Sometimes we forget that both genders can be guilty of being unfaithful.
I cheated. I cheated on a serious, long-term boyfriend when I was in college. And, I was racked with guilt.
We met in Italy during my junior year in college and pledged our undying love. He was Italian, and for me, it was the romance to end all romances. We spent weekends exploring Italy by train, we dined at tiny trattorias, me fumbling my way through learning Italian, smoking countless cigarettes over espresso and chianti.
I loved him, I learned from him, and I cheated on him.
The plan was, after that year, most of which was spent with American students in a villa outside Florence studying art history, architecture, Italian, and taking field trips to Assisi, Orvieto, and Rome, was to return to the States, finish my degree and then go back, marry him, and make Italian babies. I even believed this would come to pass during most of my senior year as we wrote lengthy love letters and pined over one another. I added an Italian double major.
And yet, back in the States, as the year wore on, and my libido settled, my ambitions and goals awakened, and the level of Montepulciano in my blood stream petered out, I did a double take. So, I cheated. And it was wrong.
I also know why I cheated. It was the biggest, loudest get out now horn-honking, red-flag waving my subconscious could have ever shoved in front of me. That’s no excuse because it was a crappy thing to do. I lied and I broke my promise, but that’s why I did it.
I was young. I’d never cheated before and I never cheated again. At the time, I wasn’t mature enough to say “I am having huge reservations about where my life and relationship are going. I don’t want to move to Italy and live in a tiny apartment and make babies.” I was twenty-one and had wide eyes and an open mind with no constraints, except those I put on myself. And suddenly, they felt like a straight jacket.
But, instead of doing the right thing first, I did something that, had my boyfriend found out, he’d have drilled me down the soccer field like Milan’s striker Mario Balotelli and never looked back. As it was, when I told him I was returning to the States and not planning to marry him, he practically spit on me. He called me a whore. And no, I didn’t get the translation wrong. I was fluent by then. It was ugly and mean. He was blindsided and angry, and hurt.
This was after I moved to Italy after college, still believing I’d be with him, we would live this fantasy. I had led him to believe I’d follow through. I am not excusing how he spoke to me, or treated me. It was horrible.
From his cultural standpoint, not just as an Italian but from where he was raised in Italy, my actions were akin to a promise. An engagement. I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. I lived with him for a few months, and things spiraled fast for me. I had nothing. No job, no support system, all I had was us. I had no me. I was lonely and unfulfilled, and I realized very early on that I made a mistake.
The whirlwind romance of being a student abroad with weekends in Perugia, Rome, and Siena, with wine, museums, and Italian architecture and art history—it was a living dream. A finite, lovely, and incredible dream. But it was not sustainable.
Real life was that we were too young, too different, didn’t want the same things, were not in the same places in life, and were not at a point to make a lifelong commitment to one another.
That became clear and fast. In fact, I knew it long before I went back to live with him. I knew it when I cheated. I just didn’t face it. And I am sorry, because I know he was true to me. He did not deserve betrayal nor did my short term U.S. fling with whom I cheated. And, I am sorry to both of them. I was doing the best I could with what I had at the time, which I guess wasn’t much.
I want you both to know, I apologize. I do know now, for a fact, that you are both just fine without me. Yes, the earth rotates on its axis without Jenny in everyone’s life. And U.S., you got it then, even though I didn’t. You were wise to me. So, maybe you had yourself a little fun, although you’re such a good man, I know you still now, I suspect if felt a little off to you. Still, it was not OK. To my former Italian lover and friend, I know you are happily married, with a daughter and the life you want, and that would not have happened with me.
I am sorry I lied to you. I am sorry I cheated on you. Cheating on you taught me why people cheat, or at least why I cheated. Something wasn’t right, and I wasn’t willing to face it. Now, I face whatever isn’t right because it’s just not fair otherwise.
Thank you, thank you for showing me Italy, for teaching me Italian, for teaching me the value of family, for traveling with me, for introducing me to amazing tastes, sounds and sights. I hope I taught you too, and I am sorry for what I took, that which you know, and that which you don’t.
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.