Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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The art of deception

I have spent months trying to figure out why I cheated on the one man I’ve loved. Guilt has kept me awake dozens of nights. I tried to reason how I could be so awful to betray someone who carried me when my feet hurt at prom, gave my mom an enthusiastic hug on Christmas morning when she gave him bright orange cat lights to hang in his fraternity room, and held my hair back when I threw up all day after my 21st birthday. I wanted to be happy forever. But I strayed despite my intense feelings. I couldn’t stop myself, and I had no explanation.

For a long time I worried I was born to be unfaithful. If I couldn’t stay loyal to this man I loved so much, could I be monogamous with anyone? Then I saw recent research from the St. Thomas’ Hospital in London showing that certain women were born with “infidelity genes” that made them twice as likely to cheat as others. I was almost hopeful this was justification for what I had done.

Whether there are distinct reasons for bouts of cheating or not, recent studies have revealed staggering statistics about how many people have been disloyal — of most note, the number of women who are quickly approaching the number of men. In marriage, at least 12 percent of women and 22 percent of men cheat, according to a survey published this year by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. And if married adults are cheating this much, one wonders how the notoriously debaucherous college social scene has been affected by the rise of unfaithfulness when consequences aren’t as severe.

I know dozens of people at Northwestern and from high school who have cheated on a partner at some point in their life, and I’m only 21 years old. Even the people I least expected have been unfaithful. But maybe a lot of us shouldn’t have jumped on the monogamy bandwagon in the first place. When students delve into these four whirlwind years, experimentation is part of the college mantra.

“What is so surprising is that people seem to keep treating it as a surprise when someone cheats, like it’s out of the norm,” says Laura Kipnis, a Communication professor at NU and author of “Against Love: A Polemic.” “But really it’s actually quite a normal thing.”

Julie Dodge,* a Weinberg junior, was unhappy in her current relationship when she first felt an urge to be with someone new. Her boyfriend had been distracted and was paying little attention to her when she started hanging out with an attractive, sweet guy named John.* Dodge says it was annoying that her boyfriend didn’t seem to care about her, while John was fawning over her.

One night Dodge was at a bar with John and the two of them went home together and made out. She felt so guilty she didn’t tell anyone, but the fun little fling developed into something much more. She says she wondered if it was a mistake to stay with her boyfriend, so she broke up with him to explore other options.

“Things weren’t going great and I wanted to figure out if (my boyfriend) was the right person for me,” Dodge says. “I don’t want to be locked in a relationship if I’m not positive it’s someone I want to be with. And I now know he wasn’t.”

I asked more cheaters why they strayed and got a variety of answers. Many, like Dodge, thrive on attention and enjoy the gratification that comes with being wanted. Still more women and men wanted to see what sex was like with different people. They were either dissatisfied with their current sex lives or they just wanted to try something new. Others were perfectly happy in a relationship and just got drunk and made a poor decision.

There are a few personality characteristics that may make a person more likely to cheat. I talked to NU professors who said “infidelity genes” most likely do not exist. However, there is a personality variable called socio-sexuality, explains Eli Finkel, a psychology professor at NU. He says this trait magnifies a person’s desire for casual sex. It’s an individual variable and people with higher socio-sexual traits are more likely to engage in sexual infidelity.

Situational factors like Dodge’s are usually more critical in determining when a person will cheat though, Finkel adds. If a person is unhappy in the relationship, is under the influence of alcohol or is aggressively pursued by a third-party person, for example, he or she may be more likely to cheat.

But whether monogamy is the right way to pursue a relationship is debatable.

“I think there are roving types of personalities,” Kipnis says. “It’s not clear to me that everyone should conform to a way to have a love life. To call it cheating presumes that there’s only one way to deal with a relationship. This is a society that wants individuality and self expression, but in relationships there’s this expectation of conformity.”

But as Kipnis notes, there are many ways to look at relationships, and monogamy does work for many people. There are, after all, many benefits to having a single partner.

“One of the very best predictors of physical health is being involved in a good relationship,” says Finkel. “There is a real danger to your own personal well being in terms of cheating in that it threatens your closest relationships. And having close, meaningful relationships is incredibly beneficial to you.”

Finkel says people in relationships tend to care more about their health. They typically exercise more, eat better and drink less alcohol. “Being a smoker or being obese is about as bad as being socially isolated,” Finkel says.

But the benefits may not be right for you right now. College connotes drinking, partying and staying up until 4 a.m. laughing with friends. We have plenty of years after college to calm down and settle into a relationship.

Weinberg junior Eriko Nagao was in a serious relationship for her entire sophomore year before breaking up this fall. She now regrets her time in coupledom and wants to be on her own.

“I am so happy to be on my own,” Nagao says. “I see all the sacrifices I compromised for one person. I lost touch with so many people, a lot of my best friends from freshman year. Now I have time for myself and time for my work and time to do what I want and stay on top of everything. It’s almost like an obligation to be in a relationship like that. I’ve had a ridiculously amazing time since we broke up.”

On the other hand, a healthy relationship may be exactly the thing to pull us through the emotional ups and downs of college.

“The best part of being with someone is having a witness to your own life,” says Medill junior Caroline Moses. “If you’re with someone you tell them everything so they know everything about you. It’s a different relationship than you have with your mom or anyone else. Even things you like doing alone are more fun with them. It somehow just makes life so much better.”

Despite the potential for romantic euphoria, jumping into a relationship without being ready for monogamy can have its problems.

“Trust is the most important thing in a relationship,” Moses says. “If you enter a relationship where monogamy is expected, then you better be able to uphold that.”

If you do cheat, there is hope that you can stop. Just because a person cheats once doesn’t mean he or she will forever, says Finkel.

“There are people who cheat in college who end up having wonderful relationships in college or after,” Finkel says. “I think someone who has cheated before can become involved with a dream partner, for instance. As long as you feel like losing this person can be devastating to you, you’re less likely to cheat.”

The same thing can be true if you cheat in a relationship and have a sudden realization that you’re about to lose the best thing that’s ever happened to you. The fear of loss can make you change your unfaithful ways. You just have to be resolved to change.

I’m slowing getting over my guilt of cheating. I wasn’t ready to be in a serious relationship before. But after the pain my boyfriend and I went through, I would never agre
e to commit myself to someone again unless I was sure I would be loyal. I haven’t found the right moment to “settle down” yet, but I know I will. I wanted to experience all I needed to before I chose one man who is perfect for me. Because when I do, I want that love to be pure, without ever breaking trust between us.

Medill junior Sarah Bailey is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected].

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The art of deception