Cheater: Or, How I Learned To Be Selfish

by Elisabeth O'Neill

I wasn’t looking to find someone new when I got to uni, let alone cheat. As far as I was aware, I was in love with the man I would spend the rest of my life with. But I didn’t expect the wandering glances of other guys (and girls) and besides, I hadn’t had the chance to flex my selfish bitch yet. Throughout my teens I’d been an angel, when I wasn’t excused by booze, and really I didn’t have a rebellious streak in my entire being. Being the cheat was what I needed to break out, recognize that I couldn’t waltz through life without hurting anyone, and that there are good and bad kinds of selfish.

Before, I grabbed hold of any affection and held on for dear life, such was my lack of self-confidence. I couldn’t know or even believe anyone cared about me without falling for them, and so, on and off for about a year, I found myself fumbling with a puffed-up, fluffy-haired dullard. I was so terrified in the face of being alone that even after my boyfriend temp-dumped then forgave me, I convinced myself that I was still satisfied with him. It was a few months more before I met the man with the moody poetic façade who would become my current partner of over four years. But even then, I couldn’t do anyone the courtesy of not having sex with him while I was supposed to be with someone else.

We sat in the park and watched a squirrel eat seeds feet from us. We stayed out by the reservoir until the evening dropped cold and I felt the rough cotton of his coat against my cheek, willing time to stand still. We did all these things that reminded me of the simple excitement of being a little girl and flirted from a distance with poetry between each meeting. My boyfriend twigged and left his own hateful lines about me where I could “accidentally” see them. I’d only wanted to be friends to begin with, and I was still telling myself that, but once again it didn’t seem possible for me. We could share things no one else would hear. Even in that, it was far beyond friendship.

I kept lying, to myself and these two people I loved, creating a scenario that wouldn’t hurt anyone. As much as I denied it, I would have to be selfish in one way, or two. To my best friend who’d denied his fears, now shivering in my arms as I promised I’d stay, to the beautiful boy who dared to be fragile, or both. The first time I fucked my lover, I wrapped my hands around his throat and pushed down with my thumbs until his face turned purple. It was the first time I’d tried anything like it, and I did it on instinct. His gasp made me feel powerful and free like I never had before.

It was only after that I realized what a huge two-faced harpy I’d been. As the orgasmic haze faded and the real world started to seep back in, I knew I had to go and see my boyfriend and break it off, immediately. The damage had been done. I’d already texted my lover that I couldn’t kiss him anymore, as my boyfriend watched over my shoulder to make sure I came through on my promise. I’d already made them both cry more than once. And so, when he cried again as I left him, it almost felt like nothing.

I’m grateful that, unlike him, I had someone to be with when it was all over. The whole experience was numbing. I would have hated to be alone then, and that made the emotional chasm deeper when I remembered who I’d left alone.

Never mind that his friends, who I’d thought were mine too, said in plain sight that I was a slut who didn’t deserve him. They rightly took his side, but I refuse to see myself as a slut for what happened. I had to learn to be selfish freely, so that in the future, I could recognize when my selfishness was right or wrong. I’ve learned a lot from that time, and with my current partner. The complacency of it was something I didn’t even realize I was having trouble with, and so I’ve had even more hard truths to face up to since. A lot of tears came out of this, but much more happiness. Most of all, learning to be selfish has taught me to be confident; enough to write this and press send.

Top photo: Flickr/Jhaymesisviphotography

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