In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Mere Mortals We Cheaters Be

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Of course, Anna Jorgensen’s 4 Stages of Cheating & When it’s Warranted in elephant journal grabbed my attention, but, after reading it, I feel a bit betrayed myself. First, the title is terribly misleading:  “when it’s warranted”, according to Jorgensen, is never…unless your life warrants it. In other words, it’s complicated, not surprisingly.

Second, the 4 stages of cheating she outlines are pretty obvious. No, the most interesting insights of this article are found in her off-the-cuff wisdom culled from personal experience. Mentioning her three observational points of view, conspirator, cheatee and cheater, she confesses the following about being cheated on (the cheatee):

I also don’t know if I was more bitter about the cheating or the lying. Lying makes me pretty bitter.


Lying makes most people crazy. Social brainwashing and the human tendency toward compartmentalization are partially to blame for that toss up, deciding which is more insanity-inducing. One may eventually understand the cheating, sexual urges and all (media reporting cheating is a fact of life), but the lying is almost always interpreted as conscious, decisive and lacerating. Lying is a knife in the heart of trust and often taken as a sign of a deeply flawed character. 

An insane world is one where truth and falsity are in constant flux, making for a meaningless existence. When the lying is revealed, it not only induces shame and blame, punched-in pride and cries of victimhood, none of which help to expedite healing, but turns the world upside down, leaving the “victim” paranoid about her own failure of instinct and understanding. She often becomes defensive and mistrusting. 

In truth, cheating IS lying–to self and others.


Jorgensen avers cheating is never warranted and argues an either-or fallacy:  fix it or forget it.
When Cheating is Warranted

It’s not. Cheating is never the answer; if only because it ultimately won’t make us feel good. We’re far better off to figure it out or part ways peacefully. Of course, that’s way easier said than done sometimes and all my experience and those of others will never replace your own experience. That’s how life works.

Strikes me as a rational imperative: work on the relationship or get out of it if it cannot be worked out. And yes, easier said than done, especially when children are involved. Balancing the needs of two people is incredibly challenging. Three, four or more components to the equation is far more difficult. Now add some children or parents with all-consuming special needs or a spouse with a congenital, contracted illness ten or twenty years into the relationship and see how the formula of fix it or forget it comes out. Jorgensen acknowledges the fallacy and backtracks from her hard stance to a more philosophical one.

If the issue were black and white, the conversation about cheating would be over.

The Blame Game: We Lose

Also, never blame the cheater. Or the other person. No blame, or blame both parties in the primary relationship. No matter how perfect one partner may seem to be, it’s a two way street. Ladies, if we hold out on giving our man the cookie, we’re asking him to cheat (eventually). Men have very few needs (primarily freedom, respect, appreciation, food, sex) to be content, but they will even put up with a lack of most of those to a large degree if they’re getting sex gratefully. Put out (happily) or put up with a cheater. I’m aware this will ruffle some feathers. I’m not saying we can never say no, but I am saying we’d be best off to not use sex as a weapon or bargaining chip. As a bonus, working out differences between the sheets is a lot more fun for both team mates.


Again, I like her homespun advice imbued with personal experience. My head nods when I read this excerpt, but my knee-jerk doubt scoffs at such an assurance of life operating in neat little stereotypes. If it is that easy to appease men, then there wouldn’t be much to write on cheating. Psychologists would go broke. 

Though, I have been told by many men that this is what wives must do to avoid infidelity: be an avid sex participant. However, each man defines “avid” and “participant” vastly differently: once a day? a week? smiling?  Most men, I suspect, are more complicated than “just feed, bathe and sex me.” 

Some men have emotional cheats that remain purely emotional. Others may have been drawn initially by the emotional support, recognition and respect perceived as missing from their relationship, appreciation for which they later translate into physical contact. Or some men are drawn to outsiders because they are outsiders, plain and simple. 

There are innumerable sources to the cheating complex just as there is an unlimited spectrum of flavors of men and women, combining in infinite ways. Hyperbole, maybe, but so is reducing men to primates.

Some humans are excellent comparmentalizers. They see the world in boxes and parcelize people into um-teen utile categories. The impossibility of the composite picture, of the ideal fed to a population, is culprit, in part, to infidelity. 

Think of June Cleaver with her clean white apron, Laura Ashley styled cotton dress, string of pearls and freshly swept up-do. She stays home all day scrubbing floors and baking cookies for the Beav, but keeps herself on-the-ready attractive with her pearls and dress for her husband’s whims and desires. She is saint and sinner. She is a symbol of the impossible ideal of an era. 

We aim too high, are fed too many fairy tales and told too many lies from birth. Thus, I say the aggregate behavior of a culture is partially to blame for cheating. We are inculcated to it. 

It is complicated. I have been beaten down from my high horse long ago. Personal responsibility, determination and justice used to be the cure-all in my mind. Judgments flew from great heights. But there is nothing like life to equalize: nothing like getting my ass kicked up and down the halls inside and outside of courthouses, by attorneys, judges, clients, business associates, trusted friends, lovers, brother, sisters, children, strangers, parents, spouse, and nature at one time or another to afford me humble perspective.  

The conversation is critical. Keep talking, observing, listening and starting anew, I silently affirm daily. Be flexibly firm, empathic and self-doubting while amused, I often think. Aspire to be the acme–saint June Cleaver–knowing the inevitable shortfall. It is all anyone can do in the face of the mystery and misfortune of mere mortality.  

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