Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cheating

Every once in a while on Fark there will be an article about someone who cheated on their spouse and got some terrible and disturbingly humorous retribution, or whose infidelity was discovered in an interesting way. A while ago-- a long while-- there was one on how the US is the country that most disapproves of infidelity. Other cultures, particularly in Europe, take a "don't ask, don't tell" approach, or consider it people's private business, but in the US, several states still have adultery laws and infidelity is considered to be the WORST thing you could do to a significant other with the possible exception of certain bedroom behaviors a lady doesn't share in her online blog.

In fact, statistics say that 22% of married men and 14% of married women in the US have had extramarital affairs, and yet 90% of us believe, at least in public, that it's morally wrong. Keep in mind that all those statistics need to be adjusted for the inherent secrecy of infidelity. And couples counselors estimate that 50% of male clients and 40% of female clients cheat, according to Newsweek.

This harks back to our Puritan days. We are a comparatively very conservative nation. But at the same time, those who disapprove of infidelity aren't just the diehard Christians. You can be an American atheist and be furious to learn that someone you know is cheating or is being cheated on. It's not just a religious taboo, it's a cultural, social taboo.

I mean, no one wants to be cheated on, ever. But the WORST thing? Women will support their spouses while they sit in jail but if they cheat, it's over. I think I would prefer to find out my husband had a mistress to finding out he was a murderer, or only married to me for tax reasons, or poking holes in the condoms. Admittedly, there are serious health problems that can result from infidelity-- monogamous relationships don't pass on STDs. But that's not what people think when they first find out they've been cheated on. They think, I've been wronged.

What's even more interesting than our powerful cultural reaction to infidelity, however, is that it happens anyway. You'd think that with that much of a taboo stacked against us, cheating would be out of the question. But it isn't. Cheating happens all the time. Is it just a biological imperative to diversify the gene pool? But such liaisons don't usually produce children. You would think that the power of our collective morality would be more of a deterrent.

The other factor is, no one wants to be cheated on, and yet many people cheat-- why? Why do people think, It's okay that I cheat, but if my significant other did, then it's over? Some people claim it's justified-- He's busy at work, she's always too tired-- but in the end, no justification is enough if they are the abandoned one.

I wonder about this because the thought of cheating, for me, is unfathomable. I really can't imagine a situation where I would. Finding a date is HARD, why would I go back to it once I had someone? If I was truly unhappy in a marriage, I would divorce, after much counseling had failed. And yet, the first thought I would have if I found out my spouse had been cheating would more likely be, Oh, shit, did I get some disease? followed by Oh, shit, did he have a KID? followed by Why did he cheat, what have I been doing wrong, why didn't he tell me if he was unhappy, and oh god, what if he wants to leave me for her? It wouldn't be, He betrayed me-- he deserves to die, or at least lose as much of his money as possible in a messy divorce.

It's interesting.

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