I was reading Cosmopolitan the other day, browsing their Love Issue for inspiration, when I was slightly taken aback by an article. Benjamin Anastas was sharing his story of infidelity, how he confessed to his (then) fiancé, and how he regretted it. He had been traveling on business, spent a night with a stranger, and then guilt ate at him until he confessed. They worked through it, married, but then she “revenge cheated” and they divorced. He claimed that telling her was selfish, that she’d have been happier never knowing, and that it was his desire to be forgiven and unload his burden that made him tell her. I was left to wonder, should you confess to cheating?
Wait, Is It Even a Question?
I had never thought of it from that standpoint before. I’ve been witness to cheating before but those men certainly weren’t about to confess. One of two things always happened; they loved their partner, were riddled with guilt, and never cheated again OR they were found out and forced to confess. None of them ever went to their wife or girlfriend and said, “Baby, I slept with someone else and I’m so sorry!” In the first instance they feared confessing would ruin the life they’d made and couldn’t risk it and in the latter they didn’t want to lose the great set up they had created.
As for me I had one minor “cheating” event. I’d been with my boyfriend about two years when I spent the weekend with another man. There was no sex—but there was plenty making out. Honestly there was no point in not having sex but I thought it was less “cheaty” if I didn’t. Anyway, even though I broke up with him shortly thereafter (for totally unrelated reasons) I never wondered if I should confess to him. In fact, I’d often felt bad about how I didn’t feel bad for doing it.
Can Confessing Be Selfish?
Benjamin contests that disclosing his affair just to free himself of guilt and the burden of knowledge was selfish. I have to wonder if that isn’t true. Now I’m left to ponder if I could disclose my own cheating; would my conscious force me to? What if my partner strayed, would I really want to know or is ignorance bliss? Everything in me says “of course I’d want to know” and that I’d hate to lead a “fake” life of bliss. It’s not fake if I believe it though.
I would never want to be that woman paired with a man who habitually cheated and everyone knew but me. I’ve seen those women and I couldn’t handle the chirping that goes on. You know the talk: “Poor Sally, she has no idea that Bob runs around on her … so naïve.” I would loathe being that pitied woman. If the infidelity was a one time thing though, never to be repeated, I’d just as soon not have my illusions shattered.
Would You Want the Confession?
Knowing wouldn’t make it hurt less. Knowing wouldn’t heal or help. When you air an affair it doesn’t make you any less guilty. Confession hurts your partner and you continue to live with your mistake regardless. You take a happy relationship and tarnish it. You burden your partner, force them to choose, and make them the bad guy if they can’t move past it. Sounds pretty selfish to me.
I almost applaud this man for cheating and coming clean because not many people take that route in my experience. I wish he hadn’t though. Don’t stone me just yet, listen a second. Telling his partner brought her pain, made her feel justified in her own deceit later, and ruined what was a happy relationship. Had he never mentioned it they could have led a potentially long and happy life together without her holding on to resentment and hurt. Had I confessed to my boyfriend he’d have stayed with me and likely married me but he’d have to live with the knowledge of what I’d done.
Shades of Grey
Adult relationships are complex, each unique with different understandings of what constitutes cheating and betrayal. So many people view life as black or white, right or wrong. Too many people are afraid to look foolish and stay with a cheater so they leave when really things may have been able to be worked out. Anger clouds reason, hurt overshadows love, and pride trumps everything.
I see a world of grey, one of choices and options. Did you ever wish you could unknow something or unsay it? I know I have. What if they never told you, you never asked, or they never got caught? What if everything could go back to before the bad thing happened, if you got a do over? I’m just asking you to consider that maybe, just maybe, it is better not knowing.
Maybe it’s not even cheating. Find out in our poll in our New Years print edition.
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