Thursday, July 30, 2009
CheatingLet's talk about cheating. The weakness of telling lies because telling the truth is too difficult. The trail of destruction the cheater's actions leave behind, and how it poisons all primary, secondary and tertiary relationships for years to come.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it. The more I know about cheating, the more disgusting a crime I believe it to be. I once theorized that sleeping with other people could be acceptable in an open, authentic relationship. But I don't think anymore that people can actually be open and honest enough to make that possible. And doing it in a covert way is one of the most emotionally destructive activities we can do to ourselves and the other people in our lives.
In the early days after my divorce, I had two affairs with married men. I am not proud of this and I grow increasingly ashamed of my actions as time goes by. I did not know their wives, and I rationalized my actions by telling myself that their marital problems had nothing to do with me.
Bullshit. I was wholeheartedly and enthusiastically helping the husband be less of a person, avoid his responsibilities, and develop his ability to be deceptive and sneaky -- all in the name of someday being together ourselves. What was I thinking? I was helping someone become someone I would despise. I was honing his skills of deception and reinforcing his ability to compartmentalize and rationalize. And somehow I kept losing sight of the fact that if we were ever to get fully together he'd now be fully capable of using those skills on me.
I have also been cheated on. Profoundly and profusely. I have discovered more than one boyfriend either in the act or after the fact. I have been lied to by jedi masters of deception. I won't go into it here because it does get to be a litany of the same kinds of words: betrayal, rage, despair at ever finding a safe haven of trust and kindness.
So I know how it feels, both ways. It is an ugly, gutless, selfish act. Take the easy way out and damn the consequences to the hearts closest to you.
That's the emotional side of cheating.
But yesterday I came across an article in last year's Psychology Today (Love's Plan B, August 2008) that has me thinking about other aspects as well, in this case the psychological side of cheating. The article talks about "Plan B" relationships -- relationships, or even fantasies of relationships -- that we carry around with us in case our primary relationship fails. Here's how the article describes "love insurance":
Although we may love our exclusive partner, we can still think about other romantic possibilities -- people we keep in a mental box that might as well be labeled "Open in case of current relationship's demise." No matter how content we are, we still seek a sense of security by creating a web of potential future romantic alliances. That's why people are hardly shocked to hear that a sizable percentage of men trawling online dating sites are married.
The theory is that we all have to keep gauging our viability in the marketplace in case the current relationship fails. And one of our security blankets of love is keeping a little something on the side, just in case. This little something something is more than just a casual fling or flirtation, but at the same time it's less than the primary relationship. It is nothing more, or less, than a backup plan.
This sheds some new light on the concept of cheating. Maybe we keep those options open because of some ancient genetic imperative to make sure that we, as women have a mate to take care of the offspring if our main squeeze gets in trouble with a boa constrictor. We all know about the "need to seed" that we attribute to men, but it probably works on the emotional level as well. It's like having a backup pint of Ben and Jerry's just in case you need some comfort food asap.
Which makes it sound pretty rational. But there is a catch: once you get labeled as a No. 2, you are rarely going to ever make it up the ladder to the No. 1 spot. Backup plans stay backup plans, even if the primary relationship goes sour.
Whether you're a man or a woman, the problem with being a backup is that once your inamorata labels you second tier, your chances of becoming the primary love interest diminish. Labels, once created, tend to stick. Plus, once you accept the role of runner-up, you risk seeing yourself as a perennial backup in many walks of life. You can find someone for whom you are Plan A -- but not if you're inertly functioning as someone else's Plan B.
Which brings us back to the fundamental assertion: it's just wrong. It's wrong morally, it's wrong socially, it's wrong emotionally, and it's also wrong psychologically. It's wrong in the same way that suicide is wrong, or anything else that negates our higher sense of self and dignity. It decimates the self worth of every one involved. It churns up innocent people in the wake of its selfishness... and usually those people are our children.
It's disrespectful - both to your No. 1 partner and to your No. 2. It's wrong when you're the cheater, and it's wrong when you're the one on the side, and it's especially wrong when you are both.
The Plan B relationship is not a relationship. It's a strategy. At best it's a safety net that no one actually ever wants or plans to use. It almost never turns into a Plan A and when it does, it's fraught with memories of the deception that brought it into the world.
I used to think that a lying, covert, secret love was all I deserved. That is simply incorrect, for all of us. Somehow we need to realize that doing things fully, in their right time, without deceiving other people in the process... is worth the fear, is worth the wait, and is worth the value of our sweet little souls.
It is terrifying to be someone's Plan A. It is vulnerable and precarious to put all your eggs in one basket. As someone newly married, I feel these things acutely. Roger and I have both been involved in situations with Plan B people (and, actually, Plan C and maybe Plan D people), and we both knew, even at the time, what shabby facades those structures were. How much less than authentic. How hard it is to be fully present, and how -- in the final analysis -- it's the only way to be.
We are tender little seedlings, precious beings trying to hold ourselves together in the midst of a turbulent planet. We have better things to do than to be each other's Plan B's. We have a higher purpose than to degrade ourselves in the name of some pale variation of love.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:54 AM
Comments: Dear Kathy,
So very true what you've said. I think we've even shared a common cheater - mb of Redding.
Love your writing & am so glad you've started blogging again. # posted by Little Sister : 7:41 PM It was this thought process that broke a cheating pattern for me years ago...and I've haven't participated in that type of scenario since. Well said! # posted by Thursday Girl/Hollis the Cat : 9:54 AM I have felt the pain of a cheating spouse. Reading your post even brought up a little of the emotions felt back then as I sense you are still feeling them now.
I agree with everything you have said
Bill # posted by Bill : 9:01 PM Thanks for the comments. Actually, it's been many many years since I've been cheated on (I think!!)... so this blog is more about the amazement I feel about the ongoing effects of this one particular deception in people's lives. It just never stops eating away at relationships and souls. It goes against one of the great Buddhist truths of "right action" and the ramifications ripple out and out and out for years to come. It's kind of blowing my mind these days and I finally felt compelled to write about it, especially with the Plan B concept brought to my attention. Anyway... hope it's thought provoking to y'all. # posted by Katherine Shirek Doughtie : 4:40 PM Post a Comment << Home