Infidelity: how and why we cheat on love

April 1, 2015

It started as a normal Tuesday morning for Stacy Clever. Before getting out of bed, she took a few moments to appreciate the slowly-rising sun in the autumn sky. 


After eating her typical breakfast of fruit and a bagel with orange juice, she got ready for morning classes. Her fiancé, tall and muscular with dark hair and eyes, had already left a few minutes earlier, telling her he would be out late because of work.


They had been high school sweethearts. Now, both juniors at the University of Toledo, they had managed to stick together through thick and thin and were four months-engaged.


Just as Clever was grabbing her backpack, she noticed her fiancé had left his laptop open. When she approached it, she saw his Facebook account was up and a private message was open and blinking.

It was to a mysterious girl Clever had never met, and her heart plunged through her stomach when she saw her fiancé’s lie glaring back at her from the screen — he wasn’t going to work that night; he was going to this woman’s house.


After numbly muddling through the series of correspondence, Clever couldn’t deny it. Her fiancé was cheating on her.


And that day wasn’t the only day. The flirty messages dated back for months. Even before their engagement, he had been seeing another woman behind her back and was making frequent nighttime visits to her house.


Emotionally-shattered and utterly devastated, Clever immediately called her fiancé and told him it was over. She decided then and there she would take time off from the world of romance to spare her heart the pain of another breach of trust.


Flash-forward two years — even today, Clever is still torn up and teary-eyed over her ex-fiancé’s infidelity.

“I loved him and I thought he felt the same way for me,” she said. “It’s just so strange to think that after all that time together, he felt like he needed to go and do something like that. I really wish I could understand that.”


The cheating epidemic


Unfortunately, Clever’s story isn’t that uncommon. Nearly 33 percent of men and 19 percent of women admit to having been unfaithful in a relationship, according to a 2011 survey conducted jointly by the Normal Bar and the Huffington Post.


However, the real number of unfaithful partners is hard to measure. After all, who wants to admit they’ve cheated?


According to a 2014 study by ABC news, more than 50 percent of married women cheat at some point on their spouse, as do a whopping 70 percent of married men.


The numbers don’t lie. But why do men seem to cheat more often than women? Mark Triff, a fourth-year business major, thinks it comes down to biology and impulsive decisions.


“I think that it’s safe to say that for the most part, men have stronger sexual impulses,” Triff said. “Those impulses make them act out in those ways more often. They don’t utilize their self-control and they act on impulse instead. That isn’t to say that women don’t cheat because they definitely do, but in my opinion, they don’t do it as much since for the most part they don’t have as high of a sex drive.”


Triff said though he understands why guys get such a bad reputation he thinks they are sometimes unjustly accused.


“Girls a lot of times take what guys do out of context,” he said. “If a guy so much as glances at a girl, they think it’s cheating, which it isn’t.”


That raises another question: how can you tell if your partner is cheating?


According to Triff, it’s easier to tell if a man is cheating because he’ll be “more open about it” and not as good at concealing it from his partner. On the other hand, he thinks women are “smarter at hiding it.”

Rather than focusing on statistics and facts, Clever believes the emphasis should be on those whose lives are devastated by an unfaithful partner.


“What matte rs is that people need to realize that cheating hurts and it will hurt people that you care about,” she said.


Blurred lines on social media


For Clever, infidelity came dressed as an undeniable affair. But in a social media-obsessed society of typing, texting, tweeting and online messaging, the lines are sometimes blurred.


“I think that it can be hard to know when something is cheating or not on social media,” said Alfred Brown, a second-year pharmacy major. “Something as simple as liking someone’s picture can be them checking that person out or it could mean that they just like the picture.”


With the sky-rocketing popularity of social media websites, it’s no surprise these people have been caught red-handed in the growing number of online cheating incidences.


More than 20 percent of divorces cite Facebook and 80 percent of divorce lawyers have reported an increase in the number of cases that use messages from social media as evidence, according to a 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The New York Daily News also reports that about 80 percent of all divorce cases use some kind of social media to communicate with lovers.


Brown said trying to discern flirting from innocent interactions on social media can be frustrating for men.


“I think that it is really annoying when girls talk to guys a lot on social media,” Brown said. “I mean, it’s fine for them to have guy friends, but I think that, at least in a guy’s perspective, it starts to look like they are cheating.”


The same also applies to women.


“I’ve talked to girls who have told me about how they hate it when their boyfriends talk a lot to girls online or check out their pictures a lot,” Brown said.


Patch it up or throw it away?


Your partner has messed up — but we all make mistakes…right? What justifies blatantly ending a relationship versus trying to make it work?


For some, a single act of disrespect is enough to call it quits.


“As soon as I feel disrespected, whether it’s text messages or physical activities, I would consider terminating the relationship,” said Selina Hairston, a first-year art history major. “I believe that when you really want to be with someone, you won’t do things to jeopardize the relationship.”


Yet for others, like first-year theater major Cheyenne Culbertson, there’s some wiggle room. Culbertson said she could tolerate some mistakes and misunderstandings, but sexual interaction of any kind with someone other than your partner is the one line nobody should cross.


“Once it becomes sex, we’re done,” Culbertson said. “No ‘I’m sorry,’ no making up. You’re out of my life for good, and I won’t want to see you ever again.”


Brown said he thinks everyone makes mistakes, but your partner’s integrity as a whole should be considered if they break your trust.


“I think that it can be hard to give a second chance after you have been hurt,” he said. “However, if you feel like they are truly sorry and can tell that they will not do it again, then they do deserve a second chance.”


Answering the hard questions


Discovering your partner is cheating can be devastating, but coping with the consequences of the situation can be even harder.


Though Clever said she’s moved on, she admits that she still struggles at times with dating.


“Sometimes I feel myself back away from guys because I feel like I might get hurt again,” she said. “I know that isn’t fair to them since they haven’t done anything to me, but at the same time I can’t help it.”


According to Clever, the hardest part of coming to terms with what happened is trying to figure out what drove her ex to seek out another woman.


“I don’t know, but to me, I could never see myself doing something like that,” Clever said.


Statistically speaking, Clever’s ex is more likely to cheat again. According to a 2014 study conducted by Denver University, people who have cheated on their partner in a past relationship are three and a half times more likely to be unfaithful in a future relationship.


If cheating causes so much heartache, then why do we repeatedly do it? Even the experts have difficulty agreeing.


Kevin Anderson, a Toledo psychologist and marriage counselor of over 10 years, said he feels young people often cheat because they are not genuinely committed to their relationships.


“They’re in a relationship, but they’re keeping their eyes open for whoever comes along,” Anderson said. “They think it’s nothing serious.”


However, according to Bill Roman, a Toledo counselor specializing in relationships, a lack of loyalty stems from an insufficient attachment to early childhood figures like parents. This lack of attention can negatively affect self-confidence.


“I think a lot of insecurity in relationships can be traced back to some not-so-good relationships in one’s family,” Roman said.


For Clever, the reason why her ex cheated will always be a mystery — but she won’t let it stop her from finding love.


“Yeah, it is hard to get over, but I’m just going to keep trying until I get there,” Clever said. “It is going to take a little more time for me, but I know that in the end I will find someone who is perfect for me and then what he did won’t even matter anymore.”

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