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Sex + Relationships

5 College Women Debunk the ‘Simplicities’ of Cheating

One of the most iconic storylines in any teen television series is the tale of the cheater. A main character cheats on their partner, perhaps some drama ensues, and they break up. In the TV world, it’s usually just that simple – it’s wrong to stay with a cheater, as evident in Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls, and so on. And, according to Ranker, there are few, if any, cheating storylines that actually change the characters’ lives. The storyline exists for an episode or two before the victim manages to either forgive their partner and stay or pack their bags and leave. 

But is it really that easy to cut all connections and skedaddle out of there, and can it be that simple to stay, too? According to soap operas and rom-coms, yes, but what about real relationships where actual feelings reside? What happens to the heartache or the broken trust?

According to these five college women, it’s really not that simple.

Photo by Tallie Robinson on Unsplash

What does it mean to cheat?

“Cheating is when you, as an individual, violate the mutual agreement with your partner of not being immediately physical or emotional with another human being. I do believe that cheating can be physical or emotional.” – Emily Cardona, Emerson College Class of 2022

“I think cheating — both physical and emotional — is engaging in any sort of behavior that you wouldn’t do if your partner were there.” – Sydnie Cobb, Harvard University Class of 2022

“Cheating is basically treating someone that isn’t your partner the same as your partner. Anywhere between flirting with someone through text to sleeping with someone else is cheating.” – Amanda Vazquez, Emerson College Class of 2022

“I would define cheating as being unfaithful in a relationship. The basic example being that if you’re in a monogamous relationship and you’re seeing someone else at the same time, or even just hooked up with someone else, that’s cheating. In an open relationship, if you start seeing someone constantly that your partner is unaware of, that’s also cheating – even if it’s non-monogamous – because you aren’t being truthful with your partner. I would think that if you’re constantly seeing someone in a platonic way that your partner is unaware of , and you’re putting the other person’s emotional needs above your partner’s, that’s emotional cheating.” – Adrianna Delgado, Emerson College Class of 2023

“Showing that you’re attracted to another person. Anything inappropriate that you’d want your partner to not do.” – Marissa Cardenas, Emerson College Class of 2021

Is there a certain pressure for someone to break up with their partner if their partner cheats on them? 

“I [personally] don’t think there’s pressure for the victim to break up with their partner if they cheat on them. I believe the victim should 100% break up the relationship, but it should be on their terms. I do think [other] people and society put pressure on them to do it.” – Emily

“Yes, I think if you choose not to leave after your partner’s infidelity then people will assume that you don’t value your self-worth.” – Sydnie

“The automatic mentality after your partner cheats is to break up with them, but it’s much easier said than done. Cheating sometimes happens so abruptly and without warning that once it happens, everything has changed. I didn’t expect my boyfriend to cheat, so when he did, I had a hard time being able to break up with him [despite] feeling obligated to even though all of my feelings were still there. He broke my trust, so I had to end things.” – Amanda 

“Yeah, cheating is a form of breaking someone’s trust. Once you’ve broken your partner’s trust, the relationship will be complicated.” – Adrianna

“I think it’s definitely a pride thing. It’s like, ‘You’re better than that.’ I do think there’s pressure to break up. Why would you be with someone like that?” – Marissa

Does cheating complicate a relationship?

“I do think the relationship becomes more complicated when one of the individuals cheats on the other. It comes down to, how can you trust them again? How much do you actually love them to make this work, and is it worth the pain, struggle and work for this relationship? It’s an obstacle in a relationship that shouldn’t have happened that makes the whole thing more complex, and too hard to keep going. The primary element[s] of a relationship [are] trust and loyalty, [and] cheating makes the relationship way more challenging than it needs to be.” – Emily 

“Yes, I think relationships are built on trust. Cheating effectively erodes that trust and makes it harder [for it] to be a healthy, functioning relationship.” – Sydnie

“Once someone’s cheated, the trust in a relationship is gone. You cannot get the trust back right away, and therefore the relationship is tarnished. Cheating also brings about insecurities with the sexual life. The cheater chose to be intimate with someone else, and being intimate with you again after they’ve cheated is hard because now you’re thinking about the other person. You compare yourself to [who] they cheated on you with.” – Amanda 

“Every relationship is different. Emotional intimacy and duration of the relationship can play a part in why someone would stay with their partner even if they got cheated on. But I think it’s ultimately up to the individual. I do think that in a lot of cases, married couples that got cheated on stay just for financial security, sadly. Sometimes our own insecurities and our comfortability make it hard to leave those who hurt us.” – Adrianna 

“I already deal with a lot of feelings and insecurities towards romantic relationships. I’m already afraid of if someone leaves me or isn’t being honest. I feel like the biggest thing, personally, is a big communication issue.” – Marissa

If you were cheated on, how would you react? 

“If I was ever officially cheated on, I think I would freak out and break down in tears. I’m very emotional and I’m not afraid to express my emotions to people, so I’ll more likely get angry and loud. I will, of course, break up with the person, because I know myself and I know that’s what I’d need. I’d have to give myself a lot of space from them so I can begin my process of healing. I believe when someone shows you all of their sides, all of their vulnerabilities, and puts down all of their walls for you, then you should respect that. I would never get back with that person either, because the bare minimum is respecting the other person’s boundaries and this is a boundary that I personally am not flexible with.” – Emily 

“I’m in a really healthy relationship right now, and it’s healthy because I trust my partner and my partner trusts me. Because I have such deep trust in my partner, I’d be devastated if he cheated on me. Hypothetically speaking, I would leave the relationship if there were instances of infidelity, but if this were to happen in real life, I know it wouldn’t be easy to make a decision.” – Sydnie 

“When I was cheated on, I gave him a second chance. I don’t regret my decision, but I know better now that I should have left him. A cheater doesn’t stop at the cheating. I took my cheater back and we still had issues. Cheating was my warning to leave, and I should have taken it. Cheating is just the first step down a messy relationship that will ultimately end broken, so I personally would save myself the rest of the heartbreak.”  – Amanda 

“I was cheated on. I  asked for some space to figure things out for myself without anyone’s influence. I tried again after a week, but I was never able to see my partner the same way again and it just went downhill for me afterwards. So, it was more of a mutual breakup, because  I couldn’t trust her and she felt restricted.” – Adrianna 

“It’s that type of thing that you’ll never know unless it happens to you. The fact is, I already have a lot of trust issues even if there isn’t cheating involved. So if I think there was something as prominent as [cheating], I think I’ll cut it. I don’t think I could grow from it. Personally, I think [it’ll] just be too much on my mind.” – Marissa


If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that cheating is complicated. There’s no right or wrong way to address cheating in a relationship, because every relationship is unique. Relationships are personable, built upon trust, communication and emotional intimacy. When cheating erodes that, you’re left with a decision. Victims of cheating have to do what’s best for them, whether that means staying or leaving. Who is anyone else to tell you otherwise?

Some responses have been edited for clarity. 

Melanie Curry is a Boston-based magazine journalist from Atlanta, Georgia and a senior at Emerson College. She has bylines in Men's Health, Boston Magazine, and more! When not writing an article or reaching out to sources, you can find her at Starbucks drinking a cold brew and listening to music—her favorite hobby.
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