"Cheating" and "celebrity news" seem to be synonymous these days as a microcosm of our society. We have a huge interest in the "lifestyles of the overindulged and without scruples." We're obsessed with watching celebrities leave loving marriages and relationships for torrid affairs.
And these people are put on pedestals by society at large. Perhaps not intentionally or consciously, but Joe and Jane Citizen are influenced by the behavior of the morally challenged. In effect, tabloid celebrity bad behavior has blurred the line of what's normal or acceptable in love. What used to be worthy of a scarlet letter, while still frowned upon, is now accepted as "the way things are."
So, is cheating more prevalent today that before, or are we merely more aware of its happening due to media saturation? OR, is the rise in cheating due to the media's influence in our everyday lives? My thought? Cheaters make choices, but those choices are also guided by chemical reactions, environment, wants and needs of the individual, as well as the state of their self-esteem and ego.
Cheating's Main Villain: Dopamine
The chemical reaction for an affair is intense. The brain is flooded with dopamine, and our primal mating desires kick in. Then, the rush that comes with doing anything taboo intensifies the high, and BAM! You're addicted to the most incredible feelings of "love," "connection," and desire (it's usually just lust).
Here's a real-life scenario from real-life cheater, Matt T.: "Affair sex? Impossibly mind-blowing. I had sex with [the other woman] everywhere: backseat, front seat, hood of the car, hotel bed, restaurant booth, her house, my house… it didn't matter. It was just exciting. Crazy exciting.”
And the mental part of an affair can be worse. From Roger G.: "The conversation was amazing. We just totally connected. Both of us married, looking at each other, both questioning why we were still with our spouses. My mistress was wicked smart; so much smarter than my wife. I kept asking myself why didn't I meet her before. How did the universe hate me so much to keep this angelic creature away from me for so long? Why did I waste 20+ years of my life with the wrong woman?"
There are plenty of men who run off and cheat on their wives, creating another relationship before leaving their marriage. It's cowardly and based on all the wrong stuff, but it feels real. And beyond the chemical issues (dopamine, infatuation), there is a very basic reason for this: there is no way an established relationship will ever be like a new relationship. It's impossible. New relationships are exciting, passionate, hopeful and mysterious. But they're only like that when they're new. If you wait a little while, your shiny new relationship will be... (wait for it) old. Established.
That was Stephan R.'s realization, about six months after his divorce finalized and he was sitting across the breakfast table from his then-mistress-now-girlfriend. He broke up with the new woman and wanted desperately to fix things with his wife:
"I know the perception of cheaters… and those who haven't had an affair think cheaters have no regrets, like I did what I did without caring about the after effects. Put simply: I must have cheated because I just don't give a sh*t about anything or anyone but myself. I understand that point of view. Cheating is a selfish act. But don't be fooled. I have massive regret. I feel I left my integrity and honor somewhere between watching the first condom twist its way down the five-star hotel toilet and standing face-to-face with my wife, with me screaming 'What are you talking about!? I'm not f*cking anyone behind your back!' with my teenage kids within earshot."
Eric T. agrees: "As I talk to you, Charles, my heart sinks deeper into the shame and dishonor that permeates my very skin. I feel like such a piece of garbage. No amount of physical pleasure or mental stimulation will compensate for the ridiculousness of my behavior. I mean, I was gallivanting around like a 17-year-old with a perpetual [desire], thinking others couldn't see what I was doing, and how I was acting. I'm just an idiot."
Cheating isn't just a selfish act
People think they sell their souls when they sacrifice their integrity and honor. But that would imply that the soul is separate from the person. In the words of C.S. Lewis, "You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." This means only one thing for men in affairs: in betraying your significant other, you betray yourself and the essence of who you are.
Marriages grow, change, alter and iterate, but they cannot go back to the "new" phase — ever. You can put in effort to maintain passion and desire, and it still won't be "new." But with effort, that passion doesn't have to wane; it can stay and grow with the relationship.
The Bottom Line
Are cheaters victims? Hardly; they make choices, albeit potentially through chemical reactions that drive foggy/poor decision-making. Those bad decisions make the proverbial grass appear greener, but whether it actually is or isn't doesn't matter. People make choices, and then their choices make them.
To those tempted to cheat, I implore you to rethink things. You don't have to stay in a marriage in which you aren't happy. If you're not happy, LEAVE. But allow everyone involved their dignity and honor... including yourself.
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