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SocietyJanuary 3, 2024

Help Me Hera: I can’t stop thinking about the person I cheated with

the famous distracted boyfriend meme: a young man looks over his shoulder at a passing woman as his girlfriend looks on horrified. on a green background
Image: Archi Banal

Summer reissue: They’re selfish, vain and unkind. And I’m driven to distraction every single day by thoughts of our tryst.

First published on June 15, 2023.

Dear Hera,

I’m in a long-term relationship with someone I love. I love their mind, their wit, their everything. I also just cheated on them for the first (and hopefully only) time with someone else. Not wonderful behaviour, actions I wish to put behind me and not repeat. Yet, I find myself completely… well, f-ckstruck. The other person is selfish, vain, unkind but I am completely driven to distraction every single day by thoughts of them and our tryst. Help me Hera, how do I stop being such a lustful idiot?


Wistful & F-ckstruck

A line of fluorescent green card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades
Dear Wistful & F-ckstruck

There are so many fascinating linguistic features in this letter to dissect. The strangely olde worlde flavour of “lustful’ and “tryst”, like an out-of-work Shakespearean actor. The boldness of the word “fuckstruck”, compromised by the prim redaction of the u. The strange impersonal optimism of the word “hopefully”, as if you were speculating on the weather. Not to mention “actions I wish to put behind me and not repeat” which has all the pompous energy of a CEO’s resignation letter. 

You say you love your partner’s “mind and wit”. Is your partner a plaster bust of Socrates? Are you dating the Duolingo owl? I can’t tell whether this is a hint there’s zero romantic or sexual energy left in your relationship, or whether you’re making sure to emphasise these qualities in an attempt to draw a semantic distinction between the person you love and whoever you cheated on them with? Either way, I feel it’s the kind of grim and impersonal thing you’d write in someone’s leaving card. Great working with you Stacey! Love your mind and wit!  

You must know that writing in to an advice column with an unpopular problem and no remorse is asking for punishment. You’re clearly getting some degree of pleasure out of the verboten aspect of your affair. Am I participating in your kink, by publicly shaming you? 

I think you should tell your partner what happened, so they can decide whether or not to break up with you. But you didn’t ask that. You skipped right over “what should I do about this hideous fuck-up?” and went straight to “how do I stop being so horny?” without passing go or collecting $200.  You have the performatively fretful manner of someone who’s enjoying their horrible problem immensely. 

Because your letter makes me think you’re unlikely to ever tell your partner about your indiscretion, it falls upon me to do a little secondhand berating. 

Cheating on someone is boring and tawdry. Especially doing it with someone you obviously dislike. It’s also rich to go around calling the person you cheated on your partner with “selfish and unkind”. Like the pot calling the vast eternity of spacetime black. 

I feel like I’m probably supposed to give some non-judgmental advice on rekindling desire in the style of Esther Perel. Redirecting that energy elsewhere, etc. But I’m not here to tell you how to fuck. I also can’t be bothered drafting an impassioned plea for you to confess your sins, when nothing about your letter even flirts with the possibility of disclosure. 

Your actual question was about how to stop fixating on your “tryst”. The easiest way would be to face the consequences, a decidedly unsexy thing to do. But failing that, it’s hard to say. You could start playing the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme every time you jerk off, but that might just backfire and make you hot for Larry David. 

I think the best strategy is to replace that lust with a stronger feeling. Not shame. Shame’s only going to crank the wheel of your pillow cinema. What you need is a good, solid helping of dread. 

At the moment, you feel as if you’ve got away with it. You’re potentially even considering doing it again, if the “hopefully only” is any evidence. But in the existential sense, there’s no such thing as “getting away with it”.

The trouble with having affairs with selfish, vain and unkind people is, unless you’re willing to be honest with your partner, you have to spend the rest of your relationship at the mercy of a horrible stranger. This person has zero incentive to safeguard your secret. They might tell someone by accident. They might tell someone on purpose. They might try and befriend your partner out of some kind of obscure power play, because they’re bored and unhappy, and messing with other people’s emotional lives is their hobby. They might have a religious conversion in five years, and decide to make amends with anyone they’ve ever wronged. They might send an anonymous email, or write a bestselling memoir. They might be the most trustworthy person in the world, but what about the people they confide in?

There are so many potential ways for this to blow up in your face. Even if your partner never finds out, you’ve still lost, because you’ll have to spend the rest of your relationship secretly worrying about it. Your relationship is trapped forever in a quantum holding pattern, both alive and dead. 

Honestly, I feel bad for you. Obviously it’s not pleasant to be cheated on. But at least your partner is eligible for sympathy, and the moral high-ground. Whereas you just lost something you probably didn’t even know you had. 

What does anyone want out of long-term relationships? The chance to be truly seen and understood by another person, for better or worse. To feel loved and safe. To not have to hide. 

You fucked it all up. 

There are always consequences, even if you don’t know what they are yet, or how they’ll manifest. Are you going to be fine for a few years, and then get weird and paranoid down the track, and start thinking your partner is cheating on you because your own duplicity has inadvertently eroded your ability to trust? Is your partner going to be able to sense something they can’t ever prove or articulate? Are you always going to be looking over your shoulder, forever vigilant against the evidence which could ruin your life. Are you going to be an actor in the one place you could have been at home? 

I can’t think of anything less sexy than that.

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