Saturday, August 3, 2013

did I cheat?

[Note to readers: all published exchanges are edited to remove any identifying information about the querent.]


When I was dating my last boyfriend, our relationship came to a standstill.  We talked, and he suggested we take a time-out to think about it.  My boyfriend seemed hesitant about continuing with me and, although we hadn’t had sex in a while and the relationship was at best lukewarm, I found his suggestion insulting.  It was like he was breaking up with me but wanting to keep me on the back burner in case he couldn’t find anyone else.  It really pissed me off. 

A few days later, I went out with the girls.  I had a few drinks and realized that I had no more feelings for my boyfriend.  He’d hurt me, I’d lost respect for him, and it was over.  I made out with a guy I met at the bar.  It was nice to feel like someone was into me.  What a difference from my ex!

When he (my ex) eventually called after a couple of weeks, he suggested we remain friends, and I happily agreed.  I told him that, in a way, I was relieved because I knew he had already withdrawn from “us” and that we’d reached a point of no-return.  I told him that making out with someone else brought this home to me even more.  We could both do better.

Well, to my surprise, he was really offended.  He accused me of “cheating”! I didn't think I was cheating until he said that, and now I am second-guessing myself.  

Can you cheat on someone if, in your own mind, the relationship is over?  (I think you wrote somewhere that having an affair was indicative of a marital breakdown.  That’s exactly how I saw it, like our relationship was breaking down and my boyfriend was ditching me, and that I had every reason to try with someone else).

But, objectively speaking, on the basis of facts, is my situation “cheating”?

Great question!

The way I see it is like this: betrayal is a subjective experience that cannot always be determined on the basis of facts alone.

If you've made an explicit promise to someone and then broken it, that would be objectively verifiable.  But most betrayals occur due to breaking implicit agreements and promises, and these are not so readily verified.

There are two different points of view to consider.  Yours and your ex-boyfriend's.

From your own point of view, as you said, you had "no more feelings” for your boyfriend so- for you- the relationship was over and, technically, you cannot betray a relationship that doesn't exist.

But there is also your boyfriend's point of view: was the relationship over for him, or was he still in it but just "thinking about it"?  If so, he was betrayed, whether you intended to betray him or not, just as you presumably felt betrayed by his unilaterally calling a time-out.

The truth is: when it comes to subjective experiences- one event experienced by two different people- there is no one truth.  There are at least two.  And, if we are ambivalent or confused, there may be even more.

re: what I said about affairs- a person may have a “reason” to want to look outside the marriage for satisfaction, but a reason does not make an affair less of a betrayal, unless of course your partner has already betrayed a promise, even an implicit one (for example, by abandoning you), which is in fact another way of exiting the relationship.

My advice: don't get hooked into trying to determine whether you were right or wrong according to some objective standard about “what cheating is”.  If you want to know the truth, consider everyone’s perspective.  Find out whether and how someone felt betrayed, and the part- if any- you or he played in that, whether intentionally or not.  That, in my opinion, is as close to the truth as you can get.

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