'My Breakup Turned Into a Full-Blown Double Life'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This reader tried to put his foot down like Wayne did with Stacy:

I had been in a relationship for about four years, unhappy for at least the previous two years. I knew that being with her forever was the “smart” call (beautiful, medical student, wonderful family) but we weren’t a good fit, and arguments flared up constantly. I believed that I “should” be happy but I wasn’t, and I beat myself up for being so horrible as to not appreciate what I had.

Nevertheless, I was miserable and finally got up the nerve to end things ... or I almost did. She made a death grip around my arm, told me I wasn’t leaving until we made up, and I caved after about an hour. This was our sixth or tenth breakup, and I couldn’t bear to go to my friends and say that I hadn’t followed through (I thought that telling some ahead of time would force me to stick with it).

So I lied, at least until things were “settled.” To my family and some of my friends, we were still together. To most of my friends, I was a single guy newly freed from my situation.

In the two years that followed I kept this facade going, carefully negotiating mixed social gatherings with utter terror that I’d be discovered. With everyone I met I had to decide what version of the truth I would go with and how that would play into the overall social network. Where did I tell them I was spending the weekend? Who did I say I was going on vacation with?

It was exhausting. Meanwhile, my actual relationship wasn’t going any better. What had started as a desire to hide my lack of conviction from my friends had turned into a full-blown double life, complete with dating and infidelity (though never another relationship per se).

After two years of this anxiety we broke up for “normal” reasons, wanting different things out of our future (as you do when you meet at 20 and now you’re 26) among other things. There was some initial anguish, as I did still love her, but I think the relief from cognitive dissonance did as much to relax me as did ending an unhappy relationship.

That was three years ago. No one ever found out.

When some people cheat, it’s the “other man/woman” who they keep secret from the rest of their lives. For me, I kept the relationship secret from the rest of my life. Every time someone tells me I am honest or a great guy, I cringe.