Heartbreak

My Mother Taught Me To Cheat

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shameful woman covering face

When I was in college, I received a strange phone call. The woman was crying so hard that her words came out in gasps. The woman was having a meltdown because the man she’d been having an affair with had returned to his wife and ended things permanently with her.

She kept saying that this man was her only true love, her soulmate, and the only thing in her life worth living for. Since there wasn’t any caller I.D. and it was on a landline, it took me a moment to identify the caller.

The woman on the phone was my mother.

At the time of the call, my parents were separated and living on separate coasts. My father was in California, and my mother was in Newport, Rhode Island. As far as I knew, my mother didn’t have any family there or any other connection to it. Later, I found out; that she'd moved there to be near to her lover in Providence.

My mother and I aren't close, and we don't enjoy being around each other and disagree about nearly everything.

We don’t even look alike — she’s tall, slender, and has classic bone structure, whereas I’m short, rounded, and look more European like my father. No one has ever joked that my mother and I are more like sisters or best friends than mother and daughter. There's a huge emotional distance between my mother and me, which is why it was so confusing when she confessed the details of her affair to me.

Didn’t she have anyone else to talk to besides her estranged daughter?

RELATED: The Aftermath Of Growing Up With An Emotionally Abusive Mother

Listening to the intimate details of my mother's love life made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, but she kept talking. It was cathartic for her to talk about him, for she revealed more than ever in the 21 years I’d been alive.

His name was Charles, Charlie to her, and they’d met when they were young, and their future was full of promise.

She described how madly in love they were and how he'd gone off to war with promises to come back to her. However, it hadn't worked out that way. My mother and her great love had gone their separate ways, married other people, and had kids, but my mother had never forgotten him. 

Then one day, over twenty years later, he reached out to my mother, and they restarted their relationship.

As my mother continued speaking, I remembered incidents from the past and put them together to form a picture of lies.

When I was in middle school, my mother spontaneously took a trip to Chicago. She hadn't gone for business; she was a stay-at-home mom. She told us it was because she was curious about the Windy City, but the truth was she went there to hook up with him.

Here are some "truisms" my own mother taught me about cheating:

1. Focus on what you want and do it.

Then there was when my mother said she was talking to her friend, Laila, and when I asked her to hand the phone over to me so I could speak to Laila’s daughter, Cami, my mother waved me off.

I kept asking her to please give me the phone, I had something important to discuss with Cami, but my mother refused. My mother wasn't chatting with Laila about their next garage sale; she was talking to Charlie, even though my father was in the next room.

2. The more indifferent you are, the more successful your lies are.

My mother continued to talk about her heartbreak. I held the phone away from my ear so I could still hear but barely. I didn’t want to be a co-conspirator in my mother’s unfaithfulness. I loved my father and knew he deserved far better than how she treated him.

I wondered if my father found out about my mother's infidelity, and that's why they'd separated.

“Charlie was the only man I’ve loved,” my mother said.

My father’s name was Peter, so please, mom, give me details of how you never loved him.

Throughout the conversation, she gave no apologies or seemed to feel any remorse or guilt for cheating on my father. The only reason she was crying was that Charlie refused to leave his wife for my mother.

RELATED: 6 Things People Don't Realize You Do Because You Were Raised By A Toxic Mother

3. Commitment is transitory, and any pain caused to others by cheating isn't important.

I must have internalized her message because it wasn’t long into the first real relationship that I began cheating on my boyfriend. The scary thing about it was that I didn’t feel any of the expected emotions healthy people feel when cheating. I didn’t feel bad; I felt justified. My boyfriend wasn’t giving me everything that I needed, so I went to someone else.

Isn’t that what everybody did?

The way my boyfriend and I interacted reminded me a lot of my parent’s relationship. I was cold and distant like my mother, and my boyfriend focused on my happiness.

4. Be honest when it suits you.

I was honest when I broke up with my boyfriend, Jason, to be with the guy Stefan I’d been cheating on him with. I could tell my words hurt him, but I didn’t sugarcoat it. My mother hadn’t spared my father, and that’s how I thought it was done.

J was devastated, and I brushed it off. He’d get over me.

I'd never wanted to be like my mother, so why was I acting like her now?

I don’t know if Stefan knew that cheaters tend to cheat over and over again or if he was mostly indifferent to me, but I never felt entirely supported or loved by him. Our relationship was like a steep mountain, and any false move I made would cause me to fall off.

If I cheated on him, he might retaliate and cheat on me. The dysfunction of our relationship was more appealing to me than finding someone new. We were together for five unhappy years, and then around the time my father died, we broke up.

RELATED: The Final Straw That Forced Me To Stop Talking To My Toxic Parents

I cheated on my boyfriends in my next two relationships. I tried not to feel guilty about cheating, but I empathized with those I’d cheated on. I wasn’t as hard-hearted or as self-centered as I pretended to be.

Then I had another crying phone call from my mother.

Though it was decades after Charlie had dumped her, my mother still grieved for the relationship. She was alone, lonely, and still dealing with all the heartbreak she’d brought upon herself.

Was this a glimpse of my future?

Maybe my mother didn’t feel remorse for the pain she’d caused, but I did. Soon after that phone call with my mother, I chose never to cheat again. If I didn’t like how things were in my relationship, I’d talk about it with my partner and try to seek out solutions.

To this day, my mother has no regret for the pain she caused both me and my father by cheating or how she made cheating seem like acceptable behavior

. It would have been one thing if they'd had an open marriage or were polyamorous, but they weren't. She knew how upset my father would have been if he had found out about her long-time affair and did what she could to keep it a secret.

I never found out the official reason for my parent's divorce, but it must have been my father finding out about my mother's infidelity. 

I may be my mother's daughter, but I don't have to be like her. I don't have to be so selfish that no one else's pain matters. 

She taught me to cheat, but I taught myself how to remain faithful.

RELATED: 20 Clear Signs You're The Child Of Toxic Parents

Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, and Woman's Day. Visit her website or her Instagram.

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