Since being cheated on for 11 months this past year, I’ve become a little obsessed with the topic of cheating and it has led to a lot of thinking about what leads someone to make these choices. Especially the choice of knowingly being the other woman. There are a lot of factors that go into why this sort of thing happens, and it is without judgement that I write this. For me, the most important (and difficult) thing to remember about my own situation (and, I think, most situations) is that even though it was very painful, it wasn’t meant to be personal. People often make choices that hurt others because the alternative would hurt themselves. They do it out of self-preservation or necessity for one’s own joy. Every situation is different and complex. We all know couples who have met through infidelity, and it was the best possible life for all parties involved. But more often than not, all parties involved are hurt. Though I know logically that in my situation, it wasn’t personal, not a day goes by that I don’t hurt personally… that I don’t ask the air around me out loud why this happened to me, what I did to deserve any of this, and I’m often surprised to find myself crying in public, at some bus stop or on some street. Most of what follows in this blog post has to do with the question of how I can never make someone feel how I’m feeling now. It you’ve read my Future as Female blog post, you know that I am now on a path of observing and recalibrating my thoughts, intentions, and interactions with men. What follows is an exploration of some of the questions I’ve been asking myself. I don’t really have answers, but it’s been important to be honest with myself and to try and understand others. In some ways, this is a list of things to consider if you are thinking about cheating. I know and love a lot of people who have cheated, including serial cheaters. Like most things, it’s easy to hate the concept (of cheating and cheaters in this instance) until it stops being a broad topic and starts being people you know, love, and respect. Relationships are difficult. This is about how we can respect ourselves and each other while being as truthful to both. If you want to cheat…is it out of love, is it genuine? Or is it out of some of the unhealthy constructs and needs we have? Insecurities? Boredom? Then for your own sake, I sincerely hope you won’t. But where is the line? Can’t you just leave your relationship first? Can you really not wait? And what I’ve really been asking is… would I ever do this? What, if anything, would make it ok for me to do this? Are there ways in which I already do something like this?
So…. Would I ever cheat with/on someone?
Before I was cheated on this last year, I can’t honestly say that the answer would have been a definitive no. I think people who think they would never cheat can fall into cheating more easily because it can take them by surprise and be justified more easily because it “isn’t who they usually are.” I think after my own situation, I am highly unlikely to cheat on or with someone… but I understand what it might be like to feel that it is the only option. I have experienced that extreme loneliness and emptiness (which can happen while you are in relationships too)… that numbness which can make someone’s interest seem like a chance at living. I have experienced that incredible connection we sometimes have with people… it can be so rare, this kind of connection we all desperately seek, and when it happens, it feels like it has to become something, even when they’re already involved. And I have had moments of degrading desperation… where low self-esteem made any male attention, any preference over another female a validation that meant too much.When I think of the other woman in my situation this past year, I think that she must have been hurting so much… she must have felt so loveless, to have done something like this to a friend. And that makes my heart hurt for her. She is a truly wonderful, good person. I think we only hurt each other when we have immense amounts of pain ourselves. I am so sad for everyone out there who is lonely. Who is numb, who feels that they do not have love, and the only option is to take any love that comes along, even if it is love already promised to another. And now, I must convert the numbness, the distrust and grief they caused into solitude and self-love. Because if I don’t… someone in a relationship could come along, and show interest or …let’s be real… even be nice, and I could respond a little inappropriately, “harmlessly” and it might snowball from there and I could begin to see them as my only option, as my salvation out of emptiness and living each bleak day alone, and cause another girl the betrayal and pain I am feeling now. If we don’t love ourselves, the desperation to be loved by others will not only cripple healthy relationships, but they will make us blind to the needs and feelings of others around us, potentially causing us to hurt them irrevocably. We need to work on becoming comfortable with our voids and filling them with self-love.
Why Do We Do This?
Here is a list (which I’m sure is not at all comprehensive) I came up with:
I have felt threatened by so many females in my life and it has usually been because a man has made me feel like I need to be threatened. Not always, but most of the time. Because of this, even meeting females on my own that I think are beautiful or intelligent or etc. can make me insecure- if this person exists, there’s no way anyone could ever like me. (As if the only reason to be either of those qualities is to attract males! Another societal construct.) This mindset has gotten in the way of me getting to know so many wonderful females as much as I would have liked to and it stems from a weakness of the male (in question’s) inability to make us feel loved or desired or appreciated the way everyone in a relationship hopes to feel. We don’t think this could be a weakness of the male, and assume it is a weakness of ours… we think that somehow we are not enough… which leads to jealousy, low self-esteem, and constant comparisons to other females.
Ladies, we have to work on being less flattered when a man involved with another woman prefers us or chooses us over them. I’ve definitely been flattered by this before. But I understand now that this is a propagation of the patriarchy’s either her/or me myth as well as a propagation of male domination… he has a right to disregard boundaries. He won’t suddenly start respecting boundaries and commitment when he is with you, by the way. This is a man who knows only how to love and value himself and his needs… a man who believes he has the power of choice because he is above the choice he and another made together to be committed to one another.
And maybe you think that you are better than the other girl in every way. That you deserve this love more. If that’s the case, good for you. Let that be enough. But if you view his attention as a validation of you over her, you lose too, for having needed (or at least appreciating too much) his validation, and for letting it mean something over your respecting another human’s feelings. Don’t fall into the trap of reducing yourself and another girl into a bunch of traits that can be easily compared as positives and negatives. All of us are whole people, not lists, and we are complex and alchemically incredibly different with every male (and everyone.) We need to stop judging each other so harshly. I know the other girl in my situation had feelings of judgement towards me which made it easier for her to believe lies about me even though she had known me longer.
Let me come clean about how hard it is to know that you’ve been cheated on, yes by an ex-boyfriend, but most disappointingly, also by a friend, a female. The last couple months, there are so many things I feel like I should be doing to be a better person. By a better person, I mean being more like her. Do you know, that I have to look in the mirror every day and forgive myself for not being her? How much I punish myself for not looking and acting like her? That I have a checklist for meals and that the easiest way for me to love my body a lot of the time is to just pretend it doesn’t exist or to try not to feel it? Do you know how often I have thought about how it could be nice just to not exist anymore since I can’t exist as her? Do you know how sad I am when I am on the phone with my closest friends because I secretly want them to validate me by talking shit about her? They won’t do that though, because they are amazing. But I’m just being truthful. When someone you’ve dated and lived with for years loves another woman for a year and still shares a bed with you every night, you start to think you are utterly unlovable and that maybe you shouldn’t be alive. And because he loved her, she’s obviously everything I am not- everything that is lovable. Her life is worth living. These are some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever had and I usually keep them to myself, but if you’re thinking about cheating on someone, I think you should know what you have the power to do… or undo to someone. It’s hard not to beat myself up for not being smarter, not being more organized, not being every little detail I’ve scrutinized about her. Because as much as she has hurt me, I think the world of her. Too often, we idealize all the women we think we need to be more like… I think even she would have a hard time living up to the idealized version of her I have in my head! I’ve built this girl up so much in my mind. So much so that I constantly struggle with not wanting to be her. But at least I’m struggling. Because now, there’s a part of me, that wants desperately to be me. I can only be me and I’m trying to be more like the me I’m finding. And maybe that’s lesser to other people, but I’m growing on me. Instead of using her positive traits to tear myself down, I should talk to her, and try to build her up, because she too, is my sister. We are not dualities- we are not opposites of each other. We need to learn to see differences between people… (differences between women, ethnicities, everything) without reducing them to being better or worse. I truly believe that if we all spent more time genuinely building each other up, as well as ourselves… maybe we would be less insecure and competitive and validation from men wouldn’t mean so much… wouldn’t cost so much.
Listen. At this point in our lives, we should all know that we can be liked as people. Even if it doesn’t happen often, it has probably at least happened. Assuming that is true, why do some of us feel an overwhelming pressure to be nice? For example, I did not immediately cut off contact with a man who molested me because I have this fear of not being liked, not being wanted, even in this extreme circumstance. Why was I so nice …or at least neutral after? Why did even a part of me still want to be liked by him? Because I’ve been made to feel unnattractive most of my life by males (and females who based their opinions of attractiveness on males), as well as stupid by many teachers I had growing up, I’ve compensated by being nice almost my entire young adult life. What does it even mean to be objectively attractive or intelligent? And more importantly, why do we even want to be it? How long have I been taking on all the characteristics and traits that are considered societally and culturally “attractive” and “intelligent” and trying to become them? And what valuable connection with my own Chinese background have I given up searching for the American dream (body and mind)? I feel like there is this ever shifting/expanding list of things you need to be to be liked… these are harmless and small examples, but you get it- you have to be deep all the time, and you also have to be so fun! (And I know the following list is totally different in other social circles) but you have to like snarky puppy, good coffee, have watched breaking bad 473829 times all the way through, John Oliver is your Jesus, etc. etc. etc. And while a lot of those things are true for me, would I ever have given them a shot if people didn’t convey to me that these are things that make someone likable? Would I love John Oliver as much if I had never known loving him would give me social points? Our tinder/facebook/instagram profiles are too often a reflection of how our souls are just regurgitations of what we are supposed to be like when we have no idea what we actually like. Is your soul just constantly reposting what society has posted?
And what is so bad about someone not being attracted to me? Why would we want someone who isn’t naturally attracted to us to be attracted to us… so much so that we change ourselves? What is so good about being universally loved? I truly believe that to be universally loved, universally validated is to not be a person. To not be substantial, only vague. I wrote a haiku once about how the less we dilute ourselves, the more we will find our kind of people. That is really what I’m striving for, to dilute less of myself. To be more intensely myself… maybe I’m less liked, or more lonely or whatever, but I’m gaining substance and that is important to me. Since these shifts in my mind, my thoughts while interacting with males have become less like “please be attracted to me, please be attracted to me, please like me, please like me” to be more like “Who are you? This is me. Maybe we will get along, and maybe we won’t. I don’t have a preference either way.” Nothing is worth the knowledge of ourselves. In fact, many people cheat because they don’t know who they are without that new feeling of being in love with someone else. They don’t know who they are without another. I see beautiful incredible women all the time needing validation or acting out for it from men around them… and when they do that, they stop being the beautiful intelligent woman I was just having a conversation with, and become a caricature of what it means to be a girl. Let’s not do that shit anymore where we reduce ourselves to be universally appealing by a standard we never fucking chose.
I have talked with friends before who are “just having fun” or “just bored” who end up crossing boundaries and hurting many people. Sometimes, the boredom is just supposed to be harmless- a little validation or distraction. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem so innocent. Honestly, if you’re having fun seeing if you can manipulate someone’s feelings (especially if it’s to manipulate their feelings away from someone else) to validate your own, you need to think about that… because maybe you are feeling powerless in other places in your life that needs addressing. Or maybe you’re numb and unhappy in ways you can’t recognize. I truly believe only hurt people hurt people. And I don’t think it’s possible for us to hurt people without hurting ourselves. Even if it’s just that you get more and more comfortable hurting people. How can that be what the world needs? It’s a Dorian Gray kind of thing. (I think. I’ve only read the abridged version, so apologies if that reference doesn’t work the way I’m wanting it to…)
In other instances, I know that cheating can feel like a necessity. Like I said, relationships are difficult, and as one of my closest friends said to me recently- there is no one perfect person for all of us. We all have needs and desires that are crucial to us, ways we need to be loved that are completely different from others. And if we don’t have partners who are able to give that to us, or sometimes, even willing to try giving that to us… the temptation to look elsewhere or at least to accept it when it finds us will be hard to pass up. Does this make it okay? I’m not sure. I’m certainly not going to judge anyone for cheating in these instances of unhappiness. I’ve been the most lonely in relationships. Sometimes, we connect with someone and we forget that there is another. But the other exists, and in some cases, she looks a lot like me. In the end, I think every relationship is different, and only those two people can really judge it. We often blame each other for the disfigurement of our idealization of love, when really love is not ideal. I think if we all accept that love as system is flawed, and that it takes a lot of communication and work, we will all be less likely to take things for granted, and to choose the comfort or ease of other options. And maybe that way, we don’t hurt each other as much, and we will be compassionate with each other for the mistakes we all inevitably make.
This is kind of in response to the question I’ve been asking myself …”Are there ways that I am already a cheater or the other woman?” And I have to say, the answer is yes. I think a lot of girls do this… we flirt with boundaries. With people in relationships or when we are in relationships… we want to be liked- we want to be interesting, funny, especially to some new person we have just met. Or we want to see, with an ex-lover or someone in the past, if we still have some kind of influence. I do this… out of the aforementioned loneliness, insecurity, boredom… and I’ve seen other women do it. Maybe men do this as well, but I don’t know because I’m probably too busy doing this to notice! Why do we, as women do this? There are many reasons, but I think one of the big ones is an unfortunate side-effect of marketing. If you want to do it because it’s fun, hey that’s cool and your own thing. But I think for me, and maybe others, it is because we have been made to think we do not have power as women. We have so many industries telling us we are not the right kind of woman and that we will be beautiful, intelligent, desirable, etc, once we have the products they are peddling. Those are all words that mean the same thing- power. These companies tell us we are not important or powerful alone because they need us to need whatever they’re selling. The transference of not being beautiful, intelligent, or desirable without their products opens the door for us to feel like we aren’t any of those things without love as well. (The recent “self-love” and “self-care” advertising is even more manipulative. When you are encouraged to “treat yourself” … are you really treating yourself the way you need? Have you asked yourself what you need? Or are you letting marketing decide what you need, which could be why you’re still empty later?) But we all have power simply by being woman. We are incredibly powerful. That’s why we have been suppressed and oppressed until we learned how to repress ourselves. The economies would collapse without our low self-esteem. I am currently terrified of interacting with males. I’m in Wyoming where most of the men are married, or at least in relationships and I have trouble making eye contact with men because I am so afraid of being the other woman if they are involved with someone. And it’s not because I think I’m so amazing beautiful attractive or whatever (I think it’s clear from earlier in the post that I have terrible self-esteem!) it’s because I’m no longer naive about how powerful it is to be a woman- I don’t even yet know or trust my own power. Which exists despite the many industries telling us it is impossible for us to be influential without this eyeshadow, these jeans, this necklace that says powerful!…etc. Because of the the mass marketing of insecurity, we don’t believe we have power so we test it, misuse it, abuse it, even exploit it. But it is there… I promise. And if we are truly empowered, it won’t show by our having the cutest outfits and the fleekest makeup (though that never hurts!)… it will show in how we respect ourselves and our sisters.
How Do I Not Do This?
I mean, considering how recently I was cheated on, it’s kind of hard for me not to have an opinion. I have no judgements or ideas about cheating as a rule. But I know for myself, I never want to cause someone the pain that I am enduring. So how am I working on things? I believe it is necessary to care about and empathize with those who may not have cared about or empathized with me. In order not to become someone who does the hurtful things that people have done to me, I process in a way that tries to help me understand their actions and to see the humanity in them. This is my tendency- to be an empathetic person and I don’t like it. I wish I could be more angry when people have hurt me, but I can’t. It takes so much energy to try. When people even begin to express any negativity about the other woman of my situation, I have found myself defending her. This blog post in a way, is my trying to empathize with and love her without being disrespectful to myself in the process, because I have realized that I care about her more than I care about myself. Why is that? Why do I care about almost anyone more than I care about myself? This empathy is exactly what got me cheated on. Last night, a girl told me how she recently found out her boyfriend had been cheating on her, and I find my eyes welling up now even thinking about her. I feel protective of her even though we just met. But I don’t feel sorry for my own similar situation very often and I think it’s because my self-esteem is so low that when people hurt me or disrespect me, it seems deserved somehow, and thus it doesn’t make me angry. And then of course, I am such a cerebral person… I immediately start analyzing the situation. Other people might find it easier to get angry. If you are one of those people, I challenge you to try and empathize. And I will try to get angry. I have to tell myself all the time out loud that it was wrong for these two people to hurt me the way they did. Because my tendency is to think that I got in the way of their happiness for being in a pre-existing relationship with one of them. I’ve cried thinking that my presence kept them from happiness. Before I knew the whole story, I wished death on myself because I thought I kept them from happiness. I’m working so hard to have enough self-esteem to think I deserve some kind of faithfulness from someone one day, and that kind of difficult work will require faithfulness to myself. I will do it, because we have to do this work. We have to be committed to ourselves. If we don’t, we will make hurtful decisions because of a dependency on external sources of love. This is why I’m doing all this processing. I never want to have caused the look on that girl’s face last night. Certainly not without understanding my choice to do so.
And a few words on empathy- I know it’s generally thought to be a good thing. People have told me they think my empathy is a gift, enviable even. But it can be crippling, exhausting, and overwhelming to me. What’s more- it can be dangerous to our ethics and morality, bordering naivety. Because if you want to, you can empathize with, and thus justify any behavior- I’ve seen empathy justify absolutely monstrous behavior. I’ve seen people do it because they need to feel that they have big hearts or that they aren’t close-minded… that they’re capable of inhuman amounts of love, understanding, and complexity, etc. I’m starting to think for the first time in my life that there’s nothing wrong with some things being right and some things being wrong. Sometimes when we empathize with people, we are condoning their horrible deeds, not only to them (so they can feel understood? Does feeling more human actually make someone more human?) but also to our own subconscious. That is dangerous territory …which is why I’m working on having more ability for anger as a balance to my empathy.
Part of my finding balance between empathy and anger, love for myself and others, is learning about Ahinsa recently. It is the tenet to do no harm, to cause no injury in one’s deeds, words, and thoughts. I’ve learned so many things about myself in my recent yoga practice. One example- in yoga, I force myself to do everything beyond the point of pain. This is similar to my empathy which causes me to punish myself internally (tormenting myself with comparison to another woman) instead of accepting my limitations or getting angry externally. I am self-destructive and I struggle with that especially after rejection. Without self-worth, someone else’s idea of our worth dangerously becomes everything. Ahinsa now permeates how I am trying to treat others and how I am trying to heal and liberate myself. I am trying my best now to be gentle and compassionate to myself as well as to others. To be gentle and true with my body, mind, and heart, with where they are. I make myself eat, and thank my body for it’s capabilities. I forgive myself for how dark, depressed, distrustful, and still sadly hopeful for love I am- I don’t berate myself for “being stupid” for hoping to find love one day. I don’t bully myself for how weak I think I am for being empathetic. I have been dedicating my yoga practices to my ex and the other woman, finding love and gratitude in my heart for them. Now, I have begun to save half the practice for doing that to myself. I am learning that, yes, you can’t hurt others without hurting yourself… but maybe you can’t hurt yourself without hurting others too. Trying to believe in my own power and the fact that hurting myself could impact others is new and strange. Maybe we hurt other people because we don’t think we can… because we don’t believe in our power. If I can hurt other people by hurting myself, I matter somehow…which hasn’t been something I’ve really ever thought. But we all matter- we are all capable of such impact. If you have cheated or have been the other woman/man, I don’t judge you at all. I don’t know the circumstances, your stories, your feelings. But if you are thinking of cheating, or of being the other woman, I just hope you know that even if you don’t know this other person, you could change the course of their life, or end it. So please, make sure it is absolutely the right decision for your beautiful soul. Think of the tenet of Ahinsa. Can you do practice non-harm towards the others as well as yourself? I would never wish to deny you of your joy either. And remember, it isn’t always rewarding to have what is most comfortable and easily rewarding in the moment. When a relationship gets hard, finding a new one can seem like the easy thing to do. But problems you don’t deal with keep resurfacing. Be imaginative enough to see possibility within your current relationships.
Beautiful sister reading this, I know how desperate and lonely it can be. I know it to the point of sobbing and self-destruction. And I know how intoxicating it is to be chosen, especially to be chosen above another female. But I hope you can find it an equally intoxicating mindset to remember you have the choice to either hurt or not hurt another person. This world does not have to be a woman eat woman world. We can choose each other, feed and nourish one another instead. I don’t have any answers about whether cheating is right or wrong or when, but sister, I make a commitment to always choose to do right by you.
I love you all and yes the title of this post is a reference to Mean Girls,