On Cheating But Not Leaving

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to watch people make mistakes (and make my own mistakes, of course) and see how we learn from our past experiences.  For plenty of us, after we make a mistake in our lives, be it big or small, we try to take steps to correct that mistake.  Whether it’s by keeping a safe distance from the mistake, eliminating the behavior/person/situation that created the mistake, or even rationalizing the mistake into something that could produce a great outcome, we try to do something about it.  Even if our attempts are unsuccessful, if a real effort was put into avoiding that mistake, you know going forward that more drastic measures will be needed.

Then there are those unique people that make the same mistakes, knowing they’re mistakes, and chooses to continue to make those mistakes.  There’s a difference between someone who’s rationalized their actions so that they don’t view them as mistakes, and someone who still knows they’re doing something that they shouldn’t and continues to do it anyway.  Think of the difference between Aladdin, who knows that stealing is wrong and continued to do it because he had to survive, and a bank robber who thinks he deserves to be rich and it didn’t matter if robbing a bank was wrong to get the job done.

Well, one thing Aladdin didn’t do was cheat on the Princess, and this specific group of people are those that I’d call “loyal cheaters.”  They know they shouldn’t cheat, but it’s as though they cannot resist the temptation of new people and they dive in every now and then.  Sometimes they keep a side person, a go-to when in need like a tight end in the NFL (by the way, as a native St. Louisan I cannot cheer for any Boston sports teams and enjoy when they lose.  And yes, this is a common mentality in St. Louis.  Giants win a thriller, 24-21).  It’s becoming a more common trend publicly, which does worry me.  As a faithful sort of fellow, it’d be pretty hurtful to find out my girlfriend (or worse, my wife) is cheating on me.  Before jumping on these cheaters’ heads, one question to be asked is, “What made you cheat in the first place?  What weren’t you getting in the relationship that this person was able to give you?”  The cliche is that for men, the answer would generally be something physical and for women, it’s something more emotional.  In my experience, you can’t separate the two that easily to begin with, so I would say that there’s likely a combination of both going on (unless of course, you’re drunk, high, and horny in the strip club with $100 bucks in your pocket and you know she tricks off in VIP – anything that happens then is unavoidable).  Another question to ask is, “If you’re actively cheating, or just open to cheating, why don’t you leave the relationship?  Clearly, you’re not providing the same monogamy you’re asking of your partner, the relationship must be lacking something for you to want to stray to begin with, so why not leave and be single?”  But why would any person who can have their cake and eat it too not do so?  They get the creature comforts of the relationship and the bachelor/bachelorette experience of being free to do what they want.  It’s the best of both worlds (provided their partner doesn’t find out).

On a more serious note, many of these people don’t leave the relationship because they truly do care for their partner.  I know men and women who have cheated on their significant others and who, I believe, are truly in love with them.  This is where it’s become difficult to explain, but I think I can understand the impulse to cheat and yet truly love your partner.  Even as I wrote that (and this is something I’ve been thinking about for weeks), it’s still slightly jarring that this stance could have some, dare I say, merit, to it.  In some cases, they’ve invested in that other person, and they truly love that person but when temptation crossed their path, they bit the poisonous fruit.

We know they shouldn’t commit such infidelities.  They know it, too.  We would charge them with not loving their partner. There’s truth to that statement – they aren’t giving their partner the kind of undivided love and affection that a relationship merits and they are certainly raising the amount of potential harm the relationship will endure if their partner finds out.  But how can we so quickly dismiss the overall amount of “love actions” that the cheater provided throughout the relationship and say that this person, without a shadow of a doubt, doesn’t love his or her partner?  That’s the contentious issue with cheaters who don’t leave the relationship – the claim is that they don’t love their partner, but can one mistake really undermine the overall amount of love that the cheater possesses for his or her partner?  Our inclination is that cheaters don’t love their significant others, but I just can’t buy it (completely).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not condoning stepping out on your significant other.  What I am saying is that, while I can’t clearly explain it, my belief is that plenty of cheaters value their relationship much higher than they value the cheat (if they had to choose, they’d stay with their significant other in a heartbeat), and they value their spouse much higher than they value who they cheat with…they simply make poor value judgments.

Here’s an example.  I know one man and one woman who regularly cheat on their spouses, and I’ve known about it for a little bit (another obvious question is what’s the responsibility of a third party, like myself, with knowledge of cheating with respect to the person being cheated on).  They both put in a little bit of work with the people they choose to cheat with, getting to know them a little bit and saying what the other person wants to hear, but not investing themselves emotionally into the other person.  When, in the past, the person they’ve been cheating with wants more, the cheating ends with that person – the emotional tie was too great for them.

Still, I struggle to reconcile how cheating displays a lack of love (or at the very least, respect) and yet I firmly believe that there are cheaters who love their spouses – the man and woman from the example, who I know personally, would give their lives for their spouses.  One metric of love that I developed in college was that when you’re willing to truly sacrifice yourself for someone else, be it physically, emotionally, or otherwise, that person has love in their heart for their partner.  This might all explain why the old line, “Love isn’t enough,” perhaps does ring true.  One question that I have is for people who have been cheated on and stayed with their partner.  What kept you?