IS IT ONLY HU­MAN TO CHEAT? Keep an open mind for this in-depth look at cheat­ing and why it isn’t al­ways black or white.

Cheater = mon­ster, right? Not so fast—there are more nu­ances to in­fi­delity than we al­low our­selves to think.

Cosmopolitan (Philippines) - - Contents - *Name has been changed.

Na­dia* knows all too well the sav­age de­struc­tion in­fi­delity brings—she has been cheated on four times, and it has hurt like a moth­erf*cker each time. When with friends, she swears off the of­fend­ing exes; to her, they are dead and their good stand­ing with her could never be re­deemed.

That is easy enough for her to say when the vino is flow­ing and the girl­friends are blub­ber­ing about their own ro­man­tic sor­rows at the hands of men. What is harder for Na­dia to de­clare is that she was once a cheater her­self.

Granted, she was a teenager then, it was her first re­la­tion­ship, she didn’t know any bet­ter. But bot­tom­line was, she still cheated: went be­hind a boyfriend’s back, lied to him about be­ing home when she was re­ally out with an­other man, and felt the thrill of be­ing with some­one and the en­su­ing guilt of hav­ing be­trayed the other.

But Na­dia doesn’t con­sider her­self a bad per­son. She made mis­takes, that much she ad­mits, but a bad per­son? The kind of de­spi­ca­ble, morally in­ept mon­ster that the grapevine and re­la­tion­ship ar­ti­cles paint out to be? Surely not. Which is why she’s not so cer­tain she should paint her cheat­ing exes as such, ei­ther.

It is easy to bandy moral ab­so­lutes around when talk­ing about cheat­ing, be­cause for peo­ple who’ve been dev­as­tated by in­fi­delity, it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that some­one you loved so much could hurt you so hard. But to dis­miss the cheater as in­her­ently bad is grossly over­sim­pli­fy­ing why cheat­ing hap­pens in the first place.

Evo­lu­tion is in the Equa­tion

Se­lena Gomez may lament that the heart wants what it wants, but when it comes to love, it’s re­ally the brain that does all that want­ing, and it doesn’t just want one thing— it wants three things.

“Hu­mans have evolved three brain sys­tems re­lated to mat­ing and re­pro­duc­tion: first is lust or sex drive, sec­ond is ro­mance, and third is at­tach­ment,” says Dr. RJ Tadu­ran, bi­o­log­i­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Ade­laide in Aus­tralia. “Lust makes us look for lovers that would help us pass on our genes to the next gen­er­a­tion; ro­mance en­ables us to fo­cus all our time and en­ergy to a love in­ter­est; and at­tach­ment brings us feel­ings of se­cu­rity and as­sur­ance with a part­ner.”

Here’s the zinger: Dr. Tadu­ran says that “these brain sys­tems are not al­ways con­nected to each other, so it is pos­si­ble to feel lust, ro­mance, and at­tach­ment to­ward dif­fer­ent per­sons at the same time.”

With all these de­sires play­ing a tug-of-war within us, it’s no won­der monogamy seems like a con­cept at odds with hu­man na­ture.

Frances Ramos, cul­tural an­thro­pol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines Dil­i­man, says, “Monogamy is un­nat­u­ral in the sense that it de­fines the bound­aries within which sex­ual in­ter­course can take place.” But then again, could you imag­ine if we didn’t have monogamy to keep our li­bidos in line? “With­out the con­straints of monogamy, the rules of en­gage­ment vis-à-vis sex­ual in­ter­course are up in the air, and peo­ple are ex­pected to have mul­ti­ple part­ners and more lib­er­tine at­ti­tudes to­ward fidelity,” she goes on.

Dis­miss­ing the cheater as in­her­ently bad grossly over­sim­pli­fies why cheat­ing hap­pens.

in­side The Mind of a cheater

Given that we grew up in a so­ci­ety that prac­tices monogamy yet we’ve all been equipped with these de­sirous brain sys­tems, how come not all of us end up ac­tu­ally stray­ing? What makes some peo­ple go against their bet­ter judg­ment, dis­re­gard re­la­tion­ship rules, make like that class­mate in col­lege al­ge­bra, and cheat?

Speak­ing to TIME, Mira Kir­shen­baum, psy­chother­a­pist and author of When Good Peo­ple Have Af­fairs: In­side the Hearts & Minds of Peo­ple in Two

Re­la­tion­ships, re­veals this about her clients who have had af­fairs: “Peo­ple say, ‘I never meant for this to hap­pen.’ They’re be­ing hon­est when they say that. Typ­i­cally, they’re in a com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship, but they aren’t per­fectly happy. No one who was per­fectly happy in their pri­mary re­la­tion­ship gets into a sec­ond one.”

Aileen San­tos, re­la­tion­ship coach at aileen­san­tos.com, says that peo­ple who cheat do so pri­mar­ily be­cause of un­re­solved per­sonal is­sues—not be­cause of the re­la­tion­ship they had found them­selves in. “They’re grap­pling with is­sues within them­selves,” she says. “And they would have done so with or with­out a part­ner—whether they were mar­ried or not mar­ried, in a good re­la­tion­ship or in a bad re­la­tion­ship.”

Psy­chother­a­pist Dr. Es­ther Perel is more op­ti­mistic about in­fi­delity as a path to achiev­ing the trans­for­ma­tion a trou­bled per­son ul­ti­mately seeks. In a piece in The At­lantic adapted from her New York Times best­selling book The

State of Af­fairs: Re­think­ing In­fi­delity, she shares the story of a client in a great mar­riage to a great guy who nonethe­less is cheat­ing on her spouse with a man who “drives a truck and has tat­toos.”

“As I lis­ten to her, I start to sus­pect that her af­fair is about nei­ther her hus­band nor their re­la­tion­ship,” Dr. Perel writes. “Her story echoes a theme that has come up re­peat­edly in my work: af­fairs as a form of self-dis­cov­ery, a quest for a new (or lost) iden­tity. For these seek­ers, in­fi­delity is less likely to be a symp­tom of a prob­lem, and more likely an ex­pan­sive ex­pe­ri­ence that in­volves growth, ex­plo­ration, and trans­for­ma­tion.”

“Love is messy; in­fi­delity more so,” Dr. Perel con­cedes. “But it is also a win­dow, like none other, into the crevices of the hu­man heart.”

It looks like the cheater-cheatee di­chotomy as mon­ster ver­sus an­gel is not as clear-cut as the grapevine and re­la­tion­ship ar­ti­cles would have you be­lieve. In the midst of the mess cre­ated by in­fi­delity is one per­son’s in­ner cri­sis, of which the at­tempt to re­solve, un­for­tu­nately, leaves at least one heart bro­ken in its wake.

Ban­ish cheat­ing from your Bond

It’s clearer now that cheaters are just strug­gling souls like, well, ba­si­cally the en­tire hu­man pop­u­la­tion. Still, no one wants to wel­come a per­son into their world only to have it turned up­side down by de­cep­tion. So how can you avoid get­ting in­volved with some­one who’ll even­tu­ally just sleep around?

The so­lu­tion is sim­ply to get to know a per­son be­fore com­mit­ting. It might sound ba­sic, but you’d be sur­prised how many peo­ple by­pass the ba­sics just be­cause they’ve fallen hard.

“You have to know a part­ner well enough to know that it is in their na­ture to be com­mit­ted and to be a per­son of their word,” San­tos rec­om­mends. And it’s not enough to know your part­ner— you should know your­self enough to re­al­ize what traits you value in a part­ner, too. “When peo­ple are not self­aware, they choose the kind of part­ner that they’re just ex­cited to be around; they don’t look at whether or not they’re re­ally go­ing to be happy in this re­la­tion­ship in the long term.”

Once you’ve found some­one you’re sure won’t be bang­ing other girls be­hind your back, it still pays to have an hon­est con­ver­sa­tion to find out what counts as cheat­ing for both of you and set bound­aries from there on out. Be­cause while all-day tex­ting with a male friend might be NBD for you, for your guy, it might be a stab in the gut.

What if you’re al­ready in a re­la­tion- ship your­self, and you fear that you’ll some­day find your­self ca­reen­ing off the straight and nar­row and end­ing up in Cheatersville? Know that it’s only nat­u­ral to feel a lit­tle tin­gle when that cute co­worker’s around, but that doesn’t mean you’re pow­er­less to re­sist his charms. You al­ways have a choice. You’re equipped with a con­science af­ter all; you’re ca­pa­ble of higher thought; you can make that choice to turn away be­fore that lit­tle tin­gle grows into full-blown lust.

To cheat may be hu­man, but to stay faith­ful to a part­ner you’ve promised your loy­alty to is not only di­vine—it feels fan­tas­tic.

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