Dealing with my demons

A long letter ... but I feel like it's all stuff we need to know.
Hi Meredith, I am in a bit of a bind here. Not because of the relationship, so to speak, but more because of me in said relationship. Some background first: When I met my girlfriend, I was married. I wasn't happy in my marriage and neither was my wife, but we never did anything about it. We both just assumed it was an extended "funk." Well, then I met her. It started off as friendly, then it led to flirting, then it led to transgressions. This took a few months. Immediately after the first transgression, I knew I had to do something about my marriage. Not for this new girl, but more for the fact that the bad marriage had to end, so I took that transgression as a sign that things needed to change. So I changed them. Over the course of a few painful months, the marriage ended and all the while this new girl waited in the wings for me not wanting to commit herself to a man who was already committed. Once I was officially "de-committed", we began the slow process of dating. What helped was that since we had met she had moved out of state, so having that distance allowed us to take it slowly. Over the course of that time as well, there were things about me that I wanted to change. I wanted to be a better, different person. Not only for me, but for any partner I would have in the future. I didn't want to make the same mistakes I did when I was married. This new girl, she helped me with that quite a bit. Basically, at the age of 31, I was finally growing up. This took many months, and I can honestly say I am a MUCH better person now than I ever have been. Because of that, I have a confidence and inner peace that I have never felt before. I know how to recognize and correct my mistakes, and even prevent them from happening. Well, at least I thought I did. Fast forward to the present day. My girlfriend has since moved back to the Boston area and we have been living together for a few months. Although living together after having a long distance relationship has taken some work, we are both incredibly happy. I am head over heels for this girl. My family loves her. My friends love her. She is everything that I want. But, the old me seems to sneak up and smack me in the face occasionally, and one incident has thrown us for a loop. I had a female co-worker who I was talking to about a week ago ask me some relationship advice. She was starting to see a new guy, wasn't sure what to do or how she felt, etc. That's not the point. The point is that during our conversation we started flirting and some explicit things were said. Mind you, I had no intentions of ever acting upon them, and I immediately felt guilty about it afterward. The conversation was over text message. I am open and honest in every way with my girlfriend. I leave my computer open as well as my two cell phones (work and personal), all around the house. I have nothing to hide. Unfortunately, she picked up my phone and saw the conversation I had with the co-worker. And now, as you can imagine, all hell has broken loose. She obviously cannot trust me, especially if you consider my past, and she is unsure about the future of our relationship. I cannot say it enough: I love this girl with every atom of my being. I cannot justify what was written and why, nor do I want to, but I know it was wrong and should not have happened. I had no ill intentions with this co-worker and in a million years would not do that to my girlfriend, or anyone else for that matter. It was a moment of idiocy during a time when I though I had nothing but clarity. And I cannot blame my girlfriend for feeling the way she does. My question is, first, how to I win her trust back? And how do I prevent situations like this from happening again? I love my girlfriend to death, and this incident was pure stupidity on my part; I got caught up in a "moment." I realized what I did and stopped. And the girl I was talking to knew that I wasn't serious and also knew that I loved my girlfriend. It was a weird situation, one that I don't want to be in again.

– Fighting My Former Self, Boston

As for winning your girlfriend's trust back, you're going to have to ask her what you should do. It may just take time. She's either into forgiveness or she's not. As for preventing this from happening again … well, just know that it will. There are some people who are naturally good at exclusivity. They don't need second and third sources of attention. Cheating doesn't occur to them. Then there are the others, the folks who can't help themselves from seeking out glances, texts, and full-on cheats, even when they're in a happy relationship. We've been reading about those people in the news a lot lately. Most likely, you're somewhere in the middle. You have selfish desires and you're suffering from a bout of entitlement because of a bad marriage. You may think you took it slow after your divorce, but in reality, you jumped from one relationship to the next without giving yourself time to get the insignificant flirtations out of your system. There was no time to play around with attraction, push limits, and make mistakes. And here you are now, in a serious relationship, totally confused about why you talked up a hot co-worker even though you're happy with your status quo. My answer is that you did it because you spent a long time justifying that you deserved to do whatever makes you happy so that you could get out of your marriage. And now, after all that self-lobbying, you still feel justified to do questionable things, even though you aren't. All that "I deserve to be happy" stuff you told yourself to make it OK leave your wife ... it no longer applies. You trained yourself to act impulsively. Now you have to undo all that. Start telling yourself that you're no longer entitled. You got what you wanted. That's all you get. It will help to stop thinking of yourself as a "new self" who is being haunted by an "old self." You're just one self. An evolving self. There's no little devil or angel on your shoulder. There's just you, confronted with choices every day. This is about you making the right choices based on what you want for your future. If you want this girlfriend in your life without having to lie to her, then the selfish choice is doing right by her. It's best to think of it that way. It will make saying "no" to attention seem like less of a sacrifice. Readers? How can he avoid mistakes next time? Will there be a next time? Is his old self really battling his new self? Am I right to suggest that he taught himself to be entitled? Discuss.

– Meredith