How you experience love and relationships when you are young is so important, because it sets the groundwork for the future.
I am forever disheartened at the sheer number of stories both online and IRL that I hear about young girls (and guys, for that matter) having their trust betrayed by someone they invested their love and time in.
Because while time is a healer, it’s the betrayal that stays with us far longer than those typical ‘break-up’ feelings that take a few months to dissipate.
In the initial stages, we question ourselves, where did we go wrong to deserve this, how could someone do this to me, was I not enough?
But then we realise that it wasn’t about us at all, and so the disappointment and anger of betrayal begins to sink in.
My first serious relationship ended awhile ago now, almost four years ago. In all honesty, it’s a distant memory and I don’t harbour any bad feelings towards it.
Hatred and anger turned to indifference and looking back, I was young, naive and overly trusting.
I’m certainly not out to bash anyone, but I think it’s worth exploring how being cheated on can affect you in your relationships later on, because everyone seems to be able to relate in some way – whether it’s a raw, recent experience – or a relationship decades ago.
Whether for good or for bad, having your trust broken in that way does change you.
Well, it certainly changed me.
Photography by Kaye Ford
So I suppose I should start at the beginning, like all stories should.
My relationship began aged 15, which many may argue is far too young to even consider it a proper relationship. And in many respects, I agree. But at 15, I’d already been through quite a lot and my maturity level was on par with a 20-year-old.
The relationship started rockily, as in the first month of us being together I was grounded by my parents because I’d come home very drunk from a party (paralytic might actually be a better word), after being given explicit instructions not to drink.
I wasn’t rebellious but that was my first (and only) time that I’d disappointed them enough that they felt I needed to be taught a lesson.
So for a month afterwards, I wasn’t allowed to go out with my friends, join in after-school activities or go to parties at the weekends. It sounds harsh, but I deserved it – and I now know my limits of alcohol.
However because of this month away from my friends ever evolving social schedule, I drifted away from them. My boyfriend would come to visit me at my parents house and he became my go-to.
I very quickly fell into his clutches, grateful that he’d made the effort to come and see me.
I felt indebted to him for ‘sticking by me’, which sounds totally ridiculous but the world seems like a much more black and white place when you’re 15 with minimal life experiences, regardless of my maturity.
As my ‘grounding’ period came to a close, I felt ‘out of the loop’ with my friends.
They’d recall things they’d done at the weekend, boys they’d kissed, parties they’d been to – and I couldn’t join in.
I felt alone, but I knew I had my boyfriend, it was comforting.
And so again, I slipped into his clutches – I became closer to him, which at the time I thought was lovely but looking back, it’s so much harder to go through betrayal without friends by your side.
“Years went by and I should have seen the warning signs.”
Years went by and I should have seen the warning signs.
At 18, I left school with grades I was really proud of and figured he’d do the same. Unfortunately he didn’t quite get what he needed and had to drop-out of sixth form to attend a local college instead.
At this point, friends were starting to head off to University – but I wasn’t ready.
Was it because I didn’t want to leave my boyfriend behind or was I just genuinely not ready to leave home yet?
Honestly, I’ll never know but with all of my friends heading off in their own direction, again – we were brought closer together. I got a job near to his home and we settled into some kind of ‘normal’.
I should have seen the warning signs from the beginning, things that I would NEVER put up with now. Like the pictures that popped up on Facebook while I was on holiday of him holding hands with another girl. Him at a party with a girl sitting on his lap. I put it down to his overly tactile nature and forgave him. I should have taken heed when I saw texts popping up on his phone from other girls, when I investigated further and found him bitching about how I never left him alone and was an ‘organ grinder’. I took it that I was being too clingy and so took a step back. But he assured me I wasn’t and that he didn’t mean it.
There were countless other ‘suspicious’ occasions that made me feel uncomfortable, like the messages to his friends about girls in his class he fancied, girls he wanted to ‘take on dates’. I was angry with myself that I was even looking at his messages, because before him, I was never that kind of girl and I was so secure in my own skin. But after the initial few occasions, I had this nagging gut feeling that I should look – and I always found what I was dreading. I went hunting and I never failed to find something else to make my heart sink.
I used this messages to fuel my desire to try harder. I’d be a better girlfriend I decided. I’d make him want me and no-one else.
In hindsight, I feel upset that I ever had to feel this way, because while you can love someone and surround them with loving gestures, it won’t ever make them commit if they don’t want to. I wish I’d realised this sooner.
So I’d write him lovely notes which I’d leave on the pillow in the morning as I headed out to work. I’d book spontaneous romantic weekend breaks to Venice with every last penny of my earnings. I’d make an extra effort to get to know his friends. Maybe if they liked me, they would persuade him out of doing anything he shouldn’t have been doing. I turned into a woman obsessed with making sure he didn’t stray.
Because I knew it was inevitable.
But things just got worse.
He’d stay at my house because it was closer to his friends (assuring me it was because he wanted to see me), he’d be invited to parties which he wouldn’t want me to accompany him to, he’d lie and say he was playing xbox with mates when FB pictures popped up later showing he’d been at a club with girls. Messages from girls persuading him ‘not to tell her’, would also spring up on his lock screen.
And in all honesty, I can’t really see a turning point from where I went from loving girlfriend to a girl who doubted herself and someone’s ability to love her.
I guess I just thought it was normal for boys to be like this. I thought I’d just have to put up with the constant lies.
I became some sort of Nancy Drew on a mission to decode everything going on and build a case against him, in the hope he’d realise what he was doing and change. I’m not proud of who I was during those years in terms of relationships but looking back, I can see how it spiralled downwards. I felt I’d isolated myself to the point where I only had him to turn to and therefore I looked past all the deceit. I put it down to immaturity and my own ‘clinginess’.
To cut a very long (four year story) short, things ended officially when we eventually went our separate ways to University, him three hours North and me two hours South.
I think we both knew the inevitably of our future (or lack of) together, but it took only a week of being freshers for the straw to break. I found messages that he’d ‘slept’ with another girl. Apparently it wasn’t technically cheating because they hadn’t ‘gone all the way’, but according to him she was a huge ‘upgrade’ from me.
There was then graphic detail about what they ‘had‘ done. I don’t know whether my heart shattered at that moment or whether I just saw red.
But something inside me switched and finally, enough was enough. Maybe it was the new start at University that gave me the empowerment to finally end things. Or maybe it was the realisation that in actuality, I hadn’t done anything to deserve this.
I didn’t NEED to remain with somebody who treated me like this, however nice he was when he wasn’t betraying my trust.
And so that was the end. The only way I could really get over things was to throw myself into University life. Delete his number, pictures of him, his messages. But I’m not denying I didn’t falter at some points. Having only just started my course, I didn’t really have any close friends who I felt I could cry and open up to, so in moments of weakness, I would message him with emotional pleas. But as I said, time was a healer and eventually I moved on. I probably threw myself into my next relationship far too quickly looking back, but I suppose in my own head – it showed how long I’d been on the brink of realising it wasn’t working.
But the whole purpose of this post, was to explore HOW being cheated on affects you. How it’s affected me now. Whether it will always plague your relationships in the future and how you can move on.
You realise what’s acceptable
Looking back, it was my first relationship and I had no real indication or example of how a relationship should be.
What’s acceptable in a relationship differs from person to person and perhaps I’m now less forgiving than most people but I uphold very high standards when it comes to what I will accept and what I won’t put up with. When friends ask about certain dilemmas in their own relationships, I probably give far more honest advice than most – but only because I have strong opinions on the subject.
When you know what’s acceptable clearly in your own head, you’re able to align those with your partners. And if they don’t match, I usually wouldn’t even go there.
You protect your heart
In my second relationship, admittedly, I was much more guarded than before. I didn’t let myself fall too deeply and I think that was the demise of it. He was a really lovely, sweet, kind person and totally different from the first in the sense he was very loyal and didn’t go out drinking, however I was protecting myself so much that I never really formed that loving connection.
I’m grateful I had that relationship, because while I think we were more like very close, supportive friends than lovers, it moved me forward in my feelings and allowed me to protect my heart up until a point that I felt safe to start letting the guard down a little.
You reinforce your own values
Loyalty, trust and honesty are the three ‘pillars’ to love in my opinion. Obviously there’s the need for an intimate connection too, but I personally value those three aspects EXTREMELY highly and I don’t ever sacrifice them. I discovered soon after the relationship ended that I had an overwhelming need for control that stemmed from not having that honesty and trust in there. If those two pillars are in place, all feelings of jealously and anxiety melt away.
You realise WHY you’re in a relationship
Relationships mean different things to different people and I am never going to judge another person for what works for them. Some people choose to be in polygamous relationships. Some people are able to forgive a partner who has betrayed their trust. But more recently, I’ve understood WHY I’m in a relationship and why I actively choose to share my life with someone, rather than on my own. I love building a connection with one individual, I love growing alongside that person, I love being committed to them and feeling the same level of commitment back. I love the values we share, the dreams we share and the future we want, together. I love being honest with that person, I love being open and I love how that person respects me. If anything of those things changed, I’d question whether I was in a relationship for the reasons I wanted to be, or whether I was just scared of change and was simply just ‘comfortable’.
The jealously is something that takes awhile to go
I will be totally honest with you here, I think it was the heart shattering betrayal and deceit that took the longest to overcome. I couldn’t fathom how someone I’d poured my heart into, someone who told me ‘I’d never jeopardise what we have’ and someone I lived with and built a life with, could betray my trust and prove all my doubts right. I think it was a very unhealthy relationship where jealously gradually grew and festered and created a monster. That jealously never really goes away. I definitely shove it to the back of my mind, I talk it through with people, I’m more honest and open about when I’m feeling slightly threatened. But sometimes you just get a nagging gut feeling that you can’t budge. And that’s normal and natural when you’ve had your trust broken. However you do have to accept that every relationship is different and regardless of how familiar something is feeling, you have to give your new partner the benefit of the doubt. Because it’s unfair to ask someone else to suffer for another’s mistakes. If I’m feeling at all threatened in any way, it’s best to air your concerns and talk it out. Honesty, as with everything, is the best policy.
You choose wisely
I think it’s naive to think that if you had ‘chose’ better in the first place, you wouldn’t have gone through the turmoil in the first place, because when you’re in the throws of a new relationship, often you ignore the little niggles that later start to unnerve you. However I think I’m more in tune with the values that make up an individual and I choose where I put my feelings rather than letting myself spiral into them.
I’ve obviously changed, matured and grown up in the time since the first relationship ended and while I can’t exactly say that I’m ‘thankful‘ for what I went through, I certainly think that it taught me many important life lessons. I’m certainly a more driven, determined and more highly principled person. No relationship is perfect but you are together with someone because you’ve made a commitment to fulfil one another in a variety of aspects. If either of you breaks those commitments, it’s up to you to decide what the next step is. Every relationship is different and you have to do you!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you been cheated on – or have you cheated? Do you think it affects future relationships long-term?
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