The 13th of February this year was a Tuesday. My fiancé and partner of almost fifteen years was at work. We had just that week decided on our wedding venue and had signed a contract with our wedding coordinator to secure the hotel. We were to be married in December.
That evening I went swimming with my mother. My fiancé told me that he was playing football with friends. I knew he was lying but I pretended otherwise.
I came out to the car after my swim and checked my phone. A notification told me that someone I didn’t know was attempting to contact me on Facebook Messenger.
Before I opened the message, I knew. I knew what it was. I knew I was going to be told something that would change my life forever. That five seconds before I opened the message was the longest moment of my life.
For the past year and a half, my relationship with J had been horrific. He treated me so poorly. He barely spoke to me with anything other than contempt and disdain. He didn’t touch me, kiss me, hug me. He showed no interest in me or my friends. He was cold, distant, perpetually distracted. He never looked at me. I would tell him I loved him, and his eyes would stay focused on his shoes while he’d murmur ‘you don’t need to say that to me so much.’
I felt rejected beyond belief. We were engaged, yet I felt I was forcing him into a marriage he clearly didn’t want. I tried to give him space. I tried to talk to him. I cried almost every day. I had nightmares. My friends and family were concerned. I took leave from work and started a course of anti-anxiety medications. I was broken.
And yet, I didn’t leave. I don’t know why. I guess the relationship was all I had ever known. I had never been single, never known myself to exist as an adult outside of the relationship. I was frightened. I figured I’d be alone forever if I didn’t marry him. I thought we had so much in common that I’d never find the same kind of relationship with anyone. I pushed away all the negative thoughts.
I knew he was cheating on me. He alternated between being distant and cold and then guilty and loving. He was insanely possessive over his phone. He ignored me on social media. He hid me from people like he was ashamed of me.
He was a mess. I was a mess.
The human mind is an odd thing. My friends would describe me as strong, as a ‘take no bull-shit from anyone’ kind of girl. But I let this go on. I lay in bed at night beside a man I knew was being unfaithful. I didn’t have the strength to deal with it.
I did confront him. Of course I did. Many, many times. I sent him emails, I wrote him letters, I tried to sit down and talk to him calmly.
I know you’re being unfaithful. I know. Can you please have the decency to tell me yourself and not let me find out in some horrific manner that devastates me?
You’re being paranoid. God, you have so many trust issues. How is this ever going to work if you don’t trust me?!
I only learned the definition of gas-lighting this year. Basically, it refers to someone manipulating you and causing you to completely question your entire reality. Although I knew he was cheating, I still questioned myself.
Am I paranoid?
Is it my anxiety?
Am I pushing him away?
And in all of this, we were planning a wedding. It’s not one of my finer moments in life, but at least I’ve gotten out before I committed to what I can only call a pathological liar. He sat with me in the hotel we were to be married in, knowing he’d been betraying me for over a year, and signed a contract holding the venue. He sat among my friends, my family, knowing that he was hurting someone they loved in the most horrible way.
That Tuesday night, I took a deep breath before I opened the message. I knew what the message was. But I wasn’t prepared for how hurtful it would be. The woman described every painful detail of the year long affair she’d been having with my fiancé. The boy I had loved since I was fifteen years old. The only man I’d ever slept with. The person who knew me better than anybody, who saw me at my worst, at my most vulnerable. I thought he was my soulmate. My best friend.
Her message, looking back on it, was the ramblings of a woman who consumed by bitterness and resentment and completely self-centered. There was no apology. There was no acceptance of her part in all of this. She knew he was in a relationship. She blamed him and him alone. It was awful on her, she wrote. She’d been very stressed and upset by it all. There was no acknowledgement of my pain or the betrayal done to me by both of them. It was an entirely selfish message. She was twisting the knife in the cruelest of ways. He had broken it off with her that week and decided that he did, in fact, want to marry me.
Lucky fucking me, right?!
Obviously, I’m glad she told me. I’m glad she provided me with all the painful details of their relationship. It allowed me to see him for the person he really was: a liar. The worst kind of liar. And god, was he manipulative. He made me question my own sanity. I thought that there was a good chance I was actually suffering from paranoid delusions. I lay awake almost every night wondering if I was, in fact, insane.
I had a lot of questions: Where? When?
I thought we were happy. Only a few months before the affair begun, we were living hundreds of miles apart and he was pledging his undying love for me. I didn’t understand it. Weren’t we best friends? Hadn’t it always been us against the world?
Confronting him didn’t help. He was weirdly calm. He told me that he didn’t love her, never had. She wasn’t even that attractive. He didn’t know what he was thinking. He loved me, of course. He wanted to marry me.
He was deluded. He believed that now that I knew, we could move on together and build a marriage. I sat in disbelief. He seemed to think we would be okay now. That we could move on from this.
To put it into context: I had always been the biggest emotional support in his life. I cheered him on when no one else would. I gave everything of myself to him. I ruthlessly defended him to friends and family who told me he wasn’t good enough. I supported him financially when he had nothing. I was a damn good girlfriend and amazing friend to him.
And he pursued an affair with someone else. Only a few months after my aunt died from cancer. While living in her house, I might add. While having the affair, he sat with me in my doctor’s office while I was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder.
I had many, many questions:
Why didn’t you just leave me?
Did you laugh with her like you did with me? Did ye have private jokes?
Did you love her?
Why did you not just admit it when I gave you so many chances?
Did you ever feel guilty?
When did you actively decide to do this?
And most of all…why?!
I struggled to understand the why. I still do. Without sounding horribly shallow, the woman was not extremely attractive. She was older. A writer would describe her as homely. So maybe they had a deep, emotional connection? Well, no, that didn’t appear to be the case either. I think I would have found it easier to comprehend if it made sense. But it didn’t. I kept trying to rationalize it in a petty, immature way: I’m prettier than her, I’m smarter. I’m more accomplished, more successful. Why wasn’t that enough?
It doesn’t matter. None of that matters. If Beyoncé gets cheated on, anyone can get cheated on.
And that became my mantra:
It is not, and never was, me.
He tried to reassure me that he didn’t love her; that I was the one he wanted. But I was done. The betrayal was too much. I didn’t know who this person was. He was a virtual stranger to me. I remember sitting across from him and thinking ‘who the hell are you? Who is this person I’ve lived with for thirteen years?’
The final nail in the coffin came when the other woman told me that he had taken her out for dinner the previous week. It wasn’t the thoughts of them having sex, or even sitting in our car together, or kissing that killed me. It was the fact that he hadn’t brought me to dinner in years. I imagined them, laughing together, sitting in some intimate restaurant completely unaware of the pain they were inflicting on me. It was a pain like nothing I’ve ever felt.
I told him to leave the next day. A bizarre clarity came over me. I was rid of him finally. I realised in that moment something that really set me free: I didn’t love him anymore. I had loved someone else entirely. Someone I perceived as honest, dependable, trustworthy. Someone who would never hurt me. Someone who would always love me and realise how lucky he was to have such a loyal and loving girlfriend. He was not that guy. Did I want the master manipulator and liar? Um, no thanks.
Bizarrely, I found the breakup easy. I mean this when I say it: I have never been happier. I know a lot of people might think I’m being conceited. That I’m saying this to exact some kind of petty revenge, like ‘look how great I’m doing, la la la’. But that’s not the case.
My friends and I have become so much closer. My best friend’s relationship ended only two months after mine. I’ve spent so much more time surrounding myself with friends and family. I’ve widened my circle considerably. My house is rarely empty. I’ve reconnected with old friends. I’ve dated. I’ve met amazing men; men who have treated me well and who remain my friends. I’ve even had one or two short term relationships. I’m not ready for anything more just yet because I’m enjoying myself too much. But I’ve met guys who are successful, funny, smart, who quote random TV shows just like me, who make me feel sexy and special all at once. They give me what I never got from him: Time. Attention. Affection.
And I’m getting ready to properly date now. I feel like I might finally be able to commit myself to something more. I guess time will tell.
I’ve become a better person throughout all of this. I lost stones of weight. I went back blond. I got an amazing job. I feel great. I go places I never would have went before. I’m out of a horrible rut that I was stuck in for years.
And despite what he put me through, I hope my ex is happy. I really don’t wish him any ill-will. Even when people around me verbally bash him, I still find myself defending him. Old habits, and all that. He was a silly person in ways, ignorant, selfish, deceitful. But he’s not a bad person. Genuinely. I know, under it all, there was a time when he loved me. A time when we were happy. And we had fun. To this day, I still see things that I know would make him laugh. I see things that remind me of him constantly. I have fond memories of our time together but unfortunately, they’ve been tainted by his betrayal. Honestly though, whatever he does in life, and wherever he goes, I hope he’s happy. And I hope to god he never does this to another person again. Maybe someday we might even be friends.
I acknowledge that we got involved too young. We fell in love quickly and absolutely. But the fire burned out long ago and I guess we just kept hoping it would reignite again some day. We should have parted ways, but we didn’t. That’s why I would advise anyone having sincere doubts about their relationship to really, really consider whether it adds value to your life or makes you happy. Mine didn’t. And if I didn’t receive that message on that random Tuesday night, I’d probably be getting married.
To anyone who has been betrayed, or hurt like me, I’ll say this:
It’s okay. Pain is inevitable in life. But choose to see it as something cleansing, something that indicates the end of something bad. Learn from it. Let it teach you so that you can avoid its cause again. And love yourself; you really should be your own best friend.
If you read this far, thank you! I needed to get all of this out. It’s been hugely therapeutic. Whoever you are, I hope you’re having a wonderful day.