I knew that my boyfriend was cheating on me the minute Ashley* arrived to his Halloween party. The atmosphere grew thick; people stopped talking or slowed their speech to watch her approach. Not one of her friends walked up to say hi. I looked around to see if they would properly acknowledge her, and when they didn’t, I awkwardly walked forward to give her a hug. My boyfriend remained seated in the chair next to me, his eyes averted. He didn’t say a word.
Didn’t he invite her? Isn’t she one of his best friends?
“Hey, how are you?” I said with a forced smile. She returned the greeting with a matched sense of hesitancy. She knew that my boyfriend and I had nearly broken up due to my concerns about her. He had sent fire emojis to one of her selfies, lied when he was hanging out with her, and had even slept over her apartment. When I visited him, all of his friends would come over to hang out–except for her. She would see him the night before and immediately come join him after my departure.
The worst was when his roommate threw the door open one night and saw me sleeping in my boyfriend’s bed. “Who is that?” he had asked casually. “Is that Ashley?”
I confronted him every time, but inexplicably, there was always an explanation. His answers didn’t sit well with me. “Instead of a separate excuse for every weird thing, it would actually make more sense if there was ONE answer to explain it all,” I had said. “It would be more logical to connect the dots: you’re cheating on me.”
He would cry and beg me to believe him. “I would never do anything to hurt you,” he had said. “Ashley wouldn’t either. I love you. I want to marry you. You, this relationship–this is it for me. I don’t want anyone else.”
My heart would believe him, but my mind never did. I started to feel physically ill. Doubt creeped in like a poison. It happened more often when I was alone. I started waking up at night in complete panic or crying in the middle of my lunch break. His face fell when I told him the extent of my concern. “Please call me any time you have doubt,” he had said. “I will do whatever it takes–I will always reassure you. I cannot lose you.”
Except he’d try to reassure me with more lies.
“Did you tell Ashley that your roommate thought she was in your bed?” I asked one day.
There was a beat. Then another. Then another.
The silence stretched on. It was long enough where I looked at him to see if he had heard me. Then I suddenly realized: He’s thinking.
“Oh yeah,” he eventually responded with a forced laugh. “She said she hates him. He’s always full of shit.”
His words were running through my head while I silently sipped my beer at the party and looked at Ashley. She lifted up her phone and pointed it directly at me. Was she taking a picture? Then she settled her phone comfortably in her hands and began texting frantically.
My boyfriend looked deflated in his chair. One of his friends came towards him with a wide grin. He shook my boyfriend’s shoulders and whispered in his ear while grinning conspiratorially. This was the friend who was known for cheating on his wife with no remorse. My boyfriend seemed to sense my unease and continued to sink in his seat. He didn’t return the smile.
I walked over to him. My head was spinning–I knew what had to be true, but had no proof. How could you prove anything with just a feeling? I certainly hadn’t been able to. I had checked his phone the week before but found nothing. Did I just not look hard enough? Was he smart enough to hide things from me?
He looked up at me. His eyes were sad. “You look so beautiful,” he said. He ran his hand over the glow-in-the-dark rib cage and hip bones on my skeleton costume. “You’re skinny.”
I had lost 12 pounds. “It’s from stress and sadness,” I joked, but I didn’t laugh. He kept his hand on my hip and continued to look at me. I touched his shoulder. For a moment, all the warmth and love I had for him came flooding back. This was the man who had bought 4 baby ducklings because he knew I liked them, who had once spent an entire day traveling just to see me, who had cried the first time he said he was in love, who had told me he had wanted to have children with me.
In that moment, I thought of our entire relationship. I remembered our first kiss on the docks under the full moon and all the hours we spent driving in the car, pointing to houses for sale and imagining our lives there. I thought of country music with the windows down, boardwalk rides and carnival games, naps on the beach with our arms wrapped around each other, running errands in comfortable silence, reaching for him in the middle of the night and the way he would pull me closer. He was the only one who had ever kissed me like he loved me.
I wondered if I was wrong. Maybe things were actually okay.
That would be the last intimate moment we would ever have as boyfriend and girlfriend.
I looked over and saw Ashley standing near his other shoulder. One of my boyfriend’s friends raised his phone in our direction. “Why you taking a picture of us?” I asked. He snapped another one and said nothing. He seemed to be laughing to himself.
It’s because he knows something that I don’t, I realized, and the certainty of it sank in my stomach like a stone.
Once my boyfriend left for the bathroom, Ashley asked to talk to me outside. I followed her warily. This isn’t going to be good. “I just want to start by saying that I respect what you two have,” she said.
“So whenever I sleep over his house, I make sure to sleep on the couch,” Ashley said. She smiled from ear to ear, as if this piece of information would assuage all of my fears.
I took a step back. “He told me that you have NEVER slept over this house,” I said. “He made it very clear to me that you had gone home every single time you guys hung out.”
Her smile dropped.
“How often did you sleep over here?” I asked.
I could see on her face that she wanted to take back what she had said. “Um, only maybe…six times?”
So it was more.
“But I slept on the couch!” she insisted.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said, shaking my head. “I already know he’s been lying to me.”
She looked at me for a moment. “Are you guys boyfriend and girlfriend?”
“YES!” I exclaimed. “We’ve been dating since summer, but we’ve been official for a few months.”
She looked at me steadily. The next few words were blurted out before she had a moment to catch them.
“I fucked him last night,” she said.
Her words were like a thunderclap. I dropped to my knees. People were still talking nearby, but I no longer saw or heard them. My breath drew in and I held it there. From that moment on, I felt like I was outside of my body, watching the events unfold. I no longer had control.
I’ll never forget how easily that sentence rolled off her tongue. How quickly it had gone from I respect what you two have to I fucked him.
She didn’t say it with any sort of pride or arrogance; there was guilt in her voice–but I wasn’t sure if it was guilt for hurting me or guilt for betraying her best friend.
“I was over. He said he wanted to fuck me. So I followed him to his room and I fucked him.”
The word fuck hit me like a gunshot every time she said it.
The night before, we had been texting. He sent me a picture of himself and said he was going to sleep. I had wondered why he looked so put together. His hair was combed; he was wearing a nice shirt. He had said something strange: “I’ll probably be back online at 1 am when I wake up again.”
Because he was making excuses to be inactive then active again on Snapchat. He was going to fuck her for the next few hours.
He had come back online at midnight to say he loved me.
At this point, my boyfriend came outside. He looked at me kneeling on the ground.
“You fucked her last night?” I said.
His face dropped. There was no getting out of this one. “Yes,” he admitted.
My ears began ringing; my body filled with rage. I squeezed the beer bottle in my hand and smashed it into the ground. “You’ve been fucking cheating on me and I knew it! You’ve been lying this WHOLE time!” I punched my fists into the pavement. He stood there motionless, not saying anything at all. His face was cast into a deep frown, and he held his arms across his chest.
I had been right the whole time, and there was no satisfaction to gain from it. All I got in return was overwhelming pain.
But even in that moment, I knew he was thinking. Because whenever I caught him doing something hurtful, he would admit to one thing while hiding the rest under the surface. And Ashley wouldn’t admit to anything else if he was right in front of her.
“Come with me,” I said to Ashley, who was sobbing nearby, as I grabbed my keys. “NOW!” I brought her to my car and locked the doors.
“I want to start by saying I’m not mad at you,” I said. “I just really need to know how long this has been going on.”
Then I took out my phone, pressed “record,” and placed it nearby.
Outside, my boyfriend was solemnly bringing my luggage to the car.
She began to talk.
“We’ve been fucking since May,” she said. “It’s been like…monthly?” Her voice trailed off at the end. So it was worse than that.
I drew in a breath. “We’ve been dating since June.”
“I mean–we haven’t fucked since June,” she stammered.
“Well, you did last night,” I said. “Ashley, please don’t lie to me, I just need to know the truth.”
“We did fuck last night. But before that, it was June.”
“We were seriously dating in June, but official in August,” I said.
“Wait, we last fucked in August then.”
She was backtracking, trying to figure out my timeline so she could change her story. Was she trying to protect herself? Was she trying to protect him?
Except it made perfect sense that they had been sleeping together the whole time. Most of his lies and his strange behavior always seemed to center around her.
“We hang out all the time,” Ashley said. “I don’t think he tells you just how much we really see each other.”
I stopped recording her on my phone. I had heard enough–it was time to confront him.
When I was talking to Ashley, I was calm. When I came face-to-face with my boyfriend, all the pain and anger came flooding out.
Everything I thought I knew about him was wrong. I had been in love with someone who never existed.
As I walked up to him, all he did was look at me with a downcast face. His arms were tightly wrapped around his chest.
“You were lying to me the whole time,” I said. “I kept asking you if you were cheating on me, and you said no. You made me feel like I was crazy. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat–” Sobs started coursing through my body, and I bent over in pain. He stood at a distance and made no move to comfort me.
“You said you loved me. You said you wanted to marry me. You said you wanted to have kids with me.” I was racked with sobs and pressed my hands on the ground. “I’ve–never–been so heartbroken before. You broke my heart. You broke my heart. I can’t–“
“I guess I’m just a bad person,” he said, his words dripping with self-pity. This infuriated me. He never said sorry, never tried to hold me, just wanted me to comfort HIM and say, “No, you’re not that bad!”
I stood up and kicked his bedroom wall. “I spend 9 hours in a fucking car every weekend to see you. After working two jobs all fucking week. 90 dollars in gas and tolls every SINGLE time.” I kicked the wall again and again. My voice grew louder until I started to scream. “I do EVERYTHING for you. All because I thought we had a future together. I LOVED you. And the whole time, you’re just fucking around, you let me think I’m fucking crazy. But I WASN’T crazy, because it was really happening. And you don’t do shit for me.”
The wall now had a gaping hole. He put his arms out for me to stop and made a sound of frustration. So I kicked it harder.
“I told my family what you did,” I said. “I told all my friends. So they all know who you are. You’re not just a bad person. You’re fucking cruel.”
I looked at him. “I’m leaving.” I grabbed all the items he had forgotten to pack–maybe he had thought I would come back one day. I walked to my car while he trailed behind me.
I started the car and began to drive, but then I rolled down my windows. He stood at the end of the driveway.
“You always told me that your ex-girlfriends were crazy,” I said. “But I want you to know this so there’s no doubt in your mind. This is YOUR fault. YOU did this. I was honest with you from the beginning, I was an open book, and all you ever did was lie.“
Then I drove away. At a gas station on my way home, I deleted and blocked him from all social media. I deleted all evidence of our relationship on Instagram. I cried until my voice grew hoarse.
We would never speak to each other again.
– – –
The next day, I woke up at 4 am in shock. I sat up in bed. First I thought I had woken up from a nightmare, then I realized it was real. My stomach was twisted; I was in physical pain. I covered my mouth because I knew if I cried, I would scream.
I used to lie next to him and try to draw out the truth by looking in his eyes. But all I ever got was a sickening sense of unease. I wondered how well you could ever know anyone, even someone you loved and who claimed to love you in return.
Over time, the pieces would start to come together. It all made sense. Cheating and lying weren’t aberrations for him; they were personality traits. From the beginning, he had shown me clues about who he really was, and I had refused to see it. When his excuses were weak, I made better excuses for him. I never told my friends how worried I was or how much proof I had. I told them partial truths with a seed of doubt so they could reassure me it would all be okay.
Now I don’t have to preoccupy myself with whatever shady shit he’s doing. I don’t have to push him to be better. I can focus on myself. When it all first happened, it felt like my life was split into Before and After. More and more, it feels like I’m not enduring the aftershocks–life is just continuing.