On cheating

A friend recently asked for my thoughts on relationships and cheating. He had stumbled upon a forum and was surprised by the overwhelming number of people who had cheated or been cheated on.

This has always been a relatively painful subject for me to explore. Cheating to me is revolting and plain wrong, especially in marriages.

I just can’t comprehend it in the slightest.

They were young once, and desperately in love; They made the same promises we did, the same unrealistic promises – in the words of Jean-Jacques Lafon: Demandez-moi de vous construire des tours, des cathedrales sur des sables mouvant. Ask me to build towers and cathedrals for you on quick sand. 

At which point did they forget that and instead decide to let everything collapse into the sand?

Words of endearments turned to ones of cruelty, intentionally uttered to destroy. Chilly stares clashing over the dinner table, quarrels stealing past the curtain of the night to children that lie trembling in their beds, shattered into shards of confusion and pain.

Affairs. Substitutes. Weak, cowardly attempts to relive the dizzying moments of their youth that stole their breath away. One after another, and another. Unsatisfying, frustrating, ugly. And what they’re looking for will continue to remain elusive, because the one person who had staked claims to their heart is the one person they’re shutting out firmly.


New people can be exciting. They tell stories that paint unknown territory under your feet. Unknown, but exciting. They don’t have that annoying habit that your partner has of frowning disapprovingly when you tell them about an idea you just came up with, and asking were you sober when you thought it through, darling? They may touch you in ways that make you feel, for a few breathless moments, like every flawed inch of you is perfect.

This excitement is like that of plunging from the highest point of a roller coaster. You love it because it jolts your life out of its stasis. It’s exhilarating. You’re pure sensations and no rationality. There’s no need for rationality. All you need to do is to relinquish all control and just free fall.

But you can’t free fall forever.

You begin to wish it would end. You begin to crave solid ground and familiarity. The tension that has built up in your arms, your back, your neck, is desperately searching for release. And as you ball your fists up ever more tightly, your nails etching crescent grooves into your palm, you can’t cry out or make a single sound no matter how hard you try.

When the ride is finally over, you take a step uncertainly, all shaken up. Your clothes and your hair are in disarray. You’re ashamed of your weakness so you try to pretend everything’s okay. You try to walk confidently and nonchalantly. You boast to your friends how good that felt, and what a badass you are. You can fool everyone but you’re the one who has to live with the uneasiness, the nausea, the shame.

Relationships can get difficult, extremely difficult, as we spend more and more time with one person. We get tired of the endless shouting matches over silly things such as the pile of dirty dishes in the sink or suspicious facebook messages from ‘a friend’. Or worse, we get tired of no longer having anything to talk about, and we end up in another silly shouting match because we don’t have anything in common anymore. 

When you find the right person, it should not be boredom that ensues, but immense comfort as you begin to know the other person like yourself. To be able to sit down with someone and not care about how you look or act, to share the same inside jokes and memories, is the greatest luxury anyone can ever, ever have.

New people bring excitement, a thrill of the unknown. But we always discard our new jeans for our old ones, simply because they mould to our every curve with ease, and they always, always make us feel good about ourselves.

22 thoughts on “On cheating

  1. So true.. I feel like crying with this. 😥 I don’t know, but I already witnessed both sides, being cheated, the one who do the cheating, and the other party… and I tell you, no one wins. Everyone lose in this kind of game. All the parties involve will be broken in the end. And it’s just so sad that it even has to happen. 😦

    • I know I have a long way to go to experience different things – I hope (and at the same time I don’t) that one day I’ll be able to write a more informed piece on this topic.

  2. Looking at your posts has inspired me to put my thoughts on my blog again as well…

    Having just ended an 8 years relationship, I witnessed my ex going out with somebody else 2 weeks after our mutual breakup. 2 weeks! I felt betrayed, replaced and lost. Am I really that dispensable?

    It was only after some time I realised what you have penned down so beautifully. Truly we all embrace the new because it is fresh and easier. Tiny mishaps are overlooked and forgiven easily.

    Love requires alot of nurture, infatuation requires none.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that – I understand how you feel about being dispensable, but you’ll find someone who will centre her universe around you and make you feel like the luckiest guy!

      I’m glad you’ve been inspired to write again, that means so incredibly much to me, and I look forward to reading your thoughts (:

      • Thank you, those are the kindest words and it made my day. I look forward to seeing more of your writings and artwork! Btw your Egg drawings are so cute 🙂

  3. You summarized this perfectly. Im an extremely inarticulate person hence trying to describe to others how i truly felt was an obstacle. I was married and got cheated on too, to a person who promised and swore to never cheat, to a person who tried all ways and means to keep me off from cheating on her by supervising every single move that i make. Everyone got to the point that if someone were to cheat, it has to be me.

    Ironically, it went the other way round.

    It’s ridiculous because I strongly believe that if one is able to stay faithful to the other, why can’t it be the same for the other? Is it that tough to stay committed?

    Oh boy.

    • The last bit of your comment really struck me hard. I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that, and it’s something that I hate about humanity as well. I guess it’s important to continuously reassess your relationship and to ensure that no problems go unnoticed…and part of it is perhaps just blind luck in finding the right person.

  4. Howdie! I stumbled upon this article by chance because a friend of mine shared this on Facebook. First, I love your writing style and thoroughly enjoyed reading this article! (wait for it…) Also, my heart goes out to anyone who’s ever been cheated on before, and agree unreservedly that infidelity is absolutely, positively wrong on all counts, especially to one’s spouse (here it comes)…


    Respectfully, i have a difference of opinion on many of the rest of your sentiments expressed. For example, i may be mistaken but it seems you’re of the opinion that Jean-Jacques Lafon’s quote on being asked to “build towers and cathedrals for you on quick sand” was an optimistic ideal, which sometimes lapsed when forgotten. Call me a cynic, but firstly any engineer will tell you, building structures on quicksand isn’t something tower/church-building folks should aspire towards. I think Lafon may have meant it pessimistically to say it was never a matter of “if” but “when” it would fail, because such schemes were ill-conceived to begin with. Secondly, perhaps you meant it metaphorically, but i doubt cheaters “forgot” their promises or vows. I’ve never cheated on any of my two ex-girlfriends so i don’t have much in common with them, but I’ll tell you this, cheaters are humans too. And all humans are fantasmic self-righteous justifying machines. I might be going out on a limb here, but i think all manner of wrong-doings (be it immoral or criminal, or both) would have a perpetrator who felt completely justified in doing the deed. The wrong-doer didn’t “forget” nothing. The wrong-doer simply concocted his/her own back-story with leaps of logic to help sleep good at night.

    “New people can be exciting”, but i hope you do realise excitement isn’t love. As humans, yes we crave love, acceptance and belonging. Sometimes the pursuit of love (due to the inherent risks it entails) can be exciting. We have brains that have evolved to secrete little feel-good endorphins to say reward us for having taken a risk and survived. Endorphins feel good, but that’s not love. And to crave the excitement as a result of our fundamental desire to be loved is like saying you want to marry the bakchor mee seller because she makes an awesome dabao lunch. Ok. Bad analogy. I had a long day, i’m sorry. The backspace key is a little too far away.

    So if it’s excitement you crave, go white-water rafting! Go-karting! Parachute off a perfectly-functional airplane, bungee off a bridge, climb a cliff, take a roller coaster, play a contact sport that involves trying to kill or maim your sparring partner. Just don’t look for excitement in love! (go for the safe but boring Catholic guy who loves kids, has a decently well paying tech job in an MNC with his own neat nice little apartment on the city fringe and driving a beat-up 8yr old car)

    Seek love, but expect hardship. Expect pain. (Excitement-induced endorphins are incidental bonuses) Because love in itself is about self-giving, and giving anything that’s of value, is gonna cost you. And it’ll hurt! But in the words of Bob Marley “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”

    Seek intimacy! But intimacy isn’t purely physical, it’s about self-revelation and sharing your life to another, so that you grow more towards being a better person — by learning new things that your partner is passionate about, by learning about your own flaws and correcting them (because you want to, not because the other half expects you to)

    I would also like to offer a different view on the desire draw “comfort as you begin to know the other person like yourself”. Principally i disagree that there will ever be anyone who knows me like i do, because quite frankly, i surprise myself sometimes and don’t even understand me! So why place that onerous burden on another hapless being? Especially one that i might profess to love? For those reasons, I’ve stopped seeking to be understood, but just to be appreciated.

    It’s like my favourite 18yr old Single Malt Glenmorangie scotch whisky. Maybe i can spew a few lines about how it was made by memorizing the back label on the box. But heck, while I can’t *understand* it, but i’m dang sure i *appreciate* it. The floral notes in the aroma that excite the olfactory nerves, the unfathomable depths of its complexity on the taste-buds, the magical after-taste and the uncanny sensation of being hugged internally as the “water of life” makes its way from the back of my mouth, down my esophagus and into my tummy. loved-loved-loved all the way down. mmmm-mmmm-mmmmm. (that’s a description i guarantee you wont find on the back of any box label, i assure you!)

    New people bring new excitement, but my brain’s not gonna say that’s love. It’s just exciting meeting new people like you (virtually). Bounce!

    PS the excitement is real, the meeting is virtual. Just in case you thought i was being insincere 🙂

  5. PPS I’m sure you meant well in offering encouragement, and it was well received by the recipient. But i certainly wouldn’t wish to be the centre of anyone’s universe. There’d be so much tension in me due to the gravity in keeping the planets and tides in check, everything would be spinning at crazy speeds around me, all eyes would be on me and festivals would be marked by my relative cyclical position to them planets. No thanks. Call me unromantic, but i don’t buy that Jerry Maguire “you complete me” crap either. A girl I love should be whole and complete (in and of herself) needing me to fix nothing in her, provide nothing for her. (not that i wouldn’t, but that’s a separate point). Love to me is a choice, a choice to fully appreciate someone (flaws and glories), always. And it’s gonna hurt! And it’s about renewing that desire, not fulfilling a need.

    • Wow it was a surprise waking up to this! I’ll try to address what you said but since 95% of my brain cells are still passed out my already incoherent thoughts might be completely incomprehensible to you, so please forgive me. And thank you btw, for your very thoughtful and concise reply (:

      1. I didn’t see building things on quick sand as an optimistic ideal – I was merely pointing out how incredibly unrealistic/exaggerated some of the promises that people in love make, and regardless of whether/when it would fail the sincerity and intensity of the love felt by the person at the moment of utterance can’t be doubted in the slightest. Hence the subsequent question of why did they forget that? I believe a person can’t possibly cheat if, at the deciding moment of whether to sleep with the person in front of them, they remember exactly how much they loved their partner when they made those promises. They might remember making the promises but if those feelings have faded then sure they’ll cheat and then try to justify it somehow.

      2. Yes, I do realise that excitement isn’t love. That is the entire premise of the second half. That it’s exciting, sure, but it’s short-lived and not founded on real love.

      3. You are right that it is impossible to understand another person like you do yourself. I apologise for my murky writing here and I’ll keep this in mind when writing future pieces (: I don’t believe that you can understand another person that well, or at least it’s very difficult to, and that’s why I worded it as ‘begin to know the other person like yourself’, ‘begin’ suggesting that you’re still at the starting line.

      I also believe that in relationships, you should not seek for understanding as you pointed out, or actually actively seek for very much at all. Yes, it would burden your partner. I agree with that as well. But conversely even if you don’t expect it of the other person, you should attempt to do it for him/her. What I mean is, even if I don’t ask that he understands me, I want to try to understand him. Understand, without him having to tell me, that when he goes for a walk before coming home he’s had a rough day at work. Understand what he, maybe not expects, but hopes I would do to ease his anxiety. I don’t expect very much from my partner at all, but every day I wake up and ask myself how I can make his life better for him. I firmly believe that if both individuals in a relationship expect nothing from each other but give each other everything (willingly and happily, this is very important), then it will be a relationship in which they will grow together and continuously strengthen their love for each other.

      4. You misinterpreted my meaning again when I said centre of her universe, although I threw those words out without explaining them so it’s open to interpretation. I simply meant that she would always keep him in mind when making decisions in life (such as whether to cheat), not that she would throw everything out and stick to him 24/7 and gaze at him creepily while he showers/works/sleeps. I completely agree with you that two people should both approach a relationship as two wholes, and I definitely agree that a guy is not obligated to provide for me – being financially independent is one of my top priorities! However, we slightly diverge in that I believe even if two people come together as wholes, they can still ‘complete’ one another. For example, two metals can previously be wholes on their own, but when combined, they form a new whole – and this new alloy is so much stronger. It’s about completing each other in the way that you bring out the best in the other person.

      That took way too long and my oatmeal has congealed aahhh!! I’m going to have my breakfast now, but I hope I’ve managed to explain my writing more clearly. And thank you again, I always appreciate it when people help me to write more clearly and accurately. Have a good day Shaun (:

      • Ola! So you’re a fellow oatmeal eater, a kindred-spirit! i love oatmeal for breakfast too. I’d cook it with a tiny bit of milk, a sachet of Equal and top off with a tiny sprinkle of banana-nut crunch (just for the aroma). On many occassions when I’m caught up with work emails and my bowl of oatmeal congeals, i’d then pretend i’m eating cookie-dough 🙂 I’m not sure WHY 95% of your brain cells were “passed out” (not probing, no explanations necessary) but i’m impressed with the remaining 5% of sober cells that drafted your reply. Don’t worry if most of your 95% never eventually survived into the next morning. Alcohol-killing-braincells is not necessarily a bad thing. I always believe it encourages survival of the fittest so some culling of the old, sick and diseased braincells improves the population on the whole.

        Before I continue with my reply, I’d just like to point out that since we both don’t know each other, it might be useful to know that I don’t consider agreement necessary for friendship. Matter of fact, I think discordance is a good thing — in principal, because it always expands the mind to consider alternate points of view, and entropy introduces new information into an otherwise closed system. For example, Confederates used to think slavery was a good idea (for doing business etc) until the Unionists floated the proposition that all men are created equal. Oftentimes the MANNER in which such discordance resolves itself, might be good or bad. Like do they get resolved with mutual respect and dialog (as we do) or by hurling lumps of hot lead and shoving sharp metal spikes into one another (which i’m reluctant to, because I’m pacifist by choice)

        Now, adopting your structured numerical response framework:

        1. I’m glad we both agree “cathedrals and towers on quicksand” is not an ideal state. Also it seems we both agree it’s figurative hyperbole or exaggeration. It’s also interesting to note that while you emphasize the exaggeration of the promise (the magnificence inherent in towers and cathedrals) I take exception to the infeasibility of the premise (building on quicksand) to begin with. Let me try to clarify with yet another example? Like if i promised to my future spouse, “I’ll love you a bazillion times more than my own mother who bore me and gave me life!”. First, the exaggeration / hyperbole bit is obviously the “bazillion times”. But the premise is that the love is of the SAME TYPE (just a bazillion times more) as the type I’d reserve for my mother. Which is totally nuts! So the end-result being unsound, it’s a flawed promise to begin with, hyperbole or not. Like building anything on quicksand is flawed, be it magnificent cathedral our shabby out-house. Hence my pessimistic suggestion / speculation that maybe Lafon was a cynic, rather than a romantic.

        Also, many reasons have been cited for cheating. My reading of your sentences still can’t shake the notion that you still hold the view infidelity has to do with forgetting / not remembering the past promises, or shared experiences. And are you suggesting that sequentially: first, cheater forgets past; second, cheats on spouse / significant-other; third, retrospectively justifies with lame stories / reasons? I postulate maybe the sequence is entirely reversed. The stories were hatched first, then the dastardly deed done, and finally attempts are made towards erasing the past promises or forgetting shared experiences.

        Not to open another can of worms, but i distinguish “sincerity” from “capacity”. A lot of people (not saying you specifically) seem to think if someone doesn’t honour their promises, he / she wasn’t sincere at the point in making them. To me: Sincerity is emotive. Capacity is cognitive. Example: an old friend of mine once shared a true story in which she received her first marriage proposal at the age of 4, from an “older man” at her play-school who was 6. The issue wasn’t a lack of sincerity. Strap the 6 year old boy into a polygraph and he’ll probably pass every lie-detector test to prove that he genuinely truly wanted to marry her. Ask him to write an essay on the institution of marriage, and his understanding of the commitment that it entails, then “Aha! The scheming wormy little heart-breaker’s evil ruse is exposed” (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

        2. Mea culpa! I apologize for misunderstanding that you were *already* of the opinion that the excitement wasn’t founded on real love. I guess the imaginative part of my brain made out your beautiful descriptions to sound so appealing that I wrongly assumed you were for it, and the crash that followed was an eventuality to be avoided if possible. But okay, we both agree real love doesn’t look like that 🙂

        3. Mmmm please don’t apologize! Your writing’s far from murky. To me it wasn’t a matter of “begin” being the operative word, although i appreciate that you’re making the distinction that this is the “starting line” you’re referring to. Using your same analogy of it being a race or marathon, I’m not sure if the “finish line” is one I’d like to arrive at. I don’t believe in having someone understand me as I understand myself, because sometimes I don’t understand myself. By extension to your analogy, if I’d “begun” your race, I’d end up eventually at the finish line, all sweaty, totally breathless, feet-throbing, legs-aching, lung-bursting, and my trophy would be a spouse (trophy-spouse metaphor was incidental and not intended) that doesn’t understand me — because i don’t understand me either. So since she understands me like I understand me, and i don’t understand me either, that leaves a grand total of zero people (not two) understanding me. Understand me? 😉

        Hence my opinion that appreciation is more viable than understanding. But perhaps it’s merely a matter of semantics now, because to me, appreciation is emotive, while understanding is cognitive. Like the example on my Scotch. Or “I appreciate my mom” vs “I really don’t understand fashion”. But in the examples you gave with your partner, subbing my word “appreciate” for your usage of “understand”, resonates with me totally now, perhaps because we mean the same thing, but merely used different words which had differing interpretations?

        To me, the emotive and cognitive parts of my personality are clear and separate, one half often casting aspersions upon the other. But despite my slightly schizo inclinations, the key benefit to my quirky outlook is i’m usually able to get myself to do something even when i don’t feel like it, or forgive someone even though i know someone deserves my wrath (heart and mind, each has its voice, in its own time and place in my world. I just gotta choose which one to go with)

        Also I’d like tip my hat and call out the subtle but important distinction you’ve made between a hope vs an expectation. I hold that view too, but not many see the difference I think.

        4. Hahaha! Your expression “throw everything out and stick to him 24/7 and gaze at him creepily while he showers/works/sleeps” made me smile! By your definition, I’m sure many people (including myself) can empathise with anyone who wasn’t kept in mind while their partners were making important decisions. I also agree with your kinder definition of completing each other when each was already complete in oneself. Like, I’m sure copper was pretty “Cu” back then. And there was another metal lying around happily doing its own “tin”. Then shazaam, melt them together and you get bronze. My former view of completing each other was more like “Ahoy, i’m a right-handed pirate with a curved hook for a left hand, and a wooden peg for my left leg. Let me go find a left-handed she-pirate with a wooden peg on her right leg. If she holds on tightly enough to me, and wears size 11 shoes too, we’d be golden! We could go shopping for shoes together! Or at least steal shoes from the same guy! But if she let’s go, or I poke her with the hook, we’re both screwed! Arrrrr”

        Once again, apologies for the fate of your oatmeal (aka cookie-dough, if you put a positive spin on it). If there’s any way I can make up for it, let me know! Hope you had a great day too, Anna (derived logically from Annastarstar? Gee, I don’t even know your real name. It might even be Ann Astarstar)

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