May 26, 2007

I spotted, a few mornings ago, in the Metro a brief item on cheating on your partner which included short interviews with perhaps five ordinary people. The item, which I skimmed quickly, seemed in particular to be focussed on business dinners with the opposite sex, whether that constitutes cheating, and if not, what does?

I was astounded by the responses. Most stated that they had never cheated. One, perhaps two, stated that they had cheated (but not with a married man, only a man who was otherwise in a relationship). That it was only the women who admitted to cheating is an aside, as it’s quite likely that men will enjoy the risk of cheating, but won’t enjoy the risk opening up about it.

Of course, having arrived at my station and put the paper down, I found myself thinking about how they hadn’t defined “cheating.”

I expect that some people, in particular men, wouldn’t consider anything less than sucking the face off someone who isn’t your partner to be cheating. Some might consider that while they had a particularly flirty dinner with a colleague, it wasn’t cheating because the partner knew about the dinner.

Different people define cheating in different ways. How many times have you received a call from an ex and entertained it, knowing fine well that exes tend to communicate with sexual desires in mind, but not told your partner? How many times did you make that call? That’s sure as hell cheating, if we define “cheating” as a betrayal of your partner’s trust. I think most of us are comfortable with the idea of keeping in touch with a couple of friendly exes, but many loath the very idea of a partner communicating with an ex. Double standards? Definitely.

It’s clear to me that there are two parts to the concept of cheating: first, the act of cheating itself and second, the act of lying to your partner. The latter is certainly distrustful, dishonest, and deceitful. The crazy part that I see is that we all play along with this idea that the former is wrong, unnatural, forbidden. Why?

We’re not monogamous creatures. If we were, any thoughts we had for anybody else would instantly vanish the moment we were coupled with somebody. So we’re not built to be 100% faithful: it’s not possible; we’re always checking out other people, interacting with other people, feeling attracted or repulsed often at a subconscious level. We all “cheat” frequently, so the problem isn’t necessarily the act of cheating itself.

I suppose then there’s cheating-lite, which we do all the time whether we know it or not, then cheating proper, which involves the exchange of bodily fluids, or possibly the exchange of mental currency such as trust.

Interestingly, some couples seem to be able to endure the actual act of cheating, provided neither partner breaks trust by concealing truth or lying. In other words, the worser part of cheating isn’t the cheating itself, it’s often the lies and deceit that go with it.

The most amusing part of the article was that the final question for each of those interviewed was “Have you ever been cheated on?” Each emphatically answered “no!”

Yeah. You just keep telling yourself that…