This just in. 1 in 5 Britons (though we’re not sure it’s the same for the Irish) have had an affair, while 1 in 3 of them want to, according to a new survey by The Sun. Whether these 1 in 3 will inevitably act on their desire to cheat, we don’t yet know. While it’s hard to put a definite figure on cheating, The Huffington Post report that older estimates range from 40 to 76 percent, at least in America. With such statistics confirming how prevalent a behaviour it is, are we expecting too much of ourselves not to cheat?
Before you decide that we’re a terrible bunch of people, we know that cheating is not okay, and we’d be the first in line to tell you that a cheating partner deserves the boot. With infidelity in the mix, you’ve got to expect insecurities to soar, along with resentment, shame and a lack of trust that’s most often irreparable. And that’s assuming the cheater wants to stick around and make it work. But what about those people who wouldn’t cheat, but want to? Is that as bad? Or – we might be looking for reassurance here – is there a huge difference between fantasy and actually acting on it? Should we feel guilty for even entertaining the desire?
We say no, but hear us out.
We doubt if there exists a couple, so blissfully in love for donkey’s years, that they’ve never once had a wandering eye towards another human being; it’s just not in our nature, given how social we are. Try as we might, we don’t share DNA with swans or penguins who happily mate for life. Are we, therefore, hardwired to fail when it comes to fidelity? We’re not sure it’s actually possible to only have eyes for one person, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t work hard at a relationship that’s worth it.
We’ve heard it countless times; cheating is only a symptom of a greater problem, unless of course you’re just a heartless bastard with no conscience. But we believe there’s a grey area where fantasizing about another person doesn’t have to mean there’s a big gaping hole in your current relationship. Furthermore, it’s not something you have to beat yourself up about. Urges will come and go, and that niggling, temporary desire to dip your toe in another pool doesn’t have to correlate with a problem that needs addressing. As various studies have point outed, it’s a tendency that’s long been embedded within our genes. It’s not acting on it that makes the difference.
Interestingly, we’ve learned that the reason people cheat is not always because they’ve lost interest in their partner; a lot of the times, affairs can follow the death of a parent or upon receiving bad news from the doctor. “Death and mortality often live in the shadow of an affair, because they raise the question: Is this it? Is there more? Am I going on for another 25 years like this? Will I ever feel that thing again?” she said. “Perhaps these questions have propelled people to cross the line and some affairs are an attempt to beat back deadness and an antidote to death.”
Watch Esther Perel’s insightful TED Talk on cheating and why we do it right here.
Top pic – The Affair, American TV series starring Dominic West and Ruth Wilson.