Jenny Lau/the Gauntlet

Infidelity: it's okay, sometimes

Publication YearIssue Date 

Infidelity is breaking the physical or emotional promise made to a significant other. If infidelity in a relationship or marriage is so taboo and unthinkable in most circles, why is it so common? And, more importantly, what does it mean?

The idea of ‘cheating’ exists in every realm of life, and is something all university students are familiar with, even if it’s only in the form of a professor scanning the isles for wandering eyes during an exam. Because it has been drilled into our heads since we were kids, cheating has become an unfathomable monstrosity. In the realm of dating, however, this viewpoint is too extreme.

Life is saturated with restrictions that are real, imagined, verbal and legal. Sexual taboos and restrictions are continually breaking down in Western cultures. Misconceptions about masturbation — like how bland food was supposed to decrease interest in sex — have been debunked; homophobia is condemned, at least in Canada; pornography has become something couples can enjoy together; and there is an increasingly positive view about sex.

Even with these pro-sex attitudes, infidelity is one taboo that continues to fall directly in the spotlight of judging eyes. The cultural ideal of a perfect couple is one proliferated through pop-culture — for example, romance movies and books. The fact is, however, that these monogamous ideals may not line up in practice. At the time of an infidelity study in America in 2009, 30–60 per cent of participants were engaging in infidelity, and up to 71 per cent of women who have cheated claim to be in a happy relationship. Why, then, are we not more critical of the idea of monogamy?

The hegemonic dominance of monogamy completely contrasts the rising number of divorces and the over 70 per cent of men and women who have cheated at least once on a partner. According to sociologist Eric Anderson, PhD, “Cheating is a rational response to the irrational expectation of monogamy.” I don’t think cheating — with deceiving, broken promises and distrust — is a good thing, but there are ways both parties can be satisfied without pursuing the unattainable expectations of monogamy.

Yes, infidelity can cause extreme emotional turmoil, heartbreak and broken homes. But these effects can be caused — in cases of otherwise happy relationships — purely by the social condemnation of infidelity. The solution to the internal problems of monogamy is the most obvious one: an open relationship. Relationships need to be redefined in order for open relationships to be morally equated with mutually exclusive ones. Continued stigma surrounding having intimacy with anyone other than your partner prevents many people from considering this a viable option.

Whenever I bring up this topic among friends, the most common response is that one should not be in a relationship if they feel the desire to stray. This viewpoint, however, is an example of the unrealistic expectations of monogamy.

One can be in an incredibly happy and loving relationship, full of openness and trust, while still being able to act on their physical desires. It works for some people, just as monogamy works for others. Couples should be able to discuss what kind of relationship will work for them without being constrained by a societal hierarchy of moral correctness. If we are to continue on a path of becoming a more sexually positive society, then the barriers surrounding open relationships should be broken with considerable force. Couples should be able to enter a relationship without overbearing restrictions or intense social stigma.