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To the One Who Was Cheated On…

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In my therapy office lately, I’ve worked with a lot of clients, both gay men and straight women, who have recently been cheated on by their partners. What follows is my words for them, gathered here in one place.

First off, although you already know this, you are beautiful. You are worthy of love. You are desirable, and worth it, and enough. And an act of betrayal by someone you love and trust does not change that.

You are not a fool for not noticing. Maybe the signs were there and you didn’t see them, or maybe you just felt safe and content. Maybe he acted like everything was normal, or maybe you could feel him pulling farther away. Or maybe you noticed the signs but you didn’t know what they meant. How could you? But whatever it was, whether it was a one time thing or something ongoing, whether it was online or while you were away, you aren’t a fool for not noticing. You found out when you did, and we can only live in this present moment now and figure out what comes next.

Only you can decide what to do now. You can demand therapy, ask to go through his phone, rage and scream, sleep in the guest room for a while, ask him to sleep in the guest room for a while, ask him to leave, or close off for a period of time. He made this choice, not you, and now you have to decide what to do and how to proceed. And that first night, when you found out and you simply lost it, well, that was justified. It was pure pain. Forgive yourself for that. You went there at first, but don’t stay there.

Given the chance, he may realize everything that he stands to lose. He was caught, and that may make him face up to what he has, and what he was willing to gamble with. Maybe he can show up now, maybe he can make all those changes you were hoping he would make. Maybe he will be all in, the way you have been for so long. Maybe he will be the man you always needed him to be. Maybe the sex will get better. Maybe he will make you feel attractive and loved again. Maybe he will hold your hand more, or cuddle you more often. Maybe you will feel safe again.

But maybe you won’t want that. Safe might feel threatening. The last time you felt safe, well, that was when he lied. And that is the biggest betrayal of all. You offered him your vulnerable self, your everything, you pledged your life to him, and these acts, these lies, they feel like a betrayal of the worst kind because he was so close to you. He isn’t your father, or your ex, he is the man you gave yourself to, and that hurts. And then you find yourself wondering if it was this way all along. Was he always cheating, always lying? Was the rest of what you had an absolute farce? Is he manipulative? Was it just this once, or was it many times? If he lied to you this time, did he lie all the others? What does this mean about him, about the man you fell in love with? And what does this mean about you? And if he is showing up now, why wasn’t he before? And is this sustainable, can he last, will the changes be permanent or only for a few weeks?

But maybe he won’t show up, too. Maybe he can’t change. Maybe he’ll yell at you, tell you it is your fault, tell you that if you had been more somehow he never would have cheated in the first place. Maybe he’ll shame your extra five pounds, your late nights at work, or your expectations. Maybe he’ll say it was you all along. And maybe that makes your decision easier.

But maybe he’s right a little bit. Maybe you could have shared how you were feeling more, and let him have more nights off with his friends, and listened a bit more often. You aren’t to blame, but maybe you have some things to work on too.

He cheated. He cheated and it hurts, on a deep level. But you have to remember that the cheating doesn’t negate everything that came before. All those other moments are real. The hot air balloon ride, the candlelight dinner, the sex in the shower, the ‘I love yous’ as the sun set, the way he looks at you over coffee, the time he swept you up in his arms and said you were his everything. Those moments, those experiences, those memories, are real. They are authentic and powerful. And you have to weigh them against the betrayal.

You can leave. You can walk away, and hurt, and take your things with you, and start again, and everyone would understand. You’ll heal. You’ll hurt, and grieve, and then you’ll move on. The ocean is full of fish, as they say.

But maybe you’ll stay. And if you’ve chosen to stay, well, that’s hard too, because everything feels just like it did before, all of the wonderful and all of the problems, but now you feel like a crazy person. You want to pepper him with questions about the night it happened, who was it, how was it, how often, what specifically, and what not, and was he thinking of you during or after, and was the other person better than you, and did he think about what he stood to lose? You want to call him names. You want to go cheat on him back, so he can know how it feels.  You want to check his phone, put a tracker on it, and follow him to work or the doctor or the gym to see if he’s telling the truth. You wonder if he’ll do it again when he leaves early or comes home late, and every time he leaves to run errands, or every time you are late or gone for a day, you wonder if he is going to do it again, and if so, will you catch him, and do you even want to or would you rather not know, and if he does it again will you be able to give him yet another chance. And you hate it, because you don’t want to be that person who is constantly suspicious and on high alert. The questions and wonderings exhaust you, and they make you sad, and they make him sad, and you know he feels bad and you don’t want to keep making me feel bad, but goddamn it, you were hurt.

You were hurt.

And so, whatever comes next, face it with grace. Be kind. Be consistent. Share your feelings in safe places. Keep your boundaries. Take it one week, one day, one hour at a time. You miss him, you need him, you want him, you want to want him and need you, and you want him to hold you, and you’re wary of being hurt again, and you’re not sure what comes next, and all of those things are okay. Create space for them. You are human, you are organic, and you are not in a hurry.

And although you already know this, you are beautiful. You are worthy of love. You are desirable, and worth it, and enough. And an act of betrayal by someone you love and trust does not change that.

The 12 Guys you Meet on Grindr

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Oh, Grindr.

Grindr is a phone app used by gay men to meet other gay men nearby. Urban dictionary defines it as “Location based iPhone/iTouch App for gay, bi, and curious men to meet. Uses GPS technology in your iPhone and WiFi in iPod Touch to determine your exact location and instantly connect you with guys in your area. View pictures, stats, and map locations at a tap. Totally discreet because Grindr doesn’t ask for your email address or require account registration.”

You download the app and create a basic profile, in which you can upload a photograph (some choose to keep this blank), share a few of your statistics (height, weight, relationship status), and type just a few lines about yourself and what you are looking for.

You open the app on your phone by clicking the small yellow box with the black cat mask on it. A grid of boxes opens up, each box representing a man who has the app also opened on his phone, and the boxes arrange in order of how far away they are from you. (In large cities, walking a few blocks means entirely new groupings of men. In more rural areas, the closest man might be 70 miles away). To look at the photo and profile, you simply click on the image, and you click on a message icon if you want to send a message to that person. You can also upload more photographs from your phone, or take live photographs, to send to the man as well. Finally, you can send a GPS ping that shows him exactly where you are on a map, making meetups easy. Often addresses and phone numbers are exchanged, and conversations continue once the app is closed.

Now it is no secret that men, straight or gay, are and always have been very sexually driven. Much energy is given to the thought of, pursuit of, and acquisition of, sex. When straight men are dating women, basic kindness and charm seem to be part of the process. When it comes to men dating men, however, it often seems that all bets are off. And now, in the age of instant gratification, where we can look at a box of photographs and immediately determine our level of sexual interest based on a photo, some shared information, the content of a message, or a misspelled word and determine interest and attraction sight unseen, it has never been easier to find sex.

I find Grindr amusing. When I have it downloaded, I have generally tried two separate approaches in my profile. Approach one: a simple photograph of myself (clothed and smiling) with no other information. Approach two: a simple photograph of myself (clothed and smiling) with a small blurb that lists my age (36), height (5’11), weight (180 lbs), and a few lines saying something like “Educated professional looking for chats, new friends, or dates. Not here for hook-ups. A little charm and consistency go a long way.”

Some guys download Grindr to chat, others to easily get laid, some just to see who is around.

Following are twelve conversations, or variations thereof, you will definitely have on Grindr if you have the app. Maybe you have had some of these word for word.

1. the Bots

His profile: a relatively handsome guy with a basic age and weight listed.

Him: Hey, you’re cute.

Me: Thank you, you too.

Him: I’m new here. My battery is dying. May I have your number?

Me: You’re a bot, aren’t you?

Him: Click this link to come watch me on camera. The credit card request is just to verify you are of age.

Me: *block*

2. the Bros

His profile: generally a headless muscly torso with a tagline that says something like “Masc seeking Masc, not into fems”

Him: Sup.

Me: Hello.

Him: Hey.

Me: Hello.

Him: Looking?

Me: For sex? Not at the moment.

3. The Skanks

His profile: Grindr doesn’t allow nudity in profile photos, but imagine whatever is closest. Photo will be something like a close-up of his underpants, another headless torso, or him in tight shorts turned around and grabbing his rear. A few brief sentences like “Willing bottom, ready to take your load. You host. Ready now. Don’t waste my time with chat. Not into fat guys.”

Him: {unsolicited photo of his penis, or perhaps of him bent over}

Me: Wow. That was… well, good for you.

Him: Looking?

Me: No thanks.

Him: Where’s your pics?

Me: I don’t share nudes.

Him: Come on, you’re hot. Let me take your load.

4. The Very Persistent

His profile: Normal looking guy of any age, a few stats listed about himself. A blurb saying something like “Average guy looking for a real connection.”

Him: Hi.

Him: Hi.

Him: Hello?

Him: You’re cute.

Him: Are you getting my messages?

Him: Hi.

Him: Hi.

Him: Hello?

Him: Are you there?

5. The Martyr

His profile: Usually an average guy of any age with a pleasant smile. Profile reads something like “Aren’t there any good guys left in the world? Tired of being single. Think maybe I’m the only decent guy left.”

Him: Hi there. How are you?

Me: I’m fine, thank you. How are you?

Him: Wanna go out some time?”

Me: I’ve got a pretty busy week with work right now, but we could chat a bit.

Him: Whatever. You’re just like all the other guys. Why won’t you come and meet me?

Me: Well, I’m not looking for sex. And I’m working right now.

Him: Who said I was looking for sex!

Him: Why would you think that about me!

Him: I just want someone to cuddle with! I didn’t even want sex!

Him: You’re just like all the others!

Me: Whoa, I said I’m working right now. Relax, man, it’s Grindr!

Him: #### you! (block)

6. The Cheater

His profile: Good-looking guy, shirt on or off, with a blurb saying something like “Partnered to a good guy, yes he knows I’m on here. Just seeing who is out there. Not interested in sex usually, but you never know.”

Him: You’re hot. Want some company?

Me: You’re partnered…

Him: I am but I want you.

Me: Are you guys open?

Him: Nope but I know he cheats on me and I don’t say anything so it’s my turn. Come over.

7. The Polyamorous

His profile: Generally a photo of two partnered guys (any age or appearance) with some listed stats and a small blurb like “Happily married and occasionally seeking a third for fun. I’m top, he’s bottom.”

Him: My boyfriend and I are looking for a third. Interested?

Me: Not really my style. I’m down for new friends, though.

Him: No thanks.

8. The Very Descriptive

His profile: Usually either a black screen or a stock photo of a sandy beach, a “keep calm and carry on” meme, or a cartoon character. No stats or words listed.

Him: I’m laying all horned up in my hotel room with porn playing on the TV. Looking for two guys to come over and make me their slave while I’m handcuffed and blindfolded. I’ll leave the door unlocked. I’ll take both of your loads and then you can just leave me there. Interested?

Him: {location ping sent}

Him: {photo of genitals}

Me: Well, that is quite a way to begin a conversation. You want all that and you’ve only seen a face photo of me?

Him: {silence. he’s already cut and pasted the same information to every other guy on the app}

9. The Narcissist

His profile: A photo of a very good-looking all-American type guy. A few lines read “Don’t waste my time. Good-looking guy seeking fit athletic masculine guys who are down to clown. If I don’t respond, it means I don’t find you attractive.”

Him: Hey stud.

Me: Hi back.

Him: I’ll get right to the point.

Him: You are one of like 2 per cent of guys that I actually find attractive. I’m a top hosting right now. Why don’t you come over?

Me: You’re certainly very handsome, but I’m not really interested in random sex. Would you like to meet for coffee some time?

Him: I’m not looking for a relationship, dude. Come over, or don’t.

10. The Discreet

His profile: No photo, no words about himself.

Him: Hey there.

Me: Hi back.

Him: Do you have more pics of yourself?

Me: You can already see one of me. Can I see one of you?

Him: Dude, I gotta be discreet. I’m not out yet.

Me: That’s cool. I understand.

Him: Wanna meet up some time?

Me: I still don’t know what you look like.

Him: Yeah, I’m discreet.

Me: Yes, I know. You said that.

Him: So you have more pics?

11. The “Back-in-the-Day” Guy

His profile: An attractive picture of a shirtless relatively fit guy. Age listed at 45. Nothing written.

Him: You’re really cute.

Me: Thank you. I like your photo.

Him: Thank you. Want to get together for a walk some time?

Me: Sure, that sounds fine.

**At the meeting, you realize he is actually 58 and weighs about 30 more pounds than he did in the photo, which was taken 7 years ago. He acts surprised and upset when you comment on his misrepresentation.

12. And finally: The Disappearing Nice Guy

His profile: Good-looking guy with basic stats that seem honest. He actually takes time to write out a basic profile. “Busy professional with lots of interests. Looking to meet a nice guy. Hoping for a relationship, but down for fun in the mean time.”

Him: Hey, I really like your profile.

Me: I like yours too. How is your week going?

Him: Really well. And yours?

Me: Good! Hitting the gym soon. Big plans for your evening?

Him: Just relaxing at home. Would you like to get together for coffee some time?

Me: I would like that. When works for you?

{2 days later} Me: Hey, haven’t heard back from you… Still want to get that coffee?

So after reading all this, you gotta be wondering why I’m on Grindr. Easy answer. I like to believe I’m that ever elusive 13th guy, the one using a convenient phone app in an effort to meet quality guys for dating and hoping for a substantial connection. We all have our reasons for being on Grindr, but ultimately, using the app is like checking the fridge to see what food is there although you aren’t hungry.

You just open the door and hope maybe something will catch your eye.

Men with Two Faces

It takes a certain kind of man to lead two lives. And we all know at least a few of them.

Some men have the ability to lead one life in private and a very different life in public. Sure, women can do it too, but this is far and above a male problem.

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Take Don Draper, from the show Mad Men. In the first episode of the series, we meet a very successful advertising executive with a high rise office and a gorgeous girlfriend that he meets for an afternoon tryst. And then, at the end of the episode, Don goes home to his beautiful and faithful wife and children at their house in the suburbs. Don has the uncanny ability to carry on a long-term relationship with two separate women. It’s as if he enters the office, and sets his family on the shelf; then he returns home to pay with the kids and cuddle his wife while his work life stays in the city. And we learn, later on, that when he doesn’t have someone on the side, he actively seeks someone; it’s an obsession, a compulsion.

Those of us who aren’t Don Draper might be fascinated, confused, or outraged by this, but most of us simply don’t understand how this could happen, and how it could be sustained. What makes a man capable of both having a family and an entire other life, cheating on them on the side?

My stepfather, Kent, was a different kind of man with two sides. In public, he was a stalwart Mormon family man with a big heart, showing up at church every week with a firm handshake, a hearty laugh, and a genuine smile. Yet behind the closed doors of our home, he had a violent and explosive temper, and would use violence and words to manipulate and control the members of the household.

Perhaps the most extreme example I can think of is Dennis Rader. I read his biography a few years ago. A God-fearing, church-going family man with a wife and children and a full-time job, baseball games and barbecues and family outings. Yet he had a secret, decades-long life in which he would violently murder others as the BTK Killer, taunting police with clues along the way. When he was arrested, his family had absolutely no idea about his double life.

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I often have clients come in to my office (I’m a therapist) who have just learned about the double life of a spouse. A man married for ten years has learned his husband has been cheating on him the entire time. A woman with five children finds her husband arrested for sexual molestation of a young teenage girl down the street. A 60 year old woman finds a note in her husband’s pocket, calls the number, and learns about a five-year long affair. A young wife discovers a bank account her husband never told her about, and learns about his addiction to gambling funds on the stock market.

The first emotion is shock. Then a deep sense of betrayal. How could he do this to me? Then there is a deep pain, a combination of rage and hurt and grief and shame. How could I not have known? Why did he hurt me? Maybe I’m not meant to fall in love. I did everything for him and he betrayed me!

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Many times, the client has confronted their spouse before they come in. And it often looks something like this.

Maggie: Mark, I know about Jenny. I saw her text messages.

Mark: What? I told you not to go through my phone! I warned you!

Maggie: Don’t yell at me. I’m so angry with you. You cheated on me. 

Mark: Oh please, we were just texting. We didn’t actually do anything. 

Maggie: Mark, I know you’ve been sleeping together. I saw the content of the messages. 

Mark: I don’t know what you think you read, but you’re wrong. It’s not a big deal. 

Maggie: If it wasn’t a big deal, why didn’t you tell me about her?

Mark: Because I knew you would act like this!

Maggie: I’ve packed my bag. I’m going to my parents. 

Mark: What! Oh my god, you’re over-reacting! 

Maggie: Goodbye, Mark.

Mark: Wait! Don’t go! Okay, okay, I’m sorry, okay? Is that what you want?

Maggie: I want the truth.

Mark: Okay, okay, I slept with her. Once. But then it was over. It didn’t mean anything. Then I called it off. 

Maggie: You texted her this morning. She said you were with her last night. 

Mark: She’s lying! Nothing happened!

Maggie: Goodbye, Mark. 

Mark: Fine, go! I make one mistake! Nothing I ever do is ever good enough for you!

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There is no easy way to measure out the long-term effects of a betrayal. When you trust someone that much and build a life with them, a wide wound opens up, a rift within, when you learn about this secret life divided.

And there is no easy way to understand how someone can live these lives. It happens far too often. Small secrets and lies lead to larger and larger ones. People divide themselves into pieces and, with practice, become very good at it. It requires a certain sense of narcissism, a heavy sense of entitlement, an ability to take advantage of a person deeply loved and trusted mixed with an ability to think more is owed or deserved outside of the relationship.

For any who have been betrayed, you can live a happy and healthy life with love and passion and success. You have to allow your wounds time to heal, you have to learn to put your needs up to the surface, to prioritize and to take care of your self and obligations. It’s a long process, and you’ll come out the other side stronger as the wounds heal.

And for any who have done the betraying, it is likely you’ll hurt another person without help. The compulsion to have your cake and eat it too, or to have the two separate lives you want… it isn’t sustainable, it isn’t something you can keep doing over time without consistently hurting the ones you love. You have to learn to be accountable and empathetic, to sacrifice your needs and compulsions in order to have the stable and happy family life you want and crave. And you have to want to stop hurting the people you care about.

No man can easily wear two faces. Not for long. And not without hurting everyone he loves.

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