There’s something just plain old creepy about this concept of cheating — in romantic relationship terms, at least. I have to think about cheating in the broader sense. But in relationships, the word irritates me.
Picture this. You have a sweetie. She’s cool and pretty and smart and funny and all the things you like. She’s out on the town no doubt being cool and pretty and smart and funny. And she catches some guy’s eye or he catches hers. They talk, laugh, and — whoa! — kiss. Then they kiss some more. Then they head back to his place and do what they want.
From one perspective, she’s betrayed your trust. How could she?!? But what is it, exactly, that she did wrong? After standing five feet back from the scene, it is absolutely insane that this could possibly be construed as a bad thing. That this is cheating! Who is she cheating? Two people enjoyed each other’s company. And not just any two people but someone you love! She enjoyed someone else’s company and had fun. Isn’t that awesome? When she comes home, shouldn’t you be happy for her? And shouldn’t she be able to feel happy and safe and content — rather than guilty and ashamed?
How does this become a crime? Well, because we — myself, I fear, first and foremost — are weak. We take our sweetie’s pleasure in someone else as a rejection of ourselves rather than as an affirmation of her (or him, of course). In our weakness and self-doubt, we demand ownership of our so-called love’s desires and actions, body and soul.
But that’s not love. Love is infinitely forgiving. Love accepts and embraces. Love doesn’t judge; it doesn’t own. Self-loathing judges and owns. Ego judges and owns. Love, well, loves.
I’m not suggesting all fucking around is groovy. There are sleazy and manipulative guys and gals who are in relationships while enjoying the psychosexual company of others. They feel guilty but do it anyway. When questioned about it by an insecure lover, they deny and lie. They even make their presumed sweet pea feel like a lunatic for even thinking that they could be with someone else! And that — that lack of self-presence — is reprehensible, or at least distasteful. This is what I want to call cheating.
Cheating is not the act of getting it on with some strange. It’s the act of not being present and loving with your avowed partner. To cheat is to believe there’s a way around being present, a way around being yourself, a way around the cosmos. Which is downright stupid seeing as everything, alas, is the cosmos. There’s no way around it because you are it.
I am not saying that we must be fully honest with our lovers all the time. There is a space for secrets in all of our lives; these secrets can be a source of tremendous power. To be the only one who knows this thing about you can be affirming.
And, often, people confess their sins to their lovers in the name of honesty. But that’s bullshit. If you’re confessing then you believe you did something wrong and you hope, in declaring it, that you’ll be absolved. That just repeats the Catholic regime of dominance and self-loathing.
Which is to say, there are times to keep your mouth shut, for sure. You don’t have to tell your girlfriend about every fantasy and flirtation. Guilt should never be your motivation. Me, I’m not very good at keeping my mouth shut and, as I want to be self-present with my lovers, I tend to avoid doing anything that might make me feel I can’t be present. I’m a terrible liar. Which is not a brag. In fact, if anything, I see it as a fault. I know people, including women I’ve dated, who can effectively maintain multiple goings-on, keep that fact from all parties, and feel just fine about it. Power to them. Indeed, I’m impressed by that ability. But I just can’t do that. Perhaps I’m too under the yoke of bourgeois bullshit.
My point is not that we should or must tell each other everything. My point is that we should rethink romance as the work, and the will, to be present with one another. My point is that it’s insane to feel guilty or judgmental because someone had sex or desires. My point is that we should shed all the bullshit of possession and ownership that our sense of romance demands and that marriage ratifies. Defining romance as absolute sexual and desiring fidelity makes everyone in the relationship weak; it justifies our guilt and our judgment. It makes all of us miserable. True romance, I imagine, is all too rare in that it demands self-presence and acceptance of the other — not judgment, ownership, domination.
Sure, sometimes all of us are weak. Sure, sometimes all of us are insecure, self-doubting, self-loathing. Sure, it’s incumbent on the one who messes around elsewhere to be calm, cool, reassuring. But it’s also incumbent on the other to be cool, calm, as self-possessed as he or she can. That’s what marriage is. It’s not saying I’ll never bone, or even desire, anyone else. It’s: I’ll work continuously on being present to, and with, you. Relationships, and marriage, are not about dominating the other person, owning him or her, denying the other desire and frolic. It’s about deciding to be fully present to another person. Marriage should be a commitment to excellence, not an act of ownership. (That is, if you feel the need to marry at all.)
I know this is much easier said than done. I know that the forces of weakness dominate our culture as well as our very selves. They sure as shit pervade me. It tells us that cheaters be cheaters and they’re sleazy and bad. That it’s good and right and normal and healthy to demand the absolute attention of our spouse or lover — all the time — when this is in fact the sickness, the madness, the disease that poisons the well of romance (not to mention life itself).
I say: Let’s be done with the whole concept of cheating. People sometimes desire each other; that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it seems like a good thing. So rather than ownership, let’s seek self-presence with another. Let’s make it ok and good to say: I love you and I wouldn’t mind kissing that person’s neck. There’s no but, as it were. Love is and to infinity.