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Cyber cheating: How I found out my boyfriend of 3 years was unfaithful

So Here's The Thing

Cyber cheating: How I found out my boyfriend of 3 years was unfaithful
The untold story of young love, multiple heartbreaks and the redemption of an anti-heroine

Growing up, I've never been one to shy away from the skeletons in my closet. Where my mother would warn me about the social dangers of airing my dirty laundry, I've always felt empowered by my own candour. Why should I fear honesty? Owning up to my plight and my pleasures build character; counting my blessings and my blemishes help me sleep at night.

That is not to say it hasn't gotten me in trouble of various measures. The friendship with my high school sidekick barely survived the open disdain I felt for her then-boyfriend. And where timing is concerned, it was too bad I didn't learn it before I purged my decade-old insecurities on my family over breakfast, causing an emotional outburst five Christmases ago. There's a silver lining: I'd like to think that it is my unyielding expression of truth that has led me here, in the path of a writer. In line with my ideologies, I made a promise to myself that should I decide to one day pen my life into a novella, I would spare no detail, no matter how small, inclusive of scandal. It would certainly house some pretty dark chapters in love. Let's see: There is one on the year I spent with my younger, abusive boyfriend who asked me to marry him, the short-lived but painful love affair with the non-committal hottie, and then there's the bulletproof classic — the one that got away. All of which I'm sure I'll share in this dating column down the road.

So here's the thing: Of the unsavoury lovelorn episodes in my life I've had the unfortunate opportunity to write, produce, direct and star in, there is one that I haven't shouted about on rooftops, or started a smear campaign about on social media. That is because in what feels like a lifetime ago, I did something I'm not proud of, something bad, something that ate away at me until I decided I didn't want to deal with it anymore. Until now.

If I ever chronicled the great romances of my life, the first time I fell in love would would be Chapter 1.

The first pages of this tragedy begins with Shaun*, though Shaun isn't by any accounts the central character here. Shaun and I met in college and it was through Shaun that I met Jacob*. Jacob — the name you're going to read about for the remainder of this week's So Here's The Thing.

"In what feels like a lifetime ago, I did something I'm not proud of, something bad, something that ate away at me until I decided I didn't want to deal with it anymore. Until now."

Shaun and I had no business getting into a relationship with each other, but young and foolish, we found each other holding hands, kissing, and going on largely silent dates because that's how much we had in common with each other. Jacob and I did nothing of the sort. We didn't hold hands, we didn't kiss, we didn't go on dates; they were the sort of activities he did with someone else — his girlfriend Emily. But boy did we have much in common. The spark between us was omnipresent, and fade it did not when Jacob left for university away from home, away from me and Emily. Maybe it was because we knew I would see him again when I was due for a transfer on our American exchange program. Maybe it was because we spent all those hours online on MSN messenger (the 2008 version of Whatsapp) sharing songs, exchanging playful jabs and experimenting with what must have been the initial stages of online flirting with awful emoticons.

Whatever it was, chatting with Jacob made it easy for me to confide in someone else other than my boyfriend. The time zones in our polarising cities were cruel; still, the often-unstable dial up connection didn't fail to connect us. Short of lovers, we became best friends. There is no denying that I was developing feelings for Jacob. Is that considered emotional cheating? The lines are blurry with this one — but not the next. Unlike Jacob, when it was my time to board the plane, I did so without having to console a teary eyed significant other. Shaun and I called it quits weeks before; Jacob and Emily kept things open ended.

"The time zones in our polarising cities were cruel; still, the often-unstable dial up connection didn't fail to connect us. Short of lovers, we became best friends."

The rest of this prelude is messy. With Jacob and I in a new city together, and Shaun and Emily far off our sights and minds, it wasn't long before Jacob and I started to get romantic. Then, a roller coaster. I was a teenager, falling in love for the first time, with someone who was kind of, sort of, not really, still involved with his ex. I noticed the emails, heard the whispers of their Skype calls. Each occasion, I would quietly retreat to my room. "Is he cheating on me or is he cheating on her?" The complexity of the situation far outreached my feeble adolescent-level comprehension. I have no doubts it was wrong now, but because my feelings were so true (ugh) it didn't feel illicit to an innocent 19-year-old. It took me a while to vocalise what Jacob and I did was cheating, but he was never fond of the word. It was brash, he said. It wasn't so definite to him.

Jacob and Emily's relationship eventually met its demise. They went their separate ways — and into separate open arms, I would later learn. Good or bad, the quick ascension of Emily's new relationship lent legitimacy to mine with Jacob. And for the better part of the next year, we were happy. Crazily so. Big on road trips, we drove to fresh water beaches, sand dunes and blueberry farms when it was warm out. We found ourselves within the city skylines of New York City and breaking the winds of Chicago countless times when there was snow on the ground. And for my 20th birthday, a bit of extraordinary. He flew us to Niagara Falls — he was a pilot in training — where we witnessed a sunset like no other. The big gestures make for great pictures, but the small moments make the memories. We spent summers in our pyjamas watching The Walking Dead, eating corndogs and kebabs at music festivals, hunting down thrift stores. Regardless of season, he would carry me and tuck me into bed every night after I fall asleep on his lap on the couch. 

"I was a teenager, falling in love for the first time, with someone who was kind of, sort of, not really, still involved with his ex."

So how did I find myself texting Adrian* a friend I made in university? It was the kind of charged repartee you don't share with other people besides your boyfriend. The kind of messages you don't send to people you're not romantically linked to. Adrian and I never got in bed together, never saw each other, and never so much called each other for minutes longer than what I can count. Those details, matter as they may to parties involved, do not make what I did less awful. No excuse. Though the sex was cyber, it rocks me to today how little thought I gave prior to the emotional exploit. Thankfully, it was just as easy to get out of as it was to get into. Saner heads prevailed; Adrian and I cooled it down long before we delved any further and for that, I will always be thankful.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge of what Jacob would eventually do to me, I never would have been able to cope with the guilt and self-blame if I betrayed us any more than I already had with Adrian.

Specificity of days prior to his Jacob's duplicity is a stretch, as the details are foggy, but I can say the following with conviction: After two years, Jacob and I weren't the same people anymore. What bonded us — the couple workouts, the idyllic vacations, the rapid-fire humour — were also the cause of our unravelling. We never, not once, spent any time apart. Everything we did, we did together and for the lack of a more sophisticated explanation, we got bored. The routine killed the young love. Instead of bringing us closer, it dimmed our spark, the spark that wasn't nearly bright enough to ignite chemistry beyond the platonic to begin with.

"It was the kind of charged repartee you don't share with other people besides your boyfriend. The kind of messages you don't send to people you're not romantically linked to."

Before we realised we were better off friends, we were lovers. And preceding lovers, we were partners. Confidants. So close we were, I trusted Jacob with everything. And that's no hyperbole — it really was everything. My bank account details, passwords to my computer, Facebook, emails, my university accounts, schedules... you get the picture. I didn't revoke access even when he moved back to Asia for work upon graduation either. The emotional cheating was the biggest mistake I made; this came a close second.

The world works in mysterious ways — it was because I was so trusting, Jacob's indiscretion swum so swiftly to surface. It was a Thursday morning on the last week of August, days before my final semester at university was to commence. I was just making my way out of the faculty office when I received a flurry of messages through Facebook messenger on my phone. When I opened the app, confusion. It would appear that Nina*, my co-worker and friend was having a conversation with me on Facebook. But I wasn't sending messages on Facebook. I wasn't sending messages at all. I stood still for what felt like an hour under the morning sun, dumbly staring at the screen, trying to understand what was unfolding in front of me. The fact that the messages were coming from my account was unquestionable. Yet, I felt like a stranger, eaves dropping a conversation I wasn't supposed to be privy to, though I had a dirty inkling that it was about me.

Nina: You said you were going to break up with her. You lied to me!
Me: I couldn't do it. You weren't there. It's not so easy.
Nina: I don't believe you! You clearly still love her.
Me: That's not true. I have no feelings for her whatsoever.

Blue message. White message. Blue message. White message.

It went on for a good while but it wasn't until she said Jacob's name that my world snapped back into place. Or rather, it was when she said Jacob's name that my world crumbled into pieces. Their subsequent exchanges exposed Jacob as the user of my account. She had blocked his, and I presume, the rest of his devices. Consequently, he had no other way to reach her but this one, which would have worked had my appointment with my academic counsellor took as long as he anticipated (remember, he had access to my schedule), and had he deleted the incoming and outgoing messages as quickly as he did when he began the dialogue.

"The routine killed the young love. Instead of bringing us closer, it dimmed our spark, the spark that wasn't nearly bright enough to ignite chemistry beyond the platonic to begin with."

My screaming phone call with Jacob was heard by every passer-by on my way home, but I didn't care. The fury that coursed through my body when he refused to admit what was so obvious kept me breathing. In the end, after a many profanity, it was Nina who came clean to me. She and Jacob (who was also her co-worker before he graduated) had been seeing one another while I was away for an internship in Singapore. Fun fact: Those two months in the summer of 2012 was the first time Jacob and I spent any significant amount of time apart.

For those of you looking for details of how I tore Nina apart — which I can assure you, I did — I can't bring myself to indulge. If you want the gory details of how I interrogated the girl of every little deed that they did, and where they did it, I can't type it in words and keep my lunch in. Should you be itching for information on how Jacob reacted when I confronted him with Nina's confession, I can tell you that it was an unglorified Skype call, an anticlimactic event that will leave you grossly unsatisfied.  

I'm not the same person I was at senior year. The emotionally cheating 22-year-old? Yeah, I'm glad the remnants of her have washed away. And if I'm going to reward myself the liberty from guilt, for so so much time has passed, I will do the same for Nina. I can do the same for Jacob.

Some may insist that he wronged me in worse ways that I did him. It's hard to argue with that. I lost my best friend and my boyfriend over... 7, 8 counts of indiscretion? Some may accuse that my emotional cheating was just as bad, if not worse than his physical one. "Cheating is cheating," as they say. I can hardly dispute that either. I'm not so concerned with whose infidelity was more substantial — his, mine or hers — as I am about where that leaves me. I wrote earlier on, that owning up to my plight builds character and counting my blessings help me sleep at night.

The way I see it, telling this story, airing this particular piece of laundry, it's a great place to start.

*Names have been changed.
Tune in to the next entry on 15 June.

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