Dear Carolyn: Is it really true that "once a cheater always a cheater," even when the cheater didn't cheat on you?
A few years ago, I left my husband after I found out he was a serial cheater. We are now divorced. I have been seeing someone new, and he seems like a great guy. However, he is also divorced, and it's because he cheated on his ex-wife.
He was very honest with me about this. He did not attempt to lie about or hide it. Instead of making up an excuse for what he did, like, "She didn't do the dishes when I asked, and if she really loved me she would have, so she deserved it" (which was literally one of the reasons my ex-husband gave for why he cheated), he told me he had "made a mistake" and that he regretted it.
Our relationship is otherwise fantastic and I don't want to miss out on what could be something great just because of my own hang-ups. But in the back of my mind I can't help but think, "He did it to her, what's to stop him from doing it to me?"
— Dating an Ex-Cheater
Dating an Ex-Cheater: Having paid a heavy emotional price for cheating could deter him (or anyone) from ever cheating again.
But that’s just speculation about what he could be thinking, and therefore it’s somewhat remote. It’ll be more persuasive if you can come to an understanding based on your own emotional experience.
As an adult human being, you’ve probably done at least one terrible thing in your life. Right?
Okay. Have you done this terrible thing more than once? Have you done it more than once because the mere fact of your being capable of it once means you’ll never stop yourself from doing it again?
For some reason, the question I get asked over and over again is whether a one-time cheater is always a cheater; I’m not asked to parse “Once a backstabber always a backstabber,” “Once a curfew-breaker always a curfew-breaker,” “Once an opportunist always an opportunist,” “Once a person who cuts out early on Friday always a person who cuts out early on Friday.”
Might be interesting, but never happens.
People grow and change and learn — or they don’t. Whether this guy you’re interested in is from Group A or Group B is something you need to figure out for yourself, using his words and deeds and using your judgment. It’s not a perfect system and some people get hurt. But, blanket judgments aren’t the remedy for the system’s imperfections.
Meanwhile, you’re someone who got burned by a cheater. So, once burned always burned?
It’s a valid question, even though the same Group A/B possibilities exist for you.
What you need to think about, carefully, is whether your emotional comfort zone, your taste in men, and your blind spots draw you to manipulative, dishonest, narcissistic, charismatic people — as in, the ones inclined to cheat and blame you for it. If you’re (still) a sucker for those, then you’d be wise to be wary, of yourself as well as your dates. Therapy often helps.
Otherwise, trust yourself. There’s something to be said for two people who know exactly how wrong they can be.