The news broke last week — award-winning skier Lindsey Vonn is dating uber-cheater/golfing champ Tiger Woods, which either means it’s a clever and calculated PR move or she has to be the most trusting woman in the world.
Isn’t a cheater always a cheater — especially one of the magnitude of Tiger?
I know because I cheated — once.
There, I said it. It’s been decades but it still makes me cringe; “I cheated? Really? How? Why?” Like so much of my youth, it feels so far removed from who I am and how I think and live today. I was young and stupid, but, that doesn’t get me off the hook; I did it, I own it and I will never do it again.
I was stuck in a relationship I didn’t want to be in anymore, but didn’t know how to extricate myself from. I also was a pleaser; I just didn’t have the language to say, “This isn’t working, and I think we should part.” Like many 20-somethings who use a tryst as a way to end a relationship, I went through the motions and was miserable, and when an opportunity arose — I didn’t go looking for it — I found myself slinking away to have sex with someone other than the man I loved.
Yes, you read that right — love. I loved him, but we weren’t right for each other for the long-term. I know many might question, how in the world could you love someone and still cheat on him? Didn’t you know it would hurt him? Of course I knew it would hurt him if he found out. I didn’t want to hurt him; I just wanted out. I was walking, talking, living proof of research that indicates those who cheat are pretty good at finding ways to deal with their cognitive dissonance; in other words, they’re good at rationalizing and justifying their bad behavior.
Believe me, this is not something I’m proud of.
In some strange twisted way, I needed to make myself feel so bad about myself that I could justify leaving — He deserves better than me! All I was thinking about was getting out of the relationship, which obviously would hurt him, too, even without the cheating. It was a no-win situation and admittedly, I took the worst no-win scenario.
Not that having sex with a stranger didn’t feel good at the time; it absolutely did. Cheating was deliciously intoxicating and nasty and illicit and dangerous. I am not justifying having an affair, but if you have one you get why people can get sucked into it. And it was surprisingly easy, which isn’t a good thing either.
When I eventually came to my senses, I was pretty horrified by what I had done — that I was even capable of doing it. I didn’t like how I felt; I didn’t like that I could lie and carry on as if it all was OK. When we broke up, I vowed to never be that person again. And I never have been. Monogamy is a choice; it isn’t necessarily the default although we assume it is.
Fast forward a few years after that relationship ends, and I am about to marry; my husband-to-be knows of my affair and I know of his. Because we share this rather pathetic history and we talk about how we hated ourselves for being that person, we both feel confident that we are going to have an affair-free marriage; we know the signs of a troubled relationship, we know what makes someone cheat, we know the signs of a cheater, we’ve been there, done that, etc. Add your own cliches.
And so what happens? Yes, he cheats, and I suddenly find myself on the receiving end of an affair, which — trust me — feels a helluva lot worse than being the cheater!
Many might call this karmic justice. If you believe that, fine. I don’t, nor do I believe in tarot cards or horoscopes or whatever bad mojo is supposed to happen when Mercury is in retrograde (OK, yes, I do tend to wish on pennies, but who doesn’t?).
Once again, I did not like the person I became when there was cheating going on, even though this time I wasn’t the person cheating — and early on, I wasn’t even sure that there was cheating going on. All I knew is that there was a whiff of something wrong in the marriage. So I became an obsessive forensic detective; I started looking through phone and credit card bills, searching through pockets, wallets and cell phones; trying to figure out passwords so I can read emails. All my senses were on hyper-alert. Meanwhile, the adrenaline was pumping through me as if I were on the front lines of some sort of war, although I’m not sure against what. My sanity? It was, oddly, as intense and exhausting as cheating.
Without the orgasms.
There you have it — two former cheaters, one who strayed again and one who hasn’t.
Am I anymore trustworthy than Tiger? That’s a risk Vonn and my boyfriend have decided to take.
So once a cheater always a cheater? Yes and no.
What do you think?