Why Do People Cheat?

A few weeks ago, a reader asked what my thoughts are on the age-old question: “Why do people cheat?”

Now, before I continue, I want to declare that I am no expert. In fact, I claim expertise in nothing except stealth farting on dates.

Nevertheless, someone actually wants to hear my opinion on something, so by gum, I will indulge the lad.

I pondered this question for a while and had a difficult time gathering my thoughts. Because the truth is, I think there are a kachillion reasons why people cheat. Everyone’s situation is unique.

Then last week I saw a movie called Pretty Ugly People in which one of the characters said that people cheat for one of two reasons. They’re either…

1. Selfish
2. Lonely

I thought that summed it up pretty well. Although it is certainly more complicated than that, most likely all kachillion reasons could be placed in one of those two categories.

The Lonely Bastards

I know from experience that even if you’re in a committed relationship, it is possible to feel lonely. And it’s a shitty feeling, too.

Years ago, when I cheated on my partner with the teenie weenied busboy, it was largely due to loneliness. I was in a failed relationship and my boyfriend and I had grown apart. He wasn’t giving me any attention and I yearned for a connection. Someone else dangled it in front of me, and eventually, I caved.

I by no means absolve myself of any wrongdoing in this situation. Feeling lonely does not excuse my behavior, and I sincerely regret it. I should’ve ended the relationship long ago. But I was scared, and I let it drag on. And then I cheated. I was an asshole.

The Selfish Bastards

Some people cheat because they are selfish. In fact, I’d say that in most cases, people who cheat are acting selfishly – even if they are lonely. They usually have a lot of excuses, for example:

Selfish excuse #1:

“I unintentionally became attracted to someone. I was weak and gave into temptation.”

I understand this is difficult. You can’t control whom you’re attracted to and people make mistakes. This is in part what happened to me, too.

But if you’re committed to another person, in most cases, you’ve agreed that you won’t fuck anyone else in exchange for them not fucking anyone else. So you have to exercise some self-control.

It’s a trade-off — but in return, you get stability/companionship/love/regular sex. Weigh your options. If fucking someone else becomes a higher priority than stability/companionship/love/regular sex with your current partner, break up. If you cheat – even if you’ve found your soul mate – ultimately, it’s just selfish.

Selfish excuse #2:

“I’m insecure and need to prove I’m still attractive to the opposite sex.”

Of course, this is not something most people will admit, even to themselves. But it’s not uncommon.

The teenie weenie guy was cheating on his partner. I happen to know I wasn’t the first – or last – person he cheated with. He regularly sought out new paramours. And he had no intention of leaving his girlfriend.

I am certain he was insecure (and with a shrinky dink like his, I’m not surprised). He wanted to prove he was a stud and would brag about his conquests to his friends.

Find other ways to build your self esteem. Don’t make your partner pay for your insecurities. It’s just selfish.

Selfish excuse #3:

“Humans are not meant to be monogamous. Most animals aren’t. Plus, why would we have the urge to be with other people?”

I don’t think we can ever really know whether or not this is true. But I will say I’m also fairly sure humans weren’t meant to sit in front of computers all day and pig out on processed cheese. We humans do a lot of things we were likely not meant to do.

However, if you are a believer of this theory, that is fine and dandy. Stay single and screw a lot of people. Or find someone who’s cool with an “open relationship.” But don’t get into a relationship and cheat. If you do, it’s just selfish. And I hope you get crabs.

In Sum, It’s Complicated

In the past, I thought if you were in a relationship, cheating was the worst thing you could do. And make no mistake, it is bad. I’ve been cheated on, too, and it blows.

But now I’ve come to realize that people are human. It’s not always easy to do the right thing all of the time. In fact, sometimes, it’s really friggin’ hard.

This is by no means a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, because if you cheat, I’m afraid you deserve any repercussions that may ensue.

We have to take responsibility for our own actions. If your needs are not being met and you have repeatedly expressed this to your partner to no avail, you should seek therapy or end the relationship. Don’t cheat. Cheating sucks.

Thank you to the reader who requested my humble, non-expert opinion. I very well could be full of hooey. I hope I shed some light, from my perspective, on a terribly complex issue.


Why do you think people cheat? What did I miss? Am I full of hooey?

48 replies

  1. here’s a question, my wife is insecure, I have no idea why. If I’m not at work, I’m home, all my free time is with her.
    I think people are insecure because their significant other makes them or they cheated. Now to be honest I’m fine if she did cheat, I understand that there will be other people she finds attractive an I want her to be happy an if exploring makes her happy, well fine….I just wanna know if there are other reasons why she might be insecure…..

    • Sweetie, I can’t tell you why your wife is insecure because I don’t know her. And even if I did, I probably couldn’t tell you. (Also, it’s unclear what you mean by “insecure” – insecure about what?) Different people are insecure for different reasons. Maybe her father criticized her too much when she was young. Maybe she was cheated on in the past. Maybe someone else she really trusted betrayed her in the past. Maybe a million other possible reasons. Maybe you should ask her, in a very compassionate and loving way, why she might feel insecure about your relationship. Good luck.

      • Good point…insecure about me having female friends…..I did ask, she said all those women I talk to an call “friends” how can I expect her not to be….I do accounting the majority of people in this field are women…..she asked if it was the other way around….I told her I’d be ok with it……thanks anyway….if you come with anythingelse or anyone who reads this….let me know…much thanks

  2. I think you really touched on something about the relationship between selfish and lonely. People do all kinds of things, but when you agree not to cheat, you do it for a reason.
    It may be based on centuries of tradition rather than primal instinct-but notice that monogamy and relationships are something we are still actively seeking.
    Being in a committed relationship generally means there are rules and guidelines. No one is forcing individulas into these committed situations. If people don’t want to be monogamous, they don’t have to. I just don’t understand why so many people pretend like they want this, convince another human being that they will do this-and then go about cheating. If you don’t want the monogamy, stay out of the relationship or get into one that has a different set of rules and guidelines clearly defined by both parties.
    Great post. Definitely sparked a discussion here.

    • You make excellent points. Yes, monogamy and relationships are something most of us seek. Why is this? Are we going against our natural instincts? Or is there perhaps something in our nature that makes us crave these things as well?

  3. I love the one about monogamy being unnatural. My answer to that one is always, “Is it unnatural to tell the truth?” I mean, I’m sure being faithful is too much for some people. That’s fine. But don’t let me have to find out that you’re a cheater the hard way. A cheating scumbag disclaimer should be provided upfront.

    By the way, I wrote separate articles on why women cheat & why men cheat. Check them out: http://relationshipsaga.com/blog/2010/11/reasons-why-women-cheat/

    • I agree. If some guy cheated then gave me the monogamy being unnatural excuse, I’d tell him to go live naked in a cave with no electricity or modern furnishings and let him forage and fend for himself. That’s natural.

  4. It is both exactly as simple as you state it, while also being ridiculously complicated.

    I cheated on 2 of my exes because I wanted out of the relationship but didn’t even know it. There were non-love related reasons I wanted to stay with these guys (and no, I’m not a gold digger, but I expect one of my exes was a gold digger/mooch) so I stayed longer than I should’ve. For me, if I cheat, it means I’m over you, and since I never had the balls to just end it, i cheated instead. I didn’t tell my last ex because I think it would just hurt him, but it was something I did to know it was over for myself. So there was a mix of loneliness and selfishness for sure.

  5. Is that Miley Cyrus? That ‘lipstick’ on that dudes face looks like blood. That dude looks light in the loafers. The stick figure with the bomb looks like that turd character from South Park.

    The KAP has never been cheated on. The KAP would go to jail if she ever was cheated on because she would bear arms and kill.

    The KAP has never cheated. The KAP does not have time for mulitples.

    The KAP, the the old man behind the green curtain that controls the KAP, hates cheaters/ing and thinks it’s the worse thing ever. Period. But that might be the KAP’s Kapricorn loyalty kicking in.

  6. What does cheating mean?

    Is that when you keep your spare lovers secret? I mean, who does that? Even Denny can’t juggle that many balls. [insert easy joke]

    Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

    Wait, I don’t cheat on you.

    Okay, define cheating again.

  7. Just read your post and had to jump in with both feet on this one here.

    While I do agree with the assumption that people cheat because of one or both of the reasons above I think it also goes much deeper. Like many things we do in a relationship from complaining about how the bed is made to pissing on the toilet seat to spite someone, it in my view rises from a need to control the situation.

    If we are not balanced, and secure with our selves we can not feel secure in a relationship, the core issues that cause us pain eventually work themselves into the relationship and we lash out. Be it from feelings of abandonment to feelings of entitlement.

    The act of cheating is us asserting control in a situation where we may ultimately feel helpless. Although we are lashing out at our partner ultimately we are only hurting ourselves. Feeding those feelings of powerlessness or insecurity. How many of us felt the rush of a conquest only to feel ashamed by it the second it was over?

    True love in a relationship can only start with true acceptance of one’s self. Only then can we be open to finding a partner that complements us in the ways we need instead of just trying to find someone to fill the holes in our self esteem.

    Just my two cents.


    • With all due respect, I disagree.

      Without plugging my blog again (see link I provided below), I believe that cheating is ultimately an act of self-preservation, and it has nothing to do with our self-esteem or lack thereof. We cheat because our evolutionarily conditioned instincts drive us to increase our reproductive success, and cheating is how we maximize our reproduction.

      A lot of people believe that my perspective therefore means that I don’t believe in monogamy for humans. That’s not true! Quite the opposite, in fact….

      I believe that humans can be monogamous. Obviously, billions of people have done it. However, I also believe that it’s important to acknowledge our animalistic instincts, instead of clinging to the belief that we’re better than the animals, or that we have this holier sense of commitment. Because, ironically, doing so gives people the excuse to give up on their relationships when times get tough:

      “It doesn’t feel right anymore. This must mean that we’re not right for each other.”

      Bulls@#t. Of course it doesn’t feel right. That’s your instinct talking.

      We cheat not to fill a hole in our soul. We cheat not to boost our self-esteem. We cheat because it’s in our instinct. And that temptation is going to strike at even the best of us, even if we have wonderful self-esteem, even if we have an ideal relationship with the ideal partner.

      Therefore, if we choose monogamy, then we have to realize that it will take hard work, because it goes against our instincts, and that we will have to make a conscious effort to maintain the relationship.

      And the sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we’re forced to stop making excuses for ourselves and others. And the sooner we can be satisfied with monogamy.

      And that’s my 20 cents. 🙂

    • Bob, Dennis, I love this debate! But you’re both full of hooey. Ha! I kid. I think we are all full of hooey. Well, I think we all have our theories and none of us can say for certain whose is accurate. I think perhaps we’re all partially accurate.

      As I said, I really do believe there are a kachillion reasons why people might cheat. I broke it down into two verrry broad categories and provided a just a handful of examples. It mos def goes deeper. But it’s a blog post and not a dissertation and I’ve gots to paint me toes!

      I do think it’s hooey to say all humans cheat because it’s our instinct or all humans cheat because we’re insecure. I think those may be two reasons why people cheat (which may also have sub-reasons and be sub-reasons themselves).

      Some people cheat out of revenge. Some people cheat because of peer pressure. Some people cheat because of innate sexual urges coupled with lack of self-control. Some people cheat because they have a fetish their partner won’t accommodate. And there are many, many more reasons.

      I think it’s also important not to confuse cheating with the desire to have sex with multiple partners. If we’re in an “open relationship” and sleep with other people, it’s really not cheating, is it? Cheating is breaking a promise. Perhaps it is a promise we should not have made in the first place, but then again, some people have no problem keeping that promise while others find it a terrible struggle.

      Really, we peeps are mega-complex.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. We’ve got some big brains inna house!

      (BTW, see my response to the science issue a few comments down.)

  8. Balanced and honest post! Agree with both the selfish and lonely motivations. I’d like to add that perhaps the commonality of affairs (every one knows someone who is cheating) makes people feel that it is permissable. That it’s an easier exit strategy out of a relationship (if they get caught) than actually ending things gracefully.

    • Totally. I do think some people cheat as a way to end a relationship. Because just coming out and saying, “I don’t love you anymore” can be some of the most difficult words to say to someone.

  9. Selfish is the big umbrella for which each and every single excuse for cheating falls under…including lonely.

    You said best with: “But if you’re committed to another person, in most cases, you’ve agreed that you won’t fuck anyone else in exchange for them not fucking anyone else. So you have to exercise some self-control.” I would add that people should at least respect their partner.

    Cheating is lying. Finding out that someone you trust or are suppose to trust is lying to you feels like being violated. Not only does a cheater hurt that person, but they have a hand in potentially messing up future relationships for that person.

    I have never understood why people don’t just get out. Cheating sucks big time. It sucks a giant, hairy, after an intense cardio session, sack.

    • That’s really the crux of it isn’t it? I won’t cheat if you don’t. Because no one wants to be cheated on.

      I do understand why people don’t just get out. Sometimes it’s really hard and really scary to get out. And some people don’t even want out, they just want the extracurricular fun. These are not good excuses, but they are reasons.

      “Giant, hairy, after an intense cardio session sack” is a very bad sack indeed! And sadly, I can’t get the image out of my head now. We should put that on a billboard in a campaign to combat infidelity!

    • Funny, I was going to say herpes, but then I realized the person being cheated on would have it for life, too, and that would suck. So I chose crabs, because it’s enough to tell the cheatee that their partner is being unfaithful yet can be cured with some poison and a fine-toothed comb. Aren’t I thoughtful?

  10. Of course cheating is selfish. Everyone is inherently selfish.

    As an evolutionary biologist, I’d like to expound on #3. It’s not that most animals aren’t monogamous. The truth is, no animal in the world is monogamous.

    That doesn’t mean that humans can’t choose to be monogamous, though….

    Anyway, I’m gonna plug my own blog here, but I actually wrote an article on this exact topic. For anyone who’s interested: 🙂


    • You’re ruining my bambi movie fantasies here. Or I could say, “If every animal in the world was jumping off a bridge, would you?” 😉 Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      I have to say that I really enjoyed this article! Yes, selfish, lonely, or both is probably right. I’ve never cheated but had a very real close call. It came down to valuing my friendship with that person more than whatever sexual thing would come out of it. But yes, if cheating seems like the best option, it isn’t.

      • If every animal in the world were jumping off a bridge, I’d take a pretty close look behind me and consider if there might be a raging inferno approaching….

        Because animals tend to have better instincts than we do! :-p

    • Yeah, I get it. Even people who do things for other people could technically be considered selfish because doing those things makes them feel good or alleviates the bad feelings associated with not doing them.

      But when I say selfish I’m referring to people who only think of themselves and don’t give a shit how their actions affect other people, if ya dig. Or give a shit, yet do them anyway.

      Anyhoo, I’m getting off topic.

      If we’re comparing ourselves to animals, I’d also like to point out that no animal in the world drinks the milk of another animal. But we humans do. Animals don’t build skyscrapers, nor do they elect government officials to make decisions for the good of their species.

      Humans are so far evolved from the animals I don’t think we can always make deductions about human nature based on animal behavior. We can look to it for clues and insight, to be sure, but it can’t explain everything. Humans have come so far from our “natural” state that I think we have no way of knowing what nature really intended for us.

      As you say, animals primarily act on instinct. But humans also act on intellect, and on a more advanced level of emotions (including what we call “love”). And that’s part of our nature.

      Yes, marriage is a social convention (designed by the male gender). As you say, we choose to be married (or monogamous). Many people have done it. And many people have cheated. And many people have not cheated. And many of those who have not cheated have been tempted and chosen to remain faithful. And many of those who have not cheated have not been tempted to cheat. Some people, believe it or not, really are just happy being monogamous with their partners.

      I am not entirely discounting your theory by any means. I think most humans in relationships are naturally still attracted to other members of the opposite sex. Some people have the (possibly instinctive?) urge to cheat. But some don’t.

      Science is fantastic. I love me some science. It helps us to ‘splain things. But there are many competing theories within the scientific community and science has been proven and disproven many times. I don’t think we can put ALL our eggs in the science basket because even scientists disagree.

      And again, if someone really does not want to be monogamous, for whatever reason, that is A-OK! Stay single forever, spread your procreative seed amongst the many and be happy. Or become a Mormon, yo. But don’t lie to someone about an intention to be monogamous when it’s not there. Those are the people who should get crabs.

      • I didn’t feel like you were discounting what I said at all. If anything, we’re pretty much in agreement.

        I never said that humans act on instinct alone, only that humans are still driven by instinct. (Rereading my response to Bob, I admit that I probably didn’t phrase some of it very clearly, so it may have come across as me implying that humans are no better than animals. My bad.)

        Anyway… yes, we are “better” than the animals. At the same time, assuming that one believes in evolution, we’re talking about four million years of evolution, only the last 10,000 of which (if even that) were responsible for developing the sense of society that we have today.

        As such, my contention is that it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to set aside 3.99 million years of evolution and focus only on what we’ve “accomplished” in the last 0.01 million. So, one disagreement I will levy is that, no, I do not believe that humans are really all that far evolved from the animals. Maybe only 10,000 years out of 4 million.

        So, my point is that we have to be cognizant of the animal instincts that still drive us… because that drive is still pretty damned strong.

        Maybe a good analogy would be the saying that before you can cure alcoholism, you have to admit that you’re an alcoholic. Well, in my opinion, before we can “cure” our animalism, we have to admit that we’re still animals deep down.

        That make more sense now? 🙂

      • But dang, think about how far we’ve come in that 10,000 years! We really slacked off for that 3.99 million, didn’t we?

        What concerns me about a simple statement like “humans aren’t meant to be monogamous” is that some people may take that at face value without considering all the other factors that come into play (as you have), then use it as an excuse to cheat. “Hey, baby, I can’t help it if I cheat, it’s in my nature.” There are some big fat d-bags out there who just love to use this excuse.

        And actually, I kinda think the animals are better than us. Acting on pure instinct alone makes them sorta innocent in my eyes. I think humans have really fucked a lot of shit up. I sometimes think about what the world would look like if humans never came along. No roads, no buildings, no Charlie Sheen. Just dirt and bush and trees and water and animals living in harmony with nature. But until some cray cray pushes the button on the nukes, I suppose we’re here to stay.

        I hope that didn’t sound too morbid. 🙂

      • Yeah, it took us a few (million) years to get our evolutionary gears out of first gear, didn’t it?

        What concerns me about a simple statement like “humans aren’t meant to be monogamous” is that some people may take that at face value without considering all the other factors that come into play (as you have), then use it as an excuse to cheat.

        As I’ve found from following politics, two people with polar opposite platforms can take the same exact fact and both spin it to support their argument.

        So… yes, I totally agree with you.

        No roads, no buildings, no Charlie Sheen. Just dirt and bush and trees and water and animals living in harmony with nature.

        Then again, “living in harmony with nature” also involves a lot of getting bent over by nature and ass-f@cked with drought, flood, volcanic eruption, ice age, and the occasional comet of doom.

        I dunno, I think it’s a tough call. Charlie Sheen? Or Comet of doom? I can’t decide….

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