I was perusing through some old blogs I have written (I am in my 8th year of blogging) for the purpose of finding out how some of my views have changed and evolved over the years -if at all. One particular blog that caught my eye concerned the subject of cheating, and not in the classroom exam or tax evasion sense, rather in the relational sense.
This particular blog entry received a lot of feedback…so perhaps it is time to revisit.
Since I wrote that entry back in August of 2015, a couple of things strike me. First off, it has been one of the longest blogs I have ever written -meaning I attempted to take some painstaking steps to truly be understood and not misinterpreted. Secondly, not only did I receive a lot of comments on the blog itself, it raised a lot of conversations in my “non-blog,” real life, as well. In fact, a WHOLE lot.
I would encourage you to read it if you have not done so. But, if not, I now provide you with the “Reader’s Digest” version (google it kids).
It is clearly a subject matter that not only has a lot of emotions attached to it, yet also a high level of relevance as well. It is an issue that has affected most people in some way, shape or form. If we ourselves have not cheated or been cheated on, I am certain all of us know many who have.
If I were to summarize my general argument contained in that entry nearly 5 years ago, the 4 bullet points would be as follows:
- Cheating is a hugely emotionally volatile issue. Many “victims” of cheating cannot discuss it without feelings of deep hurt and anger. It is a trigger. It is difficult to look at the issue apart from our emotions and discuss it purely rationally. I understand this.
- Cheating is absolutely pervasive. It happens more than we could possibly imagine and we can never know the real number of this highly secretive activity; yet a bit of logic suggests it is astronomically high.
- In rare, “though protesteth too much” form, many of those who are most vocal and intolerant of cheaters, likely struggle the most with it. I do not say they cheat (though likely do) they just really want to.
- Finally, I ask why do we harbor such gross intolerance over a behavior that most everyone struggles with at some level? Many people would rather divorce or break up than to work through the psycho dynamics of “cheating,” which, I argue, is a natural human propensity. Unfortunately for most, cheating is a deal breaker. I find this very unfortunate.
So Has My Position Changed Since 2015?
Yes, somewhat, and now I am a bit more nuanced in my thinking as I do so see some value in attempted monogamy. I now would liken the goal of monogamy to anything in life we strive for, even while confronting the strong probability we will not achieve it, though not due to a lack of effort. Back in the day when I ran marathons, I trained very hard full well knowing I was not going to win, but that did not stop me from trying. Attempting to win made me a better runner. More on this in a moment.
Cheating, Jealousy and Salience
I realize that at the heart of this issue lies the correlating ideas of honesty, healthy communication, betrayal, and….
Jealousy. A shit ton of jealousy. Perhaps even the very existence of cheating is driven by a very unhealthy feeling of jealousy.
Jealousy may be to cheating what overeating is to obesity. Without the former there would be no latter.
Yes, if a loved one promises you they are going to do, or not do, something and violate that something, it hurts. Yet, it only hurts to the extent we give that violation salience (meaning the level of meaning and importance we attach to it, in the sense that, “everything is what you make it”). If your loved one promised they would stop and pick up a loaf of bread on their way home from work and forget to do so, I doubt many of us would harbor deep, ill will towards that loved one. Unless, of course, we gave the act of picking up a loaf of bread great salience in the relationship. And that is our choice. And how we react to anything is ultimately our choice.
The reality is that most of us give the issue of cheating an extremely high level of relevance. It is an issue that stands out above all other potential issues in a relationship.
And it is this salience of “cheating” of which I am most fundamentally concerned.
Because we give this “violation” so much centrality, we will continue to propagate dishonesty, feelings of betrayal, jealousy and hurt.
At the core of such propagation, lies many myths surrounding the human condition. The myth of monogamy as “natural” (no need to repeat myself if you read the original blog); the myth that we are robot-like and lack real human emotion and drives; and, finally, the myth that attraction is self-generated and we are responsible for those in whom we find ourselves attracted (oooo….perhaps the notion of attraction should be my next blog….I am fascinated with it).
In addition, mainstream culture makes the mistake of assuming it. Like every other issue in a relationship, the idea of striving for monogamy (or not) must be a discussed and negotiated aspect of any mature relationship. As an old acquaintance, Cara, once told me when explaining her divorce, “We were in an open relationship. He just forgot to tell me about it.”
Now Back To My Change.
As previously stated, I am not suggesting AT ALL that striving for monogamy cannot be a great discipline and, in many cases could be the gold standard for many couples (conceding that every relationship is different and we must honor the uniqueness for every couple to define their relationship in their own way). It may be the striving after monogamy that keeps us separate from most other animal species. I absolutely concede that there may be a lot of value in attempting it…perhaps this is where I differ most from 2015 Jimmy.
Now, that said, the problem lies not in our attempt to pull-off a feat that is quite unnatural (monogamy), it is our reaction when one engages in an act that is very natural (an extra relational affair). Rather than ending a relationship for attempting something many would consider quite noble, perhaps we should recognize the virtue of attempting it. Or at least we need to be understanding of it. Or, dare I suggest forgiving of it? Hell, maybe we can use it to make us stronger, to help redefine our relational identity and objectives. Yes, navigating the waters of trust building and reconciliation can be very, very difficult yet we can hope that our love will overcome the transgression of a human acting like a human.
Why? Who knows? You may be the next one to succumb to your human instincts. And who will need understanding and forgiveness then?
Alright, I know most of you reading this probably disagree with me. Say what you want, at least I’m somewhat consistent. Now check back with me in another 5 years for, “Cheating 2025.” At this rate, I may be pushing celibacy.