Years later, a reflection on the complicated guilt of cheating with another woman's husband.
We met at my first music festival when I was 17 years old. I accepted a can of mixer from him to chase down my vodka. I noted his singsong accent. He was 23, a firefighter and we soon realized we lived only two hours away from each other. I asked if he had a girlfriend, to which he responded, “No.” We danced ‘til dawn at the camp DJ setup, breaths frozen in the summer air.
In his tent, I asked if he was positive that he didn’t have a girlfriend. He smiled, reassuring me that no, he didn’t have a girlfriend. We did what young people do and I fell asleep in his arms.
I’m not sure I believed that he would text once we parted ways. But he did. After telling me that he missed me, he admitted he was married with a three-year-old son. I racked my brain. Had he worn a ring? Firefighters don’t wear rings, he explained. Metal is a heat conductor. As he told it, the girl had fallen pregnant and he’d married her, thinking it the right thing to do.
According to him, the relationship had crumbled. I asked him why he didn’t leave if he was unhappy. He had suggested that he would move out of the family home and cover the bill for separate places, but she’d threatened to move out of the country with his son.
He was trapped.
Messaging while he was at the fire station made sense, but I was curious how he got away with it otherwise. Did he text me in plain sight or hide in the bathroom? I asked him to tell me a secret, and he told me he cried the morning of his wedding day.
I wasn’t the first person with whom he cheated. He’d regularly go out partying on the weekend; I wondered whether I was one in a line of many, but he insisted that I was different. I told myself she deserved everything she got. I wanted to add him on social media, but he told me he didn’t use it, preferring to remain uncontactable.
I don’t recall feeling guilty when he picked me up from my parents’ home in a blue BMW. We drove to a resort town half an hour away, along the coast. Wrapped up in each other while waiting in the cable car queue (those baby blue eyes), neither of us noticed when it was our turn to board. Noticing the operator’s smirk, I thought, You have no idea.
Riding down the mountain, the cable car became our bubble. I was proud, knowing that I had tempted this handsome older guy away from his boring old life, his boring old wife. I shamelessly posted photos of us on social media. He joked about us pulling up on the side of the road later to get dirty; it made me feel strange. When I arrived home that evening my mother asked whether I thought he was still having sex with his wife. I had never asked.
There was an unspoken agreement that we would only meet once. He sent me a photo of him and his son riding the teacups at a fairground, and for the first time, it dawned on me that his family was real. He lamented that he wouldn’t be free until his son turned 18.
Our conversations petered out as I left for university. Over the years, I’d Google his name, not because of lingering feelings—just curiosity. Social media profiles never materialized.
At the time, I forgave him for tricking me into intimacy, telling myself he hadn’t really lied—he really hadn’t had a girlfriend, after all. Looking back, I resent being put in that position, and it amazes me how I took his story for granted. I wish I could tell my 17-year-old self not to give her heart to someone she can’t have.
But I also have to take responsibility for what I did. At the time, I didn’t comprehend the gravity of what I was doing, the damage I could do to three lives. Today I’m a passionate feminist who champions women’s rights, and I’m ashamed that I was so flippant about the pain I could cause another woman.
Now that my peers are beginning to marry, I make a point of checking a man’s ring finger when he flirts. As far as I know, I’ve never been cheated on, though if it happens, I’ll consider it karma. The experience doesn’t seem to have affected my sense of trust, but maybe that’s something that will only become evident if I myself get married.
I still wonder what became of him. I hope that he found peace. I also think of his wife. Are they still together? I hope she found someone who appreciates her.
More than anything, the experience taught me that morality is nuanced— that none of us are all good or all bad.