Warning: naughty language ahead.
Let’s get into a place where we can talk about cheating in relationships.
Let’s not talk about all the cheating that other people are doing, or all the times that we’ve been cheated on.
Let’s talk about something we are less alright with: talking about our own cheating.
Because if we really sit down and are honest with ourselves, we know that everyone cheats.
We are cheaters.
We can lie to ourselves and say, no that wasn’t really cheating because of this reason over here…
(Cue sarcastic brain-voice) Yeah, okay, us—before we start squaring our thoughts and behavior away into labels that aren’t as scary, let’s be honest with ourselves about what cheating is.
If we would change our behavior when they enter the room, then we’re managing the image they have of us, and we are managing it to keep them from knowing things.
This means that the cheating line is not drawn with sex, because we can cheat without having sex, and we can have sex without cheating. The line is not indicated by any external marker–not with blow jobs or drunk-make outs or outright flirtations. The cheating line is drawn at intention.
The cheating line is drawn when we’re hiding, and it’s not that we are hiding from our partners, it’s that we are hiding from ourselves. When cheating is manifest into a lie, that lie is not to the person we are ‘cheating on,’ that lie is the lie that tells us that it’s okay to be in a relationship where we are cheating.
We don’t need to beat ourselves up about this. There’s nothing wrong with us.
We cheat on our partners for all kinds of reasons—it has nothing to do with them. We cheat because we’re pissed off, we cheat because we’re insecure, we cheat because we’re lonely. This is driven by the subconscious part of ourselves that is trying to figure out how to have good relationships.
We have probably cheated on every single partner that we have been with. Maybe we haven’t had sex with people outside our relationships (or maybe we have), but we’ve had those gut-clenchy moments of, I can’t tell my partner about this.
Those are the moments we need to pay attention to. If we’re already having sex with other people and not talking about it, there are mountains of other things we have not been talking about with our partners. For months. Or years. Or millennia.
We need to pay attention to the moments where we have this thought: I can’t be myself around the person I’m in a relationship with.
Here is the logic of that: we are born as ourselves, we aren’t anybody else (we know this because we have skin that keeps us separate from others). This is the only constant–that from birth until death, we will always be ourselves, living inside of ourselves. Therefore, whether we realize it or not, we want our lives to feel easy for us to be ourselves.
We aren’t cheating because this is our idea of a good time. We are cheating because we are experiencing disconnection with ourselves and we don’t know a different way to feel good, so we only allow ourselves to feel good in short bursts.
We don’t like cheating.
We want to find the path of lowest resistance so that as we go through life, it feels effortless to be ourselves.
If our relationships are making it difficult for us to be ourselves, then what the fuck are we doing there?
Why are we in a relationship where we have to stay bottled in?
And here’s how cheating reinforces itself: we know when we feel bottled in (even if we aren’t saying anything about it), and all we want is to let ourselves out. Cheating is a way of letting ourselves out.
(So once we start cheating with a partner, do we ever really stop? I think the answer to this could be yes or no, but we should really sit down and have an honest conversation with ourselves about the matter.)
It’s easy to look at cheating as a big bird-flip to whomever we are cheating on.
But—if we’re cheating, then we’re in a relationship where we’re fucking cheating, and cheating feels like shit.
Cheating feels like shit even if we come home from banging our mistress (or mister) to crawl into bed with our wife (or hubby), and high-five ourselves in the mirror during clean-up. The high-five is just a cover-up, a justification to go to sleep tonight like this and wake up tomorrow and let this be reality for one more day.
So we know that this is a no-win situation for anyone. We don’t want to be cheating. We really don’t.
Because we know–somewhere inside of us—that when we start even just thinking about cheating, that’s when the cheating starts, and we haven’t quite mastered the ability to control our thoughts yet, so it’s not as if we are asking for this.
We would definitely rather have a relationship with someone where those thoughts never pop up. That would be splendid.
But sometimes the thoughts do pop up and we don’t know how to control that–because we’re not enlightened all the time—because we don’t know the secrets of the universe—because we aren’t perfect–because, because.
We’re just becoming ourselves. That’s all we’re doing.
We want to figure out how to make our lives feel good when we’re not cheating.
Even when we’re cheating, our whole goal of everything is to figure out how to not cheat and still feel good.
Because we know that cheating has to end. It’s highly unsustainable, and there’s only a short period of time that the cheating can take place before rapid shifts happen (either we talk about it and it becomes dramatic, or we cut someone out of our lives, but something dramatic happens—it’s too much pressure in such a small space). So even if cheating feels good, we know that it won’t feel good, soon. Very soon the shift is coming.
It’s like remembering we saw a slippery when wet sign a few seconds ago and then seeing someone in high heels running through the hallway trying to answer the phone—we know the jaw-to-floor collision is going to happen, and we feel powerless to make it stop.
There’s nothing wrong with it. Any of it. It’s just that when we’re cheating, it doesn’t feel good.
There is one agreement we must make with ourselves to cut the internal tie between us and cheating. We must agree with ourselves when we say: cheating doesn’t feel good, I no longer want to be cheating.
That is the agreement. We must make that agreement with ourselves, otherwise the cheating continues to happen.
That is the only resolution. It’s not changing our partner (although we may find that we want to cheat on some partners more than others. That’s okay.), or changing our friends, or not going to bars.
It’s that one simple internal agreement.
When we make that agreement, cheating begins to stop in our relationships. It stops making sense. Maybe we cycle through a few weird relationships while we’re going through this conversation with ourselves, but eventually, the cheating stops.
The cheating stops because we start talking to our partners about what we’re feeling and what we’re going through.
We start paying more attention to how our relationship feels to us so that if we are going to cheat on someone, we catch a thought of cheating early, before chaos ensues to several lives, and we bring this to conversation with our partner, which maybe brings us closer.
We start creating bonds that are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually engaging, so that our relationships feel full and stable.
We love cheating because it helps us grow.
And what a beautiful thing: that we are given things to outgrow; obstacles to overcome. And we get to be ourselves the whole way through.
Man, life is good.
Bonus: The all-time Best Buddhist Tip for making Relationships Last. (Spoiler alert—it’s not cheating.)
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Nicholas Green/Unsplash