Sex and Relationships

Cheating…It’s Not Just for Men

How Narrowing the Gender Gap Has Made Infidelity Fair Game

By: Lisa Viviani Goris

Woman cheating with man in office room. (Credit:

Cheating is a dirty word.  

“Cheating” won me seething stares of contempt when I said it aloud at the agency where I currently intern as a budding social worker in the MSW program.

I’d said it in context as I attempted to recruit interviews from fellow work interns: no takers. No one likes a cheater.

I was a little taken aback; after all, I was writing an article and attempting to solicit commentary.

I explained my intent: nope, still no takers. So, what is the deal with cheating anyway, and is it preventable?

After all, just because people are averse to talking about cheating, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. In fact, studies show it’s widespread, and it’s not just men flying the coop.

Psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author, Esther Perel, claims that over time, it appears our definition of cheating has expanded.

In the past, we considered infidelity to be easily recognizable by the birth of a child outside of a marriage or committed relationship.

Today, we view cheating to encompass flirting, “office spouses”, watching pornography, friending an ex-lover on Facebook or following someone on Instagram who might pose a risk to one’s relationship.

While definitions vary among individuals and couples, Perel says infidelity encompasses three components.

Firstly, it revolves around a secret. The second component is emotional involvement.

Even a one-night stand fits the bill. Perel says, “it takes effort to make something mean nothing” therefore even a “hit and run” requires some level of emotion.

Third component is sexual alchemy. By alchemy, Perel quotes Marcel Proust as saying “it’s our imagination that is responsible for love, not the other person”.

By now you might be thinking “oh man, I AM a cheater” but before you go running into the woods, it’s best to understand the root of our behavior and/or thoughts; you may even forgive yourself if you take a look at how our needs have evolved over time.

Perel says we expect our partners to provide for us what an entire village once did: a sense of belonging, purpose, industry, friendship and spirituality.

She claims the severity of devastation caused by infidelity is a result of entrusting these roles, and hence our identity, to one person. That seems to make sense.

After all, if our entire world exists within the confines of one relationship, when our partner strays, the walls come crashing down.

Perel says there’s an increase in infidelity and the closing of the gender gap has aided this role transition for women.

Women’s need for financial security has diminished as more households are comprised of dual-income earners.

Women’s lives are flushed with working relationships, as well as social networks, across all mediums. Women have the opportunity to engage in affairs—sexual and/or emotional—once reserved for men as the breadwinners of their families.

So, how can you prevent an affair from becoming part of your story?

While you are a college student today, eventually, you will graduate and move on to a career, have more financial responsibility, perhaps have a committed relationship, marriage, and possibly, become a parent.

In her article, “Seven – Maybe – Tips for Avoiding an Office Affair”, author of “The Happiness Project”, Gretchen Rubin, offers seven tips to avoid a workplace affair.

  1. Never take a first step in flirtation, even in jest.
  2. Never have more than one drink with people from work.
  3. Never confide details from my personal life to people from work, and don’t allow them to confide in me.
  4. Never allow myself to have a “special friend” of the attractive sex (aka “work spouse”) to whom I turn for particular support (sometimes called an “emotional affair”).
  5. Unless it’s an unmistakably professional context, don’t meet alone with a colleague or client of the attractive sex. E.g. When a client calls with tickets for a game, don’t go in a twosome.
  6. Imagine your spouse/partner as an audience – cc’d on the email, listening to the phone call, walking into the conference room. If you’d feel uncomfortable in that situation, you’ve crossed some line.
  7. If you develop a close relationship with someone from the attractive sex at work, get to know his or her family. That puts a damper on things!

While we might consider some of Perel’s definitions of cheating overreaching, or Rubin’s tips to be restrictive, we must continue to talk about the tough stuff.

It seems to me that through shared knowledge and understanding we can continue to foster growth and acceptance in ourselves and in others.

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