Criminalizing Cheating

Wouldn’t it be nice if people stopped confusing immaturity with politics? Yes, I know, I’m an idealist, and an article from Feministe that reader Wirbelwind kindly showed to me demonstrates just how impossible of a dream this is. The article is a manifesto of a very immature person who believes that the world should service her immaturity by punishing every behavior that upsets her with prison terms. Today, she is upset that her boyfriend cheated on her and wants him to go to jail for that. Tomorrow you might sneeze too loudly in her general vicinity and she will want you imprisoned for causing her intolerable stress with this loud noise.

The painstakingly detailed story revealed by the pseudo-feminist in question demonstrates that her idea of what it means to be in a romantic relationship is less realistic than that of a 5-year-old. This is, for instance, how the relationship with the miserable boyfriend starts:

Before I engaged in a sexual relationship with my last boyfriend, Nadjeeb, I made the terms for my consent very clear:  if we were going to become sexually involved, it had to be within the context of strict monogamy.  Because he was also in recovery from alcohol and drug addition, I told him that I required full disclosure if he broke his sobriety, and I asserted my right to be informed if he chose to engage in sex with anybody else.

I have no idea how old this woman is but if she is older than 11, the text is very disturbing. Monogamy (polyamory / heterosexuality / bisexuality / asexuality, etc.) is not something you demand from a person in exchange for sexual services. They way adults enter into monogamous (polyamorous / heterosexual, etc.) relationships is by revealing to each other that this is the kind of relationship they want at this point in time. You can’t make somebody monogamous (bisexual / heterosexual, etc.) by making ultimatums or entering into trade agreements of the “I’ll give you sex in exchange for you changing your approach to sexuality.” This approach is a recipe for disaster, and, of course, the disaster soon came.

We didn’t officially consummate the relationship until about a month had passed, but, as I came to find out about fifteen months later, he had begun drinking, doing drugs, and having frequent and unprotected sex with other people behind my back almost immediately afterward.  He put a great deal of effort into keeping me unaware of all of this behavior.  He enlisted the help of his friends to cover for him and to tell me whatever lies were necessary to keep me in the dark; he came up with convincing excuses about why he couldn’t see me certain nights, or about why he was acting distant, and he participated in long-winded conversations about our relationship and my concern that he didn’t share my interest in a deeper level of emotional intimacy.

This story of “OMG, I trusted him so much and the jerkwad deceived me cruelly” is the favorite song of all deeply immature people. In reality, nobody can deceive anybody with whom they are having a supposedly close relationship about drugging, boozing, and cheating for 15 months. The only way one can manage not to notice such things is either by being stonily indifferent to one’s partner, or by pretending not to notice. The story’s protagonist even lists a number of signs that the monogamous relationship she convinced herself was developing between her and her boyfriend was nothing but her fantasy. With this degree of willful blindness, I’m sure she wouldn’t have noticed if the guy started shooting up and having group sex right in front of her.

Sex acts, for this blogger, are never a product of desire. They are only and exclusively a reward she sometimes gives to her partner when he begs her convincingly enough and demonstrates behaviors she approves:

In the midst of all of his secretive drinking, drugging, and cheating, he would repeatedly coax me into have unprotected sex with him.  He used his clean bill of health and our monogamous status to persuade me to do this, and occasionally his arguments would work, and I would concede.

Yes, what a shock that the guy was seeking oblivion from such a passionate and profound relationship. Of course, in response to being manipulated and humiliated by the girlfriend, the boyfriend also becomes manipulative:

Again, there were times when his inconsistent and distant behavior gave me pause, but when I talked to him about it, he would become emotionally manipulative, sometimes breaking down into tears.  He would talk about his fears of rejection and intimacy, the emotional abusiveness of his past romantic relationships, the tragedies of his childhood, and his troubled relationships with his parents—all part-truths that served to disarm me, elicit my sympathy, and make him sound all the more convincing.

The couple is playing a highly manipulative game of “Jump high enough and you’ll get the prize.” What shocks the story’s author is the realization that the boyfriend was playing the same game with her. And nothing shocks a manipulator more than the realization that she is being manipulated, too.

Of course, our favorite passive tense comes out the moment our protagonist faces the need to explain why she participated in this freak show she chose to call a relationship:

I was rendered completely helpless against his intentional deceptions.

Helplessness here is not a product of the boyfriend’s actions. It is the state that the protagonist perceives as the most desirable and seeks to achieve at any cost. Responsibility for her romantic relationships is too onerous for her. Who needs to learn to communicate with a partner, get to know him, work on developing a contact, etc. when you can just make an ultimatum and then sit back and expect your immaturity to be serviced permanently.

But wait, the best is yet to come. Remember all those disclosures the story’s author makes about the emotional distance in this relationship, about his lack of interest in an emotional intimacy of which she was well-aware, his regular disappearances? So what do you think her response was to this state of affairs? Well, isn’t it obvious? Marriage!

I was invited to Sunday dinners, major holidays, and get-togethers with his grandparents.  He presented me to them as if I were his intended.  He even went so far in playing the role of the dedicated boyfriend that he participated in couple’s therapy with me—his way of proving to me how committed he was to making it work.  He even told me that he wanted to marry me.  Multiple times.

Yes, getting married is the most logical culmination to a relationship filled with “long-winded conversations about our relationship and my concern that he didn’t share my interest in a deeper level of emotional intimacy.”

There is still more to this story, believe it or not. When the boyfriend’s cheating is revealed, the woman does not dump him. Instead, she involves him in detailed discussions of his sex acts with other women:

I demanded to know the full details of his transgressions, and I got two names from him—one was Meg, the woman who had caused a scene at his work, and the other was Emily. . . During his “confessions” to me (in reality they were mere fractions of the truth) he had said that he was with his coworker, Emily, for three weeks, and they had always used protection. . . He said he that was with the hell-raiser and substance abuser, Meg, for over a month, and that he’d had protected sex with her every time but once. 

After this shared sexual experience (because fantasizing about your boyfriend having sex with other people is a sexual experience), our feisty protagonist begins to pursue the women her hapless boyfriend had sex with, engaging them in sexually charged discussions of the sex acts they had with him. This makes it perfectly clear why she needed this cheating boyfriend in her life: she enjoys fantasizing about group sex, and this is the only way of doing so that she has allowed herself to engage in. The good news is that the cheater’s “other woman” is just as much into this kind of thing:

I wound up having several online conversations with Emily about what had happened.  She expressed her utmost shock when she learned that I’d been Nadjeeb’s girlfriend the whole time she was sleeping with him.  Neither one of us could even understand how he had found the time.  In addition, it turns out that he had sworn monogamy to her as well, and, as a result, they had never used condoms—not during the entire four months they were dating.  Already their stories were vastly different—three weeks of protected but utterly casual/meaningless sex according to him, and four months of unprotected sex in the context of a “dating” relationship according to her.  She even said that he bought her gifts of lingerie.

The need to discuss another woman’s underwear with her signals the desire to engage with her genital area through the boyfriend’s agency. If we were talking about sexually healthy people, they would acknowledge their desires and have a happy, fulfilling threesome. Since there is no sexual health in sight, they engage in behaviors that imitate a desired sex act verbally.

The idea of helplessness surfaces once again at this point in the story:

He rendered me utterly helpless to protect myself—physically, psychologically, and emotionally—from his deliberately harmful behavior.

I’m sure that, in this person’s mind, choosing to stay in an emotionally distant relationship filled with long-winded conversations and sex she never really desired is not her responsibility. I mean, she was promised MARRIAGE. What woman can be expected to retain any brain activity when the biggest prize of all is dangled in front of her? And to punish the bastard for not marrying her, she suggests we bring back the breach-of-promise laws. Of course, that would wipe out all of the gains of the feminist movement, but who cares? Surely, not our protagonist:

If there had been laws to protect me from his actions—laws that forbade the use of deception and manipulation to lure someone into dangerous and unwanted sexual situations—perhaps this wouldn’t have happened to me.  At the very least, if it had happened, I would have had some legal recourse.  As it stands, there is no prosecutorial action I can take regarding his loathsome behavior in the state of Virginia—and I’m not sure I could take such action anywhere else, either.

It is truly tragic to see this Victorian mentality in play, and not on a blog of scary Christian fundamentalists but on a supposedly feminist website.

The laws our helpless protagonist wants to see introduced will never happen. You can’t criminalize lying and manipulation because there is no way of defining either. If she tried bringing this boyfriend up on charges for concealing that he was sleeping with somebody else, he could file charges against her for concealing that she never loved him and only wanted to snag a husband at any cost. Or that she forgot to mention every sex act she ever had in the past. Or for not disclosing that she likes cornflakes and traumatizing him later with a realization that he’d been sleeping with a nasty cornflakes-eater. The possibilities are endless.

Instead of expecting prosecutors and judges to manage our sex lives, we could assume the responsibilities attendant on enjoying sexual freedoms. Most adults have experience of being in a relationship they regret. Most people have been lied to. Many people have either cheated or had a cheating partner. One can respond to these situations by throwing childish tantrums and insisting that everybody else remove the pain immediately. Or one can use the experience to learn something about oneself. The difference between the two approaches is that between a mature person and a whiny infantile creature.

22 thoughts on “Criminalizing Cheating

  1. As far as I know, in about a dozen of US states there are “theft of affection” laws, so the one spouse can sue the person with whom the other spouse cheated. But I guess this applies only to legally married people…

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      1. What is more pathetic than “pay me because sex with me is unsatisfying”?

        Of course, if the person plans to use the money to attend some sexual self-improvement seminars. . . 🙂 🙂

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        1. “The “theft of affection” concept is wrong at every possible level one could think of, however.”

          – Just imagine the poor spouse riding on a bus and then this sneaky person snuggles close and surreptitiously steals affection from the spouse’s pocket. That is a horrible crime! Especially since it seems next to impossible to carry out.

          “Oh honey, I think somebody stole my affection! It was right here, in my handbag. Are you sure you haven’t seen me misplace it?”

          🙂 🙂 🙂

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  2. I must admit I am fishing for articles like this for two reasons: the article itself is so funny it makes me laugh, and the rationalization in comments is pure gold. Oh, and there is a third reason: it’s so far away from where I leave that I can have a hearty laugh without fear of such idiotic ideas ever affecting me.

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    1. Good for you. 🙂 I, on the other hand, haven’t even looked at the comments because the realization that I probably meet this kind of unhinged people every day is too painful.

      At least, I can have a haven of normalcy on my own blog.

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      1. I like it that people can actually have a civil discussion here and don’t get instabanned for expressing outrageous ideas, like insisting that racism against white people existed and exists. Some Americans reaaaly should read history books.

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  3. I think that the problem here is the belief that STI’s make you a bad person. Instead of icky gay people and sluts get sexually transmitted infections, the attitude is icky adulterers get STI’s. I think she’s demonising her ex-boyfriend as a way to cope with the dissonance of believeing she’s a decent person and know she has HPV.

    Yes there are things you can do to reduce your risk of sexually transmitted disease just as there are things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease. But having an illness is not a moral failing and it would have been much more productive to talk about reducing the shame of STI’s instead.

    This bit just sounds terrible: “I felt it my moral obligation to alert both of these women about their potential exposure.” I despise adultery and so perhaps out of hurt and anger I might have done the same, but I wouldn’t kid myself that enjoying being the bearer of bad news is acting morally.

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    1. “I think that the problem here is the belief that STI’s make you a bad person. Instead of icky gay people and sluts get sexually transmitted infections, the attitude is icky adulterers get STI’s. I think she’s demonising her ex-boyfriend as a way to cope with the dissonance of believeing she’s a decent person and know she has HPV.”

      – You are making a very important point. I suspect we wouldn’t see this degree of outrage had he given her a flu infection.

      “But having an illness is not a moral failing and it would have been much more productive to talk about reducing the shame of STI’s instead.”

      – This is an important discussion that I would have much preferred to see happen instead of the kind of post we got.

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  4. The whole ideal of going passively in a straight line, where other people violently knock you off course and deserve blame….this is how the majority seems to understand morality.

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      1. Her point seems to be that unprotected sex is acceptable when the partner is monogamous too and doesn’t give you STDs.

        // This bit just sounds terrible: “I felt it my moral obligation to alert both of these women about their potential exposure.” I despise adultery and so perhaps out of hurt and anger I might have done the same, but I wouldn’t kid myself that enjoying being the bearer of bad news is acting morally.

        If it’s herpes, it’s one thing. However, had it been AIDS or even “only” Syphilis, telling would’ve been the moral thing to do.

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        1. In such cases, doctors at the STD clinic take the matter into their hands and work at discovering the chain of infection. This is not something that private citizens should take upon themselves. Especially those private citizens who are bent on getting a revenge. Imagine the words such a distraught person would use to convey the message.

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