My best friend called me yesterday to tell me that she found her boyfriend, who never called, texted or came home the night before, was at another woman's apartment. She said she felt empty, immediately fallen into the nothingness that surrounds unfaithfulness. She added that it was like she'd been swallowed whole and was looking at her life from the vantage point of someone else: she wasn't here, but she wasn't there, either. She was suspended into the void.
Among the many things I asked her once she stopped talking a mile a minute was whether or not he cheated. Call me crazy, but I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. This girl — this stranger who had infiltrated my best friend's relationship and stopped her world and mine in the throngs of its spinning — who was she? Why did she do it? She's a friend, she told me, adding they've been friends for years. She concluded with, he leans on her, and just then, in that moment, my heart exploded. I no longer cared whether or not he'd cheated because in that moment, I knew that his emotional abandonment was unforgivable. He has sacrificed their connection to "lean" on another woman. Now I was empty too, a chill running up and down my spine.
When we hung up, I kept wondering how men define cheating. Is it just sex to them? Or do they see it as an emotional disregard of everything that's sacred about calling a partner, well, a partner? Apparently, I didn't need to look far. A new study by EliteSingles' found that guys and girls view cheating on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Of the 667 single participants surveyed for the study, 65 percent of guys ranked sexual unfaithfulness as far worse than emotional, whereas 55 percent of women ranked emotional unfaithfulness as a higher transgression than a stricty sexual affair.
But because I'm a woman, I wanted to know just how high on the scale guys around me were willing to weigh emotional cheating. Was it worse or better than hopping into bed with someone who has a bigger rack than your girlfriend? Did building a connection, feeding it, letting it grow and escaping into it, with someone who wan't their girlfriend bother them? Where did they place emotions on the sex scale? Did "leaning on" someone who wasn't their partner even register on their Richter scale?
"For lots of guys, it's just sex."
Marko, 29 and a former cheater, admits that a lot of guys probably don't even give it a second thought — at least, he didn't. "I was young, and in college, and she was a girl I wasn't really serious about," he admits. "She didn't want to go out to a party and so I went by myself, not even considering what might happen when I was surrounded by dozens of other pretty girls who were ready and eager to take me home. I can't speak for men as a whole, but I know that for me, it was just about the sex, which I know doesn't make it any better, but it really truly was. I didn't even know the girl’s name that night or even the next morning. I left before she woke up."
"I wasn't happy, sexually, in my relationship," Austin, 26 says. "My girlfriend was great and we'd been together about nine months. She was a really good girl, did everything perfectly, was so by-the-book that it drove me crazy, in a good way and a not-so-good way. One night, I was out with a few guy friends and I just slipped. I met this girl at the bar and went home with her a few hours later. It was a mistake, obviously, but it wasn't because I was looking for someone to connect with … I just wanted someone to take control of me in a way that my girlfriend wasn't able to."
"When I was younger, like right out of college, I did a lot of things I definitely regret," notes Josh, 33. "And the good (read: bad) thing was that all of my guy friends were doing the same. I was back in my hometown, feeling like I was the sh*t, a graduate, someone who 'mattered', someone who was ‘going places’ and my college girlfriend was back in her hometown too. I had few guy friends who were suddenly in long-distance relationships too and we didn't really know the rules. I mean, we knew the rules, but we didn't really care to follow them. I'm not proud of it, but I cheated on my girlfriend a lot. Not because I needed to fill that missing connection — I still had that, every night we chatted on the phone for like three hours, moping on and on about how much we missed each other — but because I needed to fill that missing space in my bed. I brought home girls from my high school all the time."
But Zak, 27, tells a different story. He'd been with his girlfriend, Gabriella for almost three years. They were happy and in love, yet the spark had died out somewhere along the way. "We had everything you needed to keep a relationship alive except the spark. I think both of us were afraid of letting that go. So, I did the thing you're never supposed to do and cheated on her with a girl I knew. I've regretted it every day since, but it wasn't like I left her for someone else that talked to me differently, or snuggled up next to me better on rainy nights. She just made me feel wanted and desired in bed. It was something that I hadn't had in a really, really long time. And, this sucks to say, but it felt so good to be wanted and desired like that."
"Guys don't really cheat because they want to talk about their feelings."
Ryan, 29, says that he doesn't know many guys who are so overeager to talk about their feelings that they need to go find solace in the arms of another woman. "I just don't think it's a very realistic thing, that guys are chomping at the bit to get their feelings and emotions heard. Not to play into stereotypes, but I don't think there are many girls out there who dread hearing their boyfriend talk about their feelings. If anything, they want them to talk more. I don't think guys are cheating because of some emotional hankering. I just think they are hungrier than women for sex."
His point is echoed by Keith, 28. "My best friend cheated on the World's Most Unbelievably Cool Girlfriend [and yes, he gave her that title himself]. She was awesome and fun and everything you want in a girl. But, of course, he cheated on her one summer when we were taking a guys' trip. He was wasted, the girl was wasted and it just happened. Did he regret it? Of course, but the next day he was back on the phone talking with her for hours, 'I miss you' this and 'I miss you' that. Was it fair to his girlfriend? No, of course not, but it's not like he was trying to find find another person to connect with. Just satisfying a basic human urge, I guess."
"It's all or nothing for women."
When I asked a few guys that I know why they think women put so much weight on the emotional aspect of cheating, they all answered with a resounding "all or nothing" response. It's not that they don't think women are capable of sexy-only steam sessions, but that women aren't looking for just that facet of a relationship.
"Girls see relationships as all-or-nothing partnerships. You can't just go halfway," Jason, 30, says. "When I was with first my wife, I wasn't even looking for a girlfriend. We started hooking up occassionally and I realized that I really liked her company, but I didn't want to rush into anything. About three months into our casual dating routine, she dropped the 'We need to have the relationship talk' right on my lap before leaving to go to work for the morning. I was terrifed, but amazed by how seriously she took herself — and how much she valued a partnership that satisfied us both. Needless to say, now we're married."
Gavin, 25, says that he's met the "Cool Girls" and realized that it's all really just an act. "I hate when girls try to tell me that they don't care if I sleep around or that we're just sleeping together. Yeah, it might work at first, but then it's two months later and she's hurdling drinks at you from the other end of the bar because you told her you're still seeing other girls. It's not wrong to want a commitment — and I think that most girls want that. But they just need to find a guy that wants the same thing."
"I don't think a girl wants her man to go looking other places for something she's more than capable of providing," says Dean, 31. "They don't want their guy to stay for dinner and not dessert. And in that respect, they'll forever be smarter than 100 percent of the douchebags out there."
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