18/05/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 18/05/2017 03:57 SAST

Cheating In The 21st Century

My cheating started slowly, like a car rolling downhill. With a push, it then slowly built up speed over time until it hurtled into a fire-choked crash.

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I Never Thought I'd Be A Cheater

When I was growing up, my dad always started his day by making breakfast for my mom. I'd wake up, bleary-eyed, to the smell of fresh coffee and the sound of eggs frying in a pan. From behind my closed bedroom door, I'd hear my mom's footsteps as she walked into the kitchen, the scrape of the kitchen table as she sat in her chair, and the gentle murmur of my parents' voices as they ate an early breakfast together before heading out to work.

That was what I wanted for myself, of course - someone who knew me well enough to understand the rhythm of my morning moods. Instead, I cheated.

How I Became A Cheater

I thought cheating would boil down to a single moment: a decision to follow someone to the point of no return. Instead, my cheating started slowly, like a car rolling downhill. It began with a push, then slowly built up speed over time until it hurtled into a fire-choked crash.

For me, that push was a stupid argument with my boyfriend. We had already been struggling, dealing with the type of tensions that happen when you live with the same person for three years, and we were arguing over something small: he'd left a cup on the kitchen table, and the condensation left a mark on the cheap wood. But in that moment, I felt so alone - so unvalued - that I downloaded Tinder and started swiping.

According to a 2015 survey, 12 percent of Tinder users are in relationships, and 30 percent of Tinder users are married. I didn't want to be just another statistic in a long line of mistakes, but when I started talking to my first match, Michael (name changed for his anonymity), I wasn't thinking about cheaters or the damage I would do to my relationship.

21st century cheating graphic

CheckMate Infographic

I was thinking about myself and how good it felt to know that someone thought I was worth pursuing.

A Slippery Slope

When I started messaging Michael, I told myself that I would only talk to him for a little while and then delete Tinder for good. I told myself that this was a stupid passing phase. That my boyfriend and I would be okay soon enough. That I just needed a distraction. That's never how these things go, though - I ended up talking to him for two months, texting into the loneliest hours of the night while my boyfriend slept beside me. He lived in Maine, and I lived in California, and something about that distance made my secret affair seem less dangerous. The distance made me feel like I wasn't really cheating: I was just texting my feelings into an electronic box.

Michael was everything my boyfriend wasn't. He was settled in his career, active, and happy, and he was actually interested in asking me questions beyond just how my day was: we talked about life, art, and where we saw our lives headed in our dreams. I cut it off when I caught myself thinking about moving to Maine. I told myself that my little emotional fling was in the past, and that it was time to focus on my boyfriend and the life we'd built. But I didn't delete Michael's messages - and, of course, that's what my boyfriend found.

Nothing quite describes the way it feels to know you've broken someone's heart. It opens up a dark pit of sorrow like a vacuum, sucking everything away into nothingness. It wasn't even cheating, I told him it was just a stupid mistake. But even though Michael and I had never actually met, I had opened up my heart over those two months, and that was enough to shatter my boyfriend's trust.

Cheating sucks. There's no simpler way to say it. If I could take it all back, I think I would. Even though Michael gave me what I needed when we were talking, I could have gotten those same feelings of validation in my own relationship. I just wasn't willing to try. Maybe I was tired of trying to make things work. Maybe I was just looking for an excuse to break things off with my boyfriend. But either way, I fell into quicksand, and at the end of the day, there was nobody there to pull me out.