What Happens After The Cheating?

It’s New York City and it’s at least 476 degrees outside, and I’m stuck to a faux leather couch in my drawls waiting on the AC to pick up power. It’s been a long, adventurous, but semi-lonely summer, so I changed my Tinder profile description to read, “I have wifi, popsicles, and an AC” and one of my swipe rights is now sitting across from me in her bikini, ready to start on this 24-box of cheap popsicles and this marathon of all the Black & Sexy TV episodes I’ve missed, and some I just became hip to.

Somewhere between finishing That Guy, watching the series premiere of Chef Julian, and popsicle number 18, NYC Heatwave Tinder Date #3 (name changed to protect the hot and bothered) asks, “Is cheating a deal breaker for you in relationships? Or what happens after the cheating?”

I remember pressing pause, standing directly in front of the AC, puffing up my chest, and saying just a few half-delusional sentences, which in my head sounded like:

We search for the small, golden piece of the condom wrapper we bit off and spit across the room before we search the pillows and linen for any scent she may have left behind. Wrap the condom in a toilet paper ribbon and put the wrapper, in it’s entirety, inside the cereal box we finished off a few days ago, and bury that cereal box at the bottom of the garbage. We then feel guilty for a few moments, take a piss and dismiss it, and go grab a few laughs with the friends who know you best. This is how the right after begins.

Writing math theorems we were supposed to have memorized on desks three minutes before a test taught us early on how to live with guilt. We minimize it, rationalize, and move on. If we’re honest hip hop fans, Shawn Carter told us that we have to learn to live with regret long ago, and we’ve been pushing forward ever since. We send those women home in Ubers and Lyfts we won’t pay for, swish around a little mouthwash and kiss our partners minutes later when they come walking through the door. Then we talk and laugh and smile and eat the Extra Value Meal we asked her to pick up on the way home to buy extra time.

We then lie to ourselves over laughs that remind us why we’re in love with this woman sitting in front of us, feeding us fries and telling us about her day, telling ourselves our dicks won’t always frequent the available abysses, and will find themselves happy with just one. Then we tell whatever god may be that if the last dip into the girl pool goes undiscovered, we’ll stop. But the flesh is weak, isn’t it?

We never find ourselves with our partners, willing to explore those vulnerable areas we’re often exploring with the slight stranger we find ourselves messaging at 4am while our partner gets ready for work. Exploring those vulnerabilities are seemingly more painful than being labeled a cheater and being an accomplice in the perpetuation of several bullshit stereotypes of Black men. Imagine what would happen if we walked into the house, sat at the foot of the bed, and opened our veins about what we’ve been doing and why. After all, this is what should happen after the first time you cheat.

For most, I’m discovering, cheating isn’t a deal breaker. It may take some time, but couples typically work through the bullshit that happens after the “side piece” decides to expose everything or however you were caught, and can eventually make it back to a good place. Working through the bullshit, however, typically only consists of half-assed apologies and a promise to throw away all reminders of the affair. Working through the bullshit rarely consists of tearing the entire relationship apart and the people in it, and putting it all back together piece by piece. I’ve been lucky enough to see it happen. To see a couple go from an obliterated marriage to the best marriage I know, and it’s all credited to their finding a space and moment to be completely naked for each other. They put it all on the line and said “can we move forward from this?”

After they reached that place and had those talks, there is absolutely nothing they don’t know about each other. She knows about that vacation he took to that place where prostitution is legal, and he knows about the bachelorette party. The communication we all say we want on third dates when they ask, “what do you seek in relationships,” is what happens when we are completely honest. If you know any swingers, they’ll tell you this same thing.

But again, these friends of mind are a rare case. They’re that old couple we used to admire in Jet Magazine who were married for 70 years. Imagine the lower levels they had to reach to get to that point. What happened after the cheating? They talked more about things that mattered, and less about things that made no difference. They remained vulnerable and transparent to each other, and they probably opened themselves up sexually, willing to explore all the things their partner fantasized about, knowing whatever it was wouldn’t take away from the love they had for each other, and may even add to it.

But what usually happens after the cheating? You cheat again and rationalize.