Why People Cheat And What Follows
We all desire a fairly good-looking partner with a charismatic personality, but the sad thing about dating people with pleasing personalities is that many other people may find them desirable too! Jealousy is certainly not an emotion seldom felt, and more often than not, the biggest stressor of a relationship is the test of trust, or rather the question of cheating.
Cheating is a personal tragedy that knocks at the doors of all sections of society equally. Men or women, rich and poor, the young and the old- all kinds of people have stumbled (in bed with someone else) at some point or the other. Cheating then, should be as widely accepted as the inevitability of death, but the very mention of the word induces panic, and is enough to be fatally shameful in some societies. In some countries including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Brunei and Pakistan, infidelity is harshly and deftly punished with death. But while cheaters are relatively safe in most countries, we are still a society pretty uncomfortable with sharing our lovers!
So why do people cheat, even when hundreds of pop culture references can tell you that it does not end well? (or does it? We’ll find out) Is being unfaithful a circumstantial tragedy, or are some people more predisposed to cheat on their partners? Is cheating a product of our biology or are cheaters just less morally-inclined than the rest?
We spoke to some of our friends and colleagues about their experiences with cheating- and it’s safe to say that all stories are different, some more than the others. What every person does agree on, though, is that in 2020 finding someone to hook-up with is as easy as ordering food. Overstimulating applications like Instagram and dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, TrulyMadly, etc. work their notorious magic on the parts of your brain that crave novelty. We love new experiences, and while that makes us interesting, multi-dimensional personalities, it also makes us excited at the thought of a new sexual partner. Scientists call it the Coolidge Effect– declining interest in the present sexual partner and renewed interest in novel sexual partners. What may be surprising to some is that none of this ebb and flow of desire is taking place in the genitals- this is purely a function of your brain at work, realising that many sexual partners translates to a wider spread of your genes. At the root of all sexual desires is our rudimentary, organismic need to reproduce! Sigmond Freud would agree! He claimed that all humans function only for two things- survival and reproduction. So biologically speaking, cheating is just the act of giving in to your animalistic impulses of creating as many copies of yourself with fertile mates. But remember that we are not the same homo sapiens that our ancient ancestors were. We are not a species that is still bound by our animalistic instincts. Humans created such a complex civilisation solely due to our capability to picture a future and understand the consequences that have still not unfolded!
°The Beginnings of Monogamous Relationships
Do you think that cheaters therefore, may just be bad at exercising delayed gratification? Absolutely. The surprising thing is that humans had pretty much no concept of marriage and “exclusive relationships” until about a 1000 years ago! If you are someone who follows documentaries on the natural world, you would’ve noticed that male animals from lions, tigers and zebras to cats, gorillas and chimpanzees- all often killed the infants of other males so they could mate with the mother and she would only have to take care of her offspring- thus increasing his chances of survival in the difficult wilderness. “This infanticide is probably the most extreme manifestation of sexual conflict in mammals, with a major fitness cost for mothers who lose their offspring, in which they have already invested lots of time and energy,” says Huchard. So females have evolved counter-strategies. One of those strategies might be monogamy, as a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested last year. This realisation that two parents cooperating together would bring them more food and safety slowly, over hundreds of years, turned into what we call a marriage today.
So exclusive relationships between two sexual partners rose as a survival tactic, and generations later, this same exclusivity became a tool to preserve property like land between families. Historians would agree, but modern-day humans will argue that a trustful relationship between two people makes them content long-term. The beauty of love that is not marred by sexual desires is that it is pretty uncomplicated. But when sex comes into the picture, so do the slightly uncomfortable emotions of vulnerability, possessive passion and insecurities of being rejected. Let’s be honest, adultery is still a pretty big deal in most cultures. Apart from shame, it causes immediate hurt to the partner who has been cheated on. Most people who have been cheated on agree that it’s a kick in the gut to find out the truth about their partner’s affairs. But they also say that the feelings that linger longer are those of self-doubt.
°Hanging By A Thread?
Coming back to how accessible dating is today, and the effect that the filtered images of countless women/men in a never-ending feed have on our perspective of contentment- I found myself wondering, are all modern relationships hanging by a thread all the time?
In a way, they are. But in a lot of ways modern relationships are a lot better than what was served to our grandparents. A 21 year old designer from Bombay, Tanya recounts the story of her grandmother’s marriage- where she only saw her groom at the altar and later endured decades of domestic violence and cheating. The wonderful thing is, today we understand toxic relationships like the ones our grandparents endured can be walked out of. Therapy is a resource to heal that is rapidly becoming accessible. Conversations around infidelity, self-worth and morality in relationships are discussed in innumerable videos, podcasts and communities. The best of all, parents are slowly un-stiffening about having the “safe-sex” talk with their kids, making them more aware of their emotional reactions to the needs of their bodies. These small, yet millions of conversations discussing the pain, guilt, stigma and reasons of people cheating are making relationships stronger, one thread at a time.
Now coming to what you are probably dying to know- Is there a way to have a cheating-proof relationship? Yes, because if you are a fairly good judge of character and observe actions rather than accept words- you will know when someone is taking you for a ride. Initiating hard discussions about your emotional boundaries will save you from pain rising out of inconsistencies later. If you’re falling for your sexual partner, tell them if you are not open to sharing them. Similarly, if you are someone still exploring their likes and dislikes and would rather not commit to someone, be vocal about it. It’s 2020! Open relationships are not a hushed whisper anymore.
If you have been cheated on, ask yourself some questions. Is your partner expressing immense and sincere guilt? What were the intentions? How often has this happened before? Was your partner a victim of blunted morality from being drunk or high? And the most popular- were you on a break?
After coming to terms with these questions, your bond with your partner and the potential you see in the relationship will eventually make the decision clear. As Akshara, a 23 year old Textile Designer puts it, “People lie, people lie a lot. That’s not only to hurt someone, but sometimes to save themselves, sometimes to create a social image.You know you have to take your chances, the moral of the whole situation is to take your chances. Most of the time we close ourselves after bad encounters, but those encounters actually teach us a lot. What my encounter taught me was that blind trust was nothing short of a suicide.I realise that I have to be open to new experiences, but it is very tough now”
°To Confess Or Not To Confess?
For the guilt-ridden cheaters out there, to confess or not to confess will always be the most stumping question if you really value your relationship, and want to make up for your mistake. Sakshi, 20 is a student who has experienced cheating, and she says she would rather find out and end the relationship than stay in the dark and be oblivious! Tanya disagrees. She thinks not knowing is better, and trusts that her partner will leave if he sees no potential in the relationship. Mrinal, a 25 year old actor, experienced cheating twice, and the second time he saw enough weight in his bond with his girlfriend to forgive her and move on. So the chances of your relationship ending after you stumbled depend only on what your partner thinks of the relationship. But hiding your escapade only for them to find out later is certainly a recipe for disaster. Whether you both pull through or not depends on how valued your partner felt before they discovered the infidelity, and whether the good parts outweigh the bad. In some cases, crippling trust issues faced by the victim of this scandalous ordeal make sure the relationship is never the same again; like crumpled paper that can never be perfectly smoothened.
As Divyaditya, a 22 year old economics grad states it, “I have a piece of advice about cheating. Don’t do it. I have done it, and I regret it every single day of my life”. Whether long term regret comes into the picture or not, save two people the time spent crying and just break up before you go on a sexcapade with total abandon. Akshara adds, “Don’t get into relationships when you are not prepared, just because other people are doing that, especially for teenagers because sex education is a joke in India. Being single is nothing, explore before you get into a relationship or it will bite you in the ass later when you get into a relationship with someone and see other people sleeping around and gratifying themselves without consequence.” Makes a lot of sense honestly. Before you promise someone lifelong loyalty, ask yourself, what does a satisfying relationship mean to you? Whether to confess or to hide, to forgive or to move on- everything will start to make sense one piece at a time.
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