On what I otherwise recall as a beautiful sunny day in Montana, I came to learn that my boyfriend of three years had cheated on me. In slow motion he laid out the betrayal, which amplified from a kiss, to an “it only happened once,” to the eventual truth: he had been sleeping with a close friend of mine for a year. To her credit, she was much more candid as she recounted the details of their relationship. Listening to her in her living room, I sat on my hands to avoid the physical rage I felt very much on the brink of. To her discredit, she lacked anything that I would identify as remorse or guilt, and flippantly commented that “it didn’t mean anything.” It meant something to me. It meant everything to me. In the hours that followed, it was revealed that every one of my friends knew, but had opted not to tell me. Some found my obliviousness funny, and some felt it simply wasn’t their place to tell. Whatever the reason, not one of them felt I was worth the truth.
My heart was incredibly broken. A broken that feels so heavy it can’t be contained to the body, and so it begins to creep into the space around you like a dense fog. My world, which admittedly had not been perfect, had ceased to exist entirely in one awful moment. I had lost someone I loved and thought of as a best friend. I had lost the home that we shared. I had lost anyone close to turn to and consequently, I believe I lost my mind for a while. I broke the railings on the porch we used to drink our coffee on, and the plates we used to eat from. I ripped the pictures of our memories, and sent emails that fluctuated between anger and desperation. I ate girl scout cookies by the box full, and started sleeping with the lights on. I moved away to Glacier, and then Yosemite, to DC and then to Illinois. Both searching for something solid and resisting anything that resembled commitment. It’s a weird thing, that having someone betray your trust doesn’t automatically translate to not loving that person anymore. I both hated and wanted him. Felt hurt by him, but wanted to lean on him for comfort also.
“I had lost someone I loved and thought of as a best friend. I had lost the home that we shared. I had lost anyone close to turn to and consequently, I believe I lost my mind for a while.”
On a rainy night in Glacier, I sat by a payphone crying after another long and drawn out argument. We hadn’t cut and run like we should have, so months after the initial breakup we were still painfully dragging it on. Oscillating between wonderful weekends together and crashing dramatically into repeated realizations that things were over. From the darkness a security guard appeared, stopping short as he squinted at me through the rain. “Are you okay?” he asked. I nodded, but gave a face that said the opposite. He was silent for a moment before offering “Whatever it is, you’re obviously worth more. Don’t allow yourself to get used to something that isn’t good enough.” And then he walked off, back into the darkness.
It’s strange the moments that stick and take on meaning in our lives. From that evening forward, I began a mantra in the back of my head. I am worth more. I am worth more. I am worth more. I didn’t believe it, but somebody did and that was enough. Eventually, years later, that lie became a truth for me. I had told myself that I deserved better in a thousand different ways, and at last I genuinely felt it. But it wasn’t simply that I deserved better from others, it meant that I deserved to be better also. To be kinder, and more open, more loving and more honest. It meant that I was worth being loved openly and truthfully, but also that I was worth giving love and trust to someone else.
Reflectively, that time in my life still strikes a tone of sadness in me. I lost a lot in that moment: whatever remained of childhood innocence, and the naivety that people I value will always feel the same about me. But I am, for the most part, incredibly grateful for the way things played out. Not for the cheating itself, or the friends who were not friends at all, but for the jolt that redirected me toward greater self-love, compassion, and an understanding of what I could offer to and ask from the world. A jolt that told me I could do more, I could be more, and I could demand more. So that by the time I met my husband I could say confidently “Here I am. This is what I have to offer, and this is what I need from love.” To my great happiness, he accepted those terms.