Mere Mortals We Cheaters Be

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.  

Why We Do What We Do Sometimes: Compartmentalization and Fantasy


There are many reasons for infidelity, such as revenge, boredom, the thrill of sexual novelty, sexual addiction. But experts say that a large majority of the time, motivations differ by gender, with men searching for more sex or attention, and women looking to fill an emotional void…. Women tend to have an emotional connection with their lover and are more likely to have an affair because of loneliness.

I googled random words that popped into my head yesterday, only a few that I recall now that I have wandered far from my original search–crisis, conscience, fidelity, causes–and found the above webmd answer to the inquiry, “Why do women (and men) cheat?” Having researched infidelity endlessly in the last six months, I was pretty sure I knew the answers. Yet, as each new search yields slightly different results, I keep returning to the inexhaustible topic.

Paraphrasing here, despite feeling guilty and regardless of how “the other woman” compares to their wives, men cheat when emotionally dissatisfied, i.e., feeling under appreciated or unloved, according to Dr. Gary Newman’s study of 200 avowed strayers. The proposed solution: Wife, get out of yourself and pay attention.

The article teases out the commonplace and dresses it up with officialdom in a reader-friendly version of the study findings. There are few details of the subjects, questions or demographics. But do we need a study to come to the banal conclusion that marriage breeds contemptuous familiarity, human nature tends toward the unconscious and ungrateful, and daily presence and gratitude is the answer to so many of the questions?


How can I be kind to my husband and show him how much he means to me with the daily do’s grinding me into the ground: work, kids, parents and the myriad other balls I juggle to keep it all going, each taking huge chunks out of my time, patience and happiness on most days?

Simple, I remark to myself. Stop, breathe and re-set. Do the enormous work of superhuman strength to take ten minutes out of the day for a gratitude inventory: people who care deeply for my wellbeing, who would suffer horribly if I died or fell gravely ill, even if it doesn’t seem like that most days. So that when I mindlessly knee-jerk react to my husband’s insignificant screw up, I can at least apologize and salve the wound. And just maybe avoid the knife altogether next time. It takes practice.

So the next time he goes out to get 2% milk and gets nonfat instead without an inkling that his kids would never drink that, I refrain from laying into him, complaining how clueless and checked out he is. No one wants to feel dumb. No one reacts well to unkindness. I marvel at how I give strangers on the street more kindness than I give my people sometimes. Just unjust.

But kindness is not a panacea and presence is not easy. Some cheat even if they feel good about and are well-treated by their spouses–to what degree I have no idea, but articles abound with studies attesting to infidelity even among avowed happy homers. People stray for as many reasons as there are people, my weak math brain speculates, as each individual comes to a relationship with his or her own nature and nurture.


The human mind copes with conflict in unseen ways. Mindfulness–a condition for catching self-deception in action–is tricky when it comes to danger triggers and survival mechanisms. I have observed that clandestine relationships survive largely on compartmentalization, which is only one tool in the human arsenal of coping skills.

We parcelize ourselves in order to make sense of what we do. For instance, I have been known to be an overly conscientious mother and daughter but a neglectful wife, at times, and I rationalize that deficit by focusing on the surplus.

Likewise, a man in a strained or dying marriage may justify an affair by weighing his acclaimed superior fathering and provider skills against the undeniably less superior husband skills attested to by his wife and his own admission. But since he is a good father and provider, he believes he compensates for the few failings as his wife’s lover, friend or supporter. She gets her due, so he should get his.

That is just one example of guilt-alleviating separation that keeps folks moving along through their days and in their marriages until either or both terminate. But it’s not just for cheaters. Many sites I consulted on the subject such as Psychology Today and Webmd, cite professions that necessitate compartmentalization. Soldiers, for example, seal up the killing to survive the mental anguish.

Compartmentalization is often survival, no doubt, especially for those with high powered jobs widely responsible for others’ safety like police officers, doctors and lawyers. A doctor could not work without burying the constant threat of lives lost at her hands.

To a lesser or greater extent, we survive emotional infidelity by splitting ourselves into bad and good, justified and unjustified. This disassociation answers the question of how she could fuck her lover each afternoon and then spoon her husband to sleep each night. But is she aware of the division?


We all come to situations as we are. No kidding. Some of us are, and I do include myself, if not outright addicted then highly reliant upon fantasy to prop us up through hard times or as the go-to coping mechanism. I know I dealt with teenage loneliness in fantasy. It gave me the endorphin boost I was later addicted to in distance running.

If I imagined that someone to whom I was attracted also found me attractive as THE object of desire, I smoked those elaborate imagined scenarios with that special someone who found me irresistibly witty and charming, and so, so deep. I would inject the role of lover in love songs, succumbing to the bitter-sweet surrender of being someone else, somewhere else for a while. It was release.

Some people use love to obtain that high even into adulthood. While life sped up for me so much that I lost the luxury of hours mulling in my imagination–school, work, real relationships that were not so ideal and took a lot of rolled-up-sleeves ugly work–I still had spells of disappointment or a generalized ennui that was relieved by lapsing into fantasy.

Specifically, when I found myself in a restricted relationship by borders of time, emotional commitment and opportunity–mistressing, for example–fantasy played a huge part for me and my partner. It sustained the relationship and certainly heightened the sex.


There is an interesting thing about daydreaming and fantasy: Sometimes it works to manifest what you want in life, and other times it keeps you stuck in your life. What makes the difference?

The difference has to do with your intent. Are you consciously imagining what you want from a place of inner connection and joy, or are you using daydreaming and fantasy to avoid your feelings and avoid reality?

When you consciously and joyously imagine what you want, you are participating in creating what you want. However, when you use fantasy and daydreaming as a way of avoiding your feelings and avoiding the reality of a situation, you are using them addictively.

So says Margaret Paul, PhD in “Addiction to Fantasy and Daydreaming.” I agree. Intention is everything–almost. Fantasy spans the poles of medicine to poison.

When abseiling the steep slopes of rocky terrain–deep, existential loneliness or disappointed dissatisfaction in a life partner choice–unhealed lovers or spouses find respite in the life-supporting ropes of daydreams or fantasies of another’s possible meaning or potential in some improbable space and time of the imagination.

This human tendency, whether for avoidance or enhancement, as addiction or inspiration, no matter how dilatory to healing a relationship or the self, was certainly pronounced in those who made me mistress. That is one of the things all lovers had in common: being in love with feeling love and their projected ideal–in me. And I did the same for them.

My illicit loves were all drenched in rich fantasy, which has made each relationship both an irresistible draw and a resounding alarm. While I heard all I desired, all the tailored words and acts calculated to keep me–or my image–I placed a padded, porous cotton circle of safety around my heart.

Because in time I knew that I knew. Looking at myself from the outside as if in a metafictional moment, an actor slow turning away from the scene to wink at the unseen, unknown audience, I broke the fourth wall. I toggled the strutting and fretting between falling in and out of my heart’s desire in dangerous liaisons, which accounted for my enjoyment and sanity within them.

Of course, there is living in the moment and then there is all the rest. When I was with my lover–in that room or car or restaurant–looking into the eyes of the object of my reciprocated desire at that precise moment, there was only the thickness of amniotic warmth, need and desire in perfect balance.

And the other pole–fear, longing, insecurity, conscience, dissatisfaction–drifted in and out of the majority of hours spent without my lover, sometimes striking me with a punch and other times with contemplative concern.

Most times, however, I just went through my days attending to what was directly in sight. I still do. And hope that sleep, my most beloved and ardent lover of all, returns a new day with answers, insight, solution or simply more of the same as all the other yesterdays–practice.

Presence, intention and study are disciplines that enable me to dip into the copiousness of heart pumping inflow and outpouring. Some days it is easier than others to see myself and others with incisive clarity. Others, I fog over.

However, the intention is always there. Struggling with the practice, sweating the line of possibility and decency, creation and destruction, I awaken each day resolved to do the best I can even as I want to do better than that. And so I get up, falter in a slight sway, and get on with the business of another first step to somewhere.



I return this dented box, shoving it in the kitchen pantry.
It is a medium box with stains in speckles and splotches.
Both scarce longing to create irresistibly divine patisserie
and ever-ever boredom with the daily dinner grind are in it.
Each peek-in-the-pantry sighting draws a slight grimace.

This other box is stashed in the dusty dark under my bed,
cobwebbing silk and soot settled atop its large, locked-in lid.
In it, I keep tools of torture like tethers and ties, paddles too,
but I also store scented love notes and wedding souvenirs,
and a single diamond earring still missing its mate long gone.

This other box is huge and heavy, left open wide-way always.
I keep it in the entryway to the house just by an open door.
It contains letters, applications and bills; it bulges with stuff,
shoes of all kinds from cleats to slippers, and also jackets.
Another house it is of walking in head up then out the door.

Another box is buried in the backyard unknown its condition.
It’s been there since the children were very small and fragile,
attached to small furry animals that died and broke smiles,
and that is surely where the younger’s missing pacifier went
along with the “I will never grow up and leave you, Mommy.”

The final box is delicately fine, petite, and hidden up a sleeve.
It is onyx coated slick with fine rubbing fingers’ calming slide.
It weighs so little it attaches to the string around my ankle
that I hardly notice it until I reach down to feel its smoothness
atop and its soft opening lips midway that smile in emptiness.