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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 17 October, 2018
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Dear Fifi: Does her cheating mean my relationship was just a lie?

Dear Fifi, every Tuesday at 6pm.

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Lately it seems like the bad news never stops, and sometimes a smartphone can really be a swirling portal to grimness. It’s heartening to know there are like-minded people out there though, and that’s something to be clung onto I think.

If you’re plunging into the maelstrom of social media gloom, here’s a life raft. Anytime!

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I’m 24 and had been going out with a girl for five years until recently. Our relationship felt, in a word, perfect. We were in love, we supported each other, we fit. There was never an indication of unhappiness on either part. We had plans. We were both in it for the long haul, forever.

It ended a few days ago, because of her infidelity. She says she still loves me and she’s desperate to make things right. As excruciating as it is, I can’t trust her and I can’t love her the same anymore, so there is no chance of working to patch everything up. I’m obviously torn up to the extreme that it had to be this way, but this is the way it is. 

I know that heartbreak is just a reality of life and I know I’m going to have to find a way to deal with it. But I’m confused. I know the future will be without her, but I can’t make sense of the past. I guess my question is: why do you think people are unfaithful? Is it possible to love someone and betray them too? Are the five years I cherished a lie?

I’m sorry you’re experiencing this. Whatever your girlfriend did was so bad that you consider it a dealbreaker. It was a serious violation of the bond you guys had, the trusting foundation a relationship is based on. Sometimes this wrenching heartbreak is the preferable option, crazy as it sounds. I know you’ll get what I mean.

As you haven’t given me any of the salient details – which are arguably not that important anyway – like whether or not this was a sustained affair or a one-off, done sober or drunk, with someone known or unknown, sex or emotion, etc, it’s difficult for me to advise you very personally. For that reason, I’m going to speak more generally about the idea of transgression and forgiveness. I hope that helps you a bit. 

I believe it is possible to love someone and to do wrong by them and cause them pain. I think you can love someone full-heartedly and also make a terrible, unforgivable mistake. I do not believe betrayal means a relationship was “a lie”. Life is rarely black and white. Sometimes seemingly impossibly contradictory things do co-exist. In fact, when it comes to love, it happens more often than we’d all care to admit.

None of this is to say that you should take her back. Just try to understand that two things can be true at one time. She loved you, she was unfaithful to you. I think going down the rabbit hole of whether she loved you enough or the right way is where madness lies. Just accept you two had love, but now it has to end. 

Your ex-girlfriend is not solely the mistake she made. It’s not the context that everything else preceding it relies on. It’s part of her, there’s no denying that, but one mistake (however egregious and shattering) is not the sum total of who she is, or what your relationship was. We’re all a writhing patchwork of good and bad. She wasn’t hiding who she really is or anything: this is just a part neither of you realised was there. Doing bad doesn’t disbar us from trying to be good people.

All of us are capable of doing terrible things, and some of us do them. Life is messy and complicated and painful, but it’s also brilliant. Those two things are true at the same time. 

People are unfaithful, I think, for very many different and diverse reasons. Some people are weak: an opportunity presents itself and they cannot resist temptation. Others are bored, seeking a thrill, some are feckless and irresponsible, some people are insecure, other people are compulsive, or lashing out from spite, resentful, filling a void, acting on some need for freedom they might not even be able to name. There are countless reasons. That said, there may be no good reason at all.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter why she did it – she did it, and that’s it. It has to do with her, not you. Remember that. Guessing at the reason won’t change what happened, or help it make sense, and getting bogged down in analysis of her actions will stop you moving on healthily. 

Your relationship with her is beyond repair, but as a person she is not beyond redemption. If we were all written off by our worst mistake, there’d be none of us left. She fucked up, really badly. Maybe she’ll learn, maybe she won’t. That’s not your concern. We’re all capable of fucking up, and fucking up badly. It’s human nature. Try not to let the way it ended sully all that came before it, because you’d be doing your relationship (and yourself) a disservice. 

You’d be very wise to look at this situation, see that she is flawed but forgivable, but also know inside that your high water mark has been reached and it’s done. You’re doing really well. Keep going. 

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 Want to talk?

Confess a story, ask for help or just shout into the void for a bit and see if that helps. All welcome. Anonymity totally guaranteed always. 

Last week’s column – I feel pressure from my mother-in-law to have a big wedding

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