In America “cheating” is so loosely defined that I believe it is essentially meaningless. Is it a violation of an agreement? How many agreements are clearly spelled out and agreed upon—as opposed to merely being assumed?
To some, cheating is looking at porn. To others, it is flirting or chatting with another person with sexual innuendo or overtures. To others, cheating is whatever scares them.
Since sex can mean anything from love to pure lust, why do we assume there is only one acceptable meaning or motive? Why do we rigidly limit ourselves and our lovers in the name of love? Is love possessing another person? Or is this insecurity ratcheted up by jealousy (the green-eyed monster)? Why must our security reside so completely in the actions and expectations of a partner, parents or friends, rather than in ourselves?
In my sex and relationship therapy practice, I get it all: couples who are angry at each other for showing any attention to anyone else, those who have brief flings, and those who carry on more emotionally involved affairs. Some hook up on any of several sex or dating sites and have casual sex with a new lover. Others may meet someone in the produce section while checking out melons or apples.
The words we use to describe any sex beyond monogamy belie our biases and our insecurities. If we refer to a sexual act as “infidelity” or “cheating,” a breach of contract is implied. But what contract do a given couple truly agree to? Some marriage ceremonies include “forsake all others,” but even this is unclear, although assumed for clear meaning by at least one of the parties. Many ceremonies do not mention the entire issue, but one or both may still assume that any marriage is monogamous. If we clearly agree to monogamy, we should keep our agreement.
We do not live in a society where monogamy is the norm. Plenty of people have flings and affairs, or chat with others online, or make out with someone they met at a wild party. We have the illusion that we live in a monogamous society, and that anyone who does not agree is heartless and close to insane. Monogamy is stuffed down nearly everyone’s throat—unless they refuse to go along with such pressures to conform to a supposed ideal that is neither ideal nor practiced by many as part of the secret society.
Some can be happily monogamous, while others are not geared this way. Some begin as monogamous, and later develop an open marriage, become swingers or are polyamorous. Why or how can we all be alike, when we differ in our values, preferences, fantasies and sexual desires?
Most flings are not known to a spouse or other significant other, while affairs usually come out. They are too complicated not to be detected eventually. Some advice columnists used to say don’t tell if you have a fling, as it may relieve you of guilt if this was not part of your agreement, but it is destructive to the partner, and to the relationship. I agree with this advice.
Reality is a better basis for sexual choices than a misguided attempt to fabricate, cover up and offer an illusion of what we desire and do sexually. Most of us are attracted to more than one person. Some of us flirt or look the other way, while others act on their attractions. Part of the excitement of being sexual is to fantasize and act on fantasies that aren’t likely to ruin our lives.
Everyone has to find the fine line between honesty and sensitivity to a partner, and between privacy and secrecy. We all deserve some privacy to be who we are in our sexual desires and fantasies. We need to pleasure ourselves, to fantasize, and sometimes to act on our erotic thoughts with one or more willing lovers.
What do you think about cheating, or flings, or affairs?