A Feminist Approach to Cheating: What The F*ck Does That Mean?

Due to the nature of this piece, the writer would like to remain anonymous.

CW: mention of eating disorders

Being a writer puts you in weird situations. As a kid, I preferred fantasy over reality. As a teenager struggling with various eating disorders, people told me I analysed things too much. They never defined what too much was, or enough, or even too little for that matter. Just that I overdid it. I’ve written about everything in my life from fantasy worlds to dating to medical procedures, and I tend to think the best work is always honest.

We don’t often talk about cheating. It makes us feel ashamed, like we’re somehow at fault too despite being the innocent party. So here’s my The Bold Type moment and we can all just pretend that’s the height of feminism.

A few years ago, coming out of a particularly toxic situation, I made a commitment to myself that I would live my politics rather than just whinging about it at the pub. Cliché as it might be, I tattooed my defiance into my skin. A reminder that my politics doesn’t leave me. As a woman, feminism has already been embedded in my body by the society that objectifies, harasses and legislates it. There’s anger in my bloodstream, not just for more privileged women like myself but for femininity in its multitudes. For me, that inky black reminder has been my resistance on occasions where otherwise I might forget who I am. When I’m feeling weak and I want to forget, it’s the upper levels of my epidermis that hold me to account.

Recently, I got cheated on.

I know this is hardly the worst thing in the world. There are bombs in Gaza and immigration raids on Eid and thousands buried too soon for a disease amplified by government incompetence. And, while ordinarily I might pride myself on having some perspective, this particular experience decimated me. Despite assumptions that I’m some kind of ballbreaker, I totally crumbled. And I think there’s something to be said for how – when you claim to be a feminist – you react to something like this. So let me try.

In my case, my partner went out for drinks with a potential new girl mate, had asked me how I felt about it before they went and I told them that I trusted them and I hoped they had a good time. Rather than a few drinks and a I’m home safe, had a good time – speak to you in the morning, I got hours of silence. My partner eventually came back hammered in the middle of the night, hours after the pubs had closed. They couldn’t remember leaving the pub and couldn’t account for those lost hours at all. It came out, after a text from the potential new girl mate a few days later, that they’d been making out for hours in a public park and the person I’m in love with had asked this new friend back to theirs. Repeatedly. To the bed I stay in. To give her any credit, ignoring for a moment that she wasn’t making out with a person she knew was in a relationship, she did say no and bizarrely I respect her for that.

But cheating is never just cheating. It’s the aftermath. It’s watching the shrapnel fall down and wondering if you can ever clean it up again.

My only knowledge of cheating is being gaslit as a teenager by the guilty party until you forgive them because you just want them to stop crying. And nineties movies. And honestly, when have nineties movies ever been a good example to anyone on how to live a morally sound life?

My immediate reaction, which I am not proud of and do not recommend, was pretty standard for anyone who has experienced eating disorders. I just stopped eating. I stopped working – and I’m a big worker. I spent a lot of days in bed, not even crying, just feeling nothing. Trying to understand how the fuck this had happened at a time in my life where everything had felt like the puzzle pieces were all in the right place.

I knew I wasn’t mad at the girl. Yes, she knew the person she was meeting wasn’t single but ultimately, we’ve all gotten drunk while single and kissed people we shouldn’t. I don’t condone it but I understand it.

I was – and am – mad at the person I’m in a relationship with. Obviously. They fucked up and they know it. Maybe it’s part of my tendency towards loyalty or something about accepting that I know that someone’s actions aren’t always intentional. It’s also that – if I choose to believe what I’ve been told, and for the sake of my own sanity, I am choosing to – people are really bloody imperfect.

For days, I couldn’t decide whether returning to my relationship was condoning the disrespect my partner showed to me and our relationship, or whether – knowing who they are – I could see the factors that had prompted the situation. I worried that returning meant I wasn’t respecting myself but I think that returning just acknowledges that none of us really know what we’re doing. We’re all floundering with (on the whole) the best intentions and sometimes we fuck up.

I’m choosing to accept that no one, including myself, is a saint. And while, if the disrespect is ever repeated, I’ll be leaving, for me there’s a catharsis in forgiveness that’s very out of character for an Atheist.

Is that feminist? I don’t know. Maybe the point is that feminism isn’t you having to leave out of some blind expectation of anger. Ultimately, the way you react to disrespect remains yours – and maybe that’s all there is.

Photo courtesy of Karim Manjra

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