Cheating: A Conversation That's Not Talked About

Cheating: A Conversation That's Not Talked About

Let's talk cheating. Because it's a topic that I, for whatever reason, fixate on. My therapist and I haven't quite figured it out. That is, why I fixate so heavily on it. I have a couple hypotheses, but none have been proven. My own psychoanalytic self believes it could be fear of abandonment, so I self-sabotage and believe I will be cheated on to make it hurt a *little less* when it actually does happen. IRRATIONAL AS FUCK, I know. Fully aware of it. That's what you get for going into the mental health field: an equally as fucked up and self-aware mind. Perhaps it's also because I think our biological wiring as humans means we actually aren't really supposed to be monogamous, at least not sexually.

Many of us remain monogamous (*raises hands*) because we can't imagine the feeling of being intimate with someone else other than our partner, and we don't WANT to imagine it. And often times, the emotional connection we have with our partner can outweigh our sexual drives or instincts. So in this sense, yes, I believe emotional monogamy is 100% possible. Sexual monogamy? Sometimes a bit more unclear and complex. And hey, I am not about to judge if you and your partner mutually decide on an open relationship. Go for it. However, there's a pretty huge difference between an open relationship and straight up cheating.

Let's first talk about the different types of cheating. Feel free to disagree on anything or all of what I have to say. I love a good debate.


Emotional cheating

This can range anywhere from reconnecting with an ex, getting back on the good 'ol Tinder, sending SnapChat messages (that you do NOT want your partner to see), or flirting at a bar. Living in the social media world seems to make emotional cheating much more accessible, and much more secretive.

It's using words versus your body, but can cause just as much pain, or perhaps more. Opinion time: sex, more or less, isn't all that "hard" to have. This goes back to our biological/hormonal wiring as humans. Obviously if we're in a relationship and respectful human beings, we aren't going to be jumping on every woman/man we find sexually attractive.

That being said, sometimes I think meaningless sex is "easier" to have than very meaningful conversation with someone who is NOT our partner.

Emotional cheating involves actual thoughts and feelings (whereas "hook ups" require much less thought, or perhaps none at all.) It involves some sort of emotional connection in the moment; something that necessarily isn't always there with sex or physically cheating. Simply put: a connection is arguably harder to find than sex.  The connection we have with our partner is something that typically differentiates our relationship from the relationships/friendships our partner has with others. The connection is the binding glue. The main foundation of the relationship.

And so when that connection is discovered by our partner with someone who is NOT us, it fucking hurts.

Physical cheating

My safe assumption is that we all are aware of what physical cheating is, but just in case we need a little refresher: continue reading. Physical cheating can range anywhere from coppin' a quick feel, making out, the D in the V (I hate that I said that, but what's done is done and there's no going back), any form of sexual "act." I refrain from saying "intimacy" because sometimes it isn't always intimate. Physical cheating can also range from a one night stand (and no further contact), or even a long term affair (in which case, intimacy is involved.)

Physical cheating hurts for a few reasons: the automatic thought that your own body is less than or unwanted, and it can also "taint" your definition of your partner and the trust in the relationship. To put it as lightly as possible: having sex with your partner after they've had sex with someone ELSE can feel a little toxic. No one likes a third party involved unless it was planned for and agreed upon.

Reality check

If you're going to cheat, or are currently cheating, you must FIRST admit that the current relationship you're in is lacking something you might need or want. Admitting this doesn't necessarily make cheating any better, but it DOES make you more aware within your relationship and with yourself.

While the cheat-ee (for lack of a better term) is arguably in the worse-off position, you (the cheater) also just put yourself in a tough one. At this point, you have a couple decisions. And here's where my blunt self tells you: they all will leave you feeling like shit on a stick.

Decision #1: to admit, or to keep it a secret. And both inevitably have risks. You admit, and you're at risk of the relationship ending (or at least changing temporarily or indefinitely. Ever try to be in a relationship with a lack of trust? Doesn't work. Don't try it.) If you keep it a secret, you're at risk of he/she discovering the truth on their own (and trust me, they will), or sleeping in your own pool of guilt every night.

Decision #2: to leave the relationship, or to "try to make things work." I put that in quotes because that's got to be the worst line that's used in dating history (right after, "we need to talk.") Leaving the relationship requires you to put yourself in a pretty uncomfortable position while you look at your own choices [to cheat] and to look at the relationship itself. If you decide to make things work, then you've possibly set yourself up for a long battle ahead that you may realistically never win.

This is not to say that relationships automatically all fail after cheating. In the type of work I do, I get at least 5 calls per week from clients who have either been cheating, or have been a victim to the affair their partner is having. In some cases, their marriage is strong enough foundationally to allow for forgiveness and moving forward. In other cases, the relationship is dangling by a thin thread by the tail of a helicopter while flying through a hurricane. Ah, love some good imagery.


When we think about cheating, we also have to think about intent. For example, flirting at a bar isn't quite the most traumatic thing that can happen in a relationship. However, there ALSO is a big difference between talking and flirting. Inevitably, you're proooobably going to meet other people at a bar. And you maaaay exchange some words with them. Having a conversation is not the same as flirting.

Again, this goes back to intent. If the intent is to exchange numbers, move the conversation to your apartment, or to see if something "better" is out there, that's where things get a little tricky. And so the question comes into play:

what am I getting out of this conversation, and why am I actually having it?

I'll be the first to say I was the queen at emotional cheating in the majority of my past relationships. I was good at it, sneaky at it, and got a fucked up sense of pride from it. Is this necessarily fun to admit? No, but I'm trying to make a point here. At the time, I was too damn ignorant to understand the "why" behind what I was doing. Literally though: my brain wasn't even fully developed. And so when I emotionally cheated at bars, I just thought it was FuNnNn.

Looking back, now in my more aware state of mind, I can fully recognize that my reasons for emotional cheating were far deeper than sipping on vodka sodas and giggling with men I'd never see again: I wanted to feel validated. I craved feeling desired. And something was lacking in my own relationship that led me to seek it elsewhere.

Does this make justify my actions? Fuck. No.

Rather than emotionally cheating, I could have communicated with my partner. Told him what I was feeling, what was lacking in the relationship, and if what was lacking couldn't be fulfilled, I could've gotten out of the relationship all together. I'll emphasize it again: communication.

Radical concept, I know.

More or less, what I'm trying to get at is: if you are cheating or are consciously considering cheating, then your current relationship probably isn't one you're meant to be in. Your relationship itself may not be fulfilling your needs, and so we then find ourselves seeking it elsewhere. If your hormones and sex drive is off the wall and, "he/she was there! I couldn't help it!" then stick to casual hook ups for now, or learn some fuggin' self-control.

I digress.

Date on!

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