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My ex and I were together for a year and nine months. He was my first relationship and first sexual encounter. He is fifteen years my senior, and we met when I was eighteen. I didn’t know about his actual age, or the fact he had a girlfriend on the other side of the country (we were both new to the area at the time) until a few months into dating each other. I was vocal about wanting a non-monogamous relationship from the beginning, and continued to be until the end. However, he wanted more. When a dirty message (albeit unprovoked) came up on my phone several months after we met, he angrily told me that he didn’t want to be with me if I wouldn’t be exclusive. I was scared of losing him, and know that he knew he was pressuring me into commitment.

I justified my sleeping with other men on two separate occasions, as well as sending explicit photos to others because I gave him a multitude of chances to see things my way (or to leave, which he ultimately did and should have a long time ago, as much as I hate to admit it) and didn’t enthusiastically consent to monogamy. I knew he wouldn’t be okay with what I was doing, but at the time, I thought I was justified in my actions. I realize now that I in no way was and seriously betrayed him, even though I was never caught. I think it may be for the better for both of us now that it is over, although that is no excuse for what I did.

I am seeing a therapist now to work through both the end of the relationship, and how I contributed to the unhealthy environment. I still love and care about him so much. He was my best friend. All of this information makes everything even worse, because I wonder how could I have ever done that to someone I know means so much to me.

Do you have any advice for me on how to work on forgiving myself and move forward?

I feel like you’re holding yourself here to an account that your partner doesn’t seem to be holding himself to. This relationship began with him cheating on you, whether you were vocal about non-monogamy or not. A hidden relationship is, to most people’s definition, cheating. He not only lied about his actual age but he also lied about another relationship.

While I do think you should have been the one to cut things off when he told you that he didn’t want to do non-monogamy or even before when you realised he had been cheating on you and lying about his age, you are 15 years younger than he is and in a way, I don’t see why he couldn’t have done that either and I very much wonder if his anger at seeing the text was because he thought that, due to your age gap, he could somehow convince you easier to be monogamous.

Whether or not you were justified in your actions, I really don’t see this as some kind of long intense and intended deception. If anything, you were honest from the outset on what you intended to do. Even if you knowingly did things you knew he wouldn’t like, it’s not like you overtly lied about it either.

On the contrary, there’s a lot of excuses for what you did. He was pressuring you to commit in a way you didn’t want to commit. You gave him the chance to leave on a consistent basis. While I absolutely do think you should have ended things when he said he didn’t want to be with you if you wouldn’t be exclusive, I don’t think it’s worth this level of self flagellation.

What you might want to consider working through your therapist with is what you define as a ‘best friend’ and how do you go forward recognising that the level of treatment you expect yourself to have for others is clearly not equal to the level of treatment you expect others to have of you. You’re asking yourself how you could have done this to someone who means so much to you but… he cheated and lied from the beginning — how could he have done that to you?

Go easier on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Being afraid of losing a relationship you can sometimes enjoy outside of the rough patches is a very human thing. Wanting to avoid a breakup is a very human thing. Be aware of the choices you made that ended up making this breakup more difficult, but don’t beat yourself up for it.

Pay more attention to when you’re also seriously betraying yourself or allowing others to do so and accepting it as deserved.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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