How his desire for one thing led him to me—but was it really me at all?

At the end of the day there are only two types of people who cheat. The first are the abusive, openly selfish, narcissistic types. Those who know exactly what they’re doing and on the surface do not care about the consequences or about who they are hurting. I believe these are the less common ones.

Every other kind fall into a vast well of not having their needs met. For some it is a sexual need. For others it is emotional. For the remainder, it’s a need for something else. Something that they seek in others they wish they had themselves.

He said he didn’t know what he was seeking when he went looking for me. It was a bold-faced lie; at least, a truth he was not ready to admit to himself. He made it clear each time he came around that he was available and he listed in exact terms what he was looking for and what he offered.

He knew what he wanted.

What he did not know was what to do when he found it and when it wanted him back. I don’t believe he expected to find me. I won’t ever know why—maybe he thought it just wasn’t possible or that someone like me could be real.

Even before I discovered the truth, I knew that every major decision in his life was never truly his own. That every move he made was either influenced by or for the benefit of someone else. Even if he wanted it also, I don’t think he ever once made a major life decision solely for himself.

It’s not uncommon. We pressure people to make decisions they are not equipped for or experienced enough to make and then wonder why those decisions end in disaster. Or why one did not have the skills to navigate uncertainty and dysfunction.

When it comes to relationships—commitment—we fall so short in this that it’s a wonder the divorce rate is not any higher.

Some years ago I came across this brief but powerful video—relationship advice from divorce lawyers. It’s brief, but the first point especially is critical viewing:

“You know, you buy a house, they make you fill out fifty forms explaining that you understand the lead paint disclosures, you understand the loan, you understand everything. You get married? You don’t even get a pamphlet. You don’t even get a piece of paper that says, ‘Oh by the way, you just did the most legally significant thing other than dying you’ll ever do.’”

As a society, we teach people that a ring is magic. That by slipping one onto another’s hand it creates a commitment that didn’t exist prior. We do not teach others that commitment must exist before legally binding it. We do not teach anyone that a ring is like having a baby. It does not save, enhance, or promote a relationship—it burdens one. If and only if the couple is prepared and equipped to share that burden will it succeed long-term.

We encourage people to do this long before they understand what a lifelong commitment means or before they know themselves well enough to decide if that kind of commitment is for them at all.

Marriage does not stop the march of time or its impact on our individual development. A newlywed 25-year-old will still mature and change as they approach their mid-thirties. Those changes may result in revelations about the self and their life that can devastate or even end a marriage. Changes about one realizing what direction they want their life to go, who they really are when no one else is in the room, insecurities and aspects of themselves they could never identify before. If those revelations do not align with the direction of their commitment, it will diverge.

That can happen in one of two ways: if the person has the fortitude and self-knowledge to bring these changes to their partner’s attention, disaster can be avoided. This may still end in a separation but with much more respect and fewer scars. There are a thousand other in-betweens but the opposite end of that spectrum is infidelity.

Cheating is not okay. But in a society that pressures people to commit before they even know themselves and have the skills to navigate relationships: it’s an inevitability.

It is a failure of us as a society that infidelity occurs. It is wrong, yes. Better options exist in almost every situation. But we expect others to know more than just “don’t cheat” and not how to avoid it when they’re making these enormous commitments when they may not know themselves.

We do not teach people how to have a good relationship with themselves and how to identify their own needs and wants. We don’t teach them how to deal with the feelings that lead to it, where good people end up making bad decisions they know they shouldn’t make. When one doesn’t have the tools, resources, and skills to prevent disaster, they will come up with their own way to manage dysfunction.

I believe that’s what he was looking for. Someone who did know themselves, who identified in clear terms what they offered and needed from others. Someone who wasn’t afraid to say “No, thank you,” if it didn’t meet the minimum requirements.

I had the one thing he never did: freedom.

I answer to no one. I take care of myself. I make my own decisions and don’t care much for others’ input on them. I wake up each day and conduct myself solely for my own benefit. My life has almost always been this way. At the end of each day I make it back to my own bed, with my own roof over my head, with my own food in my stomach.

Most importantly, I have learned so much about myself. About who I am, what I want, what I deserve, and how I go about getting it. When I learned how susceptible I was to codependency and abuse, I learned to make decisions to protect myself from it at all costs. It’s an investment in myself that has rewarded me.

Looking for someone like me who had that was the one thing I believe he ever did just for himself. He made that decision at a much bigger cost than he understood at the time, but it was his and his alone.

Everyone should spend time alone and on their own. Gap year? Make it several. Wander off into the sunset. Move to a new city. Take a job because it was offered and follow the inspiration. Pick up a new hobby for the sake of it. And do it all for the self and no one else.

Doing these things is how we discover ourselves. By emotionally investing in and committing to ourselves. When we do that first is when we learn if and how we can commit to others.

But so few people know this. Society pressures us into commitment before we even know what it means. It tells us that the only way to exist is for someone else. We do not teach others that relationships are a choice, not an inevitability. And we especially do not teach them how to develop those skills—to relate to ourselves as well as others—then wonder why they betray and hurt others when they themselves feel hurt, betrayed, and alone.

There are two things many do not understand about my kind of independence. First is that it comes at a much higher cost than others believe. My freedom wasn’t easy and it wasn’t a choice—it was the only way I could survive a life of abuse and neglect. There were no other options. That left a deficit in areas of my life I may never fulfill. That every reward I earn from it comes at the cost of another, of things that most are not willing to live without. Many say marriage requires sacrifice but so does independence.

The second thing most do not understand about the kind of freedom I have is that no one can grant another permission to claim it. It comes only from the inside. It is the direct inverse of commitment to another person. It’s always there and no one can take it from another.

When I broke free and sought my own I did not understand that’s what I was doing. I was focused solely on survival. It was only when I came up for air did I see that while my life looked much different than others I cared about, I felt I had discovered the real secrets that others had been too busy to catch.

I believe he wanted someone to tell him it was okay to do that. To grasp what’s inside ourselves and run with it for all it’s worth. Maybe he even wanted someone to not free but rescue him.

I could have if he asked. I would have known what to say and do. I think a part of him wanted me to. But it would have still ended in disaster when he realized down the line that what he really would have wanted was the freedom to make his own choices instead of others doing it for him.

So that is what I did. I handed him back his own freedom and let him figure out what to do with it.

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