Cheating on two unique partners in two totally different but equally destructive relationships certainly doesn’t qualify me as an expert in cheating, but it does give me a bit of insight into the complex psyche of a person who commits infidelity. Though both times I strayed I did so for a variety of different reasons, both scenarios had a common denominator: I did not feel secure or respected in my relationship, but I couldn’t see a clearly marked emergency exit. So I cheated. I sabotaged my relationship to catalyze an ending I couldn’t see happening naturally.

The first time I cheated, it was on an older boyfriend who fooled around on me repeatedly, and who was not even courteous enough to kick dirt up over his tracks. I found out about his transgressions after he bragged about his conquests to some of his guy friends. Though he vehemently denied it, there was plenty of irrefutable evidence to confirm his indiscretions. I never fully trusted him to begin with, but I was young, and he was older and “cooler” and more athletic than me, so I ignored my gut instinct and let the self-doubt and unhappiness permeate my better judgment and self-esteem.

When he finally went out of town one weekend, I’d had enough of this relentless humiliation. I hooked up with an acquaintance of ours who made no secret about his interest in me. This was no accident. My actions were carefully calculated. I chose my target deliberately. I wanted to assert power and sex appeal. I wanted to prove that I was desirable. I wanted to show my boyfriend that he was lucky to have me, that I could hurt him, that I was someone’s first choice, that I, too, was a catch and not just a burden. In retrospect, though, revenge is childish and accomplishes very little, and I should have handled things differently.

The second time I cheated, it was on an emotionally unavailable boyfriend. Though I suspected his infidelity (late text messages, unexplained disappearances), he always figured out a way to make me feel like I was a paranoid schizophrenic concocting elaborate stories in my mind. Turns out he was actually using drugs (but probably also cheating). Before that relationship finally came to a volatile end, I cheated on him with a perfectly nice guy who I didn’t particularly like very much. Despite my lukewarm feelings for this guy, I went through with it just to get the upper hand, to get the validation and confidence I needed to enable me to finally walk away from a relationship that was slowly crushing me.

I’m not saying that female revenge cheating is any more acceptable or benign or forgivable than male cheating — it’s certainly just as vile and malignant and mean-spirited. I’m not saying that women aren’t scandalous, because they certainly can be. And I’m not saying that all men are liars, assholes, drug addicts and cheaters, because that isn’t an accurate or fair assessment.

Since those two less-than-soul-mate encounters in my late teens and early 20s, I’ve dated a fair share of people — some better dudes than others, some who were more emotive and others who were more closed off and confused about their readiness or willingness to commit entirely to a relationship. Though none of my romantic relationships have been identical, the one thing that remains consistent across the board, across all guy types, is that if someone makes me feel safe, valued, adored, comfortable, happy, sexy and admired, I never have the urge to seek validation elsewhere. More importantly, if the person I am with is open and honest with me about how he is feeling, whether in terms of sexual satisfaction, physical attraction or emotional needs, and I am, in return, receptive and honest about my own desires, expectations and needs, both of us are usually more willing to stick it out and work through it, rather than acting out. It is my belief that a happy person doesn’t cheat, and happiness comes from honesty and met needs.

Men may be from Mars, and women may be from Venus, but I think that old saying is extremely divisive and misleading and instills the myth that there is some huge, gaping, fundamental, irreparable difference between the sexes that prohibits one gender from comprehending the behaviors and motives of the other. Put simply, popular culture tells us that women are ruled by their hearts, while men are powerless slaves to the almighty, impulsive penis. Therefore, the natural conclusion is that women and men cheat for different reasons. I beg to differ.

Some say men are punished and bastardized as “pigs” when they cheat, and that women are pardoned and forgiven. I say both parties cheat because of a mutual lack of honesty, a mutual feeling of inadequacy and a mutual feeling of betrayal that festers when two people are unwilling to admit what is lacking and how to remedy it.

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Often, this is oversimplified. It is easy to say a man cheats when he is sexually disenchanted and that a woman cheats when she is no longer romanced. But I think what it boils down to is honesty. And not just honesty about cheating — honesty about what each person in the relationship needs, and each person’s ability or inability to provide it. SEE ALL THE NEXT 5 PAGES FOR THE REASONS…. AND PICTURES….

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