We were together for three years and broke up 2.5 months ago. I’m 38, she’s 26—quite a gap, but the most incredible love I’ve experienced and the first woman I saw myself spending my life with. I initiated the breakup after 5 rocky months, but in both my head and heart I didn’t believe we’d written our last chapter together.
Three weeks ago I learned through friends that she had been unfaithful to me back in May, giving me a new perspective on those rocky months. It was after the affair that she first voiced concerns about my commitment level, and while I did everything I could to “step up,” she only became increasingly distant and angry. It got to be too much. I felt I’d already lost her, and was verging on losing myself, that all attempts at communication had broken down, and so I ended it. She didn't fight the choice—by then we were both worn down, and I think she was just scared to pull the plug herself.
She has real depression and self-esteem issues that she is just starting to reckon with with a professional, but suffice to say that this "affair" was along the lines of the Harvey Weinstein variety. She’d been in a deep depression for months, and was taken advantage of by a real predator: a businessman who promised her a job, preyed on her insecurities with me, and then took the job off the table after some oral sex that walks the line between semi-consensual and assault.
As much as it hurts me, I mainly just feel terrible about what happened to her and wish she could have told me at the time. (I’d asked, she’d denied, I never quite believed.) She was gutted. So just as I’m stepping up, I now see that she was in a real spiral of shame and guilt and self-hatred that made engaging in the relationship next to impossible.
During this period, much of her anger directed at me came in the form of resentment for my being distant during our first year together. She would frequently lash out about something I did two years earlier that was “fine” at the time. Taken aback, I minimized this pain/resentment. My attitude was: yeah, I was slow to come around, but you’d gone along with it then, and I DID come around am here NOW showing you my love and taking you on trips and trying to talk things through like adults.
Thing is, 5 months into our relationship I slept with my ex. A dumb choice. I was weak and confused. I'd always felt guilty about this, but kind of rationalized it because we were still in the early stages and it was the moment I let go of my past and focused on what was in front of me. After that, I committed, cut off all contact with my ex, fell deeply in love, and was a decent boyfriend for the next two years (one with a big lie in his pocket, yes).
Anyhow, all of this would just be a toxic stew to process on my own had my ex not surprised me the same day I learned of her infidelity with wanting to talk about a reconciliation. In response, I opted to tell her that I had been unfaithful early; being on the other side, it was like I’d finally learned the ways in which dishonesty can fester and come back to haunt a relationship when least expected, and if we were going to move forward I wanted all cards on the table. For all the depth we shared—it's important to note that even during this crazy period our day to day was generally warm and passionate—we'd never been able to be fully open in the relationship, and as such (I see now) we never fully trusted. My feeling was: We deal with each other now like the flawed humans we are and love, or we don’t deal at all.
This all lead to a week of very HARD but very GOOD talks. Lots of pain, lots of warmth as we mutually confessed and listened—maybe the first time we’d both overcome some deep-seeded individual issues (trust, control, intimacy) and experienced what it was like to be fully transparent with someone we love. The circumstances couldn’t be more dire, I know, but I’m genuinely grateful for getting to share this moment with her. Two people learning important lessons and growing as individuals in the deepest of trenches. One talk ended with a kiss.
I'm very ready for a relationship after many years of cursory loves and plenty of shenanigans. Even with all this, perhaps even because of all this, I want that relationship to be with her. The work required excites more than it intimidates. She, however, is 12 years younger and frankly I don’t know where she’s at or if she knows. Has she learned from all this? Is she still in the same guilt-shame spiral, or has she gotten a grip on her depression, impulse-control, and validation-seeking behavior? Was the guilt really the big thing preventing her from stepping in as I stepped up, or should I just look at it all as sign that she’s just not ready for a relationship with me right now or that our relationship was built on a too-fragile foundation to survive or be renewed?
I know to most this all sounds nuts. Me, I live a pretty unconventional life, and don’t have such a black and white view on things like infidelity and monogamy. I’m pretty hardwired to forgive humans for being humans—no one is perfect.
But, of course, that’s just me and I’m only one half of this equation.
We last spoke a little over two weeks ago. We agreed we needed some time to heal and process and would keep communication open. We were also clear that we were engaging in these talks to see about a future—I was very clear that I'm not looking for friendship or don't want to extend the mourning/moving on period. The last thing she said to me was, “I’m having very warm thoughts.”
I’m currently in another city where I own home. Needed to clear my head, work on strengthening my inner core, give some real space between us. I have a thriving creative career, deep friendships, lots of hobbies, financial security, and am committed to therapy—so my core is pretty solid. She’s in a murkier spot in life, so I don’t expect her to be on the same timeline.
My feeling has been: yes, I dropped a pretty big bomb, but I think my behavior of the past 2 years, and especially during the last 5 months, has shown that I love her, believe in her, and believe in us, whereas hers has shown the opposite. I know she loves and misses me, but if she’s still just confused I don’t want to “convince” her of anything. It needs to come from her, or so my thinking goes.
Anyhow, I’m curious to hear some thoughts. I expect most of you will just say it’s time to move on—keep working on myself, apply these lessons to what comes next to avoid so much toxicity. But I’m writing this feeling like we’ve found a sliver of peace in a warzone, perhaps even an unorthodox platform in which we could learn and explore some new lessons together, and wonder if anyone sees any signs of this being salvageable and, if so, how best to proceed.