Cheating Is Nothing But a Fantasy

Shannon Ashley

And it’s not so much about fooling our partners, but fooling ourselves. by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash

I’ve been cheated on more than once, but I was once “the other woman” too. You can even say I’ve cheated on a boyfriend, though, to be fair, I don’t think most 14 year olds make great choices when it comes to high school love triangles.

When we talk about cheating, I typically think about cheating as adults. I was an adult, and they were adults. It tends to be more clear cut cheating because at least one person has knowingly broken their existing commitments to a partner, or perhaps, partners.

There are a lot of different ways to cheat, and it’s not only monogamous couples who can feel the sting of an affair. Non-monogamy becomes unethical just as easily as monogamy--on a basic level, it’s cheating anytime we lie to our partner(s) about where our commitment stands with them in relation to others.

Cheating isn’t just about lying to a partner. It’s about lying to yourself.

Why? Because cheating is a fantasy and it will always be a fantasy as long as you are cheating. You lie to yourself when you say that you deserve your sexy rendezvous because your current partner is (you fill in the blank). You lie to yourself when you claim you’re not hurting anyone, or that your secret relationship is so much better than your public one.

Every time you tell yourself that your affair exists in a bubble which can be contained without affecting the rest of your life, you’re lying. Just like you’re lying every time you say your affair doesn’t exist in a bubble.

This is what any cheating fantasy is: a paradox, a false reality, and Pandora’s box. Once you lift that lid, you can’t control what happens, even when you think you’ve got a handle on things.

Cheating is traumatic, and not only to those who have it happen to them.

When you cheat, or become party to an affair, you have to lie so hard to yourself to get through the dissonance of it all. Maybe you never thought that you could make that kind of decision or be tempted in that way.

You might find that engaging in an affair makes you feel different about yourself. Some folks feel a rush that makes them feel superior. Others wind up feeling like someone else’s dirty laundry.

Cheating is inherently traumatic because you must repeatedly lie to yourself and others. And regardless of your part in the whole thing, whether you’re doing the cheated or being cheated on, it makes you trust yourself less and less.

You wind up doubting your own good judgment, in any case.

What about the couples who somehow “make it” despite beginning their relationship as an affair?

It’s true that in some affairs, the secret couples do wind up together. Some even stay together. But if you dig deeper and question those parties, you’ll usually discover the same thing.

Getting out of the fantasy.

You have to snap back to reality if you have any hope to make it work out, and that means being honest with yourself first and foremost. You also have to come clean to everyone else.

And do you know what? That sort of honesty is messy.

People suffer on all sides when you choose to cheat. And if you’re going to end up happy and secure after the affair, it’s going to take a heck of a lot of personal work.

You have to quit lying to yourself and viewing love in such an unrealistic way. You have to get yourself out of the fantasy and back into reality.

Which isn't exactly fun.

“Once a cheater, always a cheater” isn’t really accurate.

What matters most, as in most of life’s mishaps, is how a person moves forward. There’s a tendency for people to want to streamline morality.

We often want to see others as mostly good or mostly bad. Everything gets murky when we have to admit that humans are much more complicated than that.

Some people learn their lessons more quickly than others. And some among us keep making the same poor choices, at least for a while.

But cheating once, or even more than once, doesn’t make anyone inherently bad. It also doesn’t mean they’re a lost cause.

The question that must be asked is how they’ve dealt with those fantasies about cheating. And if they’ve come to terms with their role in their own choices.

The most susceptible among us are those who can’t admit they made a choice.

“I couldn’t help it,” is something you hear from folks who haven’t yet snapped out of the fantasy of cheating. The ones who are going to keep cheating too.

One ex of mine had more than a dozen affairs during his decade long marriage, and he frequently claimed it was the other women who seduced him. It wasn’t simply untrue, it was a lie he repeated to convince himself that there was nothing else he could do but follow his instincts to cheat.

After a few years of that, he convinced himself that cheating was never “wrong,” and he that only lied to protect others, and prevent overreactions or drama.

It didn’t matter that his life was filled with drama and heartbreak as a result of all his cheating. Some lies we tell ourselves are so effective, they’re blinding.

Self-awareness is a big part of moving forward in a positive way.

We all have choices to make in our relationships, whether we like it or not.

And cheating is one of those choices. Getting intimately involved with one person before we’ve been honest with our existing partner(s) is like trying to jump onto one train before we’ve exited another.

It’s messy and there will always be casualties. But people do it anyway when they’ve convinced themselves of some cheating fantasy. Sometimes, it’s as simple as telling themselves that honesty with a partner (and perhaps, a breakup) would be worse than their affair.

The truth is that we deserve better. Our partners deserve better. Maybe it’s time to part ways. At the very least, it’s time to have an uncomfortable conversation before we dive into infidelity.

To say cheating is a choice doesn’t mean there are no gray areas. Clearly, as human beings, there are a lot of different gray areas that we and our partners must navigate every day.

It’s worth that navigation, however, and it’s worth approaching in an honest and ethical way, because cheating is a trauma that leaves scars among every person in its wake.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN

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