There are only two reasons why cheating happens. Either you’re not right for your partner, or you’re not being honest with them.
Any other excuse is merely justification for avoiding either fact. Crucially, more often than not the eventual discovery of infidelity forces acceptance of one or both of these facts.
Being honest with your partner means being honest with yourself, about everything. It means accepting yourself, accepting your urges and your inner conflicts, and accepting responsibility for each and every decision you make.
Being honest is hard, and it is never over.
Which is why I feel driven to rubbish any claim that asserts that men can’t help themselves cheating because they’re genetically or culturally or however programmed.
At best this bullshit is vaguely misogynistic, in suggesting women simply can’t cope with either the urges of their partners or the discussion of them. But at worst it’s an insult to all men who stand for honesty. It’s a mass moronification of the species, ignoring our ability to self-analyse, take responsibility for our actions or communicate with our partners.
It insults every man’s efforts towards responsibility or self-control and self-understanding and instead shirks this life-defining challenge and shrugs helplessly in the direction of a cod-scientific, presumed primal instinct. It is science as banter. It is science sponsored by FHM, Zoo, Nuts, Front, Men’s Health. It is pub theory. It is intellectual laddism.
There is no justification for cheating. There is no ‘Why Men Cheat’. There is only a man’s decision to cheat and his deeper decision not to be honest with himself or his partner.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, @EricAndersonPhD explains why he thinks men are not honest about cheating on their partners:
“[Men lie about cheating] because they know that if they ask for permission to have recreational sex: 1) they will be denied 2) after they are denied, they will be subject to scrutiny and increased relationship policing; 3) they will be stigmatized as immoral, and most likely broken up with.”
These are all reasons based on fear and perceived reality. How do these men know that they will be denied if they haven’t asked? If they are denied, yet their urges are still genuine, isn’t it clear then that they are with the wrong person?
This is what frustrates about Anderson and his theorising (based on evidence which amounts to asking male university students the redundant question, “Would you like to fuck more girls?”). He doesn’t question the fears or motivations of his young men, the conflict of what they want for themselves versus what they expect from others.
“… honesty doesn’t meet [these men's] desires of having both a long-term partner and recreational sex with others … When men cheat for recreational sex — not affairs — they DO love their partners. If they didn’t, they would break up with them.”
Surely, anyone who’s ever been in a relationship could attest to this last ‘fact’ being winsomely naive at the very least. People do not only break up with people because they don’t love them, and breaking up with someone does not mean you do not love them.
If Anderson was just saying that these 120 undergraduate boymen wanted more sex then fine. If he was extending this to say that undergraduate and sexually active males have urges to cheat on their partners, then fine.
But in the title of his book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating, Anderson is sending out a very clear message that his theory does not just include these 120 undergrads, or just undergrads, but each and every man. Yet his general assumption (ie. men who cheat must love their partners otherwise they’d leave them) is bogus.
Anderson’s position is such that when he says ‘Men’, he means ‘Men who actively want to have sex with people other than their partner’. “Our physical desires don’t die; they just change from our partner to people other than him/her.”
None of Anderson’s conclusions resonate with me. They do not feel genuine. But let’s be honest here, on this point there is at least some truth to be examined. I am only one man, so I can only speak for myself. But I would guess there are other men who are conflicted, just like me, and who have thought about people other than their partner.
This is hard to deal with. Sex is very important to me, perhaps too important and perhaps because of events and experiences in my life. I have a vivid imagination. I have urges, conflicts. I want things sometimes which go against the agreements I have made with myself, with my wife, with society.
The interrogations I have battered myself with are as numerous as they are confusing. Why am I sometimes compelled to buy porn, and why has the purchase of it in the past conjured such aching desire in me? How can my deep love for my wife exist in the same shell which can occasionally and sharply yearn for a different body, a new touch?
But most of all, how can I be honest with my wife about these urges rising up from my very bones? How can I explain the experience of visiting a strip club to her without running the risk of hurting her, of exposing something that I only wish wasn’t so genuinely me? And how can I hope to be myself with her unless I am honest about it, about all of it?
The only answer is that I cannot protect my wife from who I am. I can only be honest with her about who I am. I can only ask her to love me for who I am.
I can understand the compulsion to avoid these questions, these challenges, because I’ve done that too. I felt sure that the toxic emotional fallout my confessions would create was too much for the first relationship I was in, the girl I was with. So I swallowed everything and suffered the pyschic indigestion it brought, rather than risk a breakup.
Eventually we did break up, of course, once we were finally honest with oneanother and accepted the fact that we were not right for each other. But by this time I had destroyed my sexual confidence, I felt almost like a potential rapist in some respects. There were no benefits, emotionally or physically, to withholding honesty.
But clearly the attraction of a generalised theory that all men are hardwired to want to sleep with every woman they fancy, that this is some sort of primal, unassailable instinct which cannot be understood or salved but only accepted (privately, secretly) is massive.
It means no need for honesty. No accountability. Don’t deny yourself, just deny you have any choice. Limply shrug in the direction of caveman urges and keep hiding. Keep cheating. Because it’s not your fault.
This is pure, convenient and unexamined bollocks. Just as with Anderson’s argument that unburdened (no kids, no marriage) men must love their partners despite having cheated on them, because if they didn’t love them they could just leave them.
Cheating is satisfying a sexual urge, while lying to protect partners from the same urge. Cheating is satisfying a sexual urge that is not fully understood. Cheating is avoiding the understanding of this urge, out of fear of the consequences of that understanding.
Being honest makes you accountable. And being accountable all the time is hard. It’s so hard that it’s easier to find an objective reason why other women can have an impact on me, why I’m drawn sexually to them, why I can love my wife but be burdened with an imagination that conjures fantasies from innocent bystanders.
It’s even easier when someone (published by Oxford University Press, no less) comes along and tells you that being honest isn’t that important, after all.
One of the reasons why I try to push myself to be open and honest in my writing is because I’m not a scientist. I’m not a researcher. I don’t know things outside of myself. But I know myself intricately, and I’ve subjected myself to protracted self-analysis. One of the things I know is to distrust any easy solution, anything which avoids more difficult territory.
Knowing yourself, being honest with yourself and your partner, and being open to the possibility that this honesty may show you that neither of you are in the right relationship is the difficult solution to avoiding cheating. Justified cheating is just the easy way out.
But if this is why men cheat – because they’re too afraid or simply not equipped to be honest with themselves or their partner – then how do we talk about the urges and conflicts that exist in relationships. How do we express that someone isn’t right for someone else?
The most rewarding relationships I have experienced have been equal. This equality has not always lasted, but I believe that in order to continue a relationship must be equal, it must be equally shared, and neither side can give or receive more than the other.
Think of each circle as a person, and the area they cross as their relationship. My marriage is 1-9-1, almost all of ourselves pooled in the relationship, sharing almost all of our energy, with the smallest amount residing outside of this and effectively marking us as individuals.
But we weren’t always like this. And, quite often, we move through a 2-8-2 or 3-7-3. I have learned to see and feel this change and on the whole it has been driven by me keeping back parts of myself or not being honest with her about how I feel or what I want.
Being 1-9-1 means you don’t hold back anything other than that last sliver of yourself. For me and my wife it is our natural point. It’s come from a relationship that provided me with the safety and security I needed to expose my shadows, to reveal my urges and conflicts. It’s the point where we are best together, but importantly it is the point where I am best.
Now imagine if 1-9-1 was not natural to me. Imagine I desire (though I might not know so) a 5-5-5 relationship, a marriage where I retain far more of myself and share far less. I will struggle with full integration. I will attempt to pull back. I will look for ways to gain that extra amount, ways to create something outside of what we share, something only mine.
But our energies, our selves, must either be shared or held back. They cannot be increased. You cannot sustain a 5-9-1 relationship, or a 9-9-9 relationship. Anything that is not equal causes tension.
I hold 1 but I give 9. My wife holds 1 but gives 9. We form a reflexive loop of energy as the amount we give out is returned in equal measure. We can do this because we are receiving enough, and we can do this because we trust the other to reflect the same as we give out. Because we’re honest with ourselves, and we’re honest with each other.
If you give 9 but only receive 5 you know it, you feel it. And you question where the remainder is going, where the rest of your partner’s energy is being directed. You demand that they give to you what you give, you accept the little you get, or you begin to give out less yourself. You can no longer trust them to return what you give.
If you receive 9 but only give 5 you may not know it. You may believe you’re giving 9, that your relationship is equal. But you feel it, nonetheless. You feel the pull, the strain, of being asked to return something that isn’t right for you. You’re not being honest with yourself about what you aren’t sharing, and this lost energy has to go somewhere. So you cheat.
There should be no stigma on those who want a 9-1-9 relationship (or an honest and open 8-2-6-2-8) or those who want a 0-10-0 relationship. But unless you know your number, unless you know how much you are happy to share and how much you want for yourself, you run the risk of entering unequal relationships.
There are only two reasons why men cheat. Either their partner is not the right number for them, or they don’t understand the number they are. Everything else is just noise.