chicks who cheat

People tend to react strongly to infidelity. Perhaps that’s because we’ve all had some experience — whether we’ve been betrayed or betrayed another, or know a close friend who’s been jilted. Sit around in a group of women and, eventually, a story of someone’s wayward boyfriend or husband is bound to come up.

So why is that, lately, it seems every guy I meet has been the one who’s been cheated on? Even the best looking, most intriguing of them! And what gives with chicks who cheat?

It’s so easy to imagine men as over sexed and unable to be monogamous — the media and a bit of personal experience suggest it’s rampant. However, my more recent experience suggests that women are as capable of infidelity. And probably as over sexed.

So what brings a woman to cheat? Is it the same reasons men that bring men to? Or are women’s reasons different? Sure, sexual dissatisfaction could be a reason. Sure, there are players. But I tend to believe that most people don’t set out to be unfaithful. In fact, I think many who find themselves in the midst of an affair are baffled at how they got there and completely unaware of how to get out alive. I tend to think they get there because of some vulnerability; perhaps their emotional needs were not being met. Perhaps they or their partners neglected to nurture the one relationship that should be most central.

I’d like to think that I would never cheat on a partner. I can’t imagine it. Once in an exclusive, committed relationship, it’s simply not something I’ve ever done. Even against my therapist’s advice, I remained faithful until after my ex finally moved out. But I can remember those lonely, needy, unloved feelings during the worst times in my marriage. And who can say what might have happened if someone tender, loving and caring had come along when I was at my most vulnerable? I’d like to think I’m stronger than that. I’m pretty sure I am now.

Still, as easy as it would be to judge, I can’t help but feel a certain amount of compassion (and a little pity) for those who stray, even as I empathize with their victims.

women, men and infidelity

This one ought to raise a few people’s ire…

So, it’s like 2007-ish, right? And the rumors begin to circulate that Brad Pitt has left his wife, Jennifer Anniston, for his Mr. & Mrs. Smith co-star Angelina Jolie. Suddenly, the tabloids and press and groups of women are on fire everywhere with vitriol for this hussy who stole away the innocent Jen’s husband.

Well…what always surprised me about this phenomenon is how rarely Brad’s part in all this is mentioned (and, yes, I’ve now gone generic:  Brad and Jen are any committed couple, and Angelina is any “other” woman). There were two people in a committed relationship, two people responsible for their fidelity — and, yet, Brad got none of the blame, while Angelina — who had very little responsibility for another couple’s relationship, I might argue — took the brunt of the mass outrage:

  • She lured him.
  • Look at her! Who could blame him!
  • She’s a home wrecker.
Frankly, I think that’s all a bunch of bunk. Since when should men get a free pass for this behavior? He couldn’t help himself…Really?! Is that all the self-righteous masses could say?!

And what of Jen and Brad in their relationship? They were responsible for nurturing, loving, communicating and compromising with one another. Somehow, it broke apart from within first. A strong and solid committed man would be impervious to external influences, right?

Well, even I admit that Italy and Angelina could be tempting…

I’ve personally experienced or witnessed many shades of this hue — from my own parents’ divorce (which ended in infidelity) to the temptations I encountered while feeling vulnerable while in my own marriage to feeling completely helpless when I couldn’t seem to recapture any of my husband’s wayward energy. I never cheated, and I don’t know that my ex did, either…but we weren’t equally committed at all times (or ever). And yet I was always conscious of our responsibility for our relationship.

If my ex had been unfaithful (and I suppose it’s possible that he was), I can assure you I would have held him squarely responsible. This does not mean that I would have had any positive or warm feelings toward the other woman; only that I wouldn’t automatically assume malicious intent on her part. What if she had done nothing to lure him? What if he had made the first move?

When I was younger, my attitude was far more cavalier. I had a few encounters with married men myself. I don’t condone this behavior; I now view it as wrong. At the time, my behaviors were foolish and naive, with no intent to hurt others. I never made any first moves. I assumed these men just didn’t value their marriages. And if they didn’t, why should I bother? (And, of course, I see how such dalliances hurt me most of all in the end.)

Having lived through more than a decade of commitment, I certainly see how misguided my perspective once was. I believe those around us — our friends, our families and society in general — ought to be generally inclined to support us in our commitments, whatever they may be. Still, I lean toward placing the greatest onus for any marriage or commitment on the two people in it. And, while I hope others around us will adopt behaviors that support those commitments, I’m not sure the support of those outside of our commitments is the relationship glue we should rely on.

relationship article round-up

I’ve noticed a lot of interesting stuff out there on the inter webs. I don’t have a ton of time for commentary so, for now, I’ll just direct your attention to a few:

Imagine my surprise when I saw this article on trends website PSFK. Evidently anonymous blog The Plankton, which discusses dating from the perspective of a woman as “a plankton on the food chain of sexuality,” has attracted worldwide interest for its unique point of view. As a 40-year-old woman, I can’t say that I consider myself to be at the bottom of the sexual food chain. I have, however, experienced some disinterest that — and this is a gut feeling only — might be attributed to the difficulty in dating a nearly full-time single mother…and that bums me out a little.

This headline on HuffPost Divorce popped out at me the other day:  On Second Thought, Don’t Get Married by Dr. Neil Clark Warren. For those of you who don’t know, the author is the dude who founded Americans believe, in large numbers, that marriage is becoming obsolete. Yet millions of couples still marry, and millions more want to, but are not allowed to in most states. I absolutely see both sides of this issue, as I’ve lived it. And I agree with Clark Warren that we don’t focus enough on learning how to choose a mate, build successful relationships and resolve conflict.

Finally, I’m a big fan of Dan Savage and all the work he’s done to share frank, open discussions about sexuality and sexual ethics (not to mention the amazing It Gets Better project and his political activism). In this NYT Magazine piece, Savage talks about covering off on sexual expectations before commitment — think of it like having the financial pre-nup discussion, but about fidelity. It’s actually kind of ground-breaking thinking and while, as a monogamist, it’s still kind of hard to wrap my head around it, it certainly bears discussing — e.g. If one of us cheats, does that mean the relationship is over? Could we forgive, work it out and move on? What might it mean? etc. Good discussions to have before taking the plunge, right?

does character have any correlation with looks?

This Huffington Post article recommending that women think twice before getting serious with attractive men generated more discussion than I’ve seen in a long time. Then there was the rebuttal, also on Huffington Post, from a man’s perspective, as well as numerous other responses in blogs, social media and the like.

Even after reading and participating in some of the discussion, my unscientific and completely un-researched response remains the same:  looks have nothing to do with character. And whether someone cheats is a question of a) character and b) vulnerability.

Webster’s defines character as “…a distinctive trait, behavior typical of a person or group, moral strength, reputation…”

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on the behavior part of this definition. Being in any sort of relationship with another human allows us to observe a series or pattern of behaviors. These behaviors began to take shape in childhood, through the guidance of parenting or at school or various other forms of social engagement. Over time, we can see patterns in those behaviors that make up character.

This entire discussion reminds me of a little chat I had with my former brother-in-law. I’d heard his family was about to host a teacher from another country for several months. This young Spanish fellow had friended my sister-in-law on Facebook and she had remarked to me that he was really good-looking. So, when my bro-in-law asked if I’d heard the news, I said, “Yeah, that’s really cool, and Veronica said he’s pretty cute, too!”

Of course I was teasing, but this came back to haunt me in a later conversation when I was “sat down and given a talking to.” My brother-in-law apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about this, and asked me if I was able to see how he might be upset and yada-yada-yada. My response, “No. You should know your wife better than I do. And I can imagine she’s ever given you any reason to question her trustworthiness.”

In other words, it cuts both ways — I mean for men and for women. You should know by now the character of the people you’re closest to. And looks don’t have a damn thing to do with it.

As for vulnerability…well, that’s another discussion entirely. Let’s just say that most people who “fall into” a relationship that they didn’t plan on were vulnerable, either because they weren’t getting needs fulfilled at home or because they failed to put the proper guard rails in place.

At forty, I can no longer say “never,” because I’ve simply seen and experienced too much. But I think we can mitigate the chances of finding ourselves with a cheater by observing character and giving our relationship the proper attention.

there goes the neighborhood

One day last winter, I logged in to a social networking site to find that a married male friend’s status update indicated that his wife — I’ll call her Sally — was leaving him for another man.

Given that Sally was also a friend of mine, I was a bit shocked by this news.

So I did what women do:  I called a mutual friend and screeched, “Oh my God, girl, have you been on facebook!? Did you know anything about this?!”

This mutual friend admitted that she had heard, just days earlier, about Sally’s blossoming affair. Such drama! And amongst our quiet, family-friendly circle!

“I don’t know what to say!” I exclaimed.

This girlfriend then told me straight, “I think you need to call Sally and tell her that.”

“Good point,” I said. Gulp! Avoiding the impulse to analyze and delay, I hung up and immediately dialed Sally.

“Hello,” she answered, a knowing tone in her voice.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“I seem to have that effect today,” she replied. “Never before have I rendered so many speechless.”

“You beat us to the punchline,” I retorted, referencing the fact that my husband had agreed to move out…but hadn’t yet. And we hadn’t even told the children at this point.

“I’m taking the low road all the way,” she deadpanned. And then she briefly recounted the unraveling of her marriage, the failed counseling, the meeting of her new beau, what they had told the children…promising to fill me in on details at another time.

We all knew Sally and her husband struggled, just as everyone knew that my husband and I were struggling. But I certainly didn’t anticipate such an abrupt and dramatic finale. They had appeared, at least to me, to communicate and relate in a such as way as to have the potential to salvage their relationship…until now, in any case. Sally’s husband’s broadcasting the news via social media was clearly a cry for the sympathy vote, and a rather low one, at that.

The ultimate effect of this drama for me, at least, was that my divorce would be neither the first nor ugliest amongst our group, relieving some of the pressure and fear I’d had about the steps we’d yet to take. I no longer felt so uniquely conspicuous, and my children would now have friends who had experienced similar family upheaval.

Somehow, all this cause me to feel just a little relieved.