Reading that headline, would you simply conclude that most parents are cruel and most children are annoying, or would you be somewhat shocked and ask what is going on? It’s not even the fact that we find the concept of being irritated by one’s child unimaginable; I’m a parent, trust me, it’s very imaginable. I can also almost accept that a small minority of parents go through a period of time long enough to be labeled ‘a phase’ during which they prefer spending time with other people’s children, but 70%? That is the part that is difficult to digest.
It’s hard to fathom even if applied to other, perhaps less emotive, scenarios. For example, consider hearing the following: 70% of business partners go through a phase where they prefer spending time working on other people’s businesses away from their partner; 70% of pet owners prefer interacting with other people’s pets; 70% of people dining at home prefer to bring something from an outside source rather than eat what was cooked at home; 70% of sports fans who go to see a match prefer to watch another game on their phones rather than the one being played live in front of them. We would not just accept any of these statements and allow things to continue as they are. We would demand an explanation and actively look for a solution to remedy the problem. And if statistics do not improve, you’d be entitled to ask what is the point of having children, getting into a business partnership, owning pets, cooking at home, or going to live matches.
It’s Not About Kids
As you may have gathered, this statistic is not about any of the aforementioned topics. It relates to infidelity in relationships. I chose the headline above for its conspicuous shock factor. We seem to accept extraordinary relationship-related statistics that we simply wouldn’t in other equally or even less important areas of our lives.
According to BBC journalist William Park, a study on infidelity reported that 70% of partners cheat at some point during their relationship. The split between men and women has become fairly even. Therefore, we cannot say this applies to one gender more than the other. The study revealed several facts each worthy of its own analysis. To pick just one more, only 5% thought that their partner is capable of cheating. Even allowing for a certain amount of overlap, it still leaves a large number that are either living in denial or in ignorant bliss.
…I would like you to take a moment to go through the usual finger-pointing exercise that falls under the heading, ‘some men can’t keep it zipped up’ or ‘some women can’t keep their legs closed’. Please continue reading only once you’ve reverted to a non-judgmental state of mind…
Why Do So Many Cheat?
For those that read Park’s article, please take a bit more time to allow for our brains’ classic diversion tactics. For instance, you may find yourself thinking that the number could be lower, as there are some studies that do show a lower result. You may even think it’s higher, as statistics depend on honesty and some may not wish to admit infidelity. You could even stray from the main issue and instead focus on the fact that cheating can mean different things to different people. However, no matter how you look at it, or what tangent thought process you may take, the central theme remains the same: How come so many cheat?
The parent analogy goes against the very reason why we have children and what having a child means.
Even if applied to the other examples such as business partnerships or owning pets, it seems to defeat the point of the exercise. Indeed, if there was any practice or habit in which as many as 70% of its participants expressed a lack of enjoyment, then you could argue that, given enough time, such a practice would cease to exist if people were left to their own devices. For it to continue, this practice would need to be enforced by suppressing the truth, fear-mongering against stopping the practice, an authoritarian (or divine) rule of law, or a combination of all three. Sound familiar?
One could attribute this 70% glitch in the system to the fact that the rules have changed.
As Stephanie Coontz states in her book The Way We Never Were,
…within the past 40 years, marriage has changed more than in the last 5,000.
Marriage, or any form of long-term cohabitation, was never about love, monogamy or even friendship. It started in Mesopotamia around 2300 BC as a branch of property law that made women belong to men in order to, mainly but not solely, guarantee offspring legitimacy.
Infidelity, of course, is not a new concept.
Up until 5000 years ago – a split second in evolutionary terms – promiscuity, for both men and women, was part and parcel of day-to-day life. The anthropologist Marjorie Shostak in her book, Nisa, The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, writes that “gender inequality is an aberration in the long calendar of human history. So is dyadic monogamy for life, and many of our gendered assumptions about sex.” In other words, cheating should be renamed to ‘behaving as we have done for 99.99% of our existence’.
Having multiple sexual partners was the norm because spouses were not seen as friends, let alone life partners with whom one shares love, laughter and all that comes with being emotionally connected to another. That being said, trying out new ways to live in an attempt to better our lot is also an integral part of human development.
This brings us back to the crux of our discussion.
If we have now developed to a point where we see partners as people we love and, therefore, find difficult to hurt, how come the statistic for an action that inflicts deep pain to a partner is as high as 70%? We cannot just conclude that 70% of humans are cruel. If we do, then we should see similar statistics of intentional ill-treatment in areas such as parenting, friendships, work collaborations, neighbourly interaction, animal care and so on; but, we don’t. Therefore, if 70% of a certain human group (love partners) knowingly behaves in a manner that causes pain to those they are supposed to love enough not to be able to hurt, then we can only conclude that this so-called ‘love’ is a sham. It’s an enforced pretense and when humans are asked to pretend for long periods of time, the majority cannot.
But love is not a sham, we actually do feel it. The vast majority who decide to partner up do so because they genuinely fall in love. Since this is true, we can deduce the following: We have changed the reason, but not the rule, for shacking up.
The Reason has Changed
Old reason: She has good wide hips to give him children; he has a fine selection of goats.
New reason: We really love each other.
Old rule: We must treat the other like a work colleague because our arrangement is about not being alone, building a home, having children, sharing chores, societal acceptance, offspring legitimacy and other such concerns. Therefore, we must behave carefully in a universally acceptable manner with a healthy dose of careful tiptoeing to ensure we minimise potential friction.
New rule: First, a friend must become a best friend; if you find this now best friend attractive, then shack up. When you do, be yourself, speak your mind all the time, exchange a healthy dose of banter, share fantasies and thoughts, sexual or otherwise, and see if this gives you a feeling of certainty in your love. Stay together as long as this certainty genuinely, not pretentiously, remains or even increases. If you want children, have them if certainty doesn’t decrease for at least three years.
The old rule isn’t working; never mind infidelity, even if neither cheats, this old rule guarantees that couples will get bored of each other within two years of committing. The problem is not that humans can’t like someone for more than two years. If that was the case, lifelong best friendships would not exist. Therefore, instead of continuously working on more elaborate punishments, encouraging a blame culture, or resurrecting God to inflict the wrath of hell on those heathen sinners, can we please wake up, stop using the old rule that is blatantly failing, and realise what a wonderful opportunity we’ve been presented to embrace a new rule that can turn partners into lifelong fun friends rather than monotonous co-workers, bosses or neutered subordinates?