Cheating is a topic that is often oversimplified. Let’s be clear, 99% (a number I pulled from nowhere) of cheaters are terrible, disgusting, assholes of human beings, male and female. When most of us think of cheaters we think of guys like the one who cheated on my friend last year. He was an asshole. He always was an asshole. And he cemented his assholiness by cheating on my friend. Why did he cheat? Because he simply liked to have sex. It was clear he was a jerk in the way he treated her well before he cheated. She could take each logical step in assessing his douchbaggery, until she reached the obvious conclusion, that she needed to get rid of him. We can all agree that he was more or less a worthless person, but it wasn’t because he cheated. Has he cheated before? Maybe. Will he cheat again? Possibly. But either way, he was a terrible person before that, and will, in all likelihood, continue to be a terrible person into the future. It’s his specific kind of personality that we tend to project on to the idea of cheating. It’s not a fun thought. It’s one of the worst positions someone can put you in. So, let’s hate the word and whoever we see it associated with.
It means when we think about cheaters, we think about the assholes wearing sunglasses backwards, who are overconfident and ready to tell us at the drop of their fitted hat how great they are. What doesn’t normally come to mind are the people who feel like fucking shit. And not just after they cheat, but all the time. The people who are confused by life, and, falling into that category, love. Those who simultaneously take on contradicting positions of cold reason and hopeless romanticism.
Let’s talk statistics for a brief second. Think about the number of people in the world. If you’re gay or straight cut that number in half (if your bisexual then you get a much larger field). Then eliminate those who speak other languages if you feel that’s a hurdle you wouldn’t be able to overcome. How many people are left? A fucking ton. A bigger number than us humans are able to comprehend (we didn’t evolve the concept of hundreds millions, why would we need to?). The actual numbers are irrelevant. What should be obvious is that statistically speaking the chances of having found the one person out of all those hundreds of millions that is best matched for you is impossibly small. Just a simple fact that when you pair up with someone, now matter how happy you are, it’s highly probable someone else would make you happier, would fit you better, and would suffer from neck down alopecia (any Tim Minchin fans?).
Now evolutionarily speaking, why does this matter? Because we want the highest quality mates and should be prepared to drop lesser mates when one rolls around. This isn’t good for anyone because that would mean at any moment the person (animal) you’ve invested time and energy into can leave you just like that. It’s not a stable way to live. So we can evolve different strategies to deal with this. One such strategy is burying logic when it comes to love. This is what we do. And there’s plenty of literature if you’re interested*. (Ask Steven Pinker. Or google Steven Pinker Love if you don’t know him personally.)
But details aside (what am I writing my thesis?), what we end up with is uncertainty. If you acknowledge the numbers. It’s all uncertainty. If you acknowledge the strategy of some monogamous birds. It’s uncertainty. But we have something that most other animals don’t share. Theory of mind and consciousness. We have the interpreter module in our brains. (Again, you can look this up, sorry I’m a shitty teacher. This time ask Gazzaniga.)
So you go out into the world, more or less happy with the person you’re coming home to, but somewhat aware that there are others out there that might improve things, if only by a tiny degree. But it’s the tiny bit of uncertainty that ruins you. It’s the thought that drifts through your consciousness just before falling asleep. The memory of that one girl, or boy, from high school that made you insane. Remember that feeling. Pure, naive, frantic, frenetic, fucking love? And now it’s trying to quietly brush your teeth so you don’t have to argue about why you’re coming to bed so late. (I just wanted to read one more chapter, what’s the big deal?) Maybe that’s what’s missing in your life, because let’s be honest, you’ll never be completely happy, and you shouldn’t be or your life after that point would be booooring. It’s natural to start plugging things in. See if anything can fill that high school sweetheart shaped void.
Then, one regular boring day, you meet a someone who sort of fills that hole. Why? Because that hole wasn’t a person. It’s a lot of things. It’s youth, it’s excitement, it’s passion, and it’s novelty. She’s all those things, but all those things are temporary (ignorethisignorethisignorethis, she’s special). The novelty, and uncertainty, feels like you imagined it should when you heard those love songs and read those books and saw those movies. High Fidelity. Annie Hall. The Graduate. Half the Beatles catalog. Love? What the fuck is it? How could I possibly know!? It has set you up to question everything going on in your head.
Now you’re facing the Rob-Flemming-conflict. Is she different? Is she what you always imagined? Or will this wear off? It’s impossible to know. All you can do is guess. Try to guess about how you’ll feel about this person in 5 years. How about 20 years? Looking back on your past, I’m sure you’ve been wrong around the same number of times as I have. The friendships that have come and gone. The partners that have come and gone.
Which one is the one?
Is it the new person? Or is it just because she’s new? Because you don’t have to see her clothes piled on the floor, yet. You don’t know she sleeps under a mass of blankets and makes it impossible for you fall asleep because it’s too hot in the bed, and you can’t wiggle out and sleep on top of the blankets because then it pulls the blankets too tight around her. You don’t know she likes to watch tv at full volume, making it impossible for you to concentrate on writing your ground breaking blogs. You get to see this person in flashes. The good moments. You’re watching a highlight reel. Not the bits that end up on the cutting room floor. But it’s easy to get caught up. It’s easy to forget a baseball game lasts over three hours when you watch sportscenter. And it’s easy to fall into sports metaphors even though you wanted to compare it to a documentary. (An autobiography would have worked, too. Sports? come on.)
We don’t get to know the answers. Some people try to do their best and mess it up completely and utterly. There are better ways to go about this situation. There’s no doubts about that. But how often to we do things the best way, especially when dealing with confusion. It doesn’t make cheating good. It doesn’t excuse it. But there is a difference between Hannah And Her Sisters and the guy my friend dated, in my view (I’m talking about Lee, not necessarily Elliot). Neither is condonable but trying to figure out life is something that interests me. I find it a worthwhile exercise to think about the doubts. To try to understand what you don’t understand. And so I, maybe wrongfully, distinguish between the two.
*This is how not to write about science.