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We Time

I Put the Brakes On His Cheating For Good

He strayed. I stayed. But I refuse to be played.

From 10,000 feet in the air, reality can seem like a distant memory. And it wasn’t until the wheels of the plane bumped onto the runway that I remembered exactly where I was going and why: to see him again, after weeks apart.

He was waiting for me at the terminal, looking just as tall, dark and handsome as always. But this time, the joyful tingle I always felt whenever I saw him wasn’t there. Something inside me was frozen. He hugged me close. I hugged him back. But all I felt was numb. I wasn’t ready to be there.

When I first started dating Kurt, before we were exclusive and official, I was up front about what I expected. I told him that if we had sex, for health and emotional reasons, I wasn’t going to share. And he agreed to my terms. Or so I thought.

Six months later, we were girlfriend/boyfriend. I’d met his family and friends, although we weren’t “social media official.” Sure, there were photos of me here and there on his feed, but nothing explicitly stating he was taken. Looking back, it was a small but significant sign I shouldn’t have ignored.

Nine months into our relationship, I needed to fly back home to the Midwest for an extended stay due to a family issue. I planned to split my time between there and home on the West Coast and assured Kurt I’d be back. He told me he was OK with it. But apparently, despite our promises, passionate reunions and steamy video chats, he wasn’t. Later, I found out he thought I was leaving him for my family — as if there was no option for me to be present for both.

About three months later, standing at Midway’s baggage claim after arriving from LAX, and still glowing inside from our days together, I got a message request on my phone. Assuming it was a woman from a networking group I was in, I accepted it and distractedly opened the message. And then time stopped.

“I'm sorry to tell you this…”
“I didn't know about you…”
“We've seen each other off and on…”

In just a few sentences, her message upended my entire world. I wondered if it was a cruel joke. Was she was lying? Could she be mistaken? By this time Kurt and I had been involved for a year. We’d dated exclusively (or so I thought) for six months, and then become serious, professing our love for each other. To say I was devastated didn’t begin to describe my shock and pain.

Honestly, I’ve blocked out most of what she said. But do I remember her offering an apology I know she didn't mean, as she proceeded to tell me that my boyfriend never mentioned that I was his girlfriend. I was upset but somehow kept my cool, demanding she show me proof — screenshots of their texts etc. She provided some but not all, which I took as evidence that she, too, had something to hide.

I knew I needed to confront Kurt. I wanted to see his expression when I mentioned her name. But I knew I couldn't pretend as if nothing had happened for the next three weeks until we saw each other again. So, 45 minutes after she called me, I called him. I still don't believe he told me the whole story, and I'm not sure I’ll ever know all the details. But I made one thing clear: He would never allow that darkness to enter our relationship again. He would lose me for good if he did.

Now, here we were, weeks later, finally together. I could tell he was grateful I’d come back. He took me to the beach, where we walked in silence. It was overcast, seaweed littered the sand and the water’s color was muted and dull. Mother Nature, it seemed, mirrored my mood.

Tears stung my eyes and tension clenched my gut and my throat. When he realized I wouldn't – couldn’t – speak, he did. “I was scared I was going to lose you,” he said. “And instead of dealing with that, the potential of having to go through real pain, I wanted to numb myself. I thought I’d been in love before, but being with you really knocked me sideways. The idea of losing that, with you traveling back and forth, was overwhelming. As you can see, I didn’t handle it well. I made some mistakes.”

It was all so … stupid.

And yet, in a way it made sense. Still in his 30s, he hadn’t come to grips with what it means to be in love, and he didn’t know what a real relationship is supposed to be like. Well… it’s not that farfetched. Despite how much Kurt hurt me, I could understand how, once he realized he loved me, the prospect of being in a part-time, long-distance relationship would have scared him. And it was that understanding that allowed me to forgive. Kurt said he was sorry, and I believed him. But I didn’t say it.

Instead I thought about the first time he told me he loved me. An ex had said “I love you” before, and I remember that when he said it, it didn’t ring true. But when Kurt first said those worlds – and every time since then – I could really feel it. I knew the emotion had caught him off guard, and I admired him for embracing it, nevertheless. I knew he loved me, even though he’d screwed things up.

I asked Kurt what he wanted. His reply: “A future with you.” Then I told him what I wanted: for him to unlock his phone and show it to me, right then and there. He handed it over and I went through his contacts. Remember to breathe. I went through his texts. I went through his Facebook Messenger, hoping to catch him off guard. For me, scrolling through his phone was a necessary part of my healing process, of fixing what had been damaged. I needed to see everything, period.

Afterward, I told Kurt that it would take time for me to trust him again. I didn't feel as if everything had been a lie, but the fraying seams of our relationship were impossible to ignore. I told him I needed him to prove that I could trust him again. And without hesitation, he told me he’d do anything and everything to regain my trust. Step one: He made us “Facebook official,” tagged me in his photos, and made them public so there could be no confusion about what we were to each other.

More than a year later, I’m happy to say he’s been true to his word. Because at his core, he knows I was true to mine. If he strays again, there will be no discussions, no time for apologies, no arguments, no contact. I’m firm in my commitment to myself in that regard. And being true to myself became the foundation of his loyalty to me.

Kurt clearly believes in us more than before and doesn't want to risk losing me and the relationship we’re building. Facing its potential end turned out to be a teachable moment that strengthened his commitment to me. I’ve dated enough deceitful, selfish, unfeeling men to know that Kurt isn’t one of them. His actions came from a place of fear, fear that I would walk away. And that fear has since been abated. I honestly believe the crisis made us stronger as a couple.

Looking back, I see exactly what helped me survive his betrayal: his transparency, my forgiveness, time, and my trust that he wouldn’t hurt me again. That said, trusting him wasn’t always easy. I’d be a liar if I said that in the beginning I didn’t periodically check his computer. But I do feel less inclined to check on him in such ways now. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress.

Ultimately, I helped myself heal by being brave enough to look beneath the surface of our immediate circumstances. What I discovered there was painful. But, in the end, our pain united us, brought us closer together and made our relationship stronger. We talk about a future together. I’m close with his family. I share updates and details about mine. Betrayal is hard to overcome, and you really have to want to move past it. But the journey beyond, in our case, is worth it.

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