THE CHEATING HARM

There’s a sense of betrayal that happens when romantic love deserts us, whether a third party is involved or not.

That’s because when someone is in love with you, part of that experience is being exalted above all others. When you are basking in that rarified esteem, it’s a high beyond compare. And when that high is taken away, you feel not just deprived but betrayed. You want to say, “Didn’t you really feel the way you said? If you did, why don’t you feel that way now?” There is a feeling that you have been dishonored, and that you’ve been lied to.

I want now to explore the experience of betrayal, and in particular how to undo its dangerous after-effects. Our attempts to avoid being betrayed again can lead us in just the wrong direction when we pursue new
love, so that we in fact encourage the trouble to recur and we use bad criteria to select our next partners. I’m going to use cheating as my case study, because it is probably the Laptops, blackberries, and cell phones make it easier to hook up, and easier to conceal the fact that you are.


Most telling example of betrayal and its dangers. Cheating is the most blatant violation of the promise of romantic love. That’s because being in love, in full flame, is by its very nature infidelity proof.  When your partner admires you above all others—when you eclipse the rest of the field—they simply don’t have any interest in being with someone else. This lack of interest, sometimes poetically described as being blind to everything but you, is one of the proofs that they really are in love. So when, later on, they evince an
active desire to mix it up with someone else, this is unmistakable proof that the spell of love is on the wane. When they conceal what they’re doing and you discover it after the fact, that is the final twist of betrayal’s knife.

So let’s look at this thing called cheating. It’s almost trendy these days: it even has its own TV show. Both genders are doing it more than they used to, and women are catching up with men as doers. Modern
technology has shown itself to be a two-edged romantic sword. The power of the Internet is a plus when we’re looking for a good partner, but it becomes a minus once we’re committed to someone, because it
offers up such plentiful opportunities for straying. Laptops, blackberries, and cell phones make it easier to hook up, and easier to conceal the fact that you are doing so.

They also offer new options, such as:
• flirting by IM, e-mail, or text message
• carrying on an online romance
• cyber-sex.

There’s no doubt that the prospect of hearing from someone (maybe a complete stranger) who is interested in you (and may not know you’re attached) is highly entertaining. It’s easy to get addicted to that stimulation.
But are these activities cheating, if they don’t go as far as hooking up in the real world?
A good rule of thumb: if you have to hide it from your spouse, then the answer is probably yes.
And that points up the inherent contradiction in all cheating.

Why hide it if it’s okay? And why do it if it’s not? There’s a tacit admission of guilt in the very concealment.

The cheater may answer: I’m not hiding it because I think it’s wrong; I’m hiding it because my partner:
• might not be able to handle it
• might not approve of it
• might be hurt by it.

But if these potential feelings are respected so much, why not also honor the fact that your partner would almost certainly want to know what is going on? And what about the risk that they will find out later, and may be more hurt then than they would be now? Whatever you say about it, it’s hard to call it straightforward. Just to clarify: if at the dating stage you sleep with a second person without telling the first, that may not be cheating, and it isn’t my subject here. I’ll focus on the situation where two people in love have committed to a monogamous relationship, possibly with children, and at some point down the line the secret straying occurs. I want to look at the whole process— how it happens, how the cheater
thinks about it, what it does to the person cheated on, and how to save the People don’t like being
forced to scrap their own history.

Future from its harmful influence. Then in the next chapter I’ll look another instructive subject—what cheating does to the cheater.

Cheating as avoidance
To open up the subject of cheating, let’s look at cheating as avoidance. Instead of dealing with the relationship they’re in, some people start another one on the side.
Let’s assume we’re talking about a guy here. A number of things may be bothering him about his main relationship; but it would be a hassle to talk about them with his partner and then have to face the
consequences of that and try to work through the issues. So he finds another avenue of relief. He finds a woman with whom he doesn’t have problems yet, and drinks pleasure from her loving cup.
Now he has two things not to talk about with his partner. Which, in an opportune way, seem to balance each other out:
• I don’t have to talk to you about our problems, because I am getting relief from another woman.
• And I can’t talk to you about the other woman, because that might stop her from providing the solution to our problems.
It’s a fine piece of juggling. And because a person who is getting relief is easier to get along with, it can happen that his partner, instead of suspecting what is going on, thinks things are improving.
So we get the two prerequisites of cheating: seeing someone else, and doing it secretly.
the theft of the past Now the main purpose of this chapter is to look at the damage that results from a cheating-related breakup; but what about damage before that? As hinted earlier, it can be argued that as long as the partner doesn’t know anything is going on, no damage has been done.

Cheating is okay if you don’t get caught. 

Unfortunately that’s incorrect on a couple of counts.

• The energy you put into your secret lover, if applied to your main relationship, might have saved it. So you are robbing your main relationship of its blood supply.
• Unfaithfulness isn’t ethically improved by the addition of lying.
When you lie to someone, you are damaging them. This will be more evident if we consider a point often made after cheating is discovered:
“It isn’t so much that you did it; it’s that you lied about it.”
What is the heart of this complaint? I think it’s about being robbed of your past. “If you were lying to me about that, then everything between us was a lie.” People don’t like being forced to scrap their own history. To look back on months or years of time spent with someone and have to say that they were a charade, a macabre game, is a nasty fate. “The life I was living in good faith, you betrayed and made into a joke.”
So while you are an undetected cheater, you are rigging the present with mines that will explode when the now is looked back on with knowledge. You are booby-trapping someone’s life, so it won’t hold up under future scrutiny. You are making sure they will feel like a fool, when they find out.
1. This point is even more obvious if you also have to lie to the one you’re cheating with, by pretending not to be attached. This kind of “double cheating” is also made easier by the Internet.

So they will say, “You thought me too dumb to detect the truth, and you thought me too insignificant to deserve to hear it. But other people knew about it (at least your lover did), and it was okay for  them to know, and those who knew thought it was okay for me not to know. I guess you consigned me to a lower level.” At this point our old friend Bar Guy pipes up. (Yes, I seem to have wandered back into that bar. It’s late afternoon and the sun is slanting in.) “Aren’t you getting a little uptight about this?” he says, looking at my laptop screen. “There are cultures where cheating is no big deal. Look at France. They’ve got another institution, right alongside marriage. It’s called having a mistress.”
“Well, if the culture allows it, then it isn’t cheating,” I say. “So it isn’t what I’m talking about. Especially if the wife or husband is in on the deal, and basically turns a blind eye to it.”
A woman overhears us and approaches from a group whom I suspect to be college professors. She has black hair pulled back in a bun, and cool blue eyes. “If I may, you need a historical perspective,” she says. “You have to bear in mind that in the old days, marriage wasn’t primarily about love—let alone sex. It was
about producing children. Economics, and for the higher-ups, politics too. A man wasn’t trying to get emotional needs met by his spouse. Especially not romantic needs. So it was natural to look for that somewhere else.”
“What—” Bar Guy says, “Are you saying mistresses are passé?” Ms. Professor laughs. “I don’t want to alarm you. In case you have one.”
“I don’t even have a wife,” Bar Guy says. “I used to. Now I’m on my own.”
“Do you like it that way?” she says. What usually ends their fine arrangement is that they get caught.
“No . . . no, I don’t. But it’s hard to meet women. Especially here.” He winks at me, and I’m wondering why. “They don’t seem to ever come alone,” he adds.
“Like me,” she says. “I’m with that group over there. I should get back to them.”
“You’re adventurous,” Bar Guy says. “You approached us. That’s unusual.”
Although I like his point, I can feel this discussion slipping its leash. I say to her, “I think you were about to say something about mistresses. You seem very knowledgeable; I wanted to hear what it was.”
“Oh—of course. I’m a sociologist . . . ” She looks at Bar Guy and laughs. “I was going to say that even in France I think you would get an argument from many women. Have you been to France?”
“Not really,” he answers. “I’ve been to Quebec.”
“Well I have a branch of my family in France,” she says, “and I think my cousines would be surprised to hear that they are fine with their husbands having mistresses.”
“I wouldn’t want to surprise them,” Bar Guy says. Again I try to pull the dog in my direction. “So you’re saying, today’s couples expect marriage to be exclusive—even in France?” I ask her.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Ms. P replies. “When you see your partner as your all-in-all, your soulmate and lover and friend— you’re not going to like the idea of him turning to someone else. And that’s the current template in the West.”
“Sure,” Bar Guy says, “but life isn’t a fairy tale. You try for all that, maybe you try for too much. Sometimes the soufflé falls. Things change. People have needs.”
“That’s true,” Ms. Professor says. “But missed shots don’t make a target any less worthy.” She sits down on the stool between me and Bar Guy, looks at him. “Do you know a lot about soufflés?” she says.
“I’m a wizard with an egg,” he answers.
“That’s interesting. Are you a chef?”
Bar Guy smiles at her and says “Only in my spare time.” Then he seems to remember that he was having a conversation with me. “So, the point I was trying to make . . . ” he says. “I read something about it in a book. It said even good people sometimes cheat on their way to their next relationship. Oh yeah, I think it was your book.” “You wrote a book?” Ms. P says. She seems genuinely surprised at the men you can meet in a bar.

But it’s time for me to go. I leave them leaning over their drinks.

the well-intentioned cheater 
Bar Guy was right. Otherwise-honest people sometimes conceal a serious new relationship, at least while it’s starting, from the person they’re still married to. Let’s say you’ve made a good effort in your marriage for years but find yourself basically miserable. You haven’t tried to find a new lover, aren’t looking for one, are willing to stick with the marriage to the bitter end. And then someone appears, and conversation occurs, and light breaks through. The thing is, at the beginning you may not know where that light is leading.
And one day on the road you realize you’ve crossed a border, even though there was no signpost to mark it. You’ve left behind the State of “It’s too soon to tell my spouse about this, and anyway I don’t know what it is yet” and you’re now in the State of “I’m going to have to talk about this, and there is going to be a great upheaval.” Certainly, the truly honest thing to do would be to talk about it as soon as you know something—or better yet, to end one relationship before you even think about embarking on another. But it doesn’t always go that way. So your spouse gets lied to, for a while.

the garden-variety two-timer
And of course there is another kind of situation, where unfaithful spouses aren’t on the way to a new relationship at all, and don’t have that justification for their behavior. In vast numbers of cases, they simply want some action on the side. Maybe the outside lover isn’t available as a partner (maybe they’re in a relationship they can’t get out of); maybe kids are involved; or maybe our cheaters just have too much
to lose. So they don’t want to leave their spouse. If forced to choose, they would choose to stay in their marriage. But they don’t want to choose: they want to have their cake and eat it too. (Or as I always
thought this expression should read: eat their cake and have it too.) Such persons are interested in permanent concealment, so they are unlikely to voluntarily let the cat out of the bag. What usually ends their fine arrangement is that they get caught. And then they get kicked out, and they lose a whole lot of things that they didn’t want to lose.

the fallout
In either case, and regardless of who breaks it off or how it is discovered, the one cheated on is impacted in special ways, which can get in the way of future love. Let’s see what they are, so we can counteract
them.
The blotted diary. I spoke of this before: the ignominy of being forced to rewrite your own cherished history. It is like having kept a diary, and one day you find you have to take a black marker to it and cross out pages and pages of a life you valued. And the thing is, people aren’t too careful when they are crossing out entries and tearing up photographs. They tend to throw out the good with the bad. The days that really were sunny, the absences that were innocent—they get trashed along with the rest. Everything is sullied; everything goes.

The longer-term result is cynicism, or even a loss of faith in the benign world that one used to take for granted—we’ll look at that “fallen world” predicament, and one possible solution to it.

The return of the toad. Being rejected and dumped is bad enough; being left for another is worse; and being lied to about being left for another may be the worst of all—in terms of the offence taken by the kingly ego. We have seen how the toad reacts to this: how he takes control and shoulders the heart aside, so a person becomes too well defended to be able to love. All that applies to the cheating situation, in spades.

Inability to trust. But the toad isn’t always the star of the show. People with properly trimmed egos also get cheated on and hurt. And a major consequence is the loss of the ability to trust.
It is disquieting how easily we humans fall into generalizing about the other gender, based on one person. We become bitter; we take a jaundiced view of all men or all women. We think we know that they are all
liars, all users, all betrayers. This may be the result of simple hurt, but it’s a child’s response, a simplistic retreat from other people. I think it’s especially likely to happen when our trusted partner turned out to be
brutal and nasty, and seemed to enjoy hurting us. “I get it,” we say. “All men/women are snakes in the grass, just waiting to reveal their evil nature. But they won’t get me!” Unfortunately this prophecy turns out
to be only too true. In the smugness of victory we find isolation.

The quest for Mr. Won’t-leave. Another troubling legacy of cheating —the obsessive search for someone who can be trusted. It’s risky to judge honesty by whether someone says he is honest.

 I have had a number of requests for advice through the whymrright.com Web site, along the following lines:
My boyfriend/husband left me for a younger/older woman, whom he’d been seeing on the sly for six
months. I want to find a new guy, but I’ve almost lost my belief that any man can be trusted. So I have a plan; please tell me if it is any good.
On my new personal ad on a major dating site, I stress in my profile that the man I’m looking for must
be honest and loyal, a good person, as I am—no cheaters or players!

Also, my last guy had certain characteristics.
• he was ten years younger/older than I am;
• he drove a really flashy sports car/didn’t even own his own car
• he was a lawyer/a carpenter
• he lived with other men/lived with his parents.

So I have vowed not to have anything to do with any guys who have any of these features, because I’ve
been burned once.

Will this plan work?
My answer has been: no, it won’t work.
It isn’t a good idea for this woman to try desperately to find The Type of Man Who Won’t Cheat.
Because the characteristics she will use to identify this type—to ferret him out from the vast unwashed mass of men—are deceptive.

Mr. Honest. Suppose she focuses on his inner character, on his honesty. Then (especially online) she will probably have to rely on his words to announce him. That method is a snare in which she is likely to catch herself. A woman who hangs out a sign saying she is looking for honesty is likely to attract dishonest men: they will quickly sense that she has been deceived before, and that she is sensitive and vulnerable on this point. In their eyes this means she can be deceived again. All they have to do is talk about honesty and integrity and faithfulness and loyalty, and how their whole life has been dedicated to these virtues.
Most men realize that they have not always been wholly honest, and will admit it when pressed. Men who boast about being perfectly honest, may be conning you. Now am I saying that honesty isn’t a virtue? Oh god no. I think it is one of the highest virtues, and may be the last bastion against life’s most dangerous temptations. (There are many occasions when we know we could get away with something, but we don’t do it, for the simple reason that it would require a lie. When people tell the truth even though it puts them at a disadvantage, they are showing humanity at its best.)
But I think it’s risky to judge honesty by whether someone says he is honest. Especially if you’re looking at an online ad, not at a person. A better way to assess honesty is to observe someone’s actual behavior
over time; see if he is willing to criticize himself; get to know him. People tend to be more honest when they think they will be believed and understood and accepted, so it’s nice if a lot of that goes on too.

The problem, even if you find a truthful man, is that honesty alone won’t keep a person from falling for someone else, or from concealing it for a while. We’ll see in a moment what else is needed to prevent that outcome.

Mr. Won’t-Leave. My advice example illustrates another troubled response: fixating on external features of the person who left you for someone else. In a kind of superstitious or magical reasoning, the victim tells herself that whatever the last guy was, that’s what to avoid. The guy who dumped me was a carpenter ten years older than me who didn’t own his own car, so if I stay away from those things I’ll be safe.
So all of the characteristics of the guy who cheated on her become red flags for the future, regardless of whether they had anything to do with his cheating! It’s kind of like the ancient Pict who noticed that a
hailstorm came after he ate an apple, so he never ate one again.

The root of both mistakes is believing that there is a certain inherent type of person, “the type who won’t leave.” If you look for that, you are looking for a phantom. The truth is that any man, or any woman,
may leave if they don’t have enough reason to stay. So if you want a partner who will hang around, and will make you want to hang around, what you should be looking for is someone with whom you have so much
going that either of you would be nuts to leave the other. That’s right, the key to people not cheating is not their character so much as the quality of the rapport they have. Otherwise known as compatibility. Find a
man that you have a lot in common with, in a lot of areas. For example, values, career goals, sense of humor, sexuality, intellect, entertainment. . . the list goes on.

A man like this will be too engrossed in you to think he could do without you, and you will feel the same. The experience of being left for another, and lied to about it, is one of the toughest ones that life hands out. It takes time to recover from the blow, but you are more likely to recover if you are aware of its potential after-effects and consciously resist them. We’ve done some of that work in this chapter, and we’ll do a lot more in what follows.

Compatibility is discussed in detail in Part Two of Why Mr Right Can’t Find You. I’ll explore it in relation to the lessons of the past

Meanwhile keep this positive goal in your back pocket: instead of being crippled by the experience of being left for another, use it as motivation: redouble your efforts to find a partner who is really a good match for you.



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