Does a phone call count as cheating?
To my most recent ex-girlfriend (let’s call her “Marisol”) it does.
Marisol and I had reached the nadir of a toxic relationship. Constant breakups. Fights. Name-calling. Screaming before walking out in the middle of the night.
You know, fun stuff.
Receiving a Call from An Ex
So one day, out of weakness, I returned the call of an ex (let’s call her “Naomi”) who recently attempted to reach out to me. Why did I call her back? I don’t know.
I needed a recommendation for a good psychiatrist (and I got one!), but if I’m being honest I also needed to check out of an overwhelmed mind for a moment.
We caught up for 45 minutes or so, nothing special, but I idiotically followed her on Instagram after the call.
Within minutes, Marisol texted me about my following Naomi. Was she keeping a watchful eye on my account? Maybe, but what ensued was one of the most noxious breakups I’ve ever experienced.
The world is littered with tales of men who cannot accept, nor fathom that their behavior would have anything to do with, the emotional reactions of women, and I tried very hard to not make that the crux of this story.
However, here’s a list of what Marisol did in response to that phone call.
- Impersonated me by creating a fake email address under my name to get info from Naomi
- Gave me an ultimatum in which I had to pretend to be friends with Naomi to get her boyfriend’s information, so Marisol could then sabotage their relationship (it was at this point that I decided to break up with her)
- Harassed me from dozens of different VoIP numbers after I blocked her, sending hurtful messages about people who she slept with behind my back, and other nasty jabs at insecurities of mine
- Sent Naomi a picture of a pig (she used to weigh a lot) to tell her she’d always be ugly on the inside. Found a friend of mine on Instagram who she thought I was dating and harassed her about her weight and appearance, too
Oh No, that’s Crazy
I tried not to categorize this as “crazy ex-girlfriend stuff” — I’d simply tell my friends what happened, and they’d get around to, “oh no, that’s crazy.”
Fine by me, and while the behavior is unacceptable, the context in which it was delivered is important; there was an action on my end which evoked that barrage of vengeance.
And I’m not qualified to label anyone crazy, because you know what?
I took her back two months later.
You Cheated On Me
“You cheated on me,” she’d say, every time we fought after getting back together (and we did, a lot).
This was her honest sentiment.
“You don’t get to tell me what I believe to be cheating,” she’d say when I tried to challenge her.
The second attempt at the relationship failed, as one might expect.
The Love of My Life
I resented her for the abuse and harassment she put me through, which in turn made me abusive .
Because I was angry, and bouts of rage surfaced during fights in which I would raise my voice, resort to name-calling, and walk away from her — and I am not proud of that.
It was a mess.
But if I am to accept that I was in fact cheating, now that it’s over, and as I reflect, here are several things I wish I could have said to the woman I still believe to be the love of my life:
Lesson #1: I Understand
Communication is touted as the preeminent key to a successful relationship, but so much of that communication depends on our ability to understand our partner and make sure they feel heard.
Even though I disagreed with Marisol, I wish I’d spent less time trying to prove that a phone call isn’t cheating, and spent more time trying to understand why she believed it to be.
We fell into the trap of focusing on who was “right” or “wrong” instead of what experience the other person was having.
If breakdowns become about who is wrong, then no one wins because no one wants to back down.
Instead, try to understand. I wish I’d tried harder to do this for you.
Lesson #2 – Your Feelings Matter
The more I tried to defend my stance, the more you felt I undervalued your feelings.
That was never my intent. Your feelings matter.
Feelings are amorphous and sometimes irrational, but it doesn’t mean anyone is wrong for having them.
In moments of contention, do your best to make sure your loved one knows their feelings matter, even if they conflict with your own or your beliefs about the situation.
We all just want to feel heard, and I wish I’d honored your feelings more.
Lesson #3 – My Feelings Matter
The feelings on both ends of a conflict matter, but acknowledging this comes back to understanding.
Unless someone feels like you’re taking the time to truly hear them out, they will react negatively, which usually manifests as not wanting to hear you out.
If I had tried to better understand your feelings, my love, maybe the air could have cleared enough for you to try and understand mine, because my feelings matter, too.
We were stuck on a virulent merry-go-round that kept spinning and I wish I had known which lever to pull to make it stop. I’m so sorry.
Lesson #4 – I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know
I work in creative marketing, and this is a maxim I repeat often. People searching for solutions to new problems they can’t fix “don’t know what they don’t know.”
You may want a certain result, but not know that to get it, there are several steps you need to take that are unknown to you.
In new relationships, you don’t know how a person will react or feel about an action you take until a situation presents itself.
Ignorance does not equal innocence.
Lesson #5 – My Heart Aches With Regret
“I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known” “I won’t do it again” “I just wasn’t happy”
These are the pleading words of a cheater.
And if I am to accept that what I did was cheating, then you can shove me into the lot with the rest of the bastards who’ve done the same, and I will beg for forgiveness until the end of time.
It is easy to declare that one lives with no regrets — I wish I had such confidence.
All I know is that I’ll carry this wound with me into the future, and hopefully, the scar serves as a reminder that I can’t assume the hurt I believe people to feel will look exactly how I want it to.
P.S. I love you.