I will never forget that rush of adrenaline.
Dopamine shot through my entire physiology when I opened Facebook Messenger to read:
“I know I shouldn’t be saying this—or even thinking this for that matter—but I think I’m falling in love with you.”
I knew she had been married for 15 years, but I also knew that she was miserable. Even still, I was somewhat disappointed in myself for not reacting more responsibly.
She lived a few hours away, we only knew each other through social media, and if common sense prevailed, I would’ve thanked her for the compliment and kept my distance. My level of emotional maturation was not quite up to it, though.
But what is it that causes people to micro-cheat in the first place?
I did a little research (shout-out to Esther Perel’s Mating In Captivity), coupled it with my personal experiences, and came up with 10 reasons people find themselves in marital sh*t storms.
Not all of them are as obvious as you might think:
1. Poor Communication
In many long-term relationships, the day-to-day, “business as usual” aspect can be deadly—especially concerning communication.
From personal experience, I know that when opening up has led directly to uncomfortable feelings and arguing, I’m less apt to bring that thing up again. Over time, this led me to seek someone safe to confide in. When it inevitably became less safe and more intimate, micro-cheating started to ensue.
2. Fear of Abandonment
This seems counterintuitive at first glance, but it is quite a bit more obvious than it sounds. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of an intimate relationship with a lover who is stricken with abandonment issues, you know that self-sabotage is usually the most common way this malady will manifest. One such act of self-destruction can result in cheating or micro-cheating.
One of my favorite Bob Dylan lines has always been, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” This idea is universal—it applies everywhere in life. Especially in monogamous relationships.
It’s practically cliché, but if you are not doing the necessary things to cultivate and nurture your relationship, it won’t simply stop growing—it will start dying. And Facebook is the most common place a marriage goes to die.
4. Getting outside of oneself
As someone who has made a lifelong study of addiction—with too much fieldwork for my own good—the need many people have to escape their own thoughts can lead to a multitude of ugly results. Overeating, alcohol, porn—and, yes, cyber infidelity. Needless to say, it never works.
The emptiness we can never seem to escape is generally a spiritual malady and can’t be quelled by sensory pleasures. As the saying goes, it’s an inside job.
This doesn’t necessarily have to reflect the quality of the relationship. I knew a woman whose husband was devoted, thoughtful, and passionate, yet she still found herself texting—and eventually sexting—the guy in her office. Familiarity doesn’t simply breed contempt. Sometimes it breeds bad decisions.
Sometimes known as the seductive third cousin of boredom, a thrill-seeker is usually in search of what is commonly referred to as the “cheater’s high.” This is that rush of adrenaline that most people get when they get away with something nefarious or hurtful.
This is oftentimes exasperating to the victimized partner because it is not the end result—the sex—that the thrill-seeker is looking for. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel any less hurtful.
There are times when things in a marriage are chugging along, smooth as glass, and the one who got away (let’s call her Melinda) didn’t get far enough away not to know where the “add friend” button is.
In a case like this, the man is confused about why a romanticized memory with an overly filtered photograph seems so much more appealing than the living person in the next room who is PMSing and has a headache. For those of us not impaired by hormones, it’s fairly obvious.
In marriage, rough patches are to be expected. Unfortunately, if the bickering and resentments are allowed to take on a life of their own, disconnection will begin to happen. This creates a kind of domino effect because, regardless if you are a male or a female, connection is a human need. And when it’s not happening in the house, it’ll start to happen online.
When two people in a marriage stop putting in the effort to make each other feel special, the person who came into the union with low self-esteem baggage will likely be the first to look elsewhere for validation.
The ubiquitous quality of social media makes it the obvious choice. Facebook can be like a singles’ bar with no cover charge—open 24 hours a day—if that’s how you use it.
10. Familiarity Breeds…a Friendzone
This is a paradox that can be difficult to reconcile. Still, when we are single and alone, we tend to long for the certainty and coziness that can only be found in a loving, caring, monogamous, long-term relationship.
Over time, what started as cozy can decelerate into a close friendship that lacks, well, uncertainty. Uncertainty, more often than not, is the hidden ingredient in passion. It is when we are not totally comfortable with another person that we generally find them sexually exciting.
If this goes unchecked, one partner (or even both) will find themselves on the lookout for something less familiar to excite them. This invariably can lead to the phone in their pocket.
And then there are some who might even say they are, “Truly falling in love.” I saved this for last because, from personal experience, even though this is the factor that everyone would like to believe is at the root of all cyber infidelity, it is the rarest.
Let’s be serious: is it truly possible to find this most sacred human need through well-curated photographs and highlight reels that people spend far too much time strategically posting? Most likely not.
I wouldn’t rule it out entirely, but I will conclude by advising anyone who thinks this is the motive to, perhaps, seek the advice of a counselor or, at least, a brutally honest friend.