If you have not heard about the Ashley Madison hack and the ongoing witch hunt, I will briefly introduce you. Ashley Madison is a dating portal with the theme of initiating affairs with like-minded people. The hackers have threatened to release the personal data information from the profiles on the site (which counts more than 38 millions according to Ashley Madison) if the site is not shut down.
The response on a lot of social media is make the info public and let the users have what they deserve. It is a very comfortable position to take. I will risk something though and bring about a different perspective. I believe there is a number of more interesting aspects of infidelity to understand than merely pointing fingers (whether or not they are justified).
First of all the concept only makes sense in the perspective of a permanent relationship to a partner. Typically a marriage, but it does not have to be. An agreement has been made between parties where having an affair is a threat to that pact. If we did not have a significant other, there would be no betrayal. The affair would then be hooking up or falling in love.
Now there are some basic psychologically effects at work that also play a part of why people cheat. We want what we cannot have. Breaking social norms make you feel more “you”. The forbidden fruit is interesting, and so on. One of the common denominator of all these psychological things is it gives us focus, it arouses the feeling of being present and alive. If you have ever tried this you will recognise this feeling.
This is also the nature of Nietzsches superhuman that also springs up in the meaning of being according to Heidegger, it is the doctrine of the narrative of success as being told by Les Brown, Anthony Robbins and many others. An unapologetic focus on what you want.
Where cheating becomes troublesome is in the contract of expectations you made with someone else. Esther Perel describes it well in her TED talk from march 2015. When we bond our identity and emotional security with someone else, then it is here that a betrayal becomes so devastating. The broken trust is at the core of the issue for the victim of the affair. The one who is typically forgotten.
As outsiders we tend to side with the victim, which is all well and good. What this means however is that it brings the concept of justice into the relationship of the couple. By doing so we profoundly misunderstand what is actually going on. The cheater is rarely having the affair to hurt the one they are with (sometimes they are, but that’s a whole different story) and is often haunted by strong feelings of shame.
Feelings have no regard to fairness per say. If something is reasonable it is a cognitive reflection that has gone through many computations and comparisons to your value set. If infidelity teaches us anything, it is the strong urge people have to feel alive. People who initiate affairs are willing to risk it all, imagine the energy and resourcefulness going into it, it’s immense!
In the seduction community the law of attraction state: attraction is not a choice. We do not get to decide what or whom we like as our immediate response, we just don’t. What we do get to choose is how we respond to the things we are attracted to. It is here we return to the victim of the affair. Because whoever cheated had the choice to not have the affair, which would be the responsible choice. This is where it becomes interesting.
On one hand, we can follow our hearts desire and eat that cookie. It looks so tasty and yummy, irresistible! On the other hand, we can stay true to our word, be that strong honourable responsible person that we like to see ourselves as. If you do not follow your hearts desire it can feel like spiritual suicide, as if you are undermining yourself and let the fear of success stop you. It creates a conflict between being your authentic self and being responsible. Is there a third way? Well yes there is.
If you are honest up front and don’t get into a mutually exclusive relationship (in this case an agreed upon contract with unrealistic expectations) you are taking into the consideration your personal desires as well as respecting your partners emotional life. Not knowing or not accepting your desires can have catastrophic emotional impact this way due to the consequences.
I am not telling you to not go into mutually exclusive relationships, but I am telling you that you should know what you agree to go into when you enter an relationship with someone. If you happen to like sleeping around, then exclusivity is not for you because you are hurting someone by doing it.
I believe the answer is very simple. We do not think about all the consequences of our actions when we do them. I believe cheating is the expression of our hearts true momentous desire (or you would not do it). Unfortunately there is also a lack of courage to back up that desire with your whole self and be responsible. There is a lack of expressing to people you love what you want in fear of hurting them. Such an expression is the essence of honesty and probably at the core of the why the trust is broken so entirely when secret affairs are discovered.
Some may consider this not right. How can you love someone and desire someone else? Very easily I would say. Helen Fisher has some wonderful insights that describe how it is perfectly possible to feel deep love and connection with someone, sexual arousal to another and complete desire for a third.
Does that mean they cannot apply to the same person? Of course not. It merely means for that to happen is a lot of work. Did you work hard enough to remain attractive, mysterious, compassionate to your significant other? Or did you start taking them for granted? By all means people are still accountable for their actions, but if you want to have an energetic vibrant relationship you have to work for it. You simply cannot afford to be lazy about it.
Here is the kicker though. If you do not take your significant other for granted, all that work becomes a part of something wonderful for both of you to enjoy. And you may even become your best self in the process.