Hello, my name is Mrs. X and I am a cheater. And of course, once a cheater always a cheater, right? It may feel instinctive to label me, brand me. As humans we have a knack for labelling people – or more accurately “othering” people. There is “us” and then there is “them”.
There are the cheaters and the non-cheaters.*
Othering, a long time technique, used by political figures to gain supporters and legitimize war, genocide or even just their basic power, is also used to other genders, races or anyone we find different from ourselves. It is easy for us to find a moral high road against cheaters or people who behave differently than us. As a cheater I am going to be biased on the subject. But sometimes a biased opinion can offer a free ticket into a perspective you may have never considered.
The issue at hand:
Is the issue cheating? I believe we need to dig deeper. We need to take a hard look at the norms we have created and use to rate people’s value and ability to fit into our culture. As a female, if you don’t get married you are bound to be viewed at some age (although becoming later as society gets more progressive) as a cat lady. For men, their mothers worry about their inability to settle down. We view them as selfish, womanizing men or assume something is wrong with them; as we seem to view all unmarried individuals at a certain age. Are we creating norms that are the catalyst to forced relationships and marriages, encouraging people to live lives to fulfill pre-set timelines? It is certainly true some individuals may have polyamorous desires that should not be hidden or found shameful. Most importantly, if these desires exist it is counterproductive to shame these desires and to accept marriage and monogamy as the only way, truth and light.
For those who never questioned their interest in a monogamous relationship but just haven’t found the “one” haven’t dodged a bullet either. We see the Facebook engagements flooding in and we feel the need to validate our own value (however conscious or unconscious this feeling may be). We might even just jump into the first option, just to see how it goes. Are we settling for the decent women or men who come into our life? Are we accepting too little? Are we too unaware of our wants and needs? It could be worse, we say, so we stay. It looks good on paper and in Facebook photos, so we stay. We are unhappy with our partners, but we aren’t alone and sometimes as we progress into our late 20s and enter our 30s it is enough. It is time for us to settle down, so we do.
Let’s talk about the dirtiest of all dirty words: confrontation.
Cheating doesn’t happen in happy relationships. This I believe fully. I do not believe cheating is about looks, sex or anything in between. Cheating is about unhappiness in a relationship stemming from the internal conflict of the cheating individual (of course, mixed in with the internal conflicts of the other person in the relationship too).
The cheater wants out but can’t say it. Or they want to connect deeper but don’t have the tools or resources to ask for what they want. They always have one foot out the door as a tactic to disassociate. They can’t confront the issues in their relationships; they can’t confront the issues within themselves. And like the majority of unhealthy behaviors used to ease internal pain and suffering; we look to external factors to fix it. We have retail therapy, self-medication in the form of drugs and alcohol and we have the desire to pursue individuals outside of our relationship to fill our void. Instead of consumption of material things or alcoholic beverages it’s consumption of other people. And just like those other behaviors it gets us high. But like all highs, it doesn’t last.
So, the first instinct for this behavior is shaming people away from it. Shaming is a sad excuse to try and change undesired behavior. Shaming is chastisement and done through anger. It is the easy way out, the short cut. It is rubbing the puppy’s face in pee instead of asking yourself: Do we not let him out of enough? Should we kennel him? It is not constructively looking at the situation; it is assuming malicious intent of a puppy. (Please be aware I know a puppy is a lot cuter and has a lot less brain function than a cheater – please do not take this too literal).
Teachable moments take time to figure out the issues at hand: the larger issues in the relationship and require us enough willpower to stop our inherent desire to point blaming fingers. When cheating occurs in a relationship it is time to fix a relationship by looking at the deep issues, reaching out to a professional for help, or leaving a hurtful cheater in the dust. None of those options require public shaming or disgust for an individual. However, disappointment, distrust and hurt will be a natural and normal feeling. Cheating is most likely a deal breaker and the truth is the relationship was probably at its last strings before the cheating occurred.
Let’s Talk About Fear.
The public shaming following the Ashley Madison hack just screams fear. Fear to confront our real issues, fear of being hurt. Fear that it could happen to us – that our significant other could be cheating or heaven forbid, has joined a website like Ashley Madison. Let me be clear, it is not the website that is the issue. The website exists because of demand in our culture for it to. If you don’t have the trust laid down – then it’s time to have a long talk, right now. As a society if we are fearful people will join a site like that in droves solely to cheat we need to have a larger discussion about our society’s disconnection; the need for more emotional awareness, more communication and more education on what makes up healthy relationships.
*With help from a therapist I have now become a non-cheater but with no contempt or judgement of those who still identify as a cheater. What I hope is they will find help and happiness that does not come at the expense of hurting others. It has been a journey for me but I find myself in a better place as a non-cheater currently in a happy relationship.