I’ve made it my business over the last eight years to know as much as possible about relationships. At my first “real job,” editing romance novels, I began thinking about how reality falls so short from women’s ideals. Then I started studying the ins and outs of the topic, wondering how we get from dysfunctional to functional, and better, functional to optimal.
In that span of time, I’ve interviewed hundreds of experts, thousands of men, read seemingly a million surveys and studies and sat on a hundred-plus panels.
Over on Formspring, I answer questions about dating and relationships (ten thousand and counting) based on what I’ve learned, and dialogue with women about what’s going on in their lives. I even went back to school to become a life coach to help folks find their happy.
And after all those questions and all the stories and all that research, there’s been one question that consistently baffles me: Why do we, women, consistently put up with cheaters?
Earlier this year, I hosted an all-male panel about relationships. Five men. Uncensored. Inevitably, we talk about cheating and the (unmarried) men are discussing it with the same level of concern they’d give to taking the last swallow of OJ and putting it back in the fridge. I finally just ask, “Do you even have any expectation that your significant other will leave when she finds out?”
“Well, D,” the single men begin, side-stepping the question, “we don’t expect the main girl to find out.”
“But if she does?” I press.
Oh, then? Nah. She’ll be mad, but leave? Not even on their radar. (Oddly enough, ESSENCE.com did a poll on cheating Wednesday. Two thousand responses and half you said, you’d work it out with a cheating partner.)
“And if she were to cheat on you?” I asked the guys. Unequivocally, they — married and single — were throwing “deuces” like C. Breezy… though one of the marrieds revised his knee-jerk response to add, “It’s hard to just leave when you’ve built a life with someone for ten years and you have children.”
That, I totally get. Vows of “for better or worse” should make a person think twice, or three, four times. But ultimately, you have to make the best decision for you, your sanity and your health. And staying with a man who deceives you about his whereabouts, lies to you about his actions, denies your “something’s up” feelings, and gambles with his health — and yours — by potentially exposing himself to STDs and HIV… is that best for you? Your call.
I was hosting a different panel last year at ESSENCE Music Festival in New Orleans. It’s me, six men (including Lamman Rucker, Darren Sharper and Jeff Johnson) on stage. We’re talking about cheating and Jeff, a self-confessed reformed cheater, just made it plain why men do it: ultimately, the guy doesn’t want to be with you. If he did, he would value the relationship enough not to put it in jeopardy. He can change eventually, sure, but not with you… because, back to the chicken (or the egg), he doesn’t want to be with you. You’re a glorified placeholder until the woman he really wants comes along.
As the panel vigorously nodded in agreement, I realized that in all the years I’ve been interviewing experts and individuals about cheating, I’ve never heard a man advise women to stay and “work it out.” That’s only what women say to each other. Maybe if we held a zero tolerance policy toward infidelity similar to the stance men take with us, there would be a lot less of it. Or at least the act of cheating would inspire more concern than running out of juice.
Demetria L. Lucas is the Relationships Editor at Essence Magazine and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: Your Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life & Enjoying Mr. Right Now (Atria.) Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk