"You'll always be a cheater", Guitar was telling me years later (and years ago). "The question is whether you'll act on it or not."
I haven't, unless you count what's happening with Voice. In my own mind, being "The Other Man" is not morally equivalent to being a cheater (question for others: is it in yours?). I'm single now. I'm not going behind anyone's back except Voice's boyfriend (who I've decided to call Management), and that's for her to deal with. Since Management isn't really my friend, it's not really a breach of loyalty to him. It is a form of disrespect, and I'm not proud of it, but there it is.
Back to Guitar and me. We were talking about the biggest mistake of my life, which happened 10 years ago, when I cheated on my grade-school sweetheart, best friend, who came to be a girlfriend for 7 years. I think I'll call her Soulmate. I loved her. I don't think there was anything missing from our relationship. I truly think we should have been married by now, and would have been, had I not cheated on her. The person I cheated with, who I'll call Alabama, was not at all a soulmate. I was more attracted to Soulmate, she was a better friend, a better person, we related better, we had better conversations, we had better sex, we had known each other from children and built our personalities together. But I still cheated. For years I took all the responsibility for what happened. Then I gradually decided that I got manipulated and I blamed Alabama for a lot of it. Today I think it was a lack of experience and I got pulled into her world in ways I wouldn't today (so I say, but here I am in another screwed up situation with Voice).
When Alabama came into my life I wanted her as a friend. She was interesting and, more than anything, she was verbally clever. We bantered well. That was rare - but it was something I had with Soulmate too. The thing I couldn't resist was this feeling of an intelligence that was focused entirely on me. In retrospect I could dismiss it as obsession, but at the time I was disarmed by the amount and quality of attention. Because the connection between Soulmate and I was based on a friendship that grew and grew into more over years and years, when Alabama made sexual moves and basically accused me of being half a man for not accepting them or making moves myself, I didn't know quite how to resist. It was the difference between a chemistry that just happens, which I had experienced several times before, and someone deliberately trying to seduce me, which I hadn't (but have since, with both Music and Voice).
The thing with Alabama was always bad, but grew steadily worse until I flew to visit her when she was in a suicidal state (for lots of reasons, but that was another part of why I felt I couldn't leave), stayed at her place, and she had a breakdown before she was supposed to drive me to the airport. I missed my flight home and ended up having to take a taxi to the airport for another flight. That was the last time I saw her. But she wasn't done with me: she found Soulmate, called her, and told her I'd been cheating. That was how my girlfriend found out her boyfriend was cheating on her.
In 10 years I have been told that I need to forgive myself many times. I don't think I have, even though so much has happened since. I like to think the guilt protects me from doing such a thing again. Things with Soulmate are repaired. We have returned to something like the best friends we were before we got together. But the damage that was done to the relationship is permanent. We will never be together, and that is because of what I did. I have loved since, real, burning, powerful, earth-shattering love, and so has Soulmate. But that does not change the fact that cheating on her was the biggest mistake of my life. If I could go back and not do it, and also lose my right arm or something, I would, in a second.
Guitar warned me that I'd need more than guilt to protect me from cheating again. He said I'd need to recognize that I had it in me to do this and would have always to be aware of it. Another friend I've known since childhood, a little older, I'll call him Mentor, likened it to being an alcoholic in the AA sense - you're one whether you take a drink or not. I don't like the thought. I don't like the idea that there is something unchangeable in my character waiting for a chance to get out. But if that idea can help me to prevent repeating what I've done, I will use it.