On Second Chances

by A Lady

I have a question. When does a guy merit a second chance, and under what circumstances?

For a bit of background — I was the ex-boyfriend who cheated. We were in a long-distance relationship, I was stressed out from school and she was stressed out from work. I had convinced myself that disposable one-night stands were different from kissing or flirting with girls I knew or liked, girls toward whom I put up giant flashing “unavailable” signs. I was wrong. I know that now, but had convinced myself then that it wasn’t as bad. She was my first real girlfriend (of more than three months), so while I’d like to blame inexperience and immaturity, there is no valid excuse.

I haven’t seen her in almost a year, but thanks to an overseas internship we broke up only eight months ago. She found out I had cheated on her during our nearly five-year relationship before I’d left. Since she broke up with me I would give anything to go back to before I left for school and kick myself in the ass. My message would be simple: stop being an idiot, put a ring on her finger, and never leave her side (or without her at your side) ever again.

We’re both almost 30. I know I can make her laugh, take care of her, and protect her. I know I can be faithful — I haven’t been with anyone since her a year ago. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I think about her every day — in subconsciously trying not to take up the whole bed, thinking of how she would react to a joke on the TV, her unique idiosyncrasies I thought were cute but made her insecure, and even remembering fights we’d had and wishing I could give anything to go back to that moment just to be in her presence again. What’s worst is knowing that now I’d do all of the things I thought were dumb before not as a compromise, but because I want to make her happy. I didn’t realize how important they were to her at the time and want to think of ways to surprise her, to check things off her bucket list, or just things she haphazardly mentions she might want to try. I didn’t know how amazing, and more importantly, how rare, good relationships are until I’d lost one.

She’s moving again to start grad school just as mine finishes, and I want nothing more than to follow her and prove that I’m worth consideration for the long-haul. I don’t expect to jump back in her bed and continue things as they were — I feel I have to prove myself. I want to regain her trust, but I don’t know how. The deck is stacked against me because she’ll only talk under certain circumstances, and doesn’t want to see me. I know that’s because I hurt her badly. She’s not alone — I am hurting too.

I want to spend the rest of my life making her happy, but I need a chance to show that the reward far outweighs the risk. Under what circumstances would you give a guy a second chance, if he knew that there was no margin for error? I can’t speak for any other guys out there, but I have seen the error of my ways. I just need a chance to prove it.

Everyone deserves a second chance. Life and love (to start big here) are about taking risks and being brave — telling people how you really feel, making yourself vulnerable, asking for what you need. Giving. And second chances count as brave and worthwhile risks.

So to answer your question: yes. Yes, I would give a guy a second chance, but only if I wanted to, and only if I got the sense he wasn’t basing his hopes and plans on fantasy. In your situation, however, I get the impression that she doesn’t want to want to give you a second chance, and that your hopes and plans are based somewhat in fantasy. Because what seems clear in your head — that you will be faithful to her, forever — is difficult in execution, and you actually have no basis to believe you will, since you never were. So to promise it from the outset is to already mislay the foundation for renewed trust. And how can you know that the reward outweighs the risk for her? That’s condescending, and if someone told me that, I’d feel … unsettled. Annoyed. Who is this person to say they know what’s best for me? More compelling would be “I don’t know what lies in store, but I do know that I am still very much in love you and want to do everything I can to regain your trust. It’ll be hard, and I know that I’m asking you to take a big risk, but I want to work on this. Please consider giving me a second chance.” (And not being with anyone since you broke up isn’t the same as fidelity.) Which is to say, for now, I think you should leave her alone.

I hope this doesn’t sound harsh, because it’s clear you’re heartbroken and in pain, but a lot can change in a year. And the longer it’s been since you’ve seen her, the more the version of her in your head drifts away from reality and becomes idealized, and the scenarios you’re playing out — while I’m sure they’re based in real shared memories — eventually become more yours than hers, and her character becomes less her than an echo of an echo you’re creating daily.

Most important, though, is that following her to a new city when she doesn’t even want to see you is not a good idea. Imagine if someone who betrayed you and shredded your heart followed you — for no reason other than to follow you — to a new city right when you were about to start an exciting new chapter of your life, meet lots of new people, and work really hard. Personally, I’d freak out. Maybe more than freak out. Panic. And to knowingly inflict that on her, right when she’s about to put her best energy and focus elsewhere, seems selfish and a little cruel. Maybe more than a little cruel.

Others may disagree, but I do think there’s something to be said for mistakes made in a first relationship. If they’re not more forgivable, then they’re at least more understandable than ones made down the road with eyes fully open. Because you never realize how important trust and honesty are until that first time they’ve been violated, and sometimes it takes being the one who violates that trust to learn that lesson. Almost like an inoculation. Which sounds like what’s happened in your case, possibly. But I think that instead of focusing on her, you should move forward with your new understanding and meet other people. She deserves space to heal and meet other people right now, too. It’s possible you can have a happy reconnection later on, maybe years from now (conveniently, years are also good opportunities to demonstrate lessons learned!), but for the time being she’s got school and a new city to navigate. She doesn’t need the person who broke her heart to drop in out of the blue with nothing to do but demand her attention.

Previously: “Abonimable” Sisters.

A Lady is one of several rotating ladies who know everything. Do you have any questions for A Lady? (300-word max, please.)

Photo by Kirk Peart Professional Imaging, via Shutterstock