Looking at the spectacle of present-day marriages, you did never know that monogamy (sometimes also thought of as just being faithful towards someone we are in love with) was the new kid on the block. Between solemn marriage vows, typical on-screen romances, and government-sponsored sexuality education on the emphasis of loyalty towards the family unit, it’s become a little too easy to forget our dirty, cheating past. We arrogantly compare our monogamous lifestyle with that of birds, citing how some avian species exhibit tendencies to stay with the same life partner, which sorry to say, turns out even they cheat when the other partner is not looking. Cheating is apparently quite common in human relationships, the extent of which often boils down to whether said affair is discovered or not.
Einstein himself also begrudgingly admitted that nothing in the human species was built for monogamy or sexual faithfulness. In a June 1953 letter to a female friend, he told her not to be too upset that her husband was having an affair. This was spoken out of personal experience as the great scientist himself was serially unfaithful. He cheated on his first wife, married his mistress who was also his cousin, and still had affairs with other women on the sly. While most of us would take a serious view on such shady behaviour, Einstein himself merely considered these affairs as non-serious and just flings typical of an European gentlemen. In what would perhaps be the most controversial advice in the human history of marriage counselling, he went on to write that a man shouldn’t be forced to stay monogamous, that it would be a ‘bitter fruit’ for all involved. But Einstein was later willing to concede that cheating had its problems when he expressed admiration for his best friend who remained with one woman his entire life.
Has much changed since Einstein’s time? It’s hard to say. As with all matters related to love and sexuality, it’s difficult to statistically profile anything concrete. But there have been some loud headlines. In a controversial interview carried out by a study several years back, one respondent said that he would always cheat every time he left for a business trip. He had a loving wife and a great family but he enjoyed his affairs on the side, and couldn’t be persuaded to think otherwise. In more recent times, a Frenchman sued Uber, whose app’s malfunctioning features accidentally leaked the locations of where he sneaked off to have his affairs, causing his marriage to end. While it’s difficult and dangerous to extrapolate too much from such news fodder, it’s probably reasonably safe to assume that cheating still happens with some regularity: the illicit affairs of celebrities and politicians continue to serve as click-bait for gossip-mongers.
And while the above narratives may lead one to think that men are the gender most likely to cheat, general statistics seem to suggest that both genders are equally likely to be unfaithful. So far, it seems that genuinely staying true to a person (as opposed to hoping your affairs never get discovered) is in itself nothing short of an incredible human feat. Is promiscuity the result of an uncontrollable part of human behaviour or do people cheat because they feel they didn’t marry the right person? Maybe it’s a bit of both. Much of our default attitude towards how love ought to be (as well as how much it completes us) likely comes down to our genes, what we observe from our parents during childhood, and the prevailing attitude in society. Our tendencies to cheat are inversely proportional to the amount of fulfillment we derive out of the relationship, and here, nothing is more important than the quality of communication – because talking about an issue defines a goal post. If commitment and dedication are the default cornerstones that both partners can promise to work on sustaining, it makes clear the direction of the relationship, as well as the consequences.
However, as observed by a number of psychologists, most cases of cheating are often the result of an impulse built up over time rather than a meticulous plan executed from the start. It may perhaps begin with a simple flirt with a colleague, or what appears to be a regular one on one lunch, or a willingness to be more intimate than appropriately allowed, but such behaviour can quickly escalate, and can cause us to forget our commitment(s) towards our relationship. Consequently, the heart and mind falters, and duties and promises can be easily forgotten. For example, someone who is already spoken for, but behaves suggestively and coyly is going to find it easy to accidentally end up with a regrettable mistake. Our conscious and unconscious actions, whether we intend them to be so, signal sexual availability or interest, and the more we act on our capriciousness, the more likely we are to inadvertently cheat. And even if nothing happens, the potential fallout of misunderstandings and jealousy will often jeopardise an existing relationship.
And of course, some of us cheat because the thrill of lying and remaining undetected is in itself a great dopamine rush, the same sort of excitement that allows extreme sport enthusiasts to repeatedly put their lives at risk. And there are those who receive a perverse pleasure in knowing that they are able to steal someone away from what seems to be a perfect and impregnable relationship. And maybe others simply enjoy dancing close to the fire, if only to spite their partners and make themselves seem more desirable. Whatever the reasons, human behaviour is sufficiently complex to allow for many deviations and computations, and much of human sexuality is dark, foreboding and variegated. While cheating seems commonplace, it’s not an excuse to give ourselves a free pass. It breaches trust, reduces intimacy and moves us away in pursuit of the truth. If you can lie to your significant other, then you can lie to anyone, including yourself. And is there not something wretched about living such an incomplete life?
So have you thought about (HYTA) why we cheat on our spouses and loved ones?