In the past few weeks I’ve heard no less than six – yes, six – stories about people cheating on each other while in serious relationships. Like, married or living together serious. So consider this me cracking my knuckles, rubbing my palms together and getting down to business. If you thought Miss Wingman was opinionated before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
First and foremost, in the spirit of full disclosure, allow me to throw myself under the bus and admit that, yes, I’ve not only been cheated on, but I’ve also had an indiscretion or two of my own. But, to be fair, that was in my much younger, much more foolish days…which have long since past.
But with this knowledge of both sides of the cheating coin comes a unique perspective that makes me keenly aware of the causes of and the fallout from a wandering eye and no self-control. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t fair, but most importantly – you can’t come back from it. Yes, when it comes to cheating, once the damage is done, it’s best to just move on.
It might sound harsh to uphold a zero tolerance policy for cheating (um, I don’t consider it harsh, but maybe your definition of loyalty is different than mine), but insisting upon anything else is just unwise. What it comes down to is this: meeting someone is easy, but meeting someone worth keeping around is much harder. Add to that putting in the time/effort to actually build a relationship with them – and sustain it – and now you’re in pretty deep, ring on your finger or not.
Once you’ve convinced someone that you are the person you purport to be, you’ve essentially given your word (which still means something to some of us…though we appear to be fewer and farther between these days), and you’ve built up a level of trust. Hear that? A level of trust. I’m sure I don’t have to point this out, but just in case it bears repeating: Trust is everything. Once it’s gone, there’s nothing left.
No matter how much you care about the other person, no matter how much you didn’t intend to hurt them, you did. They didn’t have any choice in your behavior, but they do have a choice in how they react to it. Let them salvage what’s left of their dignity (an ironic twist, since they’re not the one who should feel ashamed) and exert control over at least something. And if they’re smart, they’ll do just that.
I understand exactly why people cheat. And I say “people” because I know it’s a two-way street, women are just as guilty. Sometimes it’s out of boredom, or restlessness, sometimes it’s a fateful combination of opportunity and lust, and other times it’s just the easiest way to sabotage something that you’re either unsure of or afraid of – it happens all the time.
But whether you want to pursue something with your fellow philanderer or it was just a one-off instance, your significant other 100% needs to know. Deserves to know. Anything else is just disrespectful, convincing yourself otherwise is a joke.
Cheating at all is the closest thing I can think of to spitting in someone’s face, I have that much enmity for it. And cheating then concealing it for your own benefit is like kicking them while they’re down, worse still. You haven’t given them all of the tools necessary to make an informed decision about their relationship fate, so it’s essentially trickery. It’s also false happiness, it’s cruel if others know first, and most of all it’s a Jenga tower just waiting to topple.
That said, I’m not sure how to reconcile this part of my argument, but I also feel that monogamy is a fundamentally unnatural thing. It goes against our very design…if, that is, we’re going entirely on our most primal instincts.
But we’re not.
Or at least we shouldn’t be. At some point, when we’re mature enough to recognize that we’ve evolved past our caveman ways, where identifying what you wanted and procuring it through any means possible was totally acceptable, we should break free of all that. The hope is that you eventually arrive at being a rational, complex human being who doesn’t settle down until he’s good well and ready. And at that point that you’re equipped to realize that the person you’re settling down with is irreplaceable. There’s a reason you’re with them, and hopefully it’s a good one.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – there will always be someone younger out there. Someone hotter. Someone with better hair or more money, and if we spend our lives being tempted by the prospect of something better, we’ll run ourselves ragged. Sew your wild oats as long as you need to, but once you link arms with someone, be mature enough to be all in.
Deciding that what you have is better than the prospect of what you could have is what separates us from the animals. And I’d rather date a man than a dog any day (insert bestiality comment here, sorry, it was too easy).
Granted, there are those who will argue that, in matters of marriage, the stakes are much higher, and things shouldn’t be so black and white. And I’d agree with them. The only possible exception I’d give with regards to cheating is if I’ve invested not only in sharing a life with someone, but also if children are (hopefully not!) involved. In that instance, it’s worth doing everything possible to repair the relationship, rebuild the trust, and hope to God to find a new version of normal.
But, I come from the school of thought that marriage is a Sacrament (old school Catholic, guilty as charged). And I’m not even sure that finding a new normal is possible, to be honest. The other person will always be wondering, always be uneasy, and hard as they try may never have peace of mind again.
It’s like even though you’ve made a commitment to someone, the minute you cheat you’ve effectively shattered that commitment to pieces. It’s as good as dust. And it’s pretty hard to rebuild something atop dust…not exactly a stable foundation.
Whatever your experience with cheating, the bottom line is that it sucks. Capital “S”, highly unsophisticated, just plain sucks. But even though neither party may have seen it coming, you can be smart enough to identify that you – or the other person – deserve better. Walk away angry, walk away with your head held high – it’s your call. Just mourn the loss of something that isn’t anymore, and walk away.