My name is Meredith Graves. I’m a writer, I run a small record label and I sing in a band called Perfect Pussy. I was surprised when, about a year ago, I started receiving letters on Tumblr from people that like my band, asking for advice about love, school, friendship, family—everything under the sun, it seemed. I took their trust very seriously and would do my best to write back as soon as I could, but I always felt weird sending kids the two-page letter that I’d inevitably produce. Here, I have the space to respond to questions that merit more than a paragraph.
It’s not that I think I’m ultra-qualified to tell people how to live—it’s just that I’ve made a lot of mistakes in 27 years, and I can’t help but wonder if sharing my experiences will help other people avoid some fairly major bumps and bruises along the way.
You can write to me with questions, problems and concerns at email@example.com. Your information will, of course, be kept completely anonymous.
I cheat on everyone I date and love. How do I curb this? How can I stop this behavior? I love her so much and still I cheat. I know it’s an issue with myself that needs to be sorted but I can’t seem to figure it out just yet…
I was, for most of my life, a serial cheater. I would proclaim my dedication and commitment to a monogamous relationship, then I’d keep on seeing other people. I was never very good at having affairs; I constantly got caught, bringing on an Oscar-worthy performance of hysterical tears and apologies. The cycle would begin again in a matter of days. My victim would eventually get fed up and bounce, but as I couldn’t stand being alone, I’d quickly move on to the next. Still, I hated the way it made me feel, and much more than that, I couldn’t live with what I was doing to other people.
But like you, I found it borderline impossible to stop. I made excuses that revolved around my partner’s perceived shortcomings. If I felt they weren’t paying me enough attention, I would find someone who would be nice to me for a few hours, a couple of days a week. It was so much easier to go out in search of instant gratification than it would have been to stay home and work on what I had. The consequences felt minor most of the time—after all, I’d tell myself, I had needs. I wasn’t happy in my relationship, so I’d seek out temporary balms that would work for a minute, eventually leading to yet more sadness. There’s really no end to what humans will do to avoid discomfort or pain.
Most of us consider wealth to be a key component of happiness, and many of us can only understand “wealth” as “an accumulation of resources.” The more stuff you have, the happier you’ll be, right? You’re happy with the fancy camera until the day you wake up feeling like you simply can’t take a good picture without the fancy lens kit. You aren’t getting rid of the camera, after all. You just need something more, something different, something new.
What do you really gain by cheating on someone you love?
Cheating is inherently capitalist in nature, which is one of the reasons why I’ll argue for it being universal, especially in the age of Snapchat, Tinder, Facebook—any populist platform accessible through your phone, allowing you constant, private contact with almost anyone you want. You’ve got thousands of potential partners at your fingertips, available 24-7.
We could sit here and analyze this sort of behavior to the moon and back, writing stupid metaphors about cameras and composing countless snake oils to try and cure your philandering behavior, but the truth is, at the end of the day, you should probably not be in a relationship at all—because like me, you don’t actually want a relationship, you want attention. The hard truth is, if you wanted to be in this relationship with this person, you wouldn’t be doing something you know to be wrong. Cheating is easy; it’s staying that’s hard. Leave the relationship before you do further damage to your partner. Then you can go out and have all the (theoretically) consequence-free sex you want without blasting a cannonball-sized hole through the chest of a woman you claim to love.
Because here’s the thing: Even if you haven’t told her that you’ve stepped out on your relationship, odds are she knows. Infidelity carries a scent. It lingers around a person. It colors your behavior in such a way that your partner can’t help but notice something’s changed. She’s not stupid. She’s likely sitting there nursing that hole in her chest, wondering exactly what it is about herself she’d have to fix in order for you to love her right. This brings on the anxiety that takes root in the center of your chest, that blocks your ability to breathe normally, that grabs you suddenly when you’re on the train or in bed at 2 a.m., staring at your phone, waiting to hear from the person you love. That waiting will take years off your life. She deserves so much better. So did everyone I ever hurt.
Infidelity carries a scent. It lingers around a person. It colors your behavior in such a way that your partner can’t help but notice something’s changed.
Six months after leaving a terrible relationship with a man whose last grand gesture was sleeping with my best friend and next door neighbor, I somehow fell in hardcore holy-shit-confetti-and-balloons love at first sight with a dude who made me want to re-learn everything I thought I knew about love. I cared in a way that engaged every nerve in my body. Everything changed when he walked in the room. It was unbelievable. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t have the desire to cheat. Looking didn’t even feel fun. I promised from the moment I fell that I’d do things differently, that I’d allow myself to be vulnerable and brave. I vowed to work through things before looking outside of the relationship. For over a year I stayed completely faithful, not even lapsing into my beloved practice of texting babes when I got bored or needed attention. We moved in together, and started to talk about the future.
And then one day, prompted by tangible emotional climate change in our house and the fact that he’d begun slamming his laptop shut when I walked into our bedroom, I made a really next-level stupid move and looked in his phone. Which led to me logging into his Facebook on his computer. Which led to me finding out that he’d been harboring a thing with—surprise!—our next door neighbor. Air and blood and life and everything good ever drained from my body as I made a connection with the blonde hairs I’d found stuck to his shirts when he’d come home from late nights working at the bar up the street. I laid around wondering what I would have to change in order to make him love me again. I was utterly empty. I started working out compulsively, eating as little as possible, drinking weird juices augmented by chalky protein and weight-loss powders, trying to get down to her size. I vowed to grow my hair out, to look sexier. I acted far more chipper and attentive. I felt helpless and scrambled and raw. I couldn’t stand to lose him. I loved him.
Just like, as you say, you love her—and just like he said he loved me.
I did to so many people what you’re doing to this woman, and everyone else you date and love. The accumulation of wealth in a practical, capitalist sense can’t be done without putting countless people at a direct disadvantage. Romantic wealth is no different. What do you really gain by cheating on someone you love? The momentary, fleeting excitement of a new naked body? The feeling of nervously checking your phone 10 times an hour to see if they’ve texted you? These are great feelings. You had them with your partner once, and you might not have them any more. That’s weird and sad, and it’s real, and everyone goes through it.
There’s really no end to what humans will do to avoid discomfort or pain.
So if that’s what you need in order to feel loved and desirable and wonderful, stick to that. The woman you love deserves to have a partner who gives her what she needs, and that person isn’t you as long as you’re fucking around behind her back. When the butterflies migrate for the season and things don’t feel so new any more, that’s either the time to break up and find someone else (rather than, you know, cheating), or go in deeper, continue the work of finding new and amazing things to love about the person who’s consented to share their life with you right now in this really real moment.
I came home from work the day he finally left me to find him leisurely soaking in the bathtub he was a little too tall for, his knees bent up toward his chest like an upset child. He broke up with me then and there, and for about six months it felt like someone had dimmed the lights on the whole world. I had done it right this time, I kept telling myself. For once, I hadn’t cheated. I walked away from that relationship with third-degree burns on my heart that have kept me from fully trusting anyone since. I had done that exact thing to so many people, and you are doing that to someone right now.
The most wonderful thing about long-term monogamous relationships is the little tree fort you build together, high above this gross garbage planet. It’s your secret club with two members, all gut-wrenchingly stupid inside jokes and remember-whens and secrets and life stories and trust upon trust upon trust. To stay in that place, even when it’s hard, even when you’re having uncomfortable conversations about your needs not being met, is to work toward true intimacy and a sort of quiet grace. That loosening of boundaries between romantic love and genuine care is what leads people to say stuff like, “Oh, he really understands me.” Of course he does—you genuinely care about helping each other to be better people. You really can’t get to that magic point when you’re dishonest.
You can only build that with someone you genuinely want to be with. Maybe someday you’ll be lucky enough to have a relationship with someone who makes you want to stay. Maybe it will be an open or polyamorous relationship that allows for the development of new things with new people, maybe it will be a monogamous relationship with someone you finally deem to be enough. But in the meantime, you’re acting in the most entitled way imaginable, harming a person who might be sitting there with her hand to her chest, holding her heart in her body, hoping for that tree fort with you someday. Leave, before you do any more damage, and learn from this, because it could happen to you at any moment—and once it does, you’ll never be the same again.
Malfunction is a new monthly advice column from Meredith Graves. Check back for the second installment on May 21. You can send any questions, problems and concerns to Meredith Graves at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your information will, of course, be kept completely anonymous.