Friday, July 27, 2012

Why Do Women Cheat?

People cheat all the time. They cheat on their lovers; they cheat on their spouses; sometimes, they even cheat on themselves.

To coin a phrase, today infidelity is as American as apple pie.

Most of the time it’s the man who cheats, but, increasingly women are joining the club.

No one was surprised to find out that Ashton was cheating on Demi, but a lot of people were shocked to learn that Kristen Stewart was cheating on Robert Pattinson.

Few people were surprised to read that Pattinson has since moved out of the home that they shared.

Yesterday, I remarked on Jessica Coen’s view that cheating is not such a bad thing, that’s it’s normal for a young girl, and that Kristen Stewart should not have apologized... except maybe to Pattinson.

I found Coen’s column dispiriting, for the message it was sending to young women, and, by extension, to young men.

This morning I discovered an excellent article by LeslieLoftis, explaining how it could have happened that Stewart cheated on Pattinson.

Strangely, Coen and Loftis see the same value system at work.  Coen is trafficking the values that the culture imposes on young women; Loftis is critiquing them, by showing what happens when women follow them.

Specifically, young American women are being told that, whatever they do, they should not marry young.

I have often criticized this piece of life-altering bad advice. Loftis renders us a service by showing how this idea infiltrates the minds and lives of young women.

Several decades ago young women were told that they should postpone marriage in favor of career advancement. In the case of Kristen Stewart that is clearly not the case.

Loftis describes the way this message is communicated to girls and young women:

These days, we tell teens that their 20s are for living their life, doing their own thing, experimenting, experiencing. So if a girl meets Mr. Wonderful in her early 20s, when things turn to serious talks about marriage and children, she freaks out. Her friends, her sisters, sometimes her mother — they have told her it is too soon. If she goes so far as to get engaged, we women stage interventions. Granted, sometimes marriage is too soon. Other times the couple isn’t a good match. But we don’t typically weigh the relationships with a little discounting of the judgment of a younger woman. We take her youth as the decisive factor.

In so doing, we create the very immaturity we use as evidence of their immaturity.

In truth, this is what worldly wise 32 year old Jessica Coen was telling young women when she said that Stewart’s behavior was wrong but understandable.

What else could it mean when Coen condescended to Stewart by calling her a “stupid girl.”

Loftis explains that Stewart suffered the I’m-too-young-to-settle-down "freak out:"

By most accounts, Stewart, 22, has had only two boyfriends. She’s been with Pattinson for about three years. They live together. Rumor has it they’ve been talking about marriage and children. I can guarantee that she has women she trusts telling her that she needs to do more before she settles down. That she has already done more in her career and traveled more around the world than most women ever do doesn’t matter. “You are only 22.  You’re too young to settle down,” is what the little devil on her shoulder whispers during conversations about commitment or when she feels a connection with an older and supposedly wiser man. Thus, the freak-out.

By the time a woman is out of her 20s, she has seen the freak-out often. It takes many forms: a sudden breakup, a party binge, a fling — or three. Mixing the party binge with flings is particularly explosive — a drunk woman putting out signals that she wants a good time.  The lucky women are those who end up merely embarrassed. Stewart went the fling route.

Peer pressure against early marriage is producing such freak outs. It is seductive and powerful. 

Loftis knows, as we all do, that sometimes a twenty-year old women finds Mr. Wrong, but that sometimes she finds Mr. Right.

Clearly, she should use her own judgment, with an assist from those who love her the most. But she should not throw away  someone she loves and could marry because her girlfriends and the ambient culture have told her that she is too young and sexually inexperienced.

Loftis writes:

But don’t throw away something good simply because your 20s are supposed to be about you. That is the start of a very lonely trail. Go read the testaments of 35-year-old women. Almost invariably, they have one that got away. The “I’m not ready freak out” is why.

She is right to say that the culture tells young people that their twenties should be about “me.” It tells young people that after college they should go out and try to find themselves.

That can only mean that young people are being told to turn their twenties into a therapeutic journey toward self-actualization.

But, will all of those years of self-involvement and repeated relationship errors will make you a better and more desirable spouse? Or will they make you narcissistically self-absorbed to the point where you can barely make a good decision about mating and marriage?


Anonymous said...

Sometimes, I'm sure, a woman's affair is driven by desire to catch up on the sexual adventures she missed when younger. But I don't think this is the most common factor. Usually, the cause will be her growing dissatisfaction with her husband, eventually leading to outright contempt for him and an end or at least a great reduction in sexual attraction toward him.

Female dissatisfaction toward husbands is not new of course, but never before has it been encouraged by the society to the degree it is now.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I think that you make a very good point. Within a marriage, I agree that very often a woman will cheat because she wants to send a message to her husband. Also, that contempt for him, sometimes justified, sometimes not, will often cause her to lose sexual interest in him.

But, do you think that this was the reason why a 22 year old woman who was not married would cheat in public?

Anonymous said...

I have to ask why either gender cheats..
It would seem that the answer to either may include:
Lack of respect (for self, for significant other)
Lack of respect for the sanctity of relationship
Growing need for instant gratification
Escalating breaks of trust without consequences, hence the feeling of entitlement that one can go all the way and get away with that too
Other, similar issues that have been bred out of the general society norms that have weakened and allowed indescretions to be shrugged off as "boys will be boys" and now "girls will be girls

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for the cogent explanations.

I was just thinking that for some people cheating is exciting. If they do not feel that they are breaking a law they do not feel very turned on.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add that one- - I agree that can be another strong driver (although it must be combined with another disrespectful it contempt driver, if you ask me)
Otherwise, he/she would look for other ways to disregard authority, like leave their phone on when the plane door closes or drive 100mph