A few months ago I wrote a review of “I Love You Man” and related it to dishonesty. At the time, I had caught several students cheating on an exam, and I wondered aloud (or in print) about what leads people to be dishonest. Now I want to revisit this topic, but adding in infidelity.
I think it might be important to define infidelity at this juncture, as I was once involved with a woman who believed having coffee with a woman without her knowledge (in other words hiding it) was cheating. Although this point has some validity, for this article we will consider infidelity as any sexual act with someone other than one’s partner. Sexual is defined as any act of kissing, coddling, sexual touching, or anything involving genitalia. (Come on, if your still looking for a way to say it wasn’t cheating at this point, you’re kidding yourself).
There is no way one can be unfaithful, keep it a secret, and not be behaving dishonestly. Although some do not define omission as lying, we will when it comes to sexual acts (defined above) when in a committed relationship. (Committed does not mean marriage, it means there is an understanding of monogamy). You might notice at this point I am really defining terms, and I suppose my reasoning is I have had so many clients debate whether something was cheating or not. I actually had some male clients tell me that their receiving oral copulation from someone other than their wife wasn’t cheating!
So, with everything defined, let’s return to the discussion. It is estimated that between 44 and 75% of men cheat on their wives, and that 17 to 25% of wives cheat on their husbands. I would put more faith in the higher numbers, as infidelity often goes unreported, and in these times I only see the numbers going up. Women are quickly catching up to men in many of the negative behaviors men are notorious for. What’s more, these statistics do not include those that are not married, but are in otherwise committed relationships. I saw “Funny People” recently, and when questioned in a condescending fashion about his infidelity in the past by someone without even a girlfriend, the character who had cheated replied “It’s easy not to cheat when no one wants to sleep with you.”
What I want to discuss is why with so many people being unfaithful, why do we cling to the cultural standards we have. Most who know me are aware I have had issues with fidelity in the past. Beyond that, having come to know myself a little better over these years, I have realized long term (read a year or more) relationships do not suit me personally very well. I am open about this to potential partners (I am using the term partner to represent any woman who engages in a romantic relationship with me). What it has resulted in is insecurity, suspicion, and other relational difficulties. I am not trying to claim this is unwarranted. With honesty there is consequences. And this is largely why so many lie to begin with. But what I am saying is that the honesty contributes to these feelings of insecurity, when in reality the individual is only reporting what is generally true for many anyhow, but goes unspoken.
I often hear from women they want honesty from a man. Many people find my honesty refreshing. But then I am punished for it. My argument here is that people really do not want honesty. They want to be sold an illusion of the possibility of “Happily Ever After.” Understand me correctly: I am not saying they want to hear it will last forever, but they do not want the illusion of that possibility crushed. So instead of enjoying whatever they might have in an honest relationship, they would rather find someone who does not destroy the illusion.
In my earlier blog on dishonesty (which focused on students cheating, then on the surprising and hilarious honesty of Jason Segal’s character in “I Love You Man”) I wondered why so many lie until the evidence is clear and there is no escape. Of course I understand the reasoning: it is better to play the odds. But I want society (read you and all others) to look at its part in creating this epidemic of dishonesty. If as a society we continue to try to maintain an illusion of fairy tales but act in direct contradiction to it (by cheating and lying and believing the fault for our fairy tale going wrong lies in the doing of someone else) we will continue to promote a society where dishonesty is the better bet, and where everyone continues to pretend everything is okay with them, all the while hoping something better is just around the corner.
In his blog my friend Oscar wrote about lying: “Of course, it is not you. You are probably reading this and nodding your head in agreement with me. You are probably thinking ‘Yeah man! It’s sick!’” He goes on to say “And really, what’s even worse, you might genuinely believe that you are a good person but you are just too blind to notice otherwise.” Now Oscar has a way of embracing controversy. And I would like to soften this a bit, and purport that often the dishonesty people engage in is done automatically, with the defense mechanisms of that make negative behavior more palatable at work. In other words, I believe many our victims of their own thinking. But this can be overcome.
Think of this for a moment: how many of you have begun on the slippery slope of cheating? The slippery slope is when you are attracted to someone, and you start to flirt. Then you are finding excuses to talk to this individual. Maybe you are spending time with them after work just “chatting.” The attraction grows. Now a decision has to be made: do I cheat? (By some people’s standards you already have, calling this an emotional affair). Or do you pull in your behavior, and remain faithful? A great majority choose the latter, at least the first few times I am sure. Some will fall to this temptation later. But some who do not cut off the exchange use the defense mechanisms rationalizing and minimizing to justify their behavior. “Everyone does it.” “She (or he) is probably cheating on me.” “He (or she) has been neglecting me.” Or perhaps the worst defense of all in my opinion “I think this new person is my soul mate, this was destined to be.” Please understand that as I reported earlier, I too have used these rationalizations and minimized the consequences. I am not judging, just trying to bring some new level of understanding.
It is my contention that one of the greatest contributors to pathology in our psyche is the belief we have to rise up to an unattainable standard because we believe those around us are. And all the while, it is a great charade. We are all just drinking the Koolaid, believing in something that doesn’t exist, and ostracizing those that attempt to live more in line with what reality seems to be saying.
In looking at this, I realize it sounds bitter, and perhaps there is some bitterness in it. And in some rare cases, a couple does live happily ever after. On a certain level, I don’t want to crush everyone’s belief in the possibility. But I would like people to look more rationally at the world around them, and at their own behavior. It seems a large percentage of people cheat. I am not saying this is positive. I realize some may read this article and think I am pro infidelity. I am not. I am pro living a genuine life, and being true to yourself. I don’t like to see others hurt. My advice, if someone was contemplating cheating, is not to do it. It will make being genuine and honest difficult for the rest of your life. Not only will your partner not trust you, but future partners likely will not as well.
Alex suggested in one of his comments that I read a book where the author purports that it is cheating that saves a marriage (I haven’t, likely will not, and it defies statistics that say only 35% of marriages survive an infidelity). Marriage may be becoming an outdated concept for many. Most Americans engage in serial monogamy (if they are monogamous at all). Right now my mind screams out to our culture a line from Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Or can you? Can you see the world the way it truly is, and not judge it negatively from atop the façade of an ivory tower?