My ex left behind a letter, typed and in duplicate, when he unexpectedly exited my life. That was followed a couple weeks later by a suicide (attempted) email, sent to both his other wife and my mother. Since I had no other explanations, I poured over those words for months, looking for answers.
His words were cruel, dismissing my importance in his life and emphasizing his unhappiness (which he blatantly denied up until he left). I internalized his sentences, saw them as a direct reflection on me.
And then I connected with others who had been cheated on and summarily dismissed. I was shocked to hear that they had received many of the same words from their ex.
“Do all cheaters read the same playbook?” we joked.
But behind the quip was something deeper – if they all recite the same lines, maybe those words have more to do with the cheater and less to do with me.
I read the letters again, this time with a different perspective. He was making excuses. Maybe for the benefit of others, but even more likely, in an attempt to assuage any guilt he may have felt over his actions.
The context of these words matters. People certainly can change and relationships that once were a good fit may not be any more. Some people choose to handle the end with respect for the other person. When these word are spoken in that context, they can be valid and true. Others make different choices and use these words to try to excuse their deceptive behavior and to try to pass blame on to the other partner. In that context, these same words are poison to the receiving end.
If there is a Cheater’s Playbook somewhere, these phrases would certainly be found within:
I’ve never felt like this for somebody before.
Hmmm…that’s funny. Because I seem to remember you using some of the same proclamations of love with me that I uncovered with your new paramour.
He/she just gets me.
Do they even know you? I wonder what sort of front you have presented and if your mask has had the opportunity to slip?
I just wanted a chance at happiness.
So do I. Funny thing, though. I don’t perceive lying to others as a prerequisite for happiness. In fact, if I was hurting someone I cared about, it would make me pretty damn miserable.
I haven’t been happy for a long time.
So why didn’t you say something? Spouses certainly get to know one another, but full-on mind-reading is still science fiction.
I didn’t mean for it to happen.
Oh, please. You may not have had the intention to cheat from the onset, but you certainly made lots of choices that led you to that conclusion.
You’re imagining things.
I wish I was. That would be preferable to realizing the truth, that the person that I loved and trusted most in this world decided to act selfishly and destroy my world as a result.
This wouldn’t have happened if you…
Nope. Not taking that on. If there was something you were not happy about, it is YOUR responsibility to bring it up and provide an opportunity for it to change.
I never had a chance to…
I am so sorry (said with much sarcasm) that you didn’t get a chance to date/enjoy your childhood/have adult time without children. Choices have consequences. You don’t get to pretend they don’t.
I need someone who pays attention to me.
So do I, but you’ve obviously been turning elsewhere. And whatever you nurture, grows.
You don’t appreciate me.
Well, I don’t appreciate this, that’s for damn sure. And be honest with yourself, have you been acting in a way that deserves appreciation?
You don’t understand me.
You’re right. I don’t. I don’t understand how you could just throw away all that we have worked to build. That’s not who I fell in love with.
I’m just not attracted to you anymore.
You know, there have been many moments when I’m not attracted to you. But our vows are bigger than that. Commitment sometimes means putting in the effort to reignite that passion.
I never meant to hurt you.
Well, you did a great job of it nonetheless. What exactly did you think the repercussions of this discovery would be? A welcome party for your affair partner?
I never loved you.
That certainly fits your actions. I don’t know what’s worse – thinking you could do this to someone you love or realizing that you faked your feelings the entire time?
In order to begin healing, I had to realize that his words were projection and misdirection. I had to learn which of them to ignore and which contained some element of truth. Because one thing is certain about cheaters – they lie. And so often the words they share upon their exit are nothing more than little drops of fiction, breadcrumbs that if followed, lead to the wrong conclusions.