Withholding information has always been a vice of mine. As a child I loved to learn the secrets of others; keep them close to my chest. What I never considered, though, was that I too may be a secret kept from others.
Some notions of love are based on satiating a personal desire, indulging in a fantasy conjured to fill an emotional void. That being said, I still can never understand how people cheat. It’s natural to want to put a face to the “cheating type,” but the notion of a type is one dimensional, whereas a cheater is a multifaceted individual. Often, cheating serves as an attempt to manage emotional trauma or satiate a hidden desire. In a couple instances, I’ve observed the act of cheating from an alternate perspective, inhabiting the role of the “side chick.” In both cases, lines were crossed and circumstances skewed by my attempts to ‘have my cake and eat it too.”
* * *
Ricky and I went to the same high school. He had a long term relationship, one that seemed destined for a young marriage. We met at a stop light after graduation. He pulled up next to me at the red light and waved. In a state of confusion I rolled up my window and continued on my way, thinking little of the matter; after all, we were strangers. However, later that week I was checking my DMs and spotted a message from Ricky containing a red location pin. I responded with a cloud emoji, possibly to avoid conversation, possibly because I recognized his endgame. We began texting regularly, establishing a strange, yet intimate relationship. It was the kind of surreal internet relationship in which you get to know each other’s daily schedules and create fake plans to meet up in person; entertaining each of your personal fantasies without following through. That was, until we ended up actually meeting about a week later. Our encounters were restricted to secluded areas and the cover of night — we had created a secret life for ourselves.
I began to fall for him just as his true nature began to reveal itself. Despite insisting that he was in fact single, he was clearly still implicated in a relationship which never fully ended, and which came with its own set of emotional baggage. His manipulation continued for close to a year.
In the process, I grew depressed and desperate for attention. I cried all day, feeling as though I wasn’t apart of his reality, only revealing myself to the people in his life through fragmented photos on the internet, while his girlfriend remained his main concern. In the meantime I gained a false sense of accomplishment from attracting and maintaining his attention throughout the course of his previously established relationship. In calling it quits, I felt like I was letting the “other girl” win. We both wanted his attention, and would do anything to get it. In reality, he was the only one benefiting from our arrangement, while his girlfriend and I both suffered from his half-truths and blocked calls.
* * *
I see a guy around around school, by early June we’re hanging out. We spend the night together and I can tell that the connection is real. My body is on fire when he kisses me. I take this shit way too seriously.
Leaving the next morning, I couldn’t feel better. Sleeping together felt right; he’s so attractive. He texts me right when I get home and we keep in contact throughout the week, chatting constantly and indulging in our own personal fantasies. He tells me he wants to hang out, he misses me, he wants to go to the beach, he wants to talk about everything and nothing.
We follow each other on Instagram. I notice a pretty face in his past feed and think nothing of it – after all, some people never delete pictures of exes. I decide that I may as well ask him directly: “Do you have a girlfriend.” Two days later he responds, “I don’t have a GF,” so I take him at his word. Two weeks ago I find myself asking him to hang out more and more, only to be met with dry responses or a lack-thereof. I figure he must be ghosting me, and think that I’ll get over it soon enough; five days at the most.
He texts me on Monday asking me not to take things so seriously, to just enjoy having fun. I’m left confused. He finally grabs my attention, only to ask me to ease up? At this point I begin to see a pretty face all over his feed. It’s hard not to speculate. After all, this person is completely curbing me, better find out why and for whom. Questions begin to swarm my brain: Why does she get to be seen and admired as his significant other? Why not me? Why would he keep me around when all his time and affection are focused elsewhere? How could someone who can’t even text me back expect my loving attention? I begin to spiral.
A week later I text him telling him to never speak to me again, not to call out of boredom when “she’s” not around. A week after that I see him in a restaurant. He smiles and shakes his head as I sit and eat. It’s easy to hide behind false promises, but seeing him in person, his eyes look sad and dull.
* * *
At first, being pursued by a cheater seems mysterious or even thrilling. The idea of being coveted at face value is extremely flattering. However, soon enough it becomes evident that, to the cheater, you are simply a secret to be kept from all those they hold most dear. As a “side-chick,” I wasn’t receiving any face-time with my pursuer, despite knowing that my face definitely deserves to be loved and admired in public. In the hopes of filling an emotional void, I lost sight of the bigger picture: the cheater’s previously established relationship, in which I simply played a minor role. Gleaning that my pursuer considered me to be the “less significant-other,” I began to lose sight of myself. Self-analyzing morphed into self-critique, as I surveyed body and mind for the attributes which had demoted me to “second best.” The result was confusion and emotional exhaustion; the depletion of self-worth without any consolatory results.
In the months that followed I began to reflect on the implications of this experience, becoming increasingly concerned with the effects of side-chick culture. While I am sympathetic to the complexities of intimacy and relationships, I am also concerned that people (men in particular) are not being held accountable for their actions in the face of this culturally accepted phenomenon. At the end of the day, it is what someone does to show you their loyalty and respect for you that matters. It is hard to not get caught up in things that could be, and everyday I need to remind myself to practice what I preach.
If they don’t want to truly know you and display their love for your to the world, forget them.