I Confronted A Total Stranger About His Cheating And Here’s What Happened
“Baby… She won’t find out, I promise. This weekend can be all about you and me,” I overheard him say on the phone.
I’ve been cheated on. Like, a lot.
Like, by everyone I’ve ever dated bar one guy (as far as I know, but he was emotionally abusive so pretty sure this doesn’t constitute a win in any way shape or form. Seriously, screw that guy).
Shitty luck? Yes. Or else I just pick godawful men – not all that hard to believe when you think of how utterly crap modern dating is.
So with this in mind, when I overheard a guy on the train talking about cheating on his girlfriend, I might have sort of gotten a teeny, weeny, little bit cranky and done a dumb thing.
But let me rewind a bit.
I don’t usually do public transport but due to a series of unfortunate events (broken finger) and fortunate events (drinks date with my besties) I found myself among the masses on a Saturday night. I was kind of uncomfortable as it was one of the older trains with questionable air-conditioning and a faint scent that reminded me all too much of teenage boys layering Lynx over their BO like it magically made the smell better.
There were only two people in my carriage: an older woman and a man who looked about my age. Both were on their phones, ignoring the rest of the world. Then the man got a phone call.
Now, I’m not normally an eavesdropper but when you’re in a mostly silent carriage it becomes kind of impossible not to overhear things. I tried to tune him out, but without my headphones to lose myself in a true crime podcast (My Favorite Murder, I’m looking at you) I had no choice but to take in the “private” conversation of the man sitting to my right.
“Hey there,” he said. “Yeah I’m just on the subway.”
So far, so normal. Then…
“You should come over. My girlfriend is out of town.”
And my stomach dropped.
Almost at the same instant I judged this complete stranger, I chastized myself. “Come on Liz,” I thought. “You don’t know he’s cheating. He could be telling a mate to come over to have a boys’ night because his lady isn’t home.” I quickly composed myself to ensure my face wasn’t betraying my feelings (#nofilter), lowered my eyes… and continued to listen.
“Haha no it will be fine. I promise,” the man who shall henceforth be known as Mr Shifty said.
Hmm, still suspicious but still unclear.
“I miss you,” he said.
Okay, sounding less innocent.
“Baby… Come on. She won’t find out, I promise. This weekend can be all about you and me.” Groan. Yeah okay, that was that then. He was definitely cheating. Almost instantly I felt a wave of empathy for Mr Shifty’s poor girlfriend.
When I was being cheated on – take your pick by which guy – the very worst thing for me was knowing that other people knew before I did. Friends knew and didn’t tell me, people I didn’t know that well but saw regularly knew and didn’t tell me, and I was beginning to realise that total strangers probably knew before me, too. I began to wish I knew who the girlfriend was so I could warn her.
“We can watch that show on Netflix you love and maybe… you could sleep over? We’ll make pizza,” Mr Shifty continued.
I felt a bit of a jolt. This was the exact same set up my long-term ex had enacted with his mistress one weekend I left town. They watched our TV, cooked in our kitchen and slept in our bed, while I was totally oblivious in another city (Meanwhile hat the hell is it with cheating and making pizza? Is it the whole “playing couples” thing by making dinner together without having to go to much effort? Because let’s face it, pizza is fucking easy. I made a mental note to design a pizza with all my most loathed toppings and call it The Cheater.)
“Babe I can’t wait. Nah, Laura won’t find out. I promise. And if she does, I’ll protect you.”
Aw how fucking sweet! What a goddamn gentleman! He will stop his girlfriend, who it sounds like he lives with, from taking a swing at you for stealing her man! Chivalry is alive and well!
Although I shouldn’t be blaming the girl, (who I shall now call Ms Mistress). She’s doing something (or rather someone) wrong, but she isn’t the one with the partner… that I know of.
Ms Mistress is obviously trying to justify their possible weekend hook-up, as Mr Shifty continues trying to reassure her. And I’m sitting here, knowing what I know, wondering if I should say something.
But what the fuck would I say? “Hi, you don’t know me but I think maybe you should not be such a colossal fucking asshole, and either man up and dump your girlfriend or stop cheating on her”?
No. I should butt out. It has nothing to do with me. Except that I just happened to get on the same carriage as a guy who is playing out the exact same scenario, right down to the pizza, that led to my heartbreak. Was it a sign? “No Liz,” I thought. “Signs don’t exist. Stop being a fucking busybody.”
I thought back to when I was being cheated on and tried to figure out what I’d have wanted to happen. Do I wish someone had told me? Yes, unequivocally. I was humiliated that the whole world knew before me, and were probably giving me pitying glances behind my back. But would I have wanted someone to confront him? Even if that someone was a stranger?
I thought about Mr Shifty’s Laura, and wondered where she was this weekend; whether she suspected anything. I also thought back on the times I had witnessed things, not said something and regretted it; things like public arguments, suspicious people, potential harassment… If I took my own experience away from this equation, would I still want to confront this guy?
And as I sat there listening to Mr Shifty whisper sweet nothings into Ms Mistress’s ear, I realised something. Irrespective of what I went through, I was pissed off. Pissed off that dating was so shit, pissed off that people kept getting away with treating humans like crap and pissed off at the lack of empathy that seemed all pervasive in our modern world.
So when Mr Shifty put down the phone, I calmly walked over to him and did something… well… kind of dumb.
Before I could stop myself, the words were coming out of my mouth: “Hey,” I said. “I just wanted you to know that I heard your phone conversation.”
He looked at me a bit stunned, as though he was a five-year-old been caught with his hand in the cookie jar before dinner time. Then he remembered he didn’t actually know who the fuck I was and his face wrinkled in annoyance. Look, fair call.
I continued, screwing my courage to the sticking place and rushing my message out like word vomit. “I know I don’t know you, and you don’t know me but I just wanted to say… as someone who’s been cheated on, it hurts. A lot. And I’d have rather been dumped a thousand times than go through it.”
And for the briefest of seconds, Mr Shifty had a look of regret on his face. Or maybe I imagined it. But just as soon as it had flickered across his eyes, it disappeared, replaced by anger. Then came the abuse: who the fuck did I think I was, get my goddamn nose out of his business, blah blah blah. I just looked at him with what I hoped was a sad face and sat down. And eventually he stopped.
A few stops later he got off the train, not even glancing back at me.
I don’t regret what I said. I think in today’s world of #MeToo and Trump, and the general numbness that comes with digital communication, we owe it to each other to remind people of our humanity. To remind people that their actions can hurt and that psychological wounds can cut just as deep as physical wounds.
Just as I was about to settle down back into my Facebook feed, the older woman, who I’d completely forgotten was there piped up. “I’m glad you said something. Most people wouldn’t.”
And I was glad I said something too. It caused him to pause for half a second. I know I saw it. Even half a second of a reality dose is better than none at all.
Images via tumblr.com and giphy.com.
Comment: When have you intervened in someone else’s issue? Or have you regretted not saying something?