Here’s the thing – we all know that cheating is wrong. It’s betraying someone’s trust. It’s throwing the love that they have given you back in their face, metaphorically stomping on their heart, and quite possibly f***ing them up in ways that they will never completely get over.
And yet so many of us still do it.
Popular movies often portray cheating as an easy breezy, throwaway action made (usually by the male ‘villain’ character) without any real thought, emotion or remorse. But as we all know, movies do not equal real life. If they did, we’d all be married to real life versions of The Notebook’s Noah by now.
So what’s it actually like to cheat on someone, as an IRL human being who is not an inherently bad person?
Anyone who tries to claim that they ‘weren’t thinking’ when they cheated is not only a cheater but potentially telling themselves a little bit of a lie too – because there’s ALWAYS a decision involved. There’s always that cliff-edge moment, when you must consciously decide whether or not to step over the precipice and into infidelity territory. Being drunk is not an excuse. Being angry or upset is not an excuse. The unavoidable fact of the matter is that all cheaters CHOOSE to cheat, whatever the reasoning.
The huge numbers of people who cheat wouldn’t do it if the only resulting emotions were negative – and that’s the real kicker. Cheating can be exciting. It adds an extra layer to attraction that just doesn’t exist in any other romantic circumstance, a layer of ‘forbidden love’ that heightens every feeling and creates an electricity that can’t be found in a long-term relationship.
You know how when you were a child, and you’d get a rush from doing something you knew you really shouldn’t be doing? Like nicking chocolate out of the cupboard before dinner, or watching a TV show you’d been told was ‘too mature for you’? Well, it’s like that. It’s a rush, and it makes every kiss, every touch, every clandestine meeting exciting af.
Unless you are cold and dead inside (or a member of the Geordie Shore cast?) cheating will always come with a big, fat, dollop of pit-in-your-stomach guilt. A constant pang of remorse that flares up into full-on ‘oh god what am I DOING what did I DO’ whenever your partner does something particularly nice, or thoughtful, or just reminds you why you fell in love with them in the first place. Feeling like an awful person most of the time comes with the territory, and yet more often than not, it’s not enough to stop cheating. Turns out excitement + passion > guilt. Hashtag math.
The agony of indecision
You like them both. You love them both. You want them both. You know that this is wrong but you’re also selfish, and greedy, and weak. At their very core humans are not made to be monogamous (we are not swans), and while our level of consciousness and reasoning means that we are still in control of our actions, we, as a species, have to fight temptation and physically MAKE ourselves remain faithful. Some of us – clearly – find that harder than others. WE ARE NOT SWANS. Ahem.
‘I just need to get this out of my system and then it’ll be OK’ is a common excuse we cheaters make. We think, ‘It’s not that I don’t love my partner, it’s just that I can’t help myself’, or ‘surely this is better than just ending things all together?’, ‘I’m not throwing away a relationship just for a purely physical fling’. Of course, many ‘purely physical’ flings evolve into much more, and then the justification becomes harder. ‘It’s not my fault that I love them both’, ‘I’ll end it soon – once Valentine’s Day/Christmas/his birthday is over.’ No matter what the circumstances, cheating on someone will always be justified by the cheater in some way, and that’s because we KNOW that it’s wrong. Our brains, however, are trying to grant us some relief, and find reason behind the betrayal.
In summary, actually cheating on someone is awful, and accompanied by a constant tangle of warring emotions tinged with the ever present fear that you’ll be found out. But it’s also addictive – and that’s the problem.