Dear Nestor: “Cheating Chester” Tries to Change

Dear Nestor,

I’m a perpetual cheater. The first time it happened, I thought it was a one-time thing, but I keep finding myself in the same situation. It’s not that I’m unhappy with the people I’m with, it’s just that with that happiness is still a wanting and a sadness. I think it might have something to do with the perfect relationships we read about and see on TV: real life just doesn’t seem satisfying.

The problem is, beyond the obvious cheating itself, is that I honestly dislike who I am as a person because of it. In my head, I’m unbreakable — I’ve been hurt before, as we all have, and I don’t fear feeling that same hurt again. In my head I’m immune to feelings of guilt and regret. In reality, I have difficulty even feeling worthy of liking someone, and the thought of being open about my past is incomprehensible.

I have trouble considering myself a good person anymore, and this distinction has always defined me. I feel lost and undeserving, but also used and undesirable. I want to be able to move past this and feel ready to form relationships with people, whether platonic or romantic, but keeping such a big part of my past a secret dissuades me from attempting honesty at all. I feel guarded, probably because I’m guarding these secrets, and probably because despite our typical perceptions of cheaters and their agency in relationships, I’ve been hurt badly by the people I’ve been with and people I’ve trusted with my past. I’m also afraid of the cycle repeating.

How do I move on from all of it and learn to like myself again?

Cheating Chester

Dear Chester: Thank you for sharing this personal anecdote. At first, I was thinking about responding and analyzing your behavior, but then it dawned on me: “Why should we continue to tread up the past?”

The analogy that keeps popping through my head right now is a pair of knotted earphones. Sometimes, they can be so absolutely frustrating to untangle. But if we really want to listen to our music, we have to untangle it: whether it is for the quality of the sound, the length of the chord, or simply for aesthetics. I don’t think I am in the minority in thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to just throw these earphones away, and magically have a new set of untangled earphones appear?” Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t have the ability to do so, with money and/or time constraints preventing us from getting a new pair. However, the beauty about our behavior is that we can completely change how we conduct ourselves. We can say goodbye to our past behavior and say hello to the new “earphones.”

I say start afresh! From this moment on, all of that is behind you. Now what you have to do is to find ways to overcome new hurdles. In our life, I always believe that people can start anew, no matter how many times they screwed up.

There are three foreseeable hurdles that I see reoccurring in starting anew, but I think you can take them on.

Even though you will change your behavior, unfortunately people will still remember how you treated them in the past. In this case, I would suggest you apologize for the pain you have caused them, and assure them that you no longer act in such ways. You may want to go in depth about your road to changing, perhaps what you felt after hurting those around you. This is totally up to you. Trust takes time build. So no matter what, you will have to assume that it will take time for their wounds to heal.

You have to first accept the fact that people will hurt you, whether it is a significant other or friend. It is how you deal with that pain that matters. You have no control over how the people around you will treat you. What you do have control over is yourself. Depending on how they have hurt you, you will have to decide whether they deserve to have a place in your life. You are a human, and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. Do not tolerate any behavior that will bring you down. Oftentimes, their actions are more of a reflection on them, rather than yourself. Ultimately, we all go through hardship and pain. Remember, what it feels like, and ask yourself: “Would I want to put that onto someone else?”

You have to accept yourself: trust yourself, allow yourself to make mistakes, and praise yourself for all your positive attributes (most of us don’t do this, and it is actually incredibly important). One thing that I would just like to compliment you on is your self-awareness. You really appear to know yourself well. This will be very rewarding in the future.

I also want to comment on your use of “good.” Oftentimes, I hear people being called “good or bad.” It seems as if society chooses to place individuals in these artificial boxes. However, we are people, not objects. And even if something or someone were to be considered “bad,” it is so subjective. No one is “good or bad.” There may be actions that are considered to be “bad,” but by using that word you are putting a label on not only your actions, but also yourself. And we are not labels; we are people composed of many different emotions, thoughts, feelings, and capabilities. You are you!

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to share your past with future friends and significant others. We all have made mistakes. If they judge, it is again more of a reflection on them. If anything, a sharing of your flaws will strengthen your ties. While breaking this cycle may be hard, in doing so, you will be embarking on a new path. People will begin to appreciate your change, and you will see it in their behavior. Therefore, you will begin to feel better about yourself. And upwards the cycle goes….. Hope this helps!

Best, Nestor

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