Is cheating the new monogamy

“I’m not sure why, my whole life, I’ve believed monogamy is best,” my client Bill professed one afternoon. “For the longest time I had this hard-set idea about marriage, and then I realized I didn’t really know where it all came from.”

Bill, like most of my clients, was married. His marriage was a common topic in our sessions.

“I suspect she knows I have other avenues. I know she sees people, but I don’t know how to bring it up. She’s probably thinking the same thing. If we talked about it, I think we’d both be happier.”

Most clients I saw struggled with traditional relationships. He had affairs in secret. She had affairs in secret. They weren’t in a hybrid-relationship – when one partner is non-monogamous and the other is monogamous. And they weren’t in an open relationship – when both partners had sexual relationships outside their marriage. Nor were they in a polyamorous relationship either – where both partners had multiple romantic relationships on the side. They really had a non-monogamous relationship but neither one admitted it.

Culturally and socially Americans are more like serial monogamists. We have a succession of monogamous partners over time. We date and break up. Marry then divorce. (Culture is the shared beliefs and attitude of a group. Social are the actions and behaviors of the people in that group) Cultural and social actions are ingrained in society. It’s our traditions and values that we pass down through generations. It’s our identity.

Which is why it’s so difficult for us to step outside the norm, and be more embracing of alternatives, like open relationships. It’s why infidelity is frowned up. America is infatuated with infidelity. We hear about it in the media, read about it in tabloids, and listen to it at church, from our friends, our families, the barista at the coffee shop, our taxi driver…and so on and on. The idea that we have to be monogamous to be successful in a relationship is so deep rooted, we hide it when we’re not.

That’s where Ashley Madison (and escorts) came in.

The intent of Ashley Madison was to hook up discreetly, so a spouse wouldn’t find out. And who knows, maybe their infidelity was done with good intent.

Like it was with Bill, “She’s my best friend. We’ve been together for years. We’re basically roommates, and cohabit the same family in the same house. But I would never want to intentionally hurt her.”

Or, perhaps, as another client said, “I’ll lose my house, the kids, the dogs. I didn’t go to college for 8 years and fight my way into a career to throw it all away in a divorce. I never wanted to get married in the first place, I did it because it was the thing to do at the time. Everyone at the office, my friends, it’s what people did back then.”

To him, marriage wasn’t a symbol of matrimony, it was more of a social and financial institution. It made him fit in, and gave him a license to govern property, children, and taxes. But divorce was even more expensive, and so his marriage became just another business decision.

“So I pay you instead,” he said, “Hell, I can budget in escort sessions forever and still not come close to what a divorce would cost me.”

Or as Bill put it, “I thought if I saw an escort it wouldn’t be as bad as cheating,” he sighed, “I just need to connect with someone. You’ve given me so much. My time with you is the only time I feel like anyone treats me with compassion.”

Was Bill and his wife’s marriage successful?

Does monogamy mean a relationship is successful? For some, a successful relationship is staying together for 50 years, even though they may only have sex with each other for the first 5. Others consider their relationship a success if they broke up after 3 years, but it was passionate the entire time. Everyone has their own concept of what a relationship means to them, and regardless whether their thoughts fit into the culture or not, the society surrounding them often has a stronger pull.

That’s why people like Bill, and his wife, and everyone else who used Ashley Madison and escorts, stuck their relationship out. They chose discretion, and decided not let their promiscuity affect their spouses.

However, as we all know now, in the long run, choosing one of those outlets doesn’t always save face, or feeling, emotions, or divorce. It isn’t always the cheapest, or safest, over simply talking to your spouse. Who knows, maybe he or she feels the same way you do.

(Image Credit:gosphotodesign, Fotolia)

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