Could you tell me how to succeed in being unfaithful?
April 7, 2013 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me stories about cheating or being cheated on. Or, pretend to be a sociopath for a few minutes, and give advice on how to successfully cheat and get away with it.

I'm working on a script for a film, and I'm struggling with one of the themes involved. To avoid going off on tangents, I have a sub story involving a few characters who are cheating on each other, with people both of them regularly interact with and... Somehow... They are getting away with it. Problem is, I'm really struggling to come up with an intriguing, or novel set of events and/or tricks, if you will.

Basically, can you tell me some stories involving you cheating on a partner/spouse/SO, being cheated on, or (for serial cheaters) could you tell me some of the ways you keep finding yourself involved in the act?

Aside from the "oh dear, we happened to be drunk and alone with each other, how could this have happened...?" I'm really not coming up with anything decent.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled to Human Relations (54 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps this isn't what you're looking for, but watch the first couple seasons of Mad Men if you haven't already. There is no better example of a serial cheater than Don Draper, and the show really puts you in his mind.

"The reason you haven't felt it is because it doesn't exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons."
posted by Whitall Tatum at 12:14 PM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have never cheated, nor do I ever intend to. Full disclosure, especially in case my husband is reading. ;-) But I have some good friends who have been cheated on quite badly. In every case, the issue was that the cheating spouse simply decided that his happiness and desire was more important than his spouse's. Also, in all cases, the big trick to remaining undetected was that the cheated-on partners had some willful denial and blindness; they were deliberately deciding not to investigate hinky or weird things, because they didn't want to know where they led.
posted by KathrynT at 12:15 PM on April 7, 2013 [24 favorites]

Are you asking about the sort of logistical / mechanical aspects of it, or the emotional aspects?

You could read news stories of people having affairs and see what they say about the specific things people did. Sometimes they go into fairly fine detail about how people arranged things and scheduled them.

OTOH, from anecdotal data among friends, I think a good bit of cheating does consist of repeatedly putting yourself in situations where you just happen to be drunk and alone with a person. Just as being faithful consists in part of arranging that you won't find yourself drunk and alone with that person you have a brief but intense infatuation with. (Actually being drunk or alone may not be necessary, of course.)

Obviously some people cheat more methodically than that though. I suppose it depends on these characters', er, characters. Are they likely to admit to themselves that this is an ongoing thing and not just a set of incidents? Do they in some way feel that they deserve to have these affairs, do they feel that affairs are a universal human weakness, do they feel that they should be able to resist and guilty that they don't, do they feel that their circumstances are tragically unique? I think starting from that end, you can figure out whether your characters are at the repeated-willful-accidents end of the spectrum or the we-have-a-shared-Google-calendar-to-plan-our-assignations end of the spectrum.
posted by hattifattener at 12:20 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Any good undercover person will say that "hide in plain sight" is the best policy--which will also explain away mentionitis. Since you're just pals with Loverboy, you can chat about him, grab coffee with him, and all the rest of it.
Conversely, I've worked with people who were privately having a torrid affair, but acted like they were suing each other in criminal court when they were in public--not bad-mouthing but frostily polite.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:21 PM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Are you asking for practical advice about how to conceal infidelity from one's partner, such as information about what lies people have told to explain where they were? Or are you asking about the mental and emotional states involved, where the cheater is able to justify her/his behavior to her/himself before or as it's happening and able to rationalize lying to her/his partner?

The bottom line is that most infidelity doesn't involve "an intriguing, or novel set of events and/or tricks." It involves garden-variety unhappiness of some sort, or completely normal boredom or dissatisfaction with one's relationship, or a not-at-all-unusual sort of selfishness, or plain old being drunk. And people who get away with it tell simple lies about normal things, like business trips or working late or taking up a new hobby.

I don't have much experience with cheating, but I did spend the better part of a year dating a coworker with whom I had friends in common, so we didn't tell anyone. He had his own place, so I'd go over there, and my roommate thought I was hanging out with other people. When we went out together, we'd go to places where we didn't think we'd run into people we knew, and if we did happen to run into them, we'd sit apart from one another and pretend it was just friendly. We didn't go out much, and we drank a lot, and we lied to a lot of people. We weren't cheating, but it's the same basic idea.
posted by decathecting at 12:26 PM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer your question hattifattener, I'm looking for logistical aspects, since its a film script. I gotta show what happens, and what people say or do.

If it were a book, I'd certainly be aiming for information about the emotional aspects.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2013

Years ago, I met a couple through a woman I was dating. One half of the couple brought up infidelity all the time. She was always saying things like, "I could never cheat on Nancy, she'd know it immediately. I'm such a terrible liar! I'd never get away with it."

A couple of weeks later, when she invited me out to lunch to "welcome me to the area," and then hit on me, I realized that this was a smokescreen for the many many affairs she was having. The woman I was dating confirmed that this was common behavior for her friend, while Nancy--who had helped me find a job in the area--commented that it was just like her partner to be so warm and welcoming to a newcomer. Several years later her affairs led to a very acrimonious end of the relationship, but they had been together a long time.
posted by not that girl at 12:37 PM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

From reading your question, and if we assume that you're a halfway decent writer, I'd suggest that your problem doesn't seem to be that you need to understand cheating better, but rather that you need to understand your characters better.

"How does cheating happen?" varies widely with people's circumstances. For instance, people who are middle-aged, married with kids, and secure in their careers will encounter infidelity differently from a group of twentysomethings living in student apartments and partying nightly. It seems kind of blunderbuss to just poll a random crowd of people for anecdotes. If you need to know how these characters are committing infidelity, then you need to know more about their lives.
posted by cribcage at 12:38 PM on April 7, 2013 [13 favorites]

Real life story: my first marriage ended in large part due to my now-ex's philandering.

At one point he was going to a motel in the middle of the day with a coworker. If I called, his cell would roll into voice mail, and if I called his office, his admin would pick up and tell me he was at a meeting out of the office. Then if I called him after hours, he would pick up on the first ring, and tell me he had to work late because he'd been out at meetings all day. Which he was, in a certain sense of the word.

Credit card bills were a minefield, so he'd often charge stuff on his work Amex and then reimburse his employer, so that really suspicious items didn't show up on the personal cards. Don't ask me how he explained that one, that guy could persuade anyone to do just about anything.
posted by ambrosia at 12:40 PM on April 7, 2013

I've read tons and tons of relationship questions online, and I think the common themes are that people generally communicate with their lover via text or email or chat, and so they need to partition that off from their SO somehow - either using an alternate e-mail account, locking their phone with a password, or the SO needs to not be the sort of person who would look at their phone or accidentally use their phone or computer at all. The most common way of getting busted that I've seen is a suspicious after hours phone or text conversation that is going on rather late night, and when asked, the perpetrator says "it's just a co-worker."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:52 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't judge me for this.

A dirty, guilty addiction of mine are the trashy forensic shows on the ID channel (Investigation Discovery), 95% of which are about failing marriages and cheating spouses.

Though the shows tackle their subject matter with a grotesque kind of camp and soundbyte pop-psychology, some general patterns emerge about the background causes that spark the cheating urge, and the relationship problems that drive people to cheat (and then cross over into murderous territory).

If you've got the time and want to delve into dark places for inspiration, spend a weekend watching shows like "Happily Never After" and "Scorned" and "Deadly Affairs", etc.

What you might understand after enough of these shows are the commonalities about why someone would wind up cheating - stress, boredom, emotional disconnect, low self-esteem, poor emotional upbringings, lack of self-knowledge, narcissism- a cocktail of influences that can lead to choosing a partnership that at its root is a bad fit.

It might be a kind of sickening prospect to contemplate watching shows about homicides, because the whole premise of the channel is that every show is about a human being as low and cruel as a human can be. Which is kind of the road you have to start thinking about to get into the mindset of a person who cheats- they might be reacting to a bad situation, but as KathrynT said, cheating comes when someone in a relationship chooses to prioritize their desires at the expense of someone elses' feelings.
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 12:55 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

A few years ago, I lived in a four-person apartment with my best friend, J, and two other roommates. My best friend was in a long-distance relationship of several years with someone we'd both known since childhood. Shortly after we moved into this apartment, she began cheating on her boyfriend with one of our roommates and they carried on affair for nearly a year. She eventually broke up with her boyfriend, but he never learned about the affair.

How did it happen?

Problems in the original relationship, to start. The pair had broken up and got back together multiple times. Their sex life was in the toilet (according to her). They weren't happy together, but they'd known each other for a decade and were reluctant to end something in which they'd invested so much. He, in particular, was a particularly passive person, probably stemming from depression. She didn't want to be in the relationship anymore, but didn't want to throw it away. She was also bored (early twenties, underemployed) in that way that can make you hungry for drama.

I think J was attracted to our roommate, R, from the start. She pushed hard to invite him to the house. They always flirted, but he was a very outgoing guy (Brazilian) so that masked it for a while. I think she told herself that nothing would happen, nothing would happen, nothing would happen - and then they got drunk and made out at a bar. I saw them, flipped my shit - didn't want to get sucked into drama, didn't want to lie - she apologized, swore it wouldn't happen again.

It did. It happened again and again until at some point, they didn't even bother to hide it. We all (the other roommates) knew. There was just this slow normalization, and an increasing disjunction of talk and action ("This is so bad, I have to end it, I have to end it, well, I still haven't ended it, I'll end it someday...")

The worst was that every couple of weeks, the BF would come and visit, and we'd all do our best to act normal. The five of us would hang out all the time. It was awful. As far as logistics - well, she and the BF were long-distance, and she and R lived together, so it was hardly difficult. What was really astonishing to me, in retrospect, is that we all covered for her, even though I don't think any of us wanted to. I know every time I saw her boyfriend, I'd feel sick to my stomach, but somehow, I couldn't say anything and neither could anyone else. Something about interfering, something about hating conflict, something about being afraid to be the one to hurt someone else...I don't know. It's bizarre. My friend and I fought constantly about it, to no avail.

What I learned from that is how easy it is to be complicit in something you know to be wrong. I still can't imagine being the one to tell my friend's boyfriend, but I also can't believe I spent so many awkward nights sipping beer with him and feeling like my head was going to catch fire with the pressure of the lie. Cheaters almost always make other people complicit; that's something you don't hear about all the time, but it's true.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:10 PM on April 7, 2013 [31 favorites]

Having worked in a call center for a bank, I second that a lot of people who cheat have a business account on which they put all their adulterous finances. That bill is sent to a PO box in their name only, usually.

Something I've noticed in sad tales from my friends is that usually when a man starts going to the gym obsessively it usually means he is getting a cardio workout, but it's not the one his girlfriend would think. Or they go to the woman's house at lunch - I had a friend who got a call one day to tell her if she drove down a certain street at noon she would see something to her benefit. It was so weird she did, only to see her husband's car parked in front of a mutual acquaintance's home. The acquaintance, needless to say, was female, and they didn't answer the door when she hammered on it.
posted by winna at 1:13 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm looking for logistical aspects, since its a film script. I gotta show what happens, and what people say or do.

I have a good friend who is a serial cheater (two marriages and more relationships than I can recall, dude has a compulsion). This is how he does it: He chooses discreet partners, married women are ideal, that he has a legitimate reason to be friendly with, he creates an atmosphere in his primary relationship where his partner feels they can't hold him accountable for his time (artsy type) and he has people cover for him. He is good at manipulating people into covering for him "if you don't do this, my marriage will implode and I don't know what I'll do!!" and they will cover for him to an amazing degree. Most cheaters have same sex friends and co-workers of both sexes who either know or suspect about the affair and will cover for them out of loyalty or because they don't want to get caught in the middle. Remember: to pull off a long time affair, it takes a village.

Only amateurs cheat online.
posted by fshgrl at 1:13 PM on April 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Some advice from the Worst Case Scenario survival Handbook: Dating & Sex on adultery:
-Pay cash for everything
-Take separate cars. The cheated-on partner will notice if their seatbelt has been significantly adjusted.
-Dont make multiple, significant changes to your lifestyle (clothes, food) at once. Dont suddenly start talking about subjects you previously knew nothing about
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:23 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

the big trick to remaining undetected was that the cheated-on partners had some willful denial and blindness...

This was definitely the case when my friend's boyfriend cheated on her. He was cheating pretty much from start to finish of their five year relationship. Her willful blindness was born of a combination of very low self-esteem on her part and emotional abusiveness on his. She was beyond thrilled when he asked her out, because he was "out of her league" by all superficial markers (he was one of the popular cool kids, charming, athletic, wealthy family, etc.) So from day one, she had him up on a pedestal and was committed to pleasing his every whim and never second guessing His Supreme Awesomeness.

Then just weeks into their new relationship, he tested her. He had a big party at his house, invited a bunch of hot girls, and soundly ignored my friend while said hot girls hung around his neck all night. We knew our friend was in deep trouble when she told us she spent the evening sitting by herself, downing drink after drink, and yet was more committed than ever to maintaining his approval. She decided then and there that she didn't care what happened, she couldn't lose him and the status that she thought being his girlfriend conferred. After she "passed" his test, he had the proof he needed that she'd willingly put on blinders and he'd get away with murder. Over the next months and years, he continued to put her through more and more of these tests and she continued to look the other way and make excuses for his ever more blatant transgressions.

She was so invested in her fantasy of him as this amazing, flawless person, that she dropped all her friends who thought he was a heinous douchebag and told her so. After a year of suffering from his abuse, she was willing to use any means possible of avoiding the cognitive dissonance brought on by having his behavior cast in a bad light. Even her dog hated him, and still she remained the faithful, loyal girlfriend. There was one time when she brought a group of us to his place to hang out, and he was cuddled up in bed with a female "friend" watching a movie. He not only barely acknowledged her, he refused to get out of bed to greet her or the rest of us. She was forced to cross the bedroom to get to the other side of the bed where he was laying to try to kiss him on the cheek, which he shrugged off. She then proceeded to stand there next to the bed and try to coax him into conversation until she ran out of responses to his monosyllabic grunts. I cannot tell you how heartbreaking and horribly awkward it was to stand in the room and witness her humiliation. He was full out flexing his psychological power over her. It was the closest I've ever been to seeing someone completely brainwashed.

So if you want to develop circumstances that will be ripe for rampant cheating, I think establishing a massive power imbalance between a very charismatic "alpha" character and a passive, pleaser "beta" character would be a very believable setup. I do see this as a logistical aspect, because men who feel entitled to cheat in their relationships will often methodically target women who are vulnerable due to low self-esteem and have a tendency of not standing up to sketchy behavior as KathrynT noted. Sure, there are tactics for avoiding detection such as hiding any suspicious monetary transactions, having bulletproof alibis, etc. But why go to all that trouble if all you need is a woman who won't give you any grief no matter how obvious you are about your infidelity?
posted by keep it under cover at 1:41 PM on April 7, 2013 [22 favorites]

This has been mentioned briefly above, but the few cheaters I've been aware of have at least one person and usually more covering for them, in small or large ways, aware of their complicity to varying degrees.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail comes to mind.
posted by bilabial at 1:43 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the plausible flexible schedule is a key component. So, it is weird to think about this, but for a long time my husband had an incredibly predictable work schedule. He always walked in the door between 5:08 and 5:11, and if it was 5:15 I knew something was up (not cheating!!! Like, a flat tire or something). But someone I know carried on a long-term affair undetected because he had an incredibly odd work schedule, so his wife never questioned his sporadic absences. Someone else I know is having marital issues and is getting a bit suspicious because her husband has been insisting on "going to the gym" until quite late at night, and suddenly he is working some weekends, too. What other posters said about outsiders being complicit (and often uncomfortably so) holds true as well. But all in all I think most affairs are mundane in their sneakiness and cruelty.
posted by katie at 1:49 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Long-distance relationships are a very easy cover for what can be exceedingly involved affairs (i.e., dating two people at once, each with no knowledge of the other). I've seen this happen more than once with college friends.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:50 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Um, to make that relevant, I mean if one person is on a work trip, or works far away on a long commute or something, easy.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:50 PM on April 7, 2013

Milan Kundera's books often examine different types of adultery. I'm not at home right now, so can't look it up (google doesn't help me), but I seem to recall that in one of them, a woman has an affair for ages, meeting a man in a remote place just once a year for a day or a weekend. He doesn't know her real name or address, so there is no other contact.
posted by mumimor at 2:17 PM on April 7, 2013

I cheated on an ex years ago, in the pre-cell phone days.
I would get together with my paramour after work and make sure I was home to get my boyfriend's nightly phone call. When my paramour moved in with a mutual friend, I'd just tell my boyfriend I was crashing on their couch (instead of my paramour's bed). He never suspected a thing until guilt caught up with me and I confessed.
posted by Val_E_Yum at 2:22 PM on April 7, 2013

PO box for the mail. Phone cards for the long distance calls. Know when there is a good time to call.

I read once that affairs tend to be a whole lot of phone calls and only a little sex. I took that to serious extremes. I knew one man for many years. He kept talking about marrying me. We had actual sex four whole times.

I was sexually abused as a child. I married a narcissist who couldn't be bothered to pay attention to me. Other men knew I was neglected and kept telling me how they would treat me better, blah blah blah. My need for attention from other men evaporated practically over night when the ex moved out. The last guy in a relationship who tried to frame me as an irresistable temptress that he had to both have and blame for it got read the riot act and told, in essence, I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me.

I have blogged some about my past relationships. You can memail/email me if you wish. There are things I am not going to talk about publically.
posted by Michele in California at 2:24 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sociopath mode on. Nowadays an important step would be to have a regular proven excuse for switching cell phone off. Band training, gym, swimming, running, climbing, shooting range, any hobby where the cheater is provenly enthusiastic about it and really doing it for 2/3 of times. Regular adventures can be hidden into regular routines, and these regular routines are character traits or quirks that partner has learned to love and accept. Lying would be easy, because instead of telling e.g. what happened at gym this evening, there would be previous real gym visit as a source for anecdotes.
posted by Free word order! at 2:39 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

A guy once thought he could cheat with me. Boy was he wrong.

Anyway, his lying habits were a study in themselves, but I think the details are really a bit of a red herring. You don't actually have to be *clever* to lie, you only have to be willing to lie and able to furnish corroborating details.

I believe he and his partner worked opposite schedules, such that he kept a strict 9-5 routine and she worked in the evenings. Interestingly, it seems a lot of cheaters keep very strict routines. I'd have thought being erratic would work better, but there you go.

He also let drop a lot of semantically accurate half truths in everyday conversation and social media, which were intended to give a particular impression. For example, he once tweeted about a darts game in a pub in Cardiff, which was clearly contrived to give the impression that he was in Cardiff, but I was pretty attuned to his lying style by then and I knew he probably wasn't there at all. Not sure who was supposed to read it and get that impression, or why, but you see the kind of thing I mean.

His attempts to cheat involved oops! Finding himself drunk in my company! That looked just like an accident! But, on reflection, had most likely been carefully planned months in advance. Then he took advantage of circumstances to be fakey friends with me in a professional context. Once he realized he really wasn't going to get his leg over he friend-dumped me with incredible dispatch.

Really, no eyeroll is dramatic enough, but ::dramatic eyeroll::
posted by tel3path at 2:45 PM on April 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

OTOH, from anecdotal data among friends, I think a good bit of cheating does consist of repeatedly putting yourself in situations where you just happen to be drunk and alone with a person. Just as being faithful consists in part of arranging that you won't find yourself drunk and alone with that person you have a brief but intense infatuation with. (Actually being drunk or alone may not be necessary, of course.)

I agree with this completely.

As for more ongoing affairs, it helps to train yourself to compartmentalize and to be fully present is whatever moment you are currently in. A spouse who gets everything they need from the other is going to suspect cheating a lot less than one who doesn't, regardless of actual hours spend together.

I know of a number of people who would simply head out to the parking lot on their breaks for some sloppy time with a coworker. Which leads to another reality: successful cheating almost requires that both partners are OK with the ground rules. The more the cheaters' expectations for the relationship diverge, the more likely a blowup will occur.
posted by gjc at 2:53 PM on April 7, 2013

1. One common setup for successful cheating is basically opportunistic. You spend a long span of time wanting and hoping and wishing you could get some action on the side. Every once in a while, someone catches your eye, and you think "Man, it would be great to have an affair with them," but then you realize it wouldn't work — they're not interested, or there's no way to approach them, or you'd get caught too easily, or whatever. And then after dozens of iterations of this, you meet someone you're interested and you start going through the usual litany of reasons-it-won't-work and you realize that no, actually, this time it could work.

That leads to scenarios that look like unbelievable coincidences. "Well, I was away on business, and my partner was on vacation someplace with no cell phone reception so I knew they wouldn't call, and this totally innocent sequence of coincidences forced me to share a hotel room with a colleague, and at some point we realized...." The thing that saves them from total implausibility is that this is the one time things line up right after a gajillion other near-misses. From an author's point of view, plots like these are a lot like "eyes-meet-across-a-crowded-room" plots in general. Either you accept that you're telling a fairy tale, or you make it clear that both sets of eyes have spent a lot of time gazing across crowded rooms without meeting anything.

2. It's not uncommon for people to have a few very close friends who they would totally sleep with if the opportunity arose. There's a spectrum here, with "I've always been in love with you but I deliberately kept my mouth shut" at one end and "Oh jeez, of course we're just friends, but come to think of it you're kind of cute" at the other. People in that kind of not-quite-sexual-yet relationship can do a lot of the logistics ahead of time, either consciously or unconsciously. You convince your spouse — maybe even believing it yourself — that actually it's totally innocent for You and Best Buddy to talk about each other all the time, or travel a lot together, or crash on each other's couches when you're drunk or tired, or call each other in the middle of the night and talk for hours, or any number of other suspicious behaviors. Because after all, you're totally just friends, and if you'd wanted to get together you would have done it ages ago, and etcetera.

That can turn into something that looks a lot like opportunistic cheating, only with the added complication of a long backstory and lots of emotional intimacy. You finally both convince your partners that you're just friends and there is nothing going on — and then you realize that you've inadvertently given yourselves the perfect cover story, and if something started to go on, it might be a long time before anyone noticed. And then you realize that you might enjoy that....

3. In my experience, when successful cheaters have done any more planning or forethought than that, they're usually doing something basically predatory or emotionally abusive. If you have no moral qualms, no spine, no empathy or no self-awareness, then yeah, it's totally possible to seek out a relationship with someone specifically because you know they'd be easy to cheat on, or to structure your relationship in ways that you know will facilitate cheating down the road, or to pursue a particular career with the conscious motive that it's conducive to having affairs, or whatever. And people who are willing to do shit like that are very likely to succeed anyway, largely through intimidation — if you're willing to gaslight and browbeat your partner into not asking questions, then "concealing" an affair is a piece of cake.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:53 PM on April 7, 2013 [16 favorites]

They do it with someone they have a plausible reason to be around. Coworkers are handy. They do it with someone who has as much to lose as they do if they're caught - someone also in a relationship but wanting "romance" or just added drama. They count on the trusting nature of their partner, and they tell lies that are very, very close to the truth. They may even admit that they have a crush on this person or they think they're really great, and the two of you laugh about it and it puts your mind at ease because he is just so HONEST with you, and so open!
posted by lemniskate at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Incidentally: something I would really love to read or watch is a version of #2 that doesn't depend heavily on mainstream gender norms to make the plotline work.

In the usual fictional version, you've got a heteronormative opposite-sex married couple in a heteronormative social circle where hanging out in mixed-gender groups is Totally Not Done. If the affair is with a member of the opposite sex, then one of the major plot points is all of the energy that they have to expend to justify their friendship. If the affair is a member of the same sex, then it's extra-insidious and easy for them to get away with because nobody would ever suspect that sort of thing. (And of course nobody is bi in the movies, so you get the whole Deceitful Closet Case trope to boot.)

Queer versions of the story still tend to be very heavily gendered: "Well, we're lesbians, and all our friends are lesbians, and we never spend any time whatsoever around men who aren't our children or ex-husbands, and so of course everyone is attracted to everyone and no friendship is totally 'safe' and everyone's got shitty emotional boundaries and all this drama results." The story still depends in a fundamental way on the genders of the characters and our presuppositions about What Women Are Like.

I'd love to see a version of that story in a social circle with less uptight gender norms: A bunch of relaxed-to-progressive folks, all of whom take it for granted that of course straight men and women can be friends without wanting to hook up; and of course some of us are queer and that's totally normal too, why would anyone expect otherwise; and gosh, you would have to be some horrible narrow-minded bigot to think that Chris and Alex were having an affair just because they're practically joined at the hip lately. That's one that I've seen unfold dozens of times in person, but not once on TV.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:05 PM on April 7, 2013 [13 favorites]

They have their friends cover for them. "That movie was...SO GOOD...that we all saw on Friday. Together."
posted by rhizome at 3:06 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, you have a different kind of covering for the serial cheater than you do for the person who is maintaining a secret, ongoing relationship. The person who travels a lot on business and boffs a different person at each destination has different secrets to keep than the person who's living a double life with one of their domestic workers, for example.
posted by KathrynT at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking of double lives, I have an acquaintance who is the only son of a jet set couple.

The dad had at least one other wife, and if I'm not mistaken, 2. Other kids. Other lives. Dad absconded to Europe alone when the guy I know was a preteen. Maybe he was younger.

The point of that blurry anecdote is that Lots of Money helps. Exorbitant vacations,fancy cars, big parties.

Because there's a lot going on so you're distracted. But also, because it feels like there's a lot to lose if the person being cheated on were to uncover the cheating. Hence the willful ignorance mentioned above.
posted by bilabial at 4:27 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seedy as it is, have you checked out the TV show Cheaters?
posted by walla at 5:09 PM on April 7, 2013

Cheaters will also often get mad at you for not "trusting them" if you ask any questions at all, setting the stage for never being put on the spot.
posted by meepmeow at 5:27 PM on April 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

I've talked about this a lot with a friend who has been "the other woman" with married men at least twice. She says now that she did it because it felt "safe" for her; she could get the thrill of being desired, and the clandestine-ness, etc. without actually putting much of herself at risk.

She trusted that the men would just be grateful for whatever she had to give (and that she got to set those terms) and that they'd be much less likely than strangers, especially strange single men, to have an STD or to be abusive or to fall in love with her or to reject her in a way that hurt. She specifically chose the men she did because they weren't interested in disrupting their generally happy home lives; she says they mostly just wanted to "feel alive" a little (and to know that they "still got it")... and that they considered cheating with her to be relatively safe, too (versus getting involved with strangers, coworkers, close friends, or sex workers). In both cases, she'd dated the men years before but wasn't otherwise in the same social circle or regular contact with them.

Logistically, the only thing I know that she did differently vs. other affairs I know about was that, as her own rule, she only initiated contact during business hours, and she used an email account that was not associated with her real name. She also made clear that she had no interest in being solely a mistress, i.e., that she was going to continue dating and wouldn't agree to be involved if they expected otherwise. Oh, and as others have said, they always met in hotels, never their homes. (She/they never got caught, by the way.)

I don't think her experiences were all that typical, but thought it showed an interesting angle not yet covered here.
posted by argonauta at 5:31 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

You better have a good plan for Valentine's Day because all three parties are going to expect to be the center of attention. Valentine's Day is like the musical chairs of relationships. If he is not with you at nine PM on Valentine's Day he is cheating on you.

A real cheater picks the best one of his harem to be with on that night and expects the rest to either get with the program or be gone. And he might expect to start fresh every year on Feb. 14th because he expects to lose a few women every Valentine's Day when they are not picked.

Saying you have a wife and kids would be a good way to be able to have two girlfriends at once and they both have a good explanation for when you can't be with them.

Gender can be swapped in these examples.
posted by cda at 5:48 PM on April 7, 2013

I've known a lot of academics who cheat, helped by a combination of flexible schedules, travel for work, and often long-distance relationships because of employment. Or they may be partnered up with someone who is not an academic in their field and they are constantly getting involved with colleagues because they feel what they are doing is the summit of human endeavor and their partner doesn't share that excitement. I used to spend time at a research center where there were a few people who were always doing this.
posted by BibiRose at 5:57 PM on April 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

A funny one I just thought of. My father, for some ungodly reason, once asked me why I thought he (always married) was never approached by women wanting to have affairs. I told him what I thought was the answer, namely that most people who are clued in are aware of who's available for that kind of stuff and who isn't. There are little signs people give off that if you don't respond to them, no harm done in their view. Although a lot of people probably see those signs and go, oh, another serial philanderer. In other words, I think those people are more obvious than they think they are. Kind of like addicts.

Then there are people who have no intention of cheating on their spouses but experience a coup de foudre. They really are in love, and they are more or less crazy at the time that they cross that line. Two people may fall this way or (quite common in my observation) one person may be a philanderer who finds people that are easy to influence.
posted by BibiRose at 6:42 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: There's some good stuff here, and some absolutely heartbreaking stuff as well (the story of the guy in bed with a girl while the SO tried to converse with friends over made me sick to my stomach).

Couple notes:
-I'm avoiding the same-sex scenario, because even though I don't have any sort of obligation to my characters' well-being (they're fictitious, FFS), I have an obligation to the people they could potentially represent. There are already enough negative stereotypes about homosexual and African American promiscuity (the latter is a personal thing for me), and I don't want to have even a small part in perpetuating it.

-I realize it often isn't a high-level secret ops type situation, as many said. As I've seen in the relationships of friends and family, the practice of infidelity is often little more than the five year old seeing how to get as many cookies out of the jar before mom notices. It's slowly pushing the limits, and seizing opportunity.

-That being said, the idea of the script is to show what lengths the characters will take to satiate the most base desires. In their professional lives they appear to be stunted in their development and they groan about the manipulative nature of the business world, at the same time, they are engaging in these remarkably complex series of maneuvers to get their rocks off or to excel in such petty circumstances (I also show the opposite. Ex. A CFO who singlehandedly manufacturers a major overthrow of the board, but he can't talk his wife into moving the treadmill out of the garage.)

Thanks again. And if the above gives some people a better idea of where I am, feel free to continue to contribute.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:10 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Let me suggest you watch "The Graduate" and do a little reading of interviews related to it. As I understand it, it was pretty shocking for its time. IIRC, the woman who played Mrs. Robinson said she envisioned the character as someone who wanted more out of life.

Some people do go to some lengths to cover it up. One good book I read indicated that folks who really, really do not want to get caught typically don't get caught. The folks who get caught were generally being sloppy and didn't really care, so they took stupid risks.
posted by Michele in California at 7:29 PM on April 7, 2013

You should watch Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal a tv show about couples that have had infidelity in their marriages.

"In each episode, two couples share their deeply personal stories of heartbreak, while a therapist provides inside perspective on how each couple began the healing process. Intensely revealing, this series illustrates how couples can come to terms with infidelity and share their stories of betrayal."
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:53 PM on April 7, 2013

There's a forum, Surviving Infidelity, where people (usually those cheated on) discuss many details of the affairs, as sort of a support group. If you feel comfortable mining real people's personal pain for fiction (and I don't really see why not), that could be a great source of information.
posted by Pomo at 9:15 PM on April 7, 2013

I've got a friend who cheats on her boyfriends all the time, sometimes with multiple second people who each think they are the only one(!)

She does it by being very independent and dating people who are also independent and introverted and therefore want a lot of alone time. She makes it clear from the start of relationships that she doesn't like to have to check in all the time or tell the boyfriend where she is, and then she just... isn't home much. Like, maybe two nights a week she would be home with the boyfriend, and for one of the two weekend days, and then the rest of the time she is out. She has a lot of interests and is a workaholic, so much of the rest of the time she is doing something innocuous, but a couple of times a week, she's in bed with someone else.

And she also has quickies in her office at work during lunch time (with the door locked).

She gets caught by the serious boyfriend every couple of years, at which point they break up and one of the guys she's cheating with gets promoted to serious partner (not that she stops cheating). Sometimes one of the guys she's cheating with hears about the boyfriend, or about one of the other affairs, but since she's pretty casual with these guys, they often don't get too upset about it.
posted by lollusc at 1:06 AM on April 8, 2013

That being said, the idea of the script is to show what lengths the characters will take to satiate the most base desires. In their professional lives they appear to be stunted in their development and they groan about the manipulative nature of the business world, at the same time, they are engaging in these remarkably complex series of maneuvers to get their rocks off or to excel in such petty circumstances (I also show the opposite. Ex. A CFO who singlehandedly manufacturers a major overthrow of the board, but he can't talk his wife into moving the treadmill out of the garage.)

My last relationship (two and a half years ago now) was with a guy like this. He was type 3 in Now there are two's comment.

Background: he (claimed he) was head of a small telecoms hardware company he founded in [Scandinavian Country]. One of the other first things he mentioned to me, before he knew of my own web presence, was that he was a Reddit member. Cue groaning, I know. But my own good faith got the better of me: just because he was a Reddit member didn't mean he was one of their bad apples, just as me being a MeFite doesn't make me a... erm... I bean-plate and love cats, bad analogy. Anyhow. I did find it odd that he never shared his Reddit screen name, whereas I showed him who I was here: all of a sudden, knowing me took up all his precious spare time and so he "never went on Reddit any more". Awww. How sweet. *hindsight eyeroll* So. His telecoms hardware company had grown over the years, and had clients in, you guessed it, Other EU Countries. His favorite was France, he even owned a house there, not far from where I lived. He was thinking of moving here, since this area is indeed France's Silicon Valley (Sophia Antipolis). In other words, his story, while... leaving room open for interpretation... also made sense.

We met on OKCupid, where his profile said "Divorced". Being the good bean-plating MeFite I am, discussion of his ACTUAL relationship status was among my first things to clear up with him. His divorce was not yet finalized... but it was due to his home country's divorce laws, their separation hadn't yet reached 1 year, which was a few months away. As our relationship would be long-distance to start, and we got along really well... so yes, I did take something of a chance. That said, a few months later, his divorce was in fact finalized, and not only what he showed of proof spoke to it, but also his behavior. He visited more often, spoke a lot more openly and, I thought, warmly; that sort of thing.

He very often had "business meetings" in various places in Europe. Sometimes in France as well. Sometimes last-minute... "Oh, a supplier is coming tomorrow when I thought he wasn't going to be available! Sorry, I won't be able to make it to dinner, can we go tonight or the day after?"

He also had "DIY" in his home. This one ended up being unintentionally hilarious. But first, we went to dinner one evening, during which he acted like a complete ass to all and sunder; very different from his usual behavior.

We went back to my place, and on the tram I was seriously working out how to break up with him that very same evening, he had been such a twit. Well. We get back, he gets an SMS while sitting on my couch, he jumps up and says, "OH! It's this woman I've been dating! I need to step outside, wouldn't want her to hear your cats, she knows I hate cats."

Skipping the emotional details: I broke up with him the second he returned, and later found out, from some of his "business contacts", that he was a serial philanderer. His MO was intelligent married women bored with their spouses. I was, they all said independently of one another, the first actually-single woman he'd attempted to date. Who knows how much of a story that was. He had told them about me, bragging... they held on to him nonetheless, because he did indeed bring something different to their lives, as they said themselves.

Dude had an EXCEL FILE with all his women's details, including likes, dislikes, things he appreciated about them so he'd know which compliments to make...

And the DIY? That last night together, he wouldn't be able to see me the next day because he had to "buy and install new glass shower doors" for the two showers in his French home, easily a project for a day. Before knowing better, I'd suggested a nearby shop and volunteered to help him, which, you have probably guessed, he turned down. It gets a bit combobulated here, which could be helpful for your story ideas since it's the sort of weird real-life thing that happens: before breaking up with him, he had forgotten to bring his new camera battery. He needed to take photos of his home "and improved showers" for friends of his (ha). Later that evening, having by then guessed that his stories were a load of bull, but morbidly curious to see which species of bull they were, I still let him borrow my camera.

A few days later, my camera returned, pleading dipweed on my doorstep begging to have me back (bwahahahaha no), I later looked at the photos and there were no new glass shower doors. There were plastic curtains. Guess he was DIYing with a different sort of screw. sorry.

Oh yes, and one other warning sign just before the breakup was a trip of his to Estonia for firewood. You... don't leave a Scandinavian country for a week-long trip to Estonia for firewood. Men often go there alone or with men-friends, as he did, for sex trafficking victims (prostitutes) from neighboring Eastern European countries. He even had the gall to tell me he didn't like how his friend was always checking out women and cruising bars for prostitutes. Then he sent me a pic of the two standing next to a pile of firewood. (I'd never met his friend, so had know way of knowing. There was no Estonian or Russian in the picture; I lived in Finland and speak Finnish, which is related to Estonian, and also read Russian, so would have been able to recognize them. For all I know the photo had been taken in his home country.) Naturally, he got on my case when I said I had a hard time believing he was actually avoiding bars that cater to Scandinavian men. (That's how much of a reputation they have in Estonia.)
posted by fraula at 5:36 AM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

With regard to business, then, as it was part of what I wanted to respond to in your last update yet got carried away from: he always claimed he was a motivated businessman. The thing is, from my POV, given all the lies that were told and the sheer extent he went to for all this... I have no idea. His business exists, that much is true; I checked on his country's business registry at the time. He knew enough of telecoms to convince me, having worked on telecoms documentation (technical specifications and such, not user doc). He would brag about contracts, scoff about competition and yet "respect their savvy", but was he actually all he claimed?

It can be a dangerous fascination, these people who build such complex lies that can never reflect their true selves, only a twisted shadow. And that, rather than using that same energy to live a genuine life they could then call their own and actually glean satisfaction from. Instead I got the sense, that last evening, before the fateful SMS, that he had snowballed himself into a slow-motion avalanche of lies and loss of knowledge of who he actually was, self-destructing like Don Draper.
posted by fraula at 5:44 AM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hah! At long last, knowing a serial cheater can be useful to someone!

This guy is pretty much what you want - the incredibly complicated setups and complex juggling.

Keynote #1: Cheating guys tell whoever they're with that they are the most important person. They may admit to having a wife, or another girlfriend, but they will find some way to downplay it - to include telling incidents that never happened, or staging incidents calculated to gain sympathy.

Dude was also a businessman, except that he used his expense account to make conferences essentially like a floating smorgasbord. Have the woman either travel there or find a new one.

As another poster above has mentioned, it's about things that are not-quite-the-truth. So maybe he tells his wife he's working late - and he is actually at the office - but having sex in said office. Or maybe he tells his wife he's taking on a second job - and he is - but the hours are not what he is claiming. Also - "getting a breath of fresh air/walks" are usually opportune times to call extra girlfriends.
posted by corb at 5:54 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another thing: it crossed my mind from the very beginning that Cheaty McCheaterson might be using cold reading on me. I didn't ascribe anything sinister to it, nor assume he was lying; if I hadn't been interested in the topic myself I'd never have recognised it, after all.

I also didn't take the thought too seriously, because after all, who goes to that kind of trouble to build rapport with someone they don't know from Eve? Type III cheaters, apparently.
posted by tel3path at 6:14 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a pretty good book that explains cheating from the point of view of the cheater: When Good People Have Affairs.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:47 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

In addition to the above logistical advice you've gotten - it strikes me that since you're writing this, you also have the power to make the cuckolded partner be sufficiently gullible and/or trusting.

Meaning - okay, you maybe would see through some of the sorts of excuses a cheating partner would come up with. But since you're the writer, you can make Nancy, your heroine, a naive enough person that she wouldn't be able to see this.

This may actually do you the double-duty of not only getting your plot further along, but it would also make Nancy a sympathetic character. (Although, of course, it is possible to overdo the naivete to the point that people think Nancy's an idiot...)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on past experience, if someone was unusually cagey about their e-mail, phone or similar, that would ring alarm bells with me. Also deleting internet history.

From experience of others, I also know that sometimes the one who is cheated on uses some pretty powerful tricks of denial in order to avoid saying anything to the cheater - saying it out loud makes it more real, and more painful.

Also, a separate mobile phone or e-mail account. Using work e-mail instead of home e-mail.
posted by mippy at 8:14 AM on April 8, 2013

In addition to the above logistical advice you've gotten - it strikes me that since you're writing this, you also have the power to make the cuckolded partner be sufficiently gullible and/or trusting.

More than that, I think, the cheater has to be holding out a reward that the cuckolded partner really wants, and also to be convincing long enough to get the partner truly on the hook.

One, Cheaty induced his partner to pursue her artistic career while a) opening doors for her to make at least a partial living at it and b) offering himself as the main breadwinner taking her Away From All This. In a concrete sense, he was making her career dreams come true. They moved in together very quickly; they already knew each other, having been high school sweethearts.

Two, he was, in so many words, regarded as an ideal knight-in-shining-armour by her and by all their mutual friends, suggesting that he was putting a great deal of effort into playing that role. Emotionally, who doesn't want that? I actually don't doubt that he played the perfect BF role very convincingly, until he no longer had to.

I don't know how long she stayed after his cheating became undeniable; I have the impression that she was eventually kicked out or abandoned, but I may be wrong. Even from the partial view that I had, it's clear that she would have suffered not only heartbreak but tremendous loss of face, as well as having to abandon her career and everything she'd worked for for many years.

I myself believed in his good faith for far longer than I should have, since he (oh so coincidentally? yes? no?) was in the position of being the only person I could trust in a crisis. It was not at all easy to face the reality of my "friend's" real intentions and acknowledge that big ouchy knife in my back, and I never even shook hands with the guy. I can't imagine what it would have been like for his partner, and I doubt there's a MeFite alive who wouldn't have let more inconsistencies slide than they'd feel comfortable admitting here.
posted by tel3path at 9:04 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

In a word, compartmentalize.
posted by ptm at 9:55 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine was "the other woman" for almost two years, during which her "boyfriend" told her that he and his wife were separated, and he was sleeping on the couch, but was still living with her because they had young children and because he needed her health insurance. He spent many nights with her and met many of her friends, and she met many of his. My friend had met his wife, but didn't know her well, and avoided knowing her better for obvious reasons.

This all ended when the wife invited my friend out for a drink because she felt bad that she had been so rude to my friend for so long-- her husband had confessed to her at the very beginning of the affair that he had been drunk with my friend and they had made out a little bit, and the wife had been holding this against my friend the whole time. Apparently, this small confession worked as a kind of misdirection that kept the wife from ever seeing the extent of the affair, but also kept the two women from ever being too friendly, so my friend didn't realize that the marriage wasn't as strained as he claimed.
posted by dizziest at 10:01 AM on April 8, 2013 [13 favorites]

A job involving travel is the classic.

As a non-cheating road warrior I was considered something of a unicorn.
posted by French Fry at 12:52 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

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