Ask Dr NerdLove: I Can’t Stop Cheating With My Ex

Ask Dr NerdLove: I Can’t Stop Cheating With My Ex

Hello all you perfumed sex-beasts of the apocalypse, and welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column designed to help you get the party you want when you LFG.

This week, we’re talking about making choices we know we’re going to regret. What does it mean when you love your partner… but you can’t stop hooking up with your ex? And why does getting ghosted seem to make some folks want a person even more… even when they know they shouldn’t?

It’s time to quit playing with PUGs and tackle the endgame raid of love. Let’s do this thing.

Hey Doc,

So recently the girl that was my first for everything has returned to town. We dated about seven years ago it ended with her leaving me for someone else.

I’m currently in a relationship of four years and love her to pieces. However, a week ago my ex reached out to me via email of all things, since I had her blocked on everything. She wanted to meet up and seemed pretty straightforward and adamant about it. So I agreed and met her with a couple of my friends at a hotel event.

It was actually really nice to catch up while everyone else danced or drank. Eventually drinks were had between us and the night led us to go get some food. She and I sat in the back seat of my friend’s car while my other friend took the front. That’s where things took a turn. I don’t remember clearly how it started but things got pretty steamy quick. Kissing, touching, rubbing, fingering.

Once parked, my two friends left and we stayed behind and if it were not for the security guard in the area, I would have gone all in. I cut it short and said we could use some water.

That was that. It’s been a week and I’ve been busy with my current girlfriend. This girl makes me incredibly happy and laugh. I enjoy every second I get, every place we explore together and joke we crack.

The problem lies in that this isn’t the first time this has happened with my ex. She moved shortly after our break up and since then I have seen her a total of three times throughout the course of my current relationship. Each time ends the same and stops before anything actually happens. Each time she initiates contact and I hesitate but give in.

When these moments happen, I don’t feel bad or wrong. My question is, do I cut contact with her? Or let my girlfriend know of the situation? Why does this happen every time I go out with my ex? Do we still have feeling for each other? Do I not love my current girlfriend?


Looking Backwards

There’re a few different issues going on here LB, so let’s roll it from the top.

To start with: The fact that you cheated on your girlfriend doesn’t mean that you don’t love her. It means that you’re human.

Here’s the thing about humans: We aren’t monogamous by default. It isn’t our natural or default state; it’s an arrangement that we make with our partners — assuming that’s the kind of relationship you both want.

The problem is that the cultural narrative we’ve grown up with says that not only is monogamy the way, the truth and the light, but that it’s effortless and natural. If you love someone, then you’ll only have eyes (and other bits) for them, and if you ever cheat on them then clearly you don’t love them enough.


Monogamy just means that you’ve agreed to not sleep with other people; it doesn’t mean that you won’t want to. And yes, you will want to. As will the people you agree to be monogamous with.

Humans are novelty-seeking creatures. We love variety, and that includes sexually. We will always be interested for new and different… including new and different partners.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that monogamy is bad or the wrong choice or less-evolved or whatever. What I am saying is that it isn’t at all easy.

A monogamous commitment means pushing back against one of the fundamental human drives, and that requires using a lot of willpower. The problem is that willpower is a finite resource, and there are a lot of ways you can drain it before you really need it.

One of those is booze. Alcohol tends to muffle the part of your brain that says, “Hey, maybe this is a bad idea,” while turning up the volume on the part that says, “You know, a blowjob would be nice tonight.”

Another is going out with someone you know you have a hard time saying “no” to. Like, and I’m just spitballing here… an ex that you have a history of fooling around with, regardless of your relationship status.

So when temptation rears its head and you have to make your saving throw, you’re doing so with a whole stack of negative modifiers.

Now, I get the appeal of sex with your ex. The fact that you broke up doesn’t mean that you two don’t still have a connection or chemistry. And in your case, it has the appeal of both the familiar — you know each other well and how to hit each other’s buttons — and the thrill of the taboo. And if your relationship were different, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

But the fact is that you have a monogamous commitment to your girlfriend. And while you may love her, you don’t seem to respect her much.

I think being friends with your ex is generally a good sign in a person; it tends to be a mark of someone who handles their relationships with affection and maturity. Under normal circumstances, I think going out with an ex — even getting together for dinner or drinks — is just fine.

This wasn’t normal circumstances though.

Just between you, me and the readers, LB? This wasn’t an “oops, that was a momentary lapse of control” that sometimes happens. This was you charging headlong into a situation that you knew was likely to lead to this exact scenario. This was you asking to not be lead into temptation because you know the way just fine, thanks.

Yeah, you pulled back at the last minute… but let’s be real here, that was only because of circumstance. If it weren’t for the chance of getting caught, it would’ve been off with the pants and in like Flynn and some very awkward conversations with your friends about the stains on the fabric. (Also, seriously, the backseat of your buddy’s car? Dude. Banging out on other people’s stuff without checking with them first isn’t cool.)

Going into that situation, knowing that this was likely to lead to sexy times, is a sign that you don’t respect your relationship with your girlfriend. You had to make several choices: Going to this shindig to see your ex, not telling your girlfriend, getting drinks, and then furious make-outs in the back of your buddy’s car.

At each of these stages, you could have chosen to pump the brakes. You could even put some barriers between you and a mistake — say, telling your buddy, “Hey, no matter what I tell you later, don’t leave me alone with my ex.”

But you didn’t. At each step, you made a choice that made the next one easier… ones that lead to your cheating on your girlfriend.

A slip up is one thing. Going and seeking it out? That ain’t cool.

So now you have some more decisions to make, LB. Should you tell your girlfriend? Um… how about no? All telling any of this will do will hurt her, for no purpose. This is an area where she has a right to not know.

Maybe this means that you won’t get to get the weight off your shoulders by confessing… but that’s just going to have to be the price you pay for what you did. Sorry. Shove this shit down the memory hole.

Should you cut ties with your ex? Well… that depends. Are you going to stay with your girlfriend or are you planning on breaking up with her? Because if you’re going to stay dating the woman you’re currently seeing, then you can’t see your ex. You’ve shown that doing so just leads to trouble.

Should you leave your current girlfriend and get back with your ex? That I can’t tell you. Clearly the two of you still have chemistry. But you’re exes for a reason and unless that reason has changed… well, getting back together is just going to be repeating history.

And then you’ll have sacrificed a relationship with someone you claim you love and makes you happy, just to replay the greatest hits and the same break-up in the end.

You have to decide where your priorities lie, LB. Then you have to make some decisions.

Good luck.

Hey Doc,

So here’s the skinny. I’m a 27-year-old native New York woman who was dating and living with the person I believed to be the love of my life for months until he cheated on me, dumped me, and kicked me out of our Brooklyn apartment. Let’s call him Ridley.

It was a whirlwind romance, the all-at-once kind of deal, where within three hours of knowing each other he was asking me to be his girlfriend and told me he loved me the next day. I reciprocated wholeheartedly.

I felt things for him in one day I hadn’t felt for my ex that I dated for five years. Sex was incredible, he was so affectionate and loving, showed me off to all his friends and introduced me to something new every day.

But then… He began ghosting. After a couple of weeks of consistent contact and hanging out, he began pulling back. I wouldn’t talk to him for a day or two here or and there, he’d take hours to reply to simple texts, watch my IG stories where he knows I can see him flagrantly leaving me on read. BS like that.

Of course I hate/loved it. Apparently this is the move to make when you want someone to become obsessed with you. And it worked. The more he pulled away, the more desperately I wanted him.

This turned out to be super toxic (duh) and eventually he bullied me into an open relationship so he could continue hooking up with his former primary partner, which is the girl he eventually cheated and left me for.

But all of that aside, playing the ghost game seems to be something kids our age have mastered. I am a very direct person and not a fan of these games at all. If I feel someone doing this to me, it takes every last ounce of willpower I have to not reply at the speed of light because who the heck has time for that?

Anyway, I’ve been single and beating myself up over him for seven months now and had a major breakthrough last week when I met this guy off of Tinder that I really liked.

We had an amazing time — clicked on many different levels, not a second of awkward silence, amazing conversation, skating, playing around. He’s tall, handsome and hot, and by the end of the night we were in his bedroom pounding it out over and over for maybe five hours. It was incredible, to put it mildly.

He was super affectionate and giving, wouldn’t stop hugging or cuddling or kissing or saying how cool I was or how much he liked me. He was holding my hand, putting his arms around my shoulders and my waist and kissing me all over my face on the walk to my train and said he’d love to see me again tomorrow.

Well… Yesterday was tomorrow. And as of today, I have gotten a text back, but it took one whole day and him ignoring a text of me asking directly “so we still on for tonight?” — left on read.

So my question is, how can I navigate this whole business of “responding appropriately” to the ghost game when I am absolutely terrible at it and I’m genuinely super interested in the person who is doing it to me?

I know it’s still early, it’s literally only been a couple of days, but this has happened to me more than once, twice or three times, and I see it beginning to happen with him. I am both infuriated and turned on. What should I do?

Thanks Doc,

The Friendly Ghost.

Hoo boy.

I hate to tell you this, TFG, but the problem isn’t that you’re getting ghosted, it’s what’s happening before you get ghosted. You’re getting love-bombed.

Here’s what’s going on. With both Ridley and your Tinder hookup, you’re getting hit with a massive amount of attention and affection right at the beginning. These are calculated to flood you with huge hits of dopamine and oxytocin — the hormones that promote feelings of love and happiness and act like a heroin shot straight to the pleasure centres of your brain.

So right off the bat you feel amazing and you’re buzzing off what seems like an incredible connection and mind-blowing, headboard-rattling, neighbour-annoying sex. You feel on top of the world, like you’ve just found your soulmate.

And then…. Nothing. One moment you’re feeling like a million bucks and suddenly the dude is just not there. Now all of the anxiety weasels in your brain have been given a double espresso, and you’re left feeling like 10 pounds of arse in a five pound sack. Where the hell did the good feelings go? Why has he suddenly ghosted you? Did you do something wrong? This must be all your fault.

Then they reach out to you again and you can’t not respond to them so quickly your thumbs catch on fire. Why? Because of two issues.

First: You want that dopamine hit again, and you haven’t had it in so long.

Second: Because you’ve been in a state of heightened anxiety and getting a response eases that anxiety. Our brains don’t like ambiguity, and someone suddenly going radio silent with no warning is nothing but ambiguity.

Abusers use this all the time — it’s part of how they keep their victims off balance in the beginning and get under their skin. So do folks who want to recruit people into cults or hate groups; they drown you in good feelings so that you trust them and get annoyed when other people tell you how toxic they are.

And so do dudes who just want to get into your pants.

The key to winning this particular “game” is to recognise when it’s happening to you and learn to not play. If you’re on a date with a dude who’s treating you like he’s Hans at the beginning of Frozen, that should throw up so many red flags it looks like the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.

That’s almost never a good sign. At best, you’re dealing with someone with low emotional intelligence who doesn’t understand how to handle relationships, which is bad enough. At worst? You’re dealing with someone who’s trying to manipulate you.

Yeah, there will be times that you meet someone and you both click so hard that your head spins. Those moments can be intoxicating. But emotionally intelligent people recognise that they’re getting twitterpated and will try to proceed with caution and not move to quickly.

The ones who want to commit right then and there, when you don’t know each other at all? That’s someone trying to lock you down before you can think better of it, and you need to beware.

If it feels too good to be true, then the best thing you can do is slow down and give yourself time to double and triple check.

Good luck.

Do you have an ex you can’t resist? Have you had people play head-games with you while you were dating? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.

Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku’s fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.

Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.


  • So now you have some more decisions to make, LB. Should you tell your girlfriend? Um… how about no? All telling any of this will do will hurt her, for no purpose. This is an area where she has a right to not know.

    It’d serve the purpose of informing her that she’s wasting her time with a real piece of shit who cheats on her and is likely to do it again, especially since in his own words he ‘doesn’t feel bad or wrong’ when it happens.

    Feeling particularly gracious today, Doc? Saw the headline and clicked in, expecting you to tear this guy a new one. Frankly, you should have.

    • Usually I agree with the authors points and advice from his articles, but the advice he gave in the first writers story was absolutely atrocious. The person who wrote in has no accountability for their actions and nerdlove just basically gave him a free pass to continue acting like a piece of shit. not gonna lie, it was absolutely trash advice he gave.

      • While he indeed should have been harsher as he has in the past, I really don’t see him giving any free passes: he held him responsible for getting himself in situations where it seems like cheating “just happens” and stated that if he really wants to stay with his partner, then that has to stop completely.

    • Yeah, outside of abusive relationships I can’t see any reason why cheating shouldn’t get a verbal ass kicking from Dr Relationships, here.

    • The doc is basically giving the guy free reign to cheat as long as he doesnt tell his current partner.

    • He’s given this same advice before (don’t tell your partner you cheated) and it’s garbage every time. Absolutely you have to tell them, because relationships are built on honesty and hiding the fact you were unfaithful when your partner is clearly under the assumption you’re being monogamous is an enormous lie. Only a piece of shit hides that from someone they care about.

    • I think the saying below sums it up perfectly.
      Shake it once that’s fine, shake it twice that’s okay, shake it 3 times you’re playing.

      Cheating is cheating no matter how you try and dress it up. Yes humans crave new experiences but if you’re in a committed relationship with one person, you might get attention but you don’t act on it.

  • Guys a dog, his current GF should run for the hills, if monogamy isn’t something you want in a relationship you fucking be up front don’t go slying around like an asshole.

    Even if your in an open relationship doing this still makes you a piece of shit.

  • What is wrong with you kirk? It’s okay to cheat? No matter what disclaimer you put on it, that’s what you told him. Sure, don’t tell her about the other 3 times he proved he doesn’t deserve to live, but you still tell her he cheated and let him take his chances with how many balls to keep.

    Anyone who follows your advice from here out is an absolute cod. How dare you talk about respect, you clearly have none.

  • One option not presented to Looking Backwards: Have you considered non-monogamy?

    Often when your one person can’t give you everything you want/need, another person might be able to fill that gap. That might mean that an open relationship or a “hall pass” or something similar might do the trick.

    For that reason alone, LB definitely needs to discuss this situation with their girlfriend. Even saying something along the lines of: “Hey, my ex-gf is in town. We still have quite a lot of chemistry. Is that going to be a problem for you? Do we need to establish some boundaries?”

    As the author states, when you realise monogamy is unnatural, it really opens up the discussion. Maybe the girlfriend is cool with LB having some shagging on the side. Maybe she has a bit of her own she’d like to explore. Maybe she’s 100% against the notion and she and LB need to reconsider their relationship. Either way, better to find out now, rather than let it become a problem later. This is a challenge most relationships must face eventually.

    Very surprised to see the author recommending this be kept a secret from the current girlfriend. I can see the appeal, but the mature thing to do is to try and resolve the problem from within the boundaries of the relationship or end the relationship; not leave the issue to persist.

  • Honestly the worst advice I have ever read haha. “Each time ends the same and stops before anything actually happens.” Seriously? You’re finger banging/making out with your ex behind your “girlfriend”‘s back for the third time. Things have definitely actually happened. This dude is a delusional jerk. Kirk mate, i realise you needed a moment to wax poetic on the ills of our socially constructed monogamy narrative but you’ve totally thrown this guy’s gf under the bus.

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