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Flings, Affairs, and Online Infidelity

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Tell the truth: How do you define cheating?

man taking off wedding ring

Charles Orlando: Recently, I've been asked a lot of questions (via e-mail) regarding infidelity ... from both men and women. Allow me to make it clear: Men and women both cheat. Their motivations are very different (and you can read that article here), but cheating is still cheating ... period.

First off, allow me to state that monogamy isn't for everyone. In fact, many argue that it's not a "natural state" for men. In many ways, I think those people are right. DNA-wise, both genders are driven by primal instincts to continue our species, not concentrate on the sanctity of marriage. However, humans now claim to be civilized ... and if a person decides to delve into the world of commitment, marriage, and fidelity, they should hold to the ideals that accompany that choice. However, that doesn't seem to hold true in today's world of disposable marriages.

Alvin Toffler wrote the best seller Future Shock in 1970, and with matter-of-fact conviction, he wrote of the rising trend of "trial" or "temporary marriages" -- first marriages of young people, lasting three months to three years, and of "serial marriages" that would take place after the dissolution of the "trial marriage," happening at specific turning points in people's lives. Toffler's views hold true today. Having accurately predicted the coming trends, he could see how men and women would begin to view marriage as a temporary state of being. As California and other states try to figure out if gay marriage is "legal," the divorce rate for heterosexual couples still hovers at just over 50 percent. What most don't consider is how the rising divorce rate provides the quintessential example for children of just how temporary marriage -- and all relationships -- can be.

Recent data shows that the most common reason for divorce is irreconcilable differences -- the notion that the couple just doesn't get along anymore ... for whatever reasons. But many I've spoken with -- men and women -- are quick to cite being cheated on as the primary reason for past relationships having ended. Cheating -- regardless of the motivation for it -- isn't merely the act of sex or physical release ... it's an act of betrayal. And that level of betrayal is very confusing to me.

Full disclosure: Have I EVER cheated? Ummm ... yeah. I ... uh ... really burned some people ... badly. (Just read my book ... you'll spot my lack of discretion and self-control in the first few pages of the introduction.) But have I cheated since marriage? I'd be a liar if I said that I've never been tempted to cheat. I am human -- and a man -- so I most certainly have been tempted (and the woman I'm thinking of ... she was HOT ... damn! But I would have never gotten away with it anyway). The difference is that I possess enough self-esteem to not humiliate myself, and I value and respect my wife and our marriage, so I would never betray her, as she is my friend. And that is my point: Men and women who cheat are betraying their spouse ... but they would never betray their friends in that way -- which is the source of my confusion. If you're going to cheat, give the common courtesy to the other party that you would demand yourself ... and leave the relationship. Some may say, "It's not that simple." Well ... if it's not, then perhaps the choice of infidelity might be something to ponder on for a while.

All this said, there are two main types of infidelity: Flings and affairs. Flings are the most common, most often involving opportunity, lust, and lack of self-control. You know:

"Babe, I screwed up. I got smashed in Vegas with the [guys/girls] and ended up sleeping with this stripper I met at the club. It didn't mean anything, and I promise it won't happen again. Please forgive me."

Sometimes, opportunity can make good people do bad things -- however, the person choosing to forgive a fling better think long and hard about it, as flings can highlight how little self-control an individual possesses at a given point in their lives (spoken from long-ago past experience). I'm not an advocate of "Once a cheater, always a cheater" ... but the tendency is there.

Affairs are different. Affairs are long-term relationships -- sometimes involving sex, sometimes not -- and they are trickier for someone to get over. Affairs take their toll on both sides of the relationship, betrayer and betrayee -- but it's important to note the goal of the person starting an affair: to get caught. Perhaps they don't have the wherewithal to end one relationship before starting another, or maybe they can't bring themselves to admit to their significant other that they have fallen out of love with them. Whatever the reason, affairs are a real investment in a relationship behind someone else's back -- and that is what makes them so much more damaging.

Which brings us to a different kind of cheating for the web-based era: Online cheating. There are an endless number of sites that advocate and enable real-world affairs (whose highest spending advertisers are divorce attorneys). But meeting someone online and then quickly transferring the relationship to the real world is really just a fling. Online cheating is different. With the rise of social media and community-based websites, connecting with others in remote locations isn't just the activity of a small subculture, it's ingrained into our everyday lives. Numbers vary, but Facebook boasts some 700 million-plus users worldwide (and since their acceptance into the mainstream, high school reunions have fallen by over 60 percent). Online cheating -- without any physical contact -- is the most damaging type of infidelity. The reason? The entire "connection" between the two parties is emotional.

What's your opinion or experience?

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