Imagine this: You’re living blissfully with your boyfriend of over a year. You make a great team—best of friends, best of lovers. You wake up one Saturday morning, and the first thing he tells you, before you’ve even wiped the sand from your eyes, is “I think I need a break from us.”
Well, that’s what happened to me.
By this time (November 2019), Luis* and I had been living together for almost a year. We met at work in May 2018, and until I left for another job last July, we were with each other 24/7, both at work and at home. I figured he had gotten tired of seeing me so regularly. But it’s not like we had been fighting and this was the inevitable next step. His statement left me blindsided, and I wracked my brain figuring out how I might have upset him.
He wanted a break because he felt he no longer knew who he was without me.
He wanted a break because he felt he no longer knew who he was without me. That our lives had become so intertwined, any shred of individuality had ceased to exist. Selfishly, I begged him to reconsider. This led to a series of are-we-or-are-we-not-breaking-up arguments: one minute, a shouting match; the next, whispered promises that we’d work everything out. He’d be adamant about the breakup, then see me crying on our bathroom floor and assure me he wasn’t going anywhere. The uncertainty was agonizing—he said he wanted a break, so why is he still here?—and after two weeks of indecision, tensions were only getting higher.
After a huge argument at a family dinner (during his birthday, no less), Luis and I had reached a breaking point. We decided to keep living together, but I promised to give him the space he wanted in the first place. In return, he promised to stop sending me mixed signals and to come to me with a decision when he felt ready. Progress, I thought.
Days passed. I came home from work one night and realized I hadn’t heard from Luis in hours. Even in the throes of our quarreling, he’d make it a point to tell me where he was and who he was with. After three rings, Luis drops my call. Puzzled, I dialed again. The first voice I heard was a girl’s. He must have thought he declined my call. I stayed quiet.
I heard him invite the girl on a camping trip to Quezon, a trip he previously mentioned he was going on with just his guy friends. Then I heard him say, “Are you going to miss me?”
Then, “I love you.”
Then, “I love you, too.”
For the next 20 minutes, I listened to them laughing and flirting. My heart sank into my stomach, and I could no longer sense myself breathing. When I came to, my face was wet with tears, and I realized my hands were shaking. He didn’t need a break, after all. He was already out the door.
The worst part was that when he came home and I confronted him, Luis flat-out denied everything. He went so far as to turn the tables around on me, saying I was crazy for thinking that he cheated. I kicked myself for not having had the presence of mind to record the phone call. Even though I was quoting him word-for-word, he refused to acknowledge he did anything wrong—heck, that the girl even existed.
“Exactly. I don’t owe you an explanation, because I’m leaving you anyway.”
Instead, he rattled off a mental list of things he hated about me, from small annoyances to deep-seated character flaws. I said, “Luis, we’re over anyway. Telling me the truth doesn’t change anything.” Without missing a beat, he replied, “Exactly. I don’t owe you an explanation, because I’m leaving you anyway.”
He went to bed and slept soundly. I had no more tears left to cry. A cheater is one thing, but a cheater in vehement denial despite proof is a brand-new kind of asshole. Who was this person? What had he done with my boyfriend? Why did he say he needed a break when he could have just left me weeks ago? There were lies and fake promises. I no longer knew which emotion should take precedence. I let them all wreak their havoc on my poor, exhausted mind.
I pulled myself together and made a plan to move out of the apartment. His three-day Quezon trip was the next day, so I figured I’d do it while he was out of town. By a stroke of pure luck, my previous landlord had a spot open. In the four hours it took me to gather my belongings, I waited in vain for a text from Luis, hoping he’d come to his senses. Nothing.
I remembered I still had access to his Google Photos account. I opened it up and saw dozens of pictures of him, his friends Red and James…and the girl, flashing her breasts on a public beach to Luis’ camera. I signed a new lease. I guess we were over.
It had been weeks since I’d moved out, and I had Luis blocked on all social media. By then, I was a constantly-teary, empty husk of myself, unable to find joy in anything. He was creating new Telegram accounts and buying new SIM cards to try and reach me. He was sorry, he didn’t mean to abandon me, paragraphs upon paragraphs of apology. My resolve remained strong until he sent me a text saying, “I don’t want you to have the wrong idea. I never had sex with her. I never even kissed her. I didn’t cheat on you.”
Furious, I stayed up all night convincing my now ex-boyfriend that what he had done was, in fact, cheating. After unleashing every last bit of my anger and realizing that that was unproductive, I resolved to try and be the bigger person. I met up with Luis at a cafe, and there, he laid bare the details of his emotional affair with Erika, a friend of a friend.
They met during our final troubled weeks as a couple, and compared to me then, she was a light, comforting presence. She developed real feelings for Luis, and he enjoyed the attention he was getting. He knew he was still in a relationship, so he focused all his efforts on not breaking physical boundaries. As a result, though, he let the horse run free on emotional boundaries: playfully saying "I love you," constant flirtation, lying to me to spend time with her and their mutual friends.
Luis felt abandoned when I switched jobs last July; in his words, I had left him for greener pastures to fend for himself in the BPO job we both thought was a living hell, without so much as a notice. And this was true—in my ignorant optimism that he would support my rushed career change, I neglected to tell my live-in partner whom I share expenses with that I was leaving, until after the contracts had been signed.
Luis and I both failed to communicate in the moments we should have, and the results, while delayed, were both emotionally and financially expensive.
On the other hand, his inability to communicate this to me caused his resentment to simmer over months, until he decided maybe a break—and incidentally, another girl—would be the solution. Luis and I both failed to communicate in the moments we should have, and the results, while delayed, were both emotionally and financially expensive.
Relationship expert Esther Perel, who wrote the viral Atlantic article “Why Happy People Cheat,” is famed for her belief that cheating need not be the end of the relationship—and that in some cases, couples who overcome infidelity can become stronger. She says that betrayed partners should stop torturing themselves with the grisly details ("When did you say you love her?" "What happened between you two in Quezon?") and start asking more investigative questions that dig deep into the heart of the affair. So I asked Luis: Was your affair a rejection of our relationship? What did you realize about yourself when you were with her? At what point did you ask yourself if what you were doing was right? Now that you’ve cut off contact with her, are you okay with that? How committed are you to making things right with me? It was during these questions that Luis told and I discovered one another again.
Don’t get me wrong. I felt deeply and utterly betrayed by what Luis had done, and he has endured my many bouts of anger about his affair. Emotional cheating can be, in many ways, more hurtful than physical. But once time had passed and I stepped out of my role as "betrayed lover," I saw the affair for what it really was. We both dropped the ball on our relationship and put our selfish needs (my career fulfillment, his desire for affection) before the needs of our partnership. Our partnership suffered more than he or I individually ever did.
Reconciliation isn’t always the solution for couples who face a similar crisis. It all depends on the length and extent of the affair, the emotions involved, how far it went physically, and more. It’s up to the betrayed partner to, after processing their hurt, see the situation from a rational perspective and weigh whether or not their partner deserves a second chance. It’s up to the cheater to end things with the third party, express real and long-term remorse, and prove through their actions that they are committed to rebuilding trust.
Luis and I are working hard to build a brand new relationship, one built upon the ashes of the first. Neither of us are sure about the future of "us," but we’re both taking accountability and making up for our shortcomings. This time, though, in separate apartments. And that’s okay. We’re gonna be okay.
*Name has been changed.