Last year, I broke up with the man I was engaged to and loved deeply. I’d found out he was cheating on me constantly with many different women throughout our relationship. My life has gone on, but I often think of what he did to me and feel incredible anger. I’d like to forgive him, but I’m not sure how to do that when these feelings pop up throughout my week.
It’s hard to move on emotionally when you not only have a grudge, but take it everywhere with you like a cockroach on a little yarn leash.
This isn’t to say you should forgive the guy. There’s this assumption that forgiving someone who’s wronged you is the healthy, constructive thing to do – and sure, it can be. Evolutionary social psychologist Michael McCullough defines forgiveness as “an internal process of getting over your ill will for an offender.” He explains that forgiveness is “adaptive” – functional, beneficial – when there’s a valuable relationship at stake: when you’d benefit from continuing contact with the perp (and it seems unlikely they’ll be a repeat offender – harm you again in a similar way).
But you aren’t looking to re-up with the guy! And you probably have zero indication he’s changed anything – aside from which woman he’s two-timing (or, uh, 22-timing, as a rough quarterly estimate). What you’re really seeking is peace of mind. Consider that anger, like forgiveness, can be functional. The anger you still have probably remains for a reason: a warning sign that you’re in danger of being cheated on again. But there’s a way to shut off that alert – and protect yourself in the future – and it’s by turning this into a learning experience.
Be accountable for the part you played in what happened – not because, “Yay, blame the victim!” – but because it’s the part you can control. Did you, perhaps, want so badly to believe you’d found love that you ignored signs you’d landed a cheating creep posing as an adoring boyfriend? Being honest about what you could – and should – have done differently can become your guide for what you will do differently the next guy around. A man can give you the sense he has a moral compass, but it’s best you give it a hard look to see it isn’t cracked and dusty from constantly being dropped in other women’s bedrooms.
I’ve been dating a guy for three months, and I’d like us to be exclusive, but I don’t know how to go about addressing it. I’m worried that if I say I need him to commit, he’ll feel pressured and bolt.
For a man, agreeing to go exclusive is a bit like wedding vows lite, as posed to the man’s penis: “Do you swear off sex with all the other ladies forever?” Penis: “Frankly, that sounds a little grim.”
Men evolved to have the hots for sexual variety – casual sex with a slew-apalooza of different partners – to a degree women do not. (An ancestral woman could get pregnant and stuck with a kid to raise after a single hookup with some rando, while the more randos Grok had sex with, the more likely he was to pass on his genes.)
Feminist scholars contend that “patriarchal” culture – not evolution – leads to men’s greater preference for the sexual variety pack, but it even shows up in “gender-egalitarian” Norway. Evolutionary scientist Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair and his colleagues asked Norwegian men and women the number of sex partners they’d want over a 30-year period. Women, on average, wanted about five sex partners. Men? About 25!
Still, many men eventually tire of the swipe-right hussy of the night lifestyle (which, admittedly, isn’t an option for men low on the mate-value ladder) and start feeling ready for a relationship. However, even if this guy’s open to commitment and maybe already pointed in that direction, consider the lesson from “psychological reactance,” a term coined by psychologist Jack Brehm. Our getting the sense that somebody’s trying to control us, limit our freedom, motivates us to “react”: rebel against being controlled.
Give yourself a (silent) deadline so you won’t be waiting around forever, and then ask him how he sees things going forward: what he’s looking for, what works for him. The conversation itself should give him the sense that you might be headed for the door if he doesn’t boyfriend up. Wanting to be with you might motivate him to make the necessary sexual trade-off – which is ultimately a pretty big deal for a dude. Picture the Souplantation buffet, but all those stainless steel bins are filled with the same one item, and you’ll have to eat it for every meal for the rest of your life: “Welcome to the suburban gulag. Table for two?”