So the other day, I got a big spike in traffic around here because someone (whoever you are, thank you) posted a link to my site in the comments section of the Washington Post. The article they linked to was “The Humiliating Dance of “Pick Me!”
The link was followed immediately by this comment:
That article is based on the idea that there is one kind of cheating, done for one kind of reason, and there is one kind of response to it. I can see the point — if you are married to a manipulative jerk who is having a long term affair outside the marriage and you need the anger to give you the ooomph to kick him to the curb, this is a very useful way to get it.
But infidelity, like love, doesn’t just come in one flavour.
I see this quite a bit. I call it The Better Class of Cheater argument. It goes “I’m not a chump like you. Oh no, my spouse just had a midlife crisis.” Or “My husband isn’t a cheater, it was just an emotional affair.”
See, you can dismiss what you read here, because Tracy had a Bad Cheater. You know, the disordered kind of serial-cheating jerk, who drank and made threats. Unlike the Other Sort of Cheaters, the church deacons, the drunken one night fuck conventioneers, or the soulfully confused. The cheaters who really didn’t mean to hurt you. It just kinda happened.
To me, there are really only two different classes of cheaters. Those who are truly remorseful and demonstrate remorse — and those who eat cake, manipulate, and minimize their offenses. How they stumbled on to another person’s dick or fell into their vagina doesn’t really interest me. What they all have in common is they gave themselves permission to go outside the relationship. They felt entitled to do it. They’re either sorry about that, or they aren’t. In my experience, the majority of them are not sorry one bit. They might be sorry they got caught. They might be sorry for the shit storm and people’s impressions of them. They might be sorry for the expense. But they are not sorry for the pain they caused others.
Early on, I did a post called a Spectrum of Cheaters, where I catalog the different sorts. I don’t think every person who cheats is a sociopath. Mine probably was, but I know there are a legion of cheaters out there who are just your average, run of the mill immature jerks. I would say an affair is “out of character” for someone, except that to have an exit affair, you’d have to be so gutless as to abandon… which, alas, is a mark on your character.
You know, I think this kind of “I’m not a chump” minimization is just human rationalization. Years ago, I was a writer at the Defense Department and I had to work on a military study on sexual assault. The military studied the issue in the past and asked service men and women if they’d ever been sexually assaulted. They asked two ways — the first — have you ever been sexually assaulted? And in another questionnaire they were NOT asked that question outright — instead they were asked a series of questions with specific incidents. Has anyone forced you to perform oral sex? Had sex with you without consent when you were drunk? Etc.
Here’s what they learned — when they asked the general question — they got way more NO answers. Nope, I’m not a victim of sexual assault. When they described the phenomenon and didn’t ascribe a label to it — they got way, way more YES answers. Take away? People don’t want to think of themselves as victims (especially in the military), but they will acknowledge that certain terrible acts happened to them.
I think there is a similar phenomenon in infidelity. No one wants to be a chump. Some people will own it, and some people won’t — even though they experienced the same sorts of things. Everyone wants to feel agency and control. No one wants to think of themselves as having been abused. Even if that means taking the blame. Well, I got drunk and I wore that short skirt, and shit happened, which was unfortunate and painful. But I’m not a victim of assault, no sir!
You see that kind of thinking on infidelity forums. It’s not the “pick me” dance, it’s “saving your marriage.”
You don’t control whether or not you save your marriage. Nope. Your cheater can walk out and leave you — save away! Or really “stand for your marriage” and wait for them to come back, as the midlife crisis forums recommend. Or your cheater may stay, and eat cake, or stop eating cake but resent you and blame you for the affair. And you can have your marriage if you’re willing to eat that big shit sandwich. Or maybe you don’t care that much about fidelity and honesty in your relationship. Some people don’t.
What “flavor” of infidelity do you prefer?