Deciding To Stay After He Cheated



I was not “young and in love.” I was young. And in love. But I was not dumbfounded. I was just deep in it, with every ounce of my heart and intuition. In the beginning, we were goofy and clingy — taking long walks, kissing on the bed, and snuggling watching movies. It was a very high-school kind of love, as rejuvenating as the fountain of youth. Everything was new, fresh, and liberating. Everything was a first. I learned something new about myself with each shared moment with him. 

I remember finding out. I remember the look in his eyes when he knew that I knew. That he was cheating on me. I remember not knowing when I’d see him again, or if I ever wanted to. I remember watching his body slowly disappear as my garage door loudly traveled down and put a very physical divide between us. 

I don’t remember the mood of the sky, or the pace of the air. I don’t remember what I had worn on my body. But I remember that feeling, the knowing, that what happened that day had ended something. 

For months, my room was dark, with the exception of the sliver of light creeping underneath the doorway from the hall and a few specks of sun piercing through the blinds. I couldn’t have said when day became night, and I had no desire for food. I was depressed. I lost weight. The trash bin piled up, and my junk lay everywhere. 

Someone once got lost in these eyes and then decided there was nothing left to be found.

Abigail Thomas

At the time, we were 197 miles apart at our respective colleges, and the 3 hours of forced distance between us felt like a good thing. I don’t think I would’ve granted myself the space otherwise. I wanted to rant and ramble to my best friend, but what do you do when your best friend is the one who hurt you? What happens when the person you need to vent about is the person you’d normally vent to? I wanted to confide in him, to tell him how hard it was to look at him. I wanted to tell him how much I wanted to kiss him, and yet fight him at the same time. How I couldn’t eat, because my stomach felt sick and hollow. I wanted to tell him how I didn’t understand why he did it. I wanted to tell him everything. How could it be so easy to lie to me?  

When I felt, I felt heavy. I was unstable. Everything was momentary, temporary. Any moment of happiness I experienced would quickly be snatched from me to remind me that I have no worth. Or that I’m ugly. Or that I’m crazy. And to be honest, I felt crazy. One minute I was smiling with hope. The next I was crying. Screaming. Typing novel-length rampant texts while simultaneously smashing everything I ever loved about him with a bat (metaphorically that is). I was dismally stuck between “I love you” and “Fuck you.” 

I’d catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and it would take a genuine effort to remind myself who I was. My face, my being, my entire essence all felt foreign. Abandoned with no curious explorers. I saw my tired baggy eyes and thought, Someone once got lost in these eyes and then decided there was nothing left to be found. I observed my knotted unkempt hair and thought, Someone once stroked this hair before declaring some softer. I stared at my curvy, out-of-shape body and thought, Someone once worshipped this body before a new one brought excitement mine no longer could

I was dismally stuck between “I love you” and “Fuck you.” 

Abigail Thomas

After a few months had passed, I can’t say I recovered, but I finally started to regain a sense of self. My emotions returned with the help of Beyonce’s Lemonade, and I felt…everything. An anthem had been gifted upon me as if she knew I needed one. She stayed, I thought. She’s not naive. 

I made efforts to cut ties, to not think about him or talk to him or see him. I wanted to be seen as a “strong woman” — but I still loved him. Our relationship may have been scattered into various shattered pieces, a bit broken, but the love was still very much alive. I began to realize that being strong was going to look a lot different for me. This was my own Lemonade story.  I was done carrying that wooden bat and smashing everything in sight. All it did was give me splinters, and I was ready to be happy. My wounds were anxious to heal and the pieces ready to be put back together, even if they formed a new shape. 

And so we started talking. We took walks and drives. We kissed. Staying with him was the  hardest and yet best thing I’ve ever done. It took work. It took fights, trust, and self-care. From both of us. We had to un-learn and re-learn how to co-exist, both with the past and the present. 

I was ashamed of myself, and ashamed for myself. I thought, A self-respecting woman would never choose to stay.

Abigail Thomas

And as he and I were doing better, and the stronger I felt, we felt, I dreaded how weak I looked to others.

I am an imperfect woman. One who’s not above pain or red flags or feelings or rock bottoms or heartache or love or instinct. And I am not above shame. 

While I made the right decision for myself, I felt constant shame. I was ashamed of myself, and ashamed for myself. I thought, A self-respecting woman would never choose to stay. I was embarrassed for people to see us together. I was embarrassed that others knew. I was ashamed I used to think, Fuck men, fuck cheaters. Before it was me, before it happened to me. I thought love was black and white: you were either madly in love or there was no love at all. But love is complex. It is many things at once. I understand why women leave, and I understand why they stay. 

To think for myself and act as I please is a radical move for me. It is both liberating and scary as hell. I was judged by men, judged by women, by friends and by family, and while those who shamed me did not have the intention of doing so, their opinions were unhelpful, hurtful, and often uncalled for. 

I will not pretend that forgiveness comes easily. It took me a few sweet years to do that. I did not stay with him because I felt obligated or trapped, nor because I felt like I would never find someone else. I stayed because of many long, difficult, thought-out reasons that belong to no one but me. A dissertation in no need of peer review.  Reasons I get to grasp close to my heart. 

I stayed because there was still love. I didn’t, and still don’t, need people to understand our relationship. I believed in our future, despite of and because of what happened in our past. Our love is old and new. Soft and strong. It’s ours and only ours. 

Flash forward years later, to today, and we are slowly furnishing our first home together into a perfect blend of the two of us. We’ve been trekking out to the mountains, taking road trips, and making music. There are moments when our silliness takes me back to those high school crush butterflies, and I feel an overwhelming amount of love in my life. I even value the hard times, for every moment that’s happened needed to happen. We’ve been surfing the internet for dog adoption sites, and our plants are growing just as we are. 

LET'S TALK: have you stayed after your partner cheated? did you feel judged? shamed?