This originally appeared on Role Reboot.
I am a serial cheater.
I know many people would look at me and feel disgust or sadness if they knew my secrets, and perhaps they should. I feel these things toward myself often.
My marriage has never been perfect, on either end, but my husband believes me to be faithful for the better part of the last eight years. I lie to him, or rather, omit the truth. I have cheated on him with five people in the past two years, and more before that.
I seek them out. Sometimes online, sometimes I meet them casually at a bar. I have been blessed (or cursed) with good looks, charm, humor, and a vulnerability that draws men to me. I know this, and I use it to get my fix. I know exactly what I need to do to get a specific man in bed with me. If I’m at a bar, I even know what kind of drink I should order to pique his interest. It’s a science to me, and I have my PhD.
I’m not a sex addict, I’m not looking for love (my husband gives me both regularly). For me, it’s a form of self-medicating a traumatic childhood. Yet it does not work, as it only leaves me feeling angry, empty, and filled with more self-loathing.
My upbringing was inconsistent, and horrifically verbally and physically abusive, in particular from my father. So, yeah, I have daddy issues. Seriously fucking huge daddy issues. I have struggled with bipolar disorder for years, which I believe was triggered by both genetics and childhood trauma.
My husband loves me, but somehow it’s not enough. I rationalize why it’s OK to cheat. He was obsessed with porn early in our marriage to an unhealthy level, he neglects me, he doesn’t consult me for major decisions, he is often far away, etc. Some of these reasons may be legitimate enough to end a relationship, but I am not emotionally prepared to leave him or to turn my children’s world upside down, so I simply use those reasons as validation for my cheating.
His love is grounding to me, and I need it, however dysfunctional it may be at times. The fleeting touch of other men is reassurance that I am still desirable, nothing more. It’s a cheap, temporary ego boost. It counteracts the years of verbal venom my dad spewed at me, telling 12-year-old me I was trash, a worthless whore. Yet, I wonder, what have I become?
An affair gives me things my marriage cannot. I feel a rush, the touch of new skin, of being physically desired by someone new. The intensity of urgent sex, and all the things people say and do when they are new lovers. And then, a few hours or weeks later, it’s done. I suddenly snap out of it, the high wears off, and the emptiness creeps in. I cry, I scream into my pillow, I feel a rush of anxiety that I can only fix by pouring myself into work.
I wonder why I cannot stop entirely, or just end my marriage. It’s because I’m weak, and so damaged. Then I feel like a coward for calling myself damaged. Like I’m not strong enough to just admit I’m a bad person. I look at my life, and the things I value, those I have helped, how I love those close to me, and it doesn’t feel like I’m a bad person.
But then I look at the cheating, and all I see is bad.
I’ve read articles about the psychology behind a serial cheater, somehow looking for some magic fix for my psyche. These articles tell me I have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder, or that I lack the ability to feel empathy or guilt. They imply that I would torture small animals in the woods and walk away smiling (never mind that I rescue any wounded critter that crosses my path).
I wonder, can I ever be fixed, and do I want to be fixed? Sometimes I think confronting my past would break me and render me totally useless, and the cheating sustains me enough to get by, with less collateral damage. I justify it this way too, I suppose.
I use protection, I give my love only to my husband, all I share with others is my body, and I choose my outings in such a way that I do not even have to lie to my husband about where I am going, because he trusts me.
I can talk to no one about this, because our society has decided that cheaters are usually just horny men, or occasionally, women craving the love and affection that is missing in their marriage. There is somehow less tolerance for sins of the flesh, than any other kind of vice. It feels sometimes that we are more tolerant of someone who robs a bank than someone who has sex outside of a relationship. Truth be told, I feel like if it were not cheating, it would have been drinking or drugs, probably at a much higher cost to my immediate family. I don’t wish to defend my actions, simply to explain them, which is something I feel so blocked from doing without an extreme level of judgement.
I have no crazy agenda for writing this. It is not to glorify affairs, or to plead my case and show the world that “not all cheaters are bad.” If anything, it’s to say this: There is no one standard profile of a cheater. We are not all sex addicts, heartless men, or women looking for “missing love.” Sometimes cheating is a side effect of a much larger, more broken picture, but stigma prevents an open dialogue.
As I write this, I do not know how to fix what I’ve broken, or what has been broken inside me. And so I will pour myself into work, and hope that someday I can talk about this without such a level of judgement. Until then, the cycle continues.
By Lea Clark