Michelle Elman: “I was engaged for 24 hours when an Instagram follower revealed my fiancé had cheated on me”

a woman with her hand on her head
“Why I called off my engagement after 24 hours”Curtsey of Michelle Elman

Michelle Elman known as the ‘Queen of Boundaries’, is a distinguished five-board accredited TV life coach, public speaker, and author of multiple books including, The Selfish Romantic and How To Say No. After posting a video on her Instagram announcing that she’d called off her engagement after just 24 hours, she spoke to Cosmopolitan UK about what dealing with infidelity has taught her.

“I met my boyfriend on a dating app in 2021, just as we were coming out of the pandemic. I’d been single for about eight years before that. I loved being single – I even wrote a book about it – but being single during the pandemic was different because I lived and worked alone. So, after lockdown, and for the first time in my life, I started looking for a relationship.

We took things slow at first. Unlike me, he wasn’t looking for a relationship, and so for the first six months or so, my mentality was that I was just going to enjoy it while it lasted. It was after he met my family and we became official that things started to move faster. He moved in after a year and we spent a lot of time together because we both worked from home. But we also spent most weekends together; it was the healthiest relationship I’d ever been in. We travelled a lot together and I’ve never experienced more of my home city London, either. We loved going to restaurants and playing board games together.

We had fights like every other couple, but the thing I always said about him is that we could talk through anything and things were not a repeat problem, which are the two defining characteristics of a healthy relationship in my mind.

In April, we went paddleboarding for the first time this year, which we both love. I felt like he was a bit ‘off’ the whole time. We were loading the boards up on the truck and he was dilly-dallying by the back. I walked round to see what he was doing and saw him reaching into his pocket and getting down on one knee. Time just started moving in slow motion. He said he couldn’t remember which knee you were supposed to go down on and then realised it didn’t matter. He had this beautiful speech. It was funny and romantic. He talked about how much I changed his life over the past three years and said that I’m the most confident woman he knows, and how I [positively influence] the lives of everyone who comes across me .

It was the perfect proposal.

Even though I’m an influencer, I hadn’t posted any pictures of my boyfriend online to protect his privacy. The proposal felt like it was just for us – I was in ripped shorts and an old t-shirt, but that’s the way it should be. Even so, I decided to post a picture of us to announce the engagement. As soon as I did, a woman messaged me asking the name of my fiancé. She knew his name and wanted me to confirm. I didn’t think much of it at first. I thought maybe she was a colleague of his. Later that same evening, my partner and I started watching Grey’s Anatomy together and when I mentioned that this woman had messaged me, he started acting really weird. When you’ve been in a three-year relationship with someone, you notice all their little body language and mood changes.

Then she messaged me again to tell me she's been having a fling with my partner. She shared screenshots of conversations between them. At first I didn’t believe it. I asked him, ‘If this is true [and you cheated on me], please just tell me first’. But he didn’t. She’d sent me screenshots of them arranging to meet at a hotel, so I asked him to search the hotel in his emails to prove that it wasn’t him. But the confirmation email popped up and I was devastated. I was in shock, just shaking and crying hysterically

I wanted to take some time to think, but that night I couldn't sleep. I was awake at 4am thinking of who I could call to talk to. I wanted to call my dad, as he was in Hong Kong, so it would be a reasonable time for him, but I knew that if I called I'd have to explain what happened. And if people knew what he'd done, then the relationship would be over.

I never realised until it happened to me that when someone cheats, you become the protector of their secrets. I’m currently researching a book on friendship breakups, and studies show that if your female friends don’t like your boyfriend, it leads to higher divorce rates. So I knew that if I was going to keep my friendships and my partner, then I need to keep his secret for him. But I knew I had to end things. I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get to be my authentic self, and I didn’t want to compromise that [by keeping this secret]. That’s why I posted a video explaining the situation and what had happened.

As a life coach who’s written a book about boundaries, I knew I had to immediately put boundaries into place around communication and how we were going to arrange him moving out. Luckily, I loved living alone when I was single, and it’s given me space to process my feelings.

It’s easy to start self-blaming when something like this happens, but that doesn’t help. Even if there were issues in the relationship, they could have spoken to you; they could have done things differently. There’s a time and place for learning lessons from [something like this] so that you grow from it, but I also think self-blame is never necessary [nor helpful].

I’m not scared of being single or being alone. I think a lot of people, especially those who have chronic illnesses like me, or are plus-sized, or people of colour, find it harder to leave because there’s a fear that you might not meet someone else. But I’ve amazed myself with how strong I’ve been to walk away. I’m stronger than I ever realised, and now I know it.

All I can say is, this is what self-esteem looks like.”

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