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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

MODERN LOVE: Cheating: Why People Do it and How to Feel

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SDSU chapter.

This summer, I was cheated on in my first college relationship. And no, this is not a cynical revenge article believe it or not. Whether or not he was my boyfriend was hard to tell, as we defined our relationship as  “exclusive casual”– but what does that even really entail? All I know is that I was left with a broken heart and massive confusion after the whole experience, and it led me to ponder the question of the century: why do people cheat? 

Cheating itself is hard to define for our generation, as there are pretty loose guidelines for what is considered infidelity in the digital age. For example; would you be mad if your partner liked an Instagram model’s bikini pictures? Is only physical contact considered disloyal but sliding in the dms is fine? Ultimately, it comes down to specifications set in place with your partner. But, once trust is breached, many people fall into an endless cycle of asking themselves: “why?”

When it comes down to it, cheating is not soley about sex; it is about wanting to be wanted and wanting what you can’t have. As mentioned in relationship therapist Esther Perel’s TED talk, “Rethinking Infidelity… a Talk for Anyone Who Has Ever Loved,” affairs are all about desire. Whether it is the desire for attention, love, or someone you can’t have, Perel says this motivation is the key factor that causes people to cheat. Additionally, Perel discusses that modern social norms advocate for pursuing our desires, and how it is more shameful nowadays to not go after what we want. When you account for these societal norms, it is easier to understand why people feel okay cheating and understand why it may have happened to you. 

Considering modern love, social media plays a huge role, seemingly exacerbating these issues. With location services and notifications of activity, the digital age has created a platform for obsession over infidelity. I too have fallen victim to checking his snap maps or spending time trying to decipher who the girl in the back of his story is. Overall, it has become extremely toxic and taxing for mental health and relationships to have constant tabs on our partners– but cheating doesn’t have to be only negative. 

I know how bad the aftermath of cheating feels, but it is helpful to look at the circumstances from a new perspective. It is easy to fall into a slump after a failed relationship. I’ve learned locking yourself in your room and binge-watching Love Island is not the healthiest decision! Esther Perel discusses the importance of surrounding yourself with loved ones and trying to “do things that bring back a sense of self-worth” when you feel at your lowest. Additionally, Perel stresses the importance of not asking for the gory details of the affair. Curiosity can be very harmful in this situation, and though you think you want to know everything, you don’t actually want to know everything. Perel recommends asking fruitful questions like, “What did this affair mean for you? What were you able to express or experience there that you could no longer do with me?” This will allow for self-growth in future relationships, and avoid causing yourself more emotional pain. 

When my relationship ended last summer, it felt like everything was out of my control. I couldn’t help but compare myself to the person he cheated on me with, and I overall had trouble with my sense of self-worth. Finding Perel’s TED talk was an integral moment in my healing process, as well as development for myself and my relationships. Perel’s advice resonated deeply, as I decided to dedicate less time to questioning his actions, and more time to hobbies and activities that benefit my mental health. Now, months later, I can confidently say I am healed from the experience and welcome whatever comes next with open arms. 

Overall, there is no way to fully understand why people cheat, and there’s definitely no way to control someone else’s actions. The only thing you can control is yourself and how you react to the less than desirable situation. Will you angrily shake your fist in the air and curse love, or will you use this opportunity for personal growth and discovery? I personally choose the latter. 

I am a 3rd year communications major at SDSU, and junior social media director at her campus SDSU chapter. I am minoring in creative writing and love to write poetry and opinion pieces. I am excited to pursue social media management this year through Her Campus as well as write many fun articles for the chapter.