confusion, too, because this friend that I had now slept with was someone I’ve known for 5 years and we had never had that kind of physical relationship before.
Did you tell your partner?
I didn’t tell my partner, but he found out a couple of months later. My partner ended up reading messages between us on my phone and then breaking up with me.
It did not feel amazing to do that to someone, but then again, I couldn’t really get through to my partner at all. And I could get through to this person, but I didn’t really want to break up with my partner.
What’s your relationship like with the person you cheated on now?
We did actually end up talking about it and getting back together for another year and a half. And it was kind of okay for a while but it hadn’t actually gotten better.
We broke up a couple years ago and I wouldn’t want to see him. I think he never really realised that he was quite emotionally abusive when we were together. But he did end up forgiving me for the cheating, which is admirable, really.
Did you ever do it again?
I don’t think I could or would ever do it again. Because I think I’m much better at clearly stating in a relationship what my needs are and what I want from the relationship earlier on and not getting caught up in it and feeling stuck.
How would you feel if someone cheated on you?
I think I would feel pretty betrayed, which is why I don’t condone it. But I feel like there is always a reason why people do it. And so I’d want to know what led them to do it.
What advice would you give to someone else who has cheated?
I think it’s so important to not get really caught up in feeling like you’re a terrible person because of it. Because I just don’t think there’s just too many people who have done it for someone who does to really be a completely horrible person.
I feel like cheating is one of those things where we’ve definitely put monogamy on such a pedestal in our society that we consider it one of the worst crimes you can commit. But you can forgive someone if you work on it. And I hope that people can get there eventually.
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Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa.
The post We Spoke to 5 People Who Cheated About How They Feel Now appeared first on VICE.