Is cheating in relationships in your twenties and thirties inevitable?
August 2, 2009 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Is infidelity in relationships in your twenties and thirties inevitable? I recently was cheated on by my ex-boyfriend days after we started living together and many of my friends who are in their late-30s are not surprised.

We had been dating each other very seriously for a year, he spoke about getting a dog with me, he discussed future household repairs in the new place, putting me on his insurance, and at the same time was getting in some girls car in the middle of the night. Dating each other exclusively and living together were both his ideas (he even asked me what kind of wedding I would have) so I know there was no pressure on my end to have a life he didn't want. Seems as if he was just another boy too close for comfort to 30 and confused about what kind of life he wanted. I was just collateral damage.

I've told this story multiple times over the last few weeks and more than a few people didn't seem all that surprised. Someone even called it "age appropriate drama". Am I in for more duplicitous behavior from guys for the next ten years until I approaching 40? This break-up was really devastating and emotionally exhausting. I can't imagine going through something like this multiple times until I find someone to settle down with. Is this to be expected or does it happen more often than not? Also, I haven't spoken to him since about this, he has not reached out to me in any real way, perhaps out of shame.
posted by countingbackwards to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sorry that happened. Among my 20-something friends, a few have been cheated on but a greater number haven't. It happening occasionally doesn't mean you should expect or accept it in your relationships. It's always rotten behavior to step out of the agreed-upon bounds of a relationship, whatever one's age.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:45 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


No it does not. People cheat at all ages, but more people don't at all ages.

Take heart, countingbackwards, you found a bad apple before you ended up marrying it, and finding out once you had children etc. But there are plenty of loving, trusting, secure men - and women! - out there aged from 16 - 100. Don't let other people's cynicism or bad experience taint a whole age cohort for you. :)
posted by smoke at 5:50 PM on August 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


No, it's not "inevitable" -- some people in monogamous relationships cheat; many more do not. This is true regardless of age group. Your ex's actions do not speak of some univeral truth of How All Men Behave in Their 20s and 30s. You do not have to "resign" yourself to anything.
posted by scody at 5:52 PM on August 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


BULLSHIT. NOT APPROPRIATE.

I mean, unless that is your social circle. I live in Los Angeles and that sort of thing is fairly common, but not absolute, for the entertainment industry. And the restaurant industry. And the financial industry.... Wait? What do I mean??

What I mean is this: across the board, certain people will be cheaters. I perceive it as a character flaw, others may disagree.

What I do KNOW is that certain types of people will NEVER be cheaters.

I'm not sure I have a list of traits that equals a non-cheater... but you kinda know them when you see/feel them.

This is pretty non-scientific, but maybe zero in on your friends and acquaintances that you know don't cheat. Ask yourself what they are like, how they "feel" to you. Start looking for those traits (that feeling) in potential date-worthy candidates. Tread cautiously.

Interestingly, I've noticed a disproportionate amount of men who seem to really really really respect their mothers DO cheat. I'm not sure if there is a link, but that is one of those oddball things I've noticed. There are a ton of other things.

YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 5:54 PM on August 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


The short answer is no. But you knew that already.

Do some people cheat? Yes. But does everyone cheat? No. And there are certainly enough men out there who value fidelity every bit as much as you do that you shouldn't be lowering your expectations just because you're a bit older and wiser.

Somebody you trusted betrayed that trust, and you understandably feel pretty horrible at the moment. But the hurt will fade, you'll pick yourself up, and sometime not so far down the track you'll meet a man who'll make you giddy with love and excited about all the wonderful possibilities that a great relationship can bring.
posted by puffmoike at 6:04 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Inevitable is a strong word... I'm not sure if I should have used it now. I think I meant maybe I should view infidelty as more of a possibility than not. My father was a cheater, which my ex knew and discussed with me, and so maybe this is where my "its inevitable" perspective is coming from. Also, I just learned of two very solid relationships in my life ending because of infidelty over the past few months. Talk about a domino effect!

jbenben- He really really respected his mom actually and the idea of his parents' marriage, much more than I respect my parents' dysfunctional relationship and I would never even think about doing this to another person. What are some other oddball things you've got for me? Thanks!
posted by countingbackwards at 6:04 PM on August 2, 2009


short answer, no. I'm in my mid 30s.

I've been cheated on, and I've been with guys who I'm certain have never cheated. The difference seems to be, in my experience, the cheaters have loads of charisma PLUS insecurity. If you were easily seduced by them, they can easily do the same to other women. They crave the attention and are somewhat possessive. I also find that the more immediate physical attraction I have to someone, the more infatuated I feel, the more likely it is to go down in flames.
posted by desjardins at 6:05 PM on August 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Strong attractions to other people happen throughout a relationship, this is a hormonal thing and hormones run especially high in the 20's. This is inevitable. What is not inevitable is cheating, or more specifically, the deception and dishonesty that are part and parcel of cheating (see the recent polyamory thread or this great askme for examples of people being honest about their attraction to others while in a relationship).
posted by Ndwright at 6:17 PM on August 2, 2009


No.
posted by Perplexity at 6:20 PM on August 2, 2009


Is infidelity in relationships in your twenties and thirties inevitable?

Probably. Eventually. It's human nature.

Every time I hear "I have been with my husband twenty years and not cheated" the first answer that pops into my head is "well, then wait ten more." and it'll happen eventually. There's always a circumstance that's at least theoretically possible. Nobody knows the future, and nobody knows their own head in the future, that's for sure. Anyone who thinks they know what they will want and how they will make decisions ten years in the future is lying to themselves, I fear.

So instead, and for a lower stress life of your own, maybe try building a relationship that's strong enough to survive "infidelity" in the first place, instead of trying to enforce a requirement of perfection on inherently imperfect people.

That often ends badly, IME.
posted by rokusan at 6:24 PM on August 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Try not to let your particular experiences colour your entire worldview and to keep a healthy perspective. Okay, your father cheated on your mother, your boyfriend cheated on you, and you know two other current relationships that broke up over cheating. I can understand how that must make seem like "everyone's cheating"... but the reality is that it's four people cheating out of the several hundred people you know.

This has just happened, so you need time to let your feelings settle and to process everything. You'll need to decide whether it's worth it to you to work through this, or whether you want to leave. I'd vote for the latter, but then I don't know the situation and it's not my decision anyway. Good luck...
posted by orange swan at 6:50 PM on August 2, 2009


Your friends are trying to make you feel better. They think that if you believe your situation is universal and inevitable, you won't worry there's something wrong with you for having this happen to you, or for not avoiding this.

There's nothing wrong with you. There's something wrong with him. I think you figured that out in good time, too: you were dating him one year, not ten; you weren't married; you had no children with him. I do think, though, that an impulse toward intimacy for its own sake -- him being the impetus behind each leveling-up in your relationship was what made me think of this -- can be a sign that a person wants to replace a lack of real lovingness with the mere signs of intimacy.
posted by palliser at 7:00 PM on August 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


You might look into a genetic component of cheating. Since your Dad was a cheater, you may be attracted to whatever quality it is that is the complement of the "some people will never cheat" gene noted above. You may even be surrounding yourself with friends who shares this, and thus their lack of surprise. No, it's not normal and it's not (or doesn't have to be) OK.
posted by rhizome at 7:20 PM on August 2, 2009


No it does not. People cheat at all ages, but more people don't at all ages.

well... If you do some googling, the generally agreed upon stats seem to be that in approximately 80% of marriages, someone will cheat at some point. Not sure how accurate that is, & they may be including "just a kiss" or even online affairs, but, the common wisdom does tend to be that cheating is pretty likely.

This doesn't make it inevitable, and a lot depends on your social circle - some people think getting it on the side or assuming certain rules where it doesn't really count is "just human nature" while others think it goes against the whole point of the relationship.

I don't know too many people who openly accept cheating or think it's inevitable, but I know more people who have or at least have considered open relationships at some point, which may be evidence that some folks value honesty, some folks value comfort, but a high percentage of people value a bit of variety in their sex lives... In the end you have to deal with the people who you deal with, though, so advice from your friends is more useful than what folks on a message board say.

If they're not that surprised by his actions, maybe he wasn't hiding it that well? Perhaps it was even known about before you found out? Have you tried asking if there were any signs, or what they've gone through that's equivalent?
posted by mdn at 7:20 PM on August 2, 2009


No, I did ask around and everyone was as shocked as me. This is including his co-workers at the same job where he met the woman he was cheating on me with. I think some of my friends were not surprised because of our age (mid/late 20s) and the (false?) idea that sometimes males take longer to get their act together relationship-wise, want to settle but don't know how, etc...
posted by countingbackwards at 7:28 PM on August 2, 2009


No.

I'm not sure whether the people you told knew him or not, but consider the possibility that your friends may not have been surprised not because of age, but because the guy didn't really seem ready to settle down.

posted by Miko at 7:51 PM on August 2, 2009


Oh, also, some good advice I once received: "All relationships end, except, maybe, your last one." They don't all have to end because someone turns into a sneaky worm, but your question seems to be more about the future - do I just have to expect this? - than the past. I think it's safe to expect that all relationships will have troubles, and all of them except maybe that last one are going to meet their demise somehow. It's the way life is, and we all have to decide whether to risk loving again or not. The truth is, some people mature at 25 and can make an excellent choice of mate and stick with it. For others, it's 55, for others, 19, for others, never. All you can do to improve your chances of fidelity is to try to learn to recognize the signs of emotional maturity and good communication. If you can manage that, you'll prevent 90% of the problems you might otherwise cause yourself through bad mate choices. There's always going to be a chance, but it's a chance everyone has to live with in all relationships - so people accept the reality of this chance and do what they can to minimize it, a process generally called trust.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, I did ask around and everyone was as shocked as me.

So they are surprised :). That sounds like trying to explain something so that it isn't about the relationship or you. If they were initially shocked and then figured it must just be that he was a mixed up 30ish guy, that's a way to make sense of it, and avoid it being that he's just a jerk (that you fell for), or that you are just unloveable, etc. I don't think cheating is specific to an age; it's more specific to a kind of person, and how they view these things.

Remember that there are very likely people reading this question who have cheated and not regretted it (eg, met their current lover through an affair). Other folks feel bad if they just start having crushes or whatever, unless they can talk about that sort of thing with their partner, and have full communication about emotional / sexual desires. Of course, it's tough to find perfect agreement on anything, but good to get a sense of how much you need someone to share, and how much they like to share... I think that must make a difference in how much you can tell when things are changing, at least.
posted by mdn at 8:06 PM on August 2, 2009


Just to add more detail, this man had serious discussions with me about how he himself was cheated on, how he is disgusted by my parents relationship, how he is disappointed in the relationships that were falling apart around us. I spoke very openly about how saddened I was about this news and he did a very good job of playing along and never once hinting that he was cheating himself. We even broke up the week before I found out and he never suggested anything amiss. He was a very charming man and seemingly good-natured. He will be the best man in a pastor's wedding this fall.

We were very solid for a year, spent every night together, no cheating (as far as I know or he will admit) and then it was almost as if he heard of these other relationships falling apart and thought "Ah, f*** it." Obviously, that means he couldn't have been into the relationship that much to begin with but then I don't understand why he wanted us to live together just for me to get my name of the lease a month later. He could have saved us both the trouble. I wish there were more obvious signs that he wasn't trustworthy otherwise I wouldn't have this nagging feeling that all relationships are doomed to fail b/c of infidelty. Very helpful advice so far though. Thank you!
posted by countingbackwards at 8:15 PM on August 2, 2009


Your situation seems inevitable to the people you retell the story to because your relationship, or at least the description of it, has the hallmarks of one bound of infidelity.

That's what I'm guessing anyway. Perhaps people who knew you while you were with this guy had some sort of impression, or perhaps there were stories or incidents that you relayed to them over the course of the relationship that caused them to think about this.

"Well yeah, he cheated on you. He was always making eyes at me and other women when you weren't around." That type of thing.

It may happen again, it may not.

What you shouldn't do is build up some level of expectation that any relationship you have is going to end this way just because, "that's the age you're at." You're setting yourself to miss out on some awesome people.

Also, next time, don't move in with someone unless you're going to marry them.
posted by wfrgms at 9:22 PM on August 2, 2009


Is infidelity in relationships in your twenties and thirties inevitable?

Only because people are willing to settle for less than what they want.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:29 PM on August 2, 2009


Every time I hear "I have been with my husband twenty years and not cheated" the first answer that pops into my head is "well, then wait ten more." and it'll happen eventually.

While I love rokusan dearly, I have to call bullshit here, unless of course rokusan has been married for 30 years.

Infidelity is not inevitable in your 20s and 30s, and it is not a matter of course. As others have noted, it all really depends on the person you enter into a relationship with.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:30 PM on August 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Every time I hear "I have been with my husband twenty years and not cheated" the first answer that pops into my head is "well, then wait ten more." and it'll happen eventually.

While I love rokusan dearly, I have to call bullshit here, unless of course rokusan has been married for 30 years.


I love Koku very much too (though not exclusively.)

I promise what I said is true: it is most definitely the first thing I think of, my reflex reaction when I hear what sounds to me like a naive belief that this one person is so different than humankind at large: haven't cheated yet? Well, wait ten more years or however long it takes for the right circumstance to trigger the right (wrong?) part of your brain. Maybe I'm a world-weary and bitter old fuck, or maybe I just have an ear for dramatic irony. Maybe both.

I mean, what do you think when someone says "Oh, that Bob would never cheat on his wife?" (Be honest.) It's like a shotgun hanging on the wall, a claim like that.

So yes, Koku and the original poster: I do think it's inevitable part of human nature, sooner or later in damn-near any relationship, and probably more likely to happen the harder it's fought against, denied, or not allowed-for. It's a top-shelf cookie jar problem, and those cookies just look more and more tempting as the years tick by.
posted by rokusan at 10:49 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


So yes, Koku and the original poster: I do think it's inevitable part of human nature, sooner or later in damn-near any relationship, and probably more likely to happen the harder it's fought against, denied, or not allowed-for. It's a top-shelf cookie jar problem, and those cookies just look more and more tempting as the years tick by.

Statistically, if we all lived infinitely, you're probably right. Eventually we'd all come across situations in which we made a bad decision.

Here in the real world, though, where relationships rarely last 50 years, yeah, you're just "a bitter old fuck."

Some people do not cheat. Some people are able to control their urges to do so or, if they cannot be controlled, they are able to at least put them off until they have the decency to end the relationship that is keeping them from doing what they really want to do.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:05 PM on August 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have known many people who have never cheated. Some are in their 20s, some in their 30s, and some are in their 60s and 70s. Not everyone cheats. Cheating is not inevitable. Sorry rokusan, but people are not all the same.
posted by prefpara at 5:54 AM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every time I hear "I have been with my husband twenty years and not cheated" the first answer that pops into my head is "well, then wait ten more." and it'll happen eventually.

I'll take you up on the "world-weary and bitter old fuck" part of your reply, because it doesn't happen eventually to all people. I've been with my husband for 18 years, married for 15, and I've had the opportunity to cheat on him more than once. I didn't and I won't. I made promises that I will keep until one of us dies. It's just a fact. He's had the opportunity to cheat on me as well (cross-country and cross-Atlantic band tours, for example) and I do not believe he has. It's just not in his nature. We have a good, solid, stable relationship that we both highly value.

My parents, on the other hand, don't. Their marriage sucks, and they're still in it. I can't speak for my father, but my mother has never ever cheated on him. So some people can live in hell and still not cheat.
posted by cooker girl at 5:59 AM on August 3, 2009


I do think it's inevitable part of human nature, sooner or later in damn-near any relationship, and probably more likely to happen the harder it's fought against, denied, or not allowed-for. It's a top-shelf cookie jar problem, and those cookies just look more and more tempting as the years tick by.

This is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that if you accept that outlook, you've essentially given yourself the permission to cheat, because it's only natural.

I know a whole lot of people who have never, ever cheated. And people who have been very tempted, but have resisted it, and stepped back from the temptation to get grounded in their primary relationship again. If you start with the premise that cheating isn't inevitable for everyone or in every relationship, you're more likely to acknowledge the personal agency operating in this moral choice, and give it more consideration before leaping in. Given all the cheat-free relationships in the world, it's obviously not inevitable, so I think the view that it's a personal choice to cheat is the only logical view.
posted by Miko at 7:51 AM on August 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


Studies of sexuality find that some people are more naturally monogamous, and others are more naturally polygamous. It's a spectrum. It's not inevitable - it's just that if you are very monogamous you want to find someone who is similarly so.
posted by jb at 9:34 AM on August 3, 2009


I mostly agree with above posters. Cheating is not inevitable, although it does appear to happen more often within certain groups of people.

Three of my four siblings were in a different social scene as I was in during my twenties. We hung out with different personalities and by doing so, found partners with different personalities. All of three of them have either cheated multiple times or have been cheated on. Does that make it inevitable?

I don't believe so. I've been with the same partner exclusively for five years (married for three) and I attribute that to meeting her through a circle of friends who finds cheating despicable and unacceptable. Like my siblings, I have had opportunities for infidelity (even in marriage), however I chose not to act on those and I will continue to do so (yes, even past 30 years).

My siblings have all had more partners than I can count. Throughout my life, I've had exactly one, and I'm married to her. I've had multiple opportunities for romantic relationships while I was growing up, but I refused to make compromises in what I wanted in a partner as I have zero tolerance for infidelity. My siblings perhaps weren't as selective.

For what it's worth, my other (fourth) sibling is part of a social circle similar to mine and he's had exactly one g/f who he's been with for about five years now too.

My ultimate suggestion? Don't give up. There are plenty of cheaters out there, but there are also plenty of good honest people looking for a serious relationship (as I was). Keep refining your social circle to foster the principles that are most important to you and refuse to make compromises in what you're looking for. Once you find that person, all this bullshit will just be "the journey". Good luck!

**on preview, what jb says really applies to my post. My social circle is more naturally monogamous. My siblings - more naturally polygamous. We came from a small town and it was determined one Christmas that my three older siblings have essentially slept with each other by sharing partners within the same social circle.**
posted by siclik at 9:40 AM on August 3, 2009


Really emphasizing that he wouldn't cheat and hates people who cheat is a bit of a red flag; usually people who are a bit obsessed with it are wrestling with their own urges.

I don't think it's inevitable that people will cheat. I think it's inevitable that some people will really, really want to have sex with other people; the lying and hiding are not inevitable.

If you're frightened of this in the future, you can make it clear that wanting to have sex with someone else is not a dealbreaker but lying is.

Some people really are much less naturally monogamous than others. They still have a duty to be honest and ethical.
posted by kathrineg at 9:48 AM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every time I hear "I have been with my husband twenty years and not cheated" the first answer that pops into my head is "well, then wait ten more." and it'll happen eventually.

This just doesn't make any sense. I've been monogamous by choice for 24 years, and have never cheated. It's not because I'm impervious to sexual feelings for another person; it's because having sex with someone other than my husband and lying to cover it up goes against my core values in a very profound way. Why should my values inevitably, arbitrarily change one day, and why would that change only be in a direction that points to infidelity? If you, for example, hate Ronald Reagan, would it be legitimate to say that you should just wait another 10 years and you'll change your mind and be campaigning for conservative Republican candidates? If you are a lifelong atheist, is it more or less inevitable that within a decade, you'll be speaking in tongues at a revival tent meeting? Why would it be inevitable that your core values and belief system will shift radically?

Also, I'm allergic to the use of the word "happen" used in this context. Sex doesn't "happen" ineluctably like weather; it always involves some kind of human agency, and some kind of decision.
posted by ROTFL at 10:57 AM on August 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


Is infidelity in relationships in your twenties and thirties inevitable?

No.
posted by chunking express at 7:53 AM on August 4, 2009


You may have phrased your question in the wrong way. Men who are older have more life experience, have a better sense of what they want, and more likely want to settle down, which may cause them to be more faithful. Obviously, this does not apply to all.
I also agree with what desjardins said. Men who have charisma and loads of insecurity are more likely to cheat, from my own personal experience. These are usually the "bad" boys we are attracted to, unfortunately. If your gut is tellling you he has the capability of cheating, he probably will.
posted by mspisces at 9:51 AM on August 7, 2009


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