Hi, everyone. This is a poorly thought out, spur of the moment post about my crippling, possibly irrational fear of being cheated on. It will be long, it will be candid and it will be mildly entertaining embarrassing. Enjoy.
When I was a young girl, I genuinely believed I had everything all figured out. I’d be married by 25, with child by 26, and we’d all live happily ever after, amen. Boy, was I stupid as a kid! I will never understand why my mother allowed me to watch so many Disney movies growing up. I am convinced that those were the original Nigerian scams.
That being said, screw you, Cinderella and Snow White. You’re both liars and con artists peddling bulls—t to little kids. Jasmine and Ariel are both like, waayyy better than both of ya’ll, but somehow you two are always considered “the real princesses”. You and that sleeping beauty girl that nooobody ever remembers. You both just suck. Go. Away.
ANYway, I am now 31 (that can’t be right!)—unmarried, no children and reasonably unbothered by it. As much as I’d like to fulfill my cotton candy-flavored childhood dreams of settling down and having a happy little family of my own, I shamelessly admit that I am far too afraid. I grow more and more weary by the day.
You see, by the time I turned 16, I had already developed a deeply-rooted fear of commitment. Commit? Why would I ever commit? People cheat; I knew that. Never, ever could I sufficiently wrap my poor, box-dyed adolescent head around the idea of committing myself to someone who could suddenly run off with God only knows who all whenever they felt like it. You couldn’t stop them, they didn’t have to have a justifiable reason and you could never know for sure who was a filthy philanderer and who wasn’t ahead of time. This was always too much of a risk for me to expose myself to, so I never bothered getting too serious with much of anyone.
Normally, I don’t spend much time thinking about infidelity. After all, I’m currently single and safe from such dangers. Sure, I might hear about someone else’s misfortune while I’m watching my favorite reality tv shows or browsing news articles, but I somehow manage to file away any anxiety this limited exposure causes.
Somewhere deep in my psyche there are surely millions of imaginary anxiety triggers not so neatly tucked away under the headers “Cheating”, “Infidelity” and “Don’t You Dare Get Married”. Knowing me, it’s probably not even filed in proper alphanumerical order…just stuffed anywhere there’s room as quickly as possible so as not to upset myself pondering things too long.
So, I’ve spent the last two weeks re-reading Maeve Binchy’s Tara Road. It never takes me two weeks to read anything. I can easily consume a 500-700 page book in the course of one night, yet I’m limping through this particular read at a snail’s pace. It’s a rather good book, in my opinion (and apparently in Oprah’s as well), so that’s hardly the trouble. The characters are quite endearing; they are all bright, colorful and relatable in their own unique way. Perhaps the characters are what helped Tara Road to become one of my favorite books.
All the same, some of the subject matter hasn’t been very easy for me to digest this time around. If it were an actual meal, I’d be choking, gagging and sputtering from paragraph to paragraph. Let’s all be glad it’s not.
I don’t wish to give anything away (in case anyone might happen to read it), but it definitely touches upon infidelity to such a degree that I’ve found it hard to get through a chapter without grimacing. I mean, I’ve been stricken with so much anxiety that I’ve become seriously nauseated and dizzy from imagining myself in the unsuspecting shoes of the book’s women. It’s been many years since I’ve last read the book, but for some reason, I can’t recall having such an adverse reaction before.
Instead of putting the book down and ceasing to finish it, as any normal, self-respecting individual would do, I have bravely pressed on. As a result, I’ve begun to delve into the dark disconcerting avenues of my mind, digging up every fragment of fear I have concerning the matter of infidelity. It has been terribly uncomfortable thus far, but I feel that it is perhaps time for me to address it. Where does my fear come from? When did it start? Why do I believe unfaithfulness is as rampant as a virus? What would be the worst that could happen if it happened to me?
Everybody’s Doing It
I haven’t the faintest clue when I first learned that cheating was a thing. It’s quite blurry. Messy. By that I mean that there is no one identifiable moment that I can point to and say, “This is where it all went wrong.” I do know that I was pretty young, but it wasn’t the fact that mommies and daddies sometimes crept behind each other’s backs to sleep with other people that I learned first—that wouldn’t come until later. No, I first learned about man and womankind’s aversion to monogamy from children.
My first exposure to cheating was surely in the observation of and participation in juvenile relationships. I consider them “playground unions” because they typically formed and dissolved out on the blacktop during recess. The couplings probably lasted as long as recess too, if I’m perfectly honest.
Perhaps I should have known something was wrong with human nature when I “cheated” on all of my playground husband(s). Yes, it’s true. According to playground law I am “married” to at least ten different men. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been unfaithful to all ten of them. The whole concept of it was crazy, really. My friends and I would go through all the trouble of arranging a beautiful 25 minute wedding (because that’s exactly how long recess lasted) only for me to abandon my nine year old spouse for one of his friends the very next day. It wasn’t just me though…everyone did it.
I remember being as young as nine or ten hearing about so and so “cheating” on whoever with whoever. Though it was sensational gossip and made for some truly dramatic moments in the classroom, it was perfectly normal. There was no loyalty, no rules. Friends dated their friends’ exes like it was nothing. I actually had a good friend of mine set me up with one of her long-time boyfriends. Can you believe we plotted and planned it an entire summer? This would never be acceptable behavior in most crowds these days, but yet, it managed to be commonplace, almost expected back then.
The stories of cheating only intensified in sensationalism as I aged. By junior high, female schoolmates were going behind their boyfriends’ backs with much older boys as well as each other. High school was even worse.
By this point I was already hip to the game. I had little to no interest in entering into a romantic relationship with any of the boys I admired (although there were plenty of them). It all seemed to be too much work and require too much of my personal time to be bothered. Besides, I didn’t want to become a hushed whisper on the lips of my fellow students one unfortunate Monday morning like all of the other girls. If it’d happened to them, it certainly wouldn’t happen to me. I made sure of it.
Adults Do It Better
I don’t suppose this type of cheating really counts for much does it? After all, the romantic entanglements we get into as kids aren’t designed to last anyhow. It is all meant to be experimental; test the waters, find out what you like and what you don’t. Although it was usually hurtful for the person who was cheated on, it wasn’t a lasting offense. They’d move on. A marriage wasn’t disturbed. A home wasn’t wrecked. Children weren’t involved. By college, they’d forget all about each other.
Sure, things were all fun and games when young folks stepped out on each other. However, it was an entirely different thing for me once I found out that full-fledged married “grownups” cheated. It is very hard for me to recall when I first discovered that “old people” like my parents or my friends’ parents partook in such messy behavior. Hah. To think I am probably nearing the age that my parents were when I found this all out!
I’m pretty sure I learned about infidelity in its more serious forms from television and/or the Internet (RIP dialup). I thoroughly enjoyed both of these activities quite a bit—especially late at night when no one would be looking over my shoulder. Then again, no one ever told me what I could and couldn’t watch. It was free reign. What can I say? My dad was usually at work and my mother truly believed that South Park was an innocent cartoon show for kids. I mean, it was animated wasn’t it?
Truth be told, those were very different times. The kids of my generation were pretty sheltered in comparison to the half-grown children of today. Outside of the largely unregulated and then unknown dangers of the World Wide Web (which many families didn’t even have access to back then), kids my age were fairly safe to manage entertainment on their own. Well, most kids. If you had industrious kids like myself who quickly learned how to access the seediest webpages and chat rooms of the Internet, you were in deep trouble.
Between sneaking peaks at a family member’s uncensored Jerry Springer VHS tapes, innocently chatting with surely perverted, surely married men in AOL’s many 18+ chat rooms (even though I was only in elementary school), and having mature conversations with my overly educated friends, I soon realized that relationships weren’t safe. Dating, married or otherwise attached people were all free game to be (what I considered) “victimized” by their partner’s unfaithfulness. Although this was surely an unwelcome jolt to my rose-colored idea of married life, I don’t think I was too worried. Not yet, anyway.
Trust No One
For the longest time I erroneously believed cheating was reserved for certain types of people. According to my ignorant belief system:
Religious people didn’t cheat.
Good people didn’t cheat.
Nice people didn’t cheat.
Unattractive people didn’t cheat.
People who appeared to be happy with their partner didn’t cheat.
People of high socioeconomic status didn’t cheat.
Highly educated people didn’t cheat.
The people I loved didn’t cheat.
People I trusted didn’t cheat.
Neighbors didn’t cheat.
Friends didn’t cheat.
I didn’t cheat.
Slowly, but surely, I learned that these things weren’t necessarily true at all. I really began to struggle with the concept of infidelity when I began to see it all around me. No longer was it reserved for misguided celebrities, wacky characters on reality television or people you could sort of “expect” it from. When people who were actively apart my world were caught in the act, I lost all hope of ever being immune to cheating and its impact.
One of my former bosses carried on a few extramarital affairs while I knew her. I know this because my relationship with her wasn’t exactly the traditional boss-employee relationship. Ugh…who am I kidding? The woman was an absolute train wreck; I simply got paid to rubberneck. After work hours, once her child was sound asleep, we would often go out for drinks. Once sufficiently boozed up, she’d spill all the sordid details of her flings.
Well, there once was her “association” with an ex-boyfriend out in Hawaii. She’d giggle on the phone with him the minute her husband pulled out of the driveway. I’d stand in the kitchen, completely uncomfortable, as she would make tentative plans to meet up with him somewhere when they could both get away.
Next there was the short Croatian guy she’d met at a bar one night. Far from a sloppy, drunken one-night stand, she proceeded to see this guy regularly behind her husband’s back. My friend/co-worker and I couldn’t stand him… the boozy pissant. Later, once she finally filed for divorce from her husband, she moved in with him and constantly had her young son around him. The whole thing sickened me. Call me naive, but I couldn’t understand her comfort in having someone she’d had an affair with around her child.
I had always hated facing her husband in the evenings when I’d go to drop their son off. I’d chronically feel guilty for knowing what his wife was up to when he wasn’t looking. Even once they divorced, I always wondered if I should have said something, anything. I never did. After all, it was none of my business to poke my nose in their marriage and she had shared her dirt with me in confidence. Still, I always felt as though I had aided and abetted in the whole thing somehow. How often had she told him that she was going out with “the girls”—as she affectionately called us—only to meet up with that questionable slob of hers?
The real hit came when I realized that someone in my family—someone I had loved, trusted and deeply admired—wasn’t at all the person I thought they were. When a beloved family member revealed that their spouse had once cheated on them right before their wedding, I was instantly floored. I wish I could remember what I said to them in response, but I can’t. All I remember was a strong feeling of betrayal surging and swelling inside of me. How could they? Furthermore, why did my family member go on to marry them? I would have never married them… I couldn’t! I was mortified by this revelation.
There have been so many times since this admission that I’ve wished my family member had kept what they knew to themselves. Not only did it devastate my ability to trust others, but it severely damaged my perception and relationship with the individual in question. I never got over it. And how could I? This was someone no one would have ever expected to be capable of such things. Perhaps my family member thought they were doing me a favor in teaching me one of life’s harshest lessons: No one is exempt from being disloyal. No one.
Even though the situation had happened decades prior to me learning about it, I always worried that it had happened again even after the fact. Once a cheater, always a cheater. Isn’t that what they say? It caused me to look at them differently and be suspicious of everything they did or said. I’ve tried for years to put it out of my mind. I tell myself not to look for problems where there may not be any, but I have never been able to forget.
They don’t know that I was told about their misdeed, but I’m sure if they were, they’d understand why our relationship has been so icy over the years. It was this one event that really set the ball rolling. Now my fear has grown to monstrous proportions.
A Baseless Fear?
At this point of my life, I don’t know if I could ever fully trust anyone to not stab me in the back in one way or another. This truly goes for anyone. I don’t trust people I have known 20, 30 years any more than the random Starbucks barista who makes my Venti upside-down caramel macchiatos and spells my name wrong on the cup…every single time. It’s like, come on. Sound. It. Out.
Anyway, some of my trust issues are due to my ever-growing fear of being cheated on, but the vast majority of them are due to simply having been screwed over by a lot of people throughout my life. People I cared about. People who should have cherished me, not hurt me. I will just as soon look at my cat sideways now because you never can be too sure of anyone these days…not even another species, apparently lol.
Luckily, my fear of infidelity has never ruined any of my relationships. This could be because I am really good at hiding it orrrr because I have done a really good job of making sure that I stay out of romantic relationships as much as I possibly can. I accidentally fell in love the last time around, so it couldn’t be helped.
Come to think of it, nearly all of my relationships have occurred “on accident”. I’ve never purposefully searched out a partner. On the odd chance that I thought I might poke around on a dating app, I’ve freaked out the entire time and panicked myself into deleting it within a week. I’m not sure this actually has anything to do with my fear of being cheated on. I just like my relationships the way I like my produce: Organic.
Is it realistic and understandable for me to be so paralyzed by the prospect of being cheated on by a boyfriend or husband? Am I overreacting? Is it not as bad as it seems to be? After all, what basis do I really have for thinking that I am going to be cheated on? I’m not always sure that, “It happened to him” or “It happened to her” is always a viable argument.
Billy Bob might have gotten hit by a car… Does that automatically mean that I will? Billy Bob might have even contracted rabies from a Tasmanian devil. Does logic then follow that I too will be bitten by a frothy-mouthed Tasmanian devil and contract rabies out in the Australian bush? Do Tasmanian devils even carry rabies? What even are Tasmanian devils and why did I choose them for this analogy??
To the best of my knowledge (heaven help them if I ever find out otherwise), I have never been cheated on by any of my boyfriends. I could almost understand being afraid of history repeating itself if I had gone through something like this before, but I haven’t. Instead, I have allowed the sheer possibility of it happening to convince me that it probably would happen to me. But it isn’t as though I could prevent it, right? So what’s stopping it from happening? Me and only me. If I don’t enter into a relationship it can’t happen. I’ll be safe.
One Will Never Know What Life Has In Store
Sure, maybe I’ll be safe, but I will also live an exceedingly lonely life. Truth be told, I’ve never been one of the kinds of people who needed to be in a relationship in order to be happy. I grew up as an only child and I now begrudgingly live my life as a bit of a loner. Trust me, I am perfectly used to playing in the sandbox alone. This stubborn self-reliance makes me rather brooding, mysterious, and reclusive like any good writer should be, but it is to be expected that I might eventually want to “accidentally” find someone to share my life with…. maybe even permanently.
Well, I say permanently, but you know how that is with lame stuff like death and everything getting in the way of eternity.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to be afraid of what someone might do to me. I genuinely want to believe there are good guys out there who still value antiquated things like marriage and what not. Guys who live and die by loyalty like I do. Guys who have full control of their body parts. Guys who could make me look like a complete fool for thinking they don’t exist anymore. It often feels like a crime to want to believe that there are people like this left out there, but it shouldn’t. It really shouldn’t.
Society says that committed, faithful relationships and marriages are a joke. People who still believe in the possibility of a faithful, happy marriage are a joke. Divorce is rampant. No one wants to do things the old-fashioned way anymore. No one wants to respect their partner or restrain themselves either. My way of wanting to do things is a fallacy, a fairytale, a thing of the past that I’ll never find. People say it. The media says it. Statistics say it.
But still, I don’t want to believe that. I still want to believe that it’s possible, that I’ll get “lucky”…somehow. As deathly afraid as I am of becoming like one of the women in my book or like countless people out there in the world, I struggle with the concept of giving up.
The sheer idea of finding out that my partner had hooked up with some other person would surely cause my entire world to come crashing down on me, at least temporarily. I would have so much trouble coping with the feelings of betrayal, having to live my life knowing the person I’d married had broken their vows to me…lied to me.
I can’t imagine how people must feel when put in this situation. I truly can’t. There would be so much anguish and pain. The embarrassment and shame would nearly cripple me, if the thoughts of having been virtually replaced didn’t knock me out first. And what if you had children? What is to be done then? Should you tell them or not? It would all be far too much for me. Far too much.
Like everything in life, nothing is in our control. Everything is just one big unpredictable show until it is all over. Death and taxes, they say. Death and taxes are the only guarantees in this world. I can’t control someone betraying me and defiling my marriage anymore than I can avoid getting cancer or dying in some freak accident. No one can. We’re all just out here dealing with things as they come, trying to get a handle on the things that scare us most so we can live our lives to the fullest extent possible. Either that or collapsing under the weight of it all.
The only sure way to find out what life has in store for you is to keep it moving.
That being said, I choose to keep going and keep hoping. Fear be damned.
Side note: I’m still shocked that there doesn’t seem to be a formal phobia for the fear of infidelity. In today’s world you would think that someone would have found it appropriate to finally classify that. I mean, you can have a legitimate phobia of tin foil, but not infidelity? I’m sorry, but the last time I checked, tin foil didn’t wreck any homes. No shade to anyone who has nightmares about Reynolds Wrap. I’m just sayin’. 😝
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