By Annie Arnone
Divyansh Singh Chandel made his way to the back door of his girlfriend’s apartment in secret—the way he always did when they wanted to hang out. His fingers slowly ran along the stems of the red flowers that the florist had carefully wrapped in a bouquet, while his other clammy hand gripped a box of chocolates tight to his chest. Tonight was her birthday. And instead of sending her his regular “back door” text, Chandel decided that he wanted to surprise her.
Her parents never approved of him, but their level of secrecy and his two-hour commute to her place never deterred him from visiting the girl he loved, so he did this for two years.
His cellphone glowed brightly, illuminating his smiling face as he checked to make sure that it was midnight, and officially her birthday. It was around this exact time that he saw his partner’s silhouette in the frame of the window, along with another body—a man, who began kissing her neck. Chandel’s hands shook and his body froze, as if his feet had sunken into the soil below him. It was like he’d forgotten how to move.
This happened six years ago. But the third-year aerospace engineering student is still unable to trust another partner—despite his attempts to go on dates since that night.
A 2011 study published by the Archives of Sexual Behaviour stated that one in five people in relationships have cheated on their partner. The topic of infidelity has not only been prominent in the media—where celebrities such as Beyoncé have publicized their experiences—but has also made its way into conversations surrounding mental health.
According to Dr. Diana Brecher, a clinical psychologist at Ryerson, being cheated on can affect the state of your mental health. The mind has automatic tendencies to make sense of a situation when dealing with loss and trying to cope. Partners who have been cheated on tend to blame themselves in search of some sort of rationale for why it happened. “Whenever someone is victimized in this kind of way, you want to find a way to make sense of it, so you put the blame on yourself,” she says.
Days after Chandel broke up with his girlfriend, he stopped eating. His appetite decreased and he felt sick to his stomach every time he thought about what he saw through the window of his ex-partner’s apartment.
“Div, what are you doing?” his mom asked as he stepped out of his washroom after showering—the third time that day.
“I feel dirty,” he responded. This thought would follow him around for years to come. “She just cheated on me, she was with me while she was with him—I feel dirty. I need to be clean.”
Second-year professional communications student Lucy Mills, 20, met her boyfriend when she was 16 years old. They dated for over a year. “I was so used to having him in my life, as a part of my routine,” she says. “Right before my prom, I had been dealing with my anxiety and had just been [prescribed] antidepressants. One night he called me, explaining that he’d been in a hot tub with a few girls and ended up getting naked.”
Mills broke up with him immediately after. She was in shock. She assumed they were in a good place in their relationship. She couldn’t rid herself of the thought that she wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, or that she couldn’t make him happy.
Mills experienced more anxiety following her boyfriend’s infidelity and says she had a difficult time moving forward. Her breakup happened more than two years ago.
“I was so self-conscious and anxious anytime I talked to anyone else,” she says. “I still don’t feel pretty enough.”
Stages of grief, similar to the ones a person experiences following death—shock, denial, pain, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, loneliness, the upward turn, acceptance and hope—take years for some to work through.
In an article published by the Huffington Post, Sheri Meyers, a marriage and family counsellor, says that a common thing she hears from her clients is that, “their partner ‘made them’ cheat.” Often, their partners believe them due to their vulnerable emotional state. Mentally, it is very difficult for partners to move forward after being cheated on out of fear of making their next partner “want to cheat.”
Six years after the incident at the back window, Chandel stood in his bedroom one night feeling devastated. He had just finished taking his third shower of the day. He still felt dirty.
He thought about his ex-girlfriend, wondering where she was, or who she was currently with. Then, he clenched his fists, thinking about the possibility of her making someone else feel the way he did.
Chandel hopes that one day he can settle down with someone, despite the anxiety he still currently feels.
“I think about being with someone eventually, but I think it’ll be a long time before I can trust another woman again,” he says. “I’ve come close to meeting really amazing women, that I’ve thought were the one, but the minute I recall what happened, I run away.”