Author’s Note and Disclaimer: I recognize that the act of cheating, committing adultery, infidelity, being the “other person” in an affair, etc. are not roles that are categorized by gender. Men and women both cheat on their man/woman with other men and women. Both can be cheaters, both can be The Other Woman/Man; both can be the third party that is being cheated on. I am a woman writing from a woman’s perspective, I am also straight, and so I will be writing about men. However, the concepts detailed henceforth can be applied to both men and women and the situations described have interchangeable roles, so be sure that you understand that before your crawl up my ass in the comments.
Cheating: It’s the forbidden truth that everyone has a very strong opinion about. How quick we are to pass judgments and to shake our heads and to draw our own conclusions. Depending on where you fall, The Other Woman is either a modern, sexually liberated individual or a slut and a home wrecker, the man who did the cheating either “couldn’t help it” or he is a sack of shit. The issue of cheaters is almost as split and controversial as more prominent political/social concerns such as LGBT rights and abortion. Because it’s personal. No matter where the affair comes from, it feels close to home. We all have fears; we all have our own ugly experiences.
I have seen all sides of affairs and I have come to know them intimately. My first experience was as a child, when my uncle cheated on my aunt, ending in a nasty divorce. My aunt never fully recovered from the ordeal and now constantly compares herself to women skinnier, blonder, and more endowed than she, like the woman her husband left her for. She hasn’t been happy since.
When I was in high school, my cousin, a successful nurse at a prominent hospital, entered into an affair with an older, married doctor she worked with. My cousin has dedicated years of her life to a man who will never leave his wife (even after his wife shot him upon discovery of the affair. Yes, shot him and somehow the man lived!). She has all but given up her chance of finding anyone else and has centered her life on waiting for him to call. I would see several of my closest friends’ families be split apart as the result of cheating. My very first relationship involved me being The Other Woman, my boyfriend started dating me before he ended a previous relationship and ended up dangling us both for several months before finally leaving her for me… not that I knew she existed until much later.
In my adult life, I have had several instances where a married man has either explicitly propositioned me to partake in an extramarital affair or where a committed coworker takes our friendship one step farther, leaving us both standing on the precipice, one false move and our easy relationship could careen into a cheating situation.
I eventually started to wonder, why do men cheat? What was it that could take a devoted family man and lead him astray? Why, in a newer relationship, would a man risk everything by gambling with a few nights of passion?
As much as we would all like to say that all cheaters are scumbags with no soul and all Other Women are whores with no regard for whom they hurt, this really isn’t true. The Other Woman is in the relationship for whatever reason matters to her; she wants love without attachment, she craves the forbidden, or, perhaps, she is being played just the same as the one being cheated on. I firmly believe that when a man cheats, it is for a reason. Social surveys have backed this up by proving that men are more hesitant to be unfaithful than a woman is. Being unfaithful is a symptom that something else in the relationship is very, very wrong. Now, I don’t say this to excuse infidelity. If the relationship isn’t working, it needs to end or needs to be worked on. Being unfaithful is extremely unfair to the partner that is being cheated on. However, these things do happen and they are happening more and more often and the truth of the matter can’t be ignored. The blame for cheating does not rest on one person’s shoulders; it is primarily shared between the cheater and the cheated on, with the Other Woman as a connected third party via the cheater.
Statistically, it is true that men are far less likely to end a relationship than a woman is. In a survey conducted last year, men that were involved in affairs stated that they would much rather their partner find out about the affair and leave them then to take the initiative in ending their relationship themselves. This supports the fact that involved men, generally, do not want to leave their partner for the Other Woman. However, more and more men are admitting to either being involved in an affair or considering being unfaithful. If this is true, and men don’t want to leave their partner, why do so many cheat or feel that they may need to cheat?
I have come to a single overarching conclusion as to why men cheat, which can be referred to as the “Big Daddy Factor”. Go ahead and laugh, it is a silly name; but let me explain. Just like women need to feel cherished and desired by a partner, men require their partner to give them confidence in whatever it is that makes them feel masculine and important, whatever makes them feel like “Big Daddy”. Despite the name’s connotation, the “Big Daddy Factor” isn’t necessarily some macho thing that requires a man’s partner to fall at his feet like groupies before a rock star. Each man needs something different: to feel like a provider, to be reassured of his sexual prowess, to be his partner’s shoulder to cry on, for his partner to listen and share with him. The “Big Daddy Factor” is simply whatever it is that gives a man confidence.
Everyone knows about the “honeymoon phase”, that blissful period at the beginning of a marriage or a relationship when your partner is the most wonderful person who has ever lived and they believe the same about you. This is, obviously, where men and women are happiest. Everyone’s needs are being fulfilled. But, say, as time goes on, suddenly a woman isn’t telling her man “thank you” as often or she isn’t as responsive to him, sexually, as she had been. At that moment, the “Big Daddy Factor” is in danger of coming into play. Sometimes these needs are difficult to communicate or, perhaps, a man doesn’t know for sure what is missing, he just knows something is off. This brings me back to the earlier social statistics about men and cheating. All factors considered, it could be reasonably argued that men’s first instinct, generally, is not to cheat and, despite what eventually happens, to try and maintain the relationship. Given this information, I believe that while women are more quick to enter into an affair, men more often choose to hold off and try to “tough it out” for as long as possible. But here’s where the situation shifts: women who cheat will usually feel more regret and, therefore, cheat less often, whereas with a man, once he takes that step, it will be easier and easier and becoming the more comfortable thing to do.
When a man loses his “Big Daddy Factor” in a relationship, he goes to find it somewhere else. This is where the affair starts. It’s not that he wants to lose his partner, but more times than not an affair is in the pursuit of that one thing that’s missing; things like sexual excitement, encouragement, and an escape from routine.
I will never forget an experience I had at my first summer internship, it really solidified the “Big Daddy Factor” in my mind as more than a theory. I was just off my first year of undergrad and had landed an internship in a law office (Note for law school hopefuls: Intern and intern often and intern early). I was the youngest person in the office and even among my fellow interns I was the baby by at least four years. Despite this I became very close with the other interns, especially a 32-year-old law student, let’s call him Calvin. Calvin was recently married, but struggled a great deal with his relationship with his in-laws, thus causing struggles with his wife. He and I became very good friends over that summer. He would complain about his wife, about his in-laws, about things in his marriage that made him unhappy. I was never really comfortable with these discussions, but felt that, as a friend he spent over 40 hours a week with, it was my obligation to listen. There was always an element of attraction in our friendship, I won’t lie, but The Other Woman was not a position that interested me at the time.
One Saturday, shortly before I would return to school, I received a long voicemail from Calvin, telling me how sexy I was and how I was the only person he could talk to and requesting that we “see much more of each other”. I wrote him an email, explaining why I could not enter into that sort of relationship and encouraging him to communicate with his wife if he was really that unhappy. We would correspond for several months after that, as friends, and I learned the impact that such little things could have on a marriage.
Calvin had always loved how intellectual his wife was and enjoyed the debates and discussion they used to have, but now that they were married, she did not encourage him to express his opinions and often expressed how much he embarrassed her at family events. He would confide in me that he felt that she didn’t support him or value him the way that she had, which was part of his attraction to me. Even when he and I didn’t agree, we respected each other. More than once he would tell me that he still wanted to secretly date me, an offer I always declined, despite the temptation. It’s a heady thing to be desired by someone who is committed; it makes you feel like you’ve won in some competition (which I honestly think is a result of the girl-on-girl hate that women are naturally inclined towards). I couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy, he legitimately believe that his wife did not care about what he thought.
Relationships are about give and take from both sides, fulfilling needs and understanding your partner. Relationships also take work from both parties to survive. Unfortunately, not all of us are capable of fulfilling one another’s needs and not all of us are willing to put in the work to address and solve problems. As long as that remains true, there will always be affairs and The Other Woman who is filling that void. The “Big Daddy Factor” and the idea that crucial things that are missing in a relationship are not the end all, be all of problems. It’s solved by communication and honesty. Cheating happens for a reason and the sooner we realize that, the better off our relationships will be.