Monday, August 8, 2011

The cheats

There are times when I figure I know a lot about how people behave and then there are times when I am quite clueless.  For example, I can tell a lot about how much money someone has, whether or not they want to buy something and how much they trust me with reasonable accuracy because of my job training in sales.  However, I have never been on a normal date (you know, like one person asking another person to meet them at a restaurant or bar to have fun and determine if there is any chemistry going on) and my relationships have never included cheating on either end so there is a lot about relationship norms that I really don't get.  How do you tell if your partner is cheating on you?  Do most couples talk about the subject openly?  How do people in a relationship normally deal with that topic?

I read a blog a little while ago by Penelope Trunk that talked about how she invited a much younger and extremely attractive young friend to live with her and her husband.  Then she followed up by constantly talking to both of them about how they might end up cheating on her and finally wrote a big blog post about the whole thing.  This is not normal, I figured that part out.  Wendy and I talk about this sort of thing now and again pretty openly since both of us are pretty convinced the other will never stray.  She gets me to give her the rundown of exactly how I rate her friends and coworkers in terms of attractiveness and personality appeal and I give her honest answers with just enough 'nobody is as attractive or awesome as you!' to keep myself out of trouble.  Thankfully she is close enough to the ideal that I don't have to stretch the truth significantly.  I figure she is just curious about what I think and how I view people; we sometimes agree on how attractive a person is but regularly we look at each other and say "wut?  You think they are hot?  Really?"  We even sit around and discuss who we would hook up with were the other one of us to die.  Are we normal?  I have no idea!

I find it really interesting to see how other people approach the topic.  A comment deep into the blog post I linked above talks about how sexual fidelity is merely right of first refusal, not exclusivity.  I think that this is bang on in the sense that expecting someone to not have sex outside a marriage when they are being denied it inside a marriage is lunacy but I wouldn't necessarily phrase it quite that way early in a relationship!  For a lot of people just the act of sex with another person is sufficient to end a relationship and when I was younger I fell into that camp too.  These days I belong more to the philosophy that a single incident of passion simply isn't enough to warrant ending an otherwise good long term relationship.  It is the act of deception over the longer term that is unforgivable to my mind; people make mistakes in the moment but a planned betrayal is not acceptable.  These sorts of musings make me wish that when I was younger I had actually tried dating.  I find people and the things they do to one another fascinating and this is one area that really interests me but which I cannot usefully test out myself.


  1. Corporate PlundererAugust 8, 2011 at 10:43 PM

    In the interests of maximum derailment, perhaps you could start by defining "cheating"?

    Of course, that's going to immediately stray into the realm of "what is sex?"

    And eventually it becomes obvious that none of us have any idea what we're *really* talking about wrt relationships, and it's really incumbent upon each of us to establish frameworks for our own fulfilment. One couple's infidelity might be another's release valve.

    Our generation is among the first to be weaned on diversity, and "normal" has lost both its meaning and importance. Throw off the shackles of normativity and all sorts of configurations become possible.

    I think the whole topic of cheating has almost lost all meaning in many circles, and psycho-analysing it something of a charming anachronism.

    Could it be that the angst of the future will be not the threat of infidelity, but the tyranny of choice?

  2. Ah, but defining cheating is easy. Check this:

    The essence of the answer is that as soon as you do something intimate with a person who isn't your spouse and you don't want to tell them you are cheating. This manages to safely get around the fact that couples have all kinds of different standards as to what is normal.

    Obviously some people don't want their partner to even look at an attractive member of the opposite sex, some draw the line at flirting, some at kissing, some at sex, and some have no line at all. Some don't draw lines along this traditional physical contact scheme. All well and good.

    However, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that people will stop being concerned about their partner having sex with others just based on changing societal norms. Part of that is cultural and part of it is hardwired - men raising other men's children and women not having access to a partner that will help them raise their children are powerful biological imperatives.

    Every couple needs to establish their own rules and ideals for their relationship and the old standards need not be used. However, many people will continue to not want their partner to have sex with others and will be paranoid about that happening. That is human nature.

  3. Until STDs are cured and abortion becomes 'solved' I don't know that it's paranoia at all.

  4. Corporate PlundererAugust 9, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    Curses... all the responses I *want* to give are ones I really shouldn't put on the permanent record (ie: the internet).

    Anyhow, it all boils down to:

    The aspect of your relationship which you share above is (IMHO) perfectly healthy, which makes it (sadly) fairly atypical ("normal" being a very loaded word.)


    This topic can really be distilled to "honesty, respect and compromise". The whole sexuality aspect is a red herring.

  5. You are currently posting under the moniker "Corporate Plunderer". Are you worried about a employer googling that name? I suggest using your real name in real life and telling us exactly what you think under your pseudonym! (Also, I am really curious what sort of stuff you feel you can't say)

  6. Corporate PlundererAugust 9, 2011 at 11:22 PM

    Mostly I worry that I'll end up at a reunion some day, partner in tow, and she might not be entirely happy with my posting history. :)

    But the crux of it is that you're making a number of terribly heteronormative assumptions. This is not to say that they're wholly invalid; most people are, after all, heteronormative by definition. But as a thought experiment, consider what "sex" means in a same-sex relationship. No risk of illegitimate children, and in lesbian relationships very little risk of STIs. The biological and logical foundations of fidelity are literally nonexistent.

    Also, the definition of sex is very fuzzy. What you might see in porn is nothing like reality. So now you're down to sex being essentially adult playtime, not significantly different from having a movie buddy or jogging partner. And sexuality is divese indeed, finding a partner who is both 100% romantically and sexually compatible is a real stretch, and there's no guarantee it will stay that way.

    There's good news in this demystification of sex though. It turns out that sex isn't quite the keystone of a healthy pairing which we'd all somehow assumed. A life partner is a much deeper, and more meaningful, relationship than trivialities like bow-chika-bow.

    This isn't a different way of seeing things. It's a *truer* way of seeing things. And like house music, rainbows and un-ironic plaid, perhaps this is one of those lessons from breeders would benefit from taking notes.

  7. I do make a lot of assumptions that hold much better in hetero relationships than in homo relationships. This is true. However, I think you would be kidding yourself if you posited that homosexuals aren't concerned about fidelity in marriage or long term relationships. Even in the case of lesbians with minimal risk of STIs and no risk of pregnancy people are paranoid about their partner doing things with others and they do break up over the issue. It has much less rationality behind it than hetero couples worrying about the same thing but that doesn't change how people act.

    Love and sex get wrapped up together much as some of us would like to believe otherwise. There do exist people for whom they are completely separate concepts but for the great majority of us being in love with someone leads us to want to have sex with them and having sex with someone leads us to fall in love with them. For the populace at large it is completely reasonable to be worried about a partner having sex with another person because that actually does mean they are likely to quit on the current relationship or in fact are on their way out already. That isn't a rule but it is undeniably true in most cases.

    If Wendy decided one day that she was not interested in me sexually anymore it would be a *big* deal. Like it or not, logically see the necessity or not, my brain absolutely associates sexual desire with love. No matter what anyone else says or thinks something very primal in me would take that rejection as having everything to do with love. Just like I can't decide to be gay I can't decide that I can totally separate sex and love. There are people out there who aren't like me but there are a greater number of people who are just like me in this way and for them cheating and fidelity are real.

    Would it be nice if we could totally separate these issues and just choose life partners and sexual partners completely independently? Sure, that sounds spiffy! But much as we would enjoy doing that our hardwired responses just don't work that way for most of us.

  8. Corporate PlundererAugust 10, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    > However, I think you would be kidding yourself if you posited that homosexuals aren't concerned about fidelity in marriage or long term relationships.

    I wouldn't ever make that global statement. I should qualify my conclusions by saying the situations are largely drawn from the pomo-homo crowd I tend to hang out with. But they are the next generation, and much of what I'm saying here is also echoing Dan Savage, who I hear is something of an icon.

    Of course, I acknowledge that with zero exposure to this particular tribe, I can't expect you to put my statements in context, so I should be more specific:

    In no way are these global assertions. The idea that lesbian relationships have any less fidelity drama than straight ones deserves its own special laugh track.

    But, I would say that the LGBT community as a whole is enormously more accepting of non-standard configurations than the common public. The world hasn't ended, relationships are still enduring and romantic, and families are still strong.

    A part of this is that this is a group where each has effectively had to define their own sexuality. Most of us fall into a sort of default morality, based on the implicit values of our society. It's very, very hard to overcome that innate assumption without being forced to by biology or circumstance.

    I believe you when you say that you cannot divorce sex and love. But I don't believe you when you assert that there are more people who are like you than not. History is littered with the dessicated corpses of assumptions made about the intrinsic nature of default normativity.

    Also, note that I'm not challenging the importance or impact of (in)fidelity, I'm suggesting that it is a concept which should be defined by every couple as reflects their honest values. It means more that way anyhow.

    (This whole ramble is in a way terribly ironic, since my personal sexuality would fit just fine into Elizabethan England. But I'll lay claim to being an impartial observer instead.)

  9. I am sure you are right that the LGBT community is more accepting of relationship arrangements that are nonstandard.

    I like the idea that human history is a field full of corpses and that many of them portray specific assumptions of sexual normality. Just sayin'.

    I completely agree that every couple can and should develop their own boundaries. There are plenty of people that can't deal with the fact that their partners watch porn, for example, and while I find that particular fear ridiculous as long as they are both happy and fulfilled then why should I care? I am not suggesting that people *should* be worried about their partners having sex with someone else... just that people *are*.

  10. Corporate PlundererAugust 10, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    > I am not suggesting that people *should* be worried about their partners having sex with someone else... just that people *are*.

    Fair enough, and I wouldn't argue. I'm just suggesting this *will* be different, if not in our generation than the next.