I was stepping onto the subway after a long day of work when I received a Facebook message from a girl I didn't know, in Spanish. The only word I could understand was my boyfriend's name: Alessandro.
With no reception underground, my heart was in serious danger of exploding until I got back to the apartment we shared and the answers from Google translate, which, brokenly, confirmed the worst: “I hope you know I did not know that in June you were with Alessandro, I was with summer.”
I met Alessandro at a club in Milan and it was lust at first sight. He was tall with beautiful skin and a chiseled jawline. We were magnetized to each other. I thought he was the most gorgeous man I'd ever seen.
Our first date was filled with excess. As we stuffed ourselves with rich Venetian food and glass after glass of wine, he told me about growing up in the Dominican Republic and how he traveled so much for work that his passport had no more room for stamps. He was so handsome it hurt. In the car on the way to my apartment, we groped each other at every stoplight.
As is usually the case, the attraction was easy, the dating more difficult. For starters, my staying in Italy was tenuously legal. Then, I found his Facebook conversation with a friend about "going out to find fresh meat," and flirty messages with a girl in San Diego.
But (after a visit to the strip club to “say goodbye to freedom”), he told me he wanted it to just be us. We traveled to the spa and the coast with his friends, I went to family dinners, and he called me “amore della mia vita” — love of my life. The American meets a romantic Italian, and they fall head over heels — I proclaimed it cliché, but secretly felt my life was a fairy tale falling into place.
It was so not that.
The night before I left for the summer, he caught me texting an ex and stormed off. In the morning, he dutifully took me to the airport, and we discussed our future together. He said we should take some time to think in the three months we would be apart.
Separated by an ocean, I didn’t know what to think. He was messaging me and calling me every day. After two weeks I asked him, “So are we together, or not?” He paused for a second and said, “Yes baby, we are together.”
Two weeks later, I woke up with the absolute certainty that he had cheated on me. He was on vacation in Barcelona at the time and not answering his phone. When he resurfaced, he told me I was just being crazy. I wanted reassurance. I reiterated to him the only reason I was going back to Italy was him. He told me yes, come back.
Our reunion in September was sweet, and things seemed to get better. We still spied on each other and questioned every errant message, but we also merged our lives. And of course, the attraction was always there: Strangers often commented on what a beautiful couple we were. He flew back to Texas with me at Christmas to meet my family and friends, and sleepily told me he loved me for the first time. He didn’t say it again during the trip, but he did suggest we find an apartment together.
We moved in on Valentine’s Day, and I immediately got food poisoning, which is not exactly the best way to start cohabitating. He brought me white rice but had me cook it when I could barely stand, made fun of how sick I looked, and didn’t understand why I wanted him to cancel his poker night at our place. He left for a long trip to South America; we talked every day and I missed him terribly. Three days before he got back, I received the message from the girl in Barcelona.
He initially denied it, but I had already had conversations with her (via my Spanish-speaking friend) and knew it was true. He had even taken her to Venice, a trip we had taken together, too. I traced a timeline — the day he met her was the exact day I’d felt the certainty that he cheated, nine months earlier.
I didn’t blame her — she said she didn’t know, and I was grateful that she contacted me — but I didn’t want to be the pathetic girl that stays, so I said I was done. I couldn’t afford the apartment on my own, so he said he would pay his half. We had only really lived together for a week.
He returned from his trip, cried, showed up at my job, delayed moving out of the apartment, told me that he loved me for the second, third, and twentieth time. He said it happened long ago, when our relationship was different. I resisted for about a week, but in the end, my life in Milan was empty without him. But I made the decision that when I returned to the U.S. for the summer, I would stay.
The cheating didn’t even surprise me necessarily. When I told our Italian friends, they shrugged and said that’s what happens. There were warning signs: He didn’t tag pictures with me, he had an album called “varie” of him with other girls that he wouldn’t take down, he took a trip to the U.S. and lied to me about it. I knew not to trust his moral compass, but for some reason I blocked out the possibility he would do those things to me.
I don’t regret my decision to take him back for those final months. I have wonderful memories, but it was not easy. The worst part, emotionally, was going out with friends, knowing that everyone knew. I was jealous of the other international couples, wondering how they could make it work and I couldn't. At least there was no more spying. What was the point?
He threw me a perfect birthday party the day before I left Italy for good. I did not stop crying the entire flight home.
Back in the U.S., the tears continued. I panicked and tried to reconcile, but he was moving on. I developed a routine for the next six months — go to bed, watch True Blood, cry myself to sleep. When I was sick of crying, I’d watch two episodes to prolong the inevitable. I went out, had fun, but once I was alone — the cheating, the breakup, the half-empty bed — it was a physical pain, and it hurt so badly.
After six months, desperation and revenge encouraged me to date a few people who were bad for me. But after that, I dated someone who treated me well. He made it clear from the beginning that I was the only person he wanted to be with, ever. The crying stopped. I wondered how I had ever thought checking Facebook messages was standard protocol for a relationship.
I don’t hate Alessandro. When I visited Italy, we went to dinner together (I showed him a picture of the nice boyfriend, he called him ugly). In retrospect it is so clear he wasn’t right for me. His cheating became a pivotal point in my life: I swore to never inflict that pain on someone again (and I haven’t). The relationship taught me what I don’t want — someone whose moral character I doubt — and to trust my intuition. And not to get so caught up in the “love story” that I ignore the truth of a relationship.
*not his real name
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