Are You Faithful?

photo: douyoulove.info

What constitutes infidelity? Looking at porn? Chatting with an old flame on Facebook? Guys weigh in.

With the list of famous philanderers on the front pages of the most reputable newspapers continuing to grow with the likes of Arnold, Ashton, Seal, Tiki Barber, Tiger, Jesse, Elliot, the question of what constitutes infidelity is on our minds. And, surprise surprise, men and women don’t always agree. Does having a special friend of the opposite sex at work count as cheating? How about looking at porn? Striking up conversations with an old flame on Facebook?

According to an ongoing infidelity poll of over 8,000 women conducted by WomanSavers, 69 percent of women believe that viewing porn is emotional cheating. In a similar WomanSavers poll, 92 percent of all women felt that online affairs constituted infidelity. (Granted, the readers at WomanSavers—a site where you can do a background check on a guy before going on a date—might not reflect women everywhere.)

But suffice it to say, there are many views on emotional fidelity. We would love to hear yours. As a guy, what do you think is important for a fulfilling relationship? What’s OK and what’s not? Do you have the urge to stray emotionally or physically? How do you deal with those urges?

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This is an interesting gray area, since most men probably can’t even define the term “emotional fidelity,” and would be unlikely to engage in it unless they were being physically unfaithful at the same time. From the male perspective, it seems like a package deal, so I’m not sure how useful it is to try and make a distinction between the two types of cheating.

Tom Perrotta, author of The Abstinence Teacher and Little Children

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Our biology has its own imperatives and we can recognize and respect that without believing that those feelings represent our true self. It’s similar to the way we behave when drunk; the old phrase is “in vino veritas,” but we know today that the uninhibited self isn’t the “true” self, but only another facet of our personality. The problem is when we think that that’s who we really are, and either beat ourselves up over it or use it as an excuse to choose to behave badly. Desires are a product of our bodies, just like indigestion, and these momentary urges don’t have to mean anything more than indigestion does—unless we make them more important through our thoughts or actions.

Dylan Wittkower, ethicist

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One point of view that often gets dropped out this conversation is that of the growing number of Americans who are polyamorists. These people have solved the paradox of wanting both long-term committed relationships and multiple partners by being honest about it. Fidelity for polyamorists means being honest about their feelings for others, instead of trying not to have them. I have been in polyamorous relationships since 1967. I have been with the woman I am married to since 1961, and I have several other relationships that have lasted for decades.

“Silenus”

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If women want men to be cool and in control of ourselves, to tamp down on and corral the intensity of our desires, that costs something: a measure of warmth and openness that we bring to any relationship; it also potentially stokes a toxic brew of resentment.

Donald Unger, lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Men Can: The Changing Image & Reality of Fatherhood in America.

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I hear about this every night on my radio show. Emotional fidelity is something men can do but his needs must be met—just like a woman. When a man is not getting what he needs, he may start looking elsewhere for someone to take care of his desires. If we have a good lady at home, then we’re going to resist any sort of temptation. And it’s easy for a woman to keep a man interested by being a true friend who’s got his back, providing support, and tearing it up in that bedroom. Simple.

Jerry “The Loverman” Wade, syndicated Talk Show Host

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If a man’s emotional needs are addressed, he feels respected and that elicits a bonding trust within him toward the woman who best addresses his particular combination of emotional needs. His emotional needs would include protecting his reputation, giving him his quiet time, and supporting the lifestyle he works to achieve. Depending on what is most important to him as an individual, even the most notorious player can be emotionally faithful if his emotional needs are met. One of the differences between men and women is the emotional impact that the act of sex has on the genders. For women, the act of sex can potentially address most of her emotional needs. For men, the act of sex IS an emotional need; thus, since it only addresses one emotional need, great sex alone will not make a man emotionally faithful.

Frank Kermit, relationship coach

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As a man you have to be willing to put all cards on the table. I believe a relationship works when both partners inspire each other, as well as feel fully expressed. If someone in the relationship is stifled or unhappy with anything else in his or her life, it will chip away at the relationship. Also, if you’re not getting what you want in a relationship, don’t be afraid to say: “I love you, but I’m not happy in this relationship.” Honesty is key.

Jason Silva, founding producer/host for Current TV

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To suggest that men cannot be faithful, when sixty percent of married women cheat on their husbands, is preposterous. In addition, women lie about their fertility and use of birth control (which is maternity fraud), as well as the actual men who fathered their children (paternity fraud).AshleyMadison.com, a noted dating website for married people, reports a significantly increased enrollment of women the day after Mother’s Day. Fidelity has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with integrity, maturity, and stability.

Marc H. Rudov, author and Fox News personality

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Emotional infidelity is a lot harder to quantify than sexual infidelity. Where’s the line? What if it’s only one-sided? I bet a lot of guys think of it as a loophole in cheating—”Hey, we’re not touching.” But I bet that if men imagined their wives emotionally straying, they’d be as alarmed, if not more so, than if their wives slept with other men. You know damn well if your wife is lying in your shared bed or someone else’s, but you’ll never really know where her emotions point.

Communicate. Speak up when something is wrong. If a relationship is healthy, you won’t need to look outside of it to feel loved. And include. If you’re growing close to some woman—someone at work, or someone you met through a friend, or whatever—invite her (and her boyfriend/husband) to join you and your girlfriend/wife for dinner, whatever. Bring a relationship out into the open, and make it part of your public life, and it no longer feels like a secret space to stash your feelings.

Jason Feifer, editor, Men’s Health

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A man must be emotionally present to his wife in order for emotional faithfulness (whatever that might actually be) to even be an option. If a man is indeed emotionally present, then he can be truthful—to himself and to her. It seems to me that any type of “emotional infidelity” must be a result of emotional disconnection (absence) with one’s spouse. I suspect that if a man is truly emotionally present and authentic, then the whole issue of emotional faithfulness just sort of dissolves. If he is emotionally present, then he is truly in the relationship. The marriage is alive.

Justice Marshall, creator of The Hero Principles, theheroprinciples.com

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Many men have no concept of being emotionally faithful—they feel that physical faithfulness is enough of a “sacrifice.” While a man would flip out if his wife was ‘emotionally’ involved with another man, he often do not recognize or care that he is emotionally involved with another woman. Many men also think that having a relationship with another woman that does not involve sex; of course it usually ends up involving sex of one sort or another, but is rather a way of ‘sharing feelings’ is somehow OK. Men can be anything they choose to be—it is making the right choices that makes a good man.

Pablo Solomon, artist

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The best way to explain emotional fidelity is to explain what constitutes emotional infidelity. Technically, this is when you choose not to or you’re unable to share your emotions, thoughts and feelings with your significant other, yet you share them with someone else of the opposite sex. Although you’re not having a physical affair, you are being emotionally intimate with someone other than your partner.

 

Emotional infidelity is not simple flirting. But, it can begin with flirting, as that is how many relationships develop. That casual banter with a co-worker may turn in to flirting and something more serious and emotionally involved as time goes on.

 

To be emotionally faithful is to not betray your partner. You know your partner better than anyone else; what her needs are and how she feels about everything. If you’re sharing special thoughts, feelings, ambitions or dreams with someone other than her, then you are knowingly being emotionally unfaithful and trust has been broken.

 

Paul Falzone, Chief Executive Officer eLove.com

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I always liked the saying, “The definition of character … is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” I think this applies to relationships as well.

Ted Wayman, news anchor

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Men fall in love with women other than their spouses all the time, and I would bet it happens in reverse. It doesn’t have to be a big deal: a crush, a friendship that flows and then ebbs in intensity. This is harmless if key lines aren’t crossed. That’s the crux of it for me and my wife: defining what those key lines are. We’ve decided they are: sex, revealing personal secrets/exposing some sacred trusts, and allowing too much time to be taken away from our relationship. They are NOT flirtation or infatuation or attraction. I mean, come on: Cupid only shot his arrow through my heart—or my wife’s heart—once in our lifetimes? That seems pretty naïve to me. Better to admit the fact that a wide variety of people are going to appeal over the decades of a committed relationship, and focus on what the lines are that are not to be crossed.

Stuart Horwitz, senior editor, BookArchitecture.com

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It seems to me that the journey to emotional honesty is first a journey to understand one’s feelings. If I understand what I am feeling, how my fears color my feelings, then I may have a shot at being emotionally honest—if I can find the words and the courage to express them.

Joe D’Ariggo, business executive

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Infidelity isn’t a “capacity” problem; it’s a ‘choice’ problem: Do I choose to grow up, be responsible, and embrace the requirements for loving rather than remain detached and ungrounded as a “flying boy” in search of Never Never Land? Granted, there’s a complex relationship between fidelity to one versus desire of another. What is undeniably in our nature is a lust for novelty, some modicum of freedom and separateness while in passionate pursuit of its polarity—belonging to some “one” and committing to a person that expands our sense of ourselves.

Infidelity is not so much about the sex as it is about the deception, both toward our self and our partners. So let’s get honest. Men have the ability to be both intimate and faithful. It’s not that men are commitment phobic; it’s that they’re frightened by the requirements for loving someone because it asks us to evolve. Are we willing to become who we must to live up to what love and a real relationship demand of us? It’s time to choose.

Dr. Jay Ferraro, licensed clinician and relationship expert

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Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. That’s an interesting question…I guess I am a bit naive about that….

    Last night I was at a wedding banquet with a bunch of co-workers….the co-worker’s uncle came over to my table and made conversation with me and my fellow table mates….I innocently thought he was just kinda bored and wanted to be social and friendly (I’m sure if my husband was there he would have hung out with him and talked and bonded)….

    My table mates and the wife of this guy kept giving looks at him as he kept swooping by to make more casual conversation….I could see the couple next to me tapping each other on the thigh every time he (or his wife!) looked in my direction….I tried to stay deep in conversation with the people in my group but I could see him trying to angle for eye contact and a conversation cue….

    I was wondering today if I have a blind spot when it comes to men….Do I think I am having an innocent friendly conversation with a guy while other people see red flags? I suppose there is safety in numbers (being part of a group that knows you well and looks out for you)…..perhaps if I was alone he would have talked more or said something inappropriate (although he was there with his wife, kids, and extended family)…..Maybe other people see things that I don’t….Maybe that’s been my problem…I’m not suspicious enough of people’s motives and too green about certain human interactions….Although it would have been impolite to totally ignore him and diss him….

  2. Communication within a relationship is very key in this area, judging what is faithful or unfaithful.

    For example, I know that a number of people don’t consider porn cheating. However, I do consider it a form of cheating. No one is allowed to tell me that’s “wrong” and “ridiculous” if that’s my standard. It’s up to my partner and me to establish what behavior is okay and not okay in our relationship.

    I also think there is a huge mistake we make in society today about our “needs”. The difference between what is really a “need” and what is a “want” or “desire”. No one person IS going to fulfill you. But if you find that you need two, three, four…however many people you think it takes, to fullfill your needs, I would make the argument that you are looking for things in other people that you should be finding in yourself. That that isn’t an issue about how many relationships you need but what is going on within you. Looking for external things to validate yourself or your needs. I also think we expect all our “wants” to be met the second we feel it. I have had past relationships where the guy had looked at porn, I found out, got upset, and his argument was “but you weren’t around”. My thoughts where always that I shouldn’t have to be around 24/7 just to expect my partner to practice some self control. I know that men appreicate when I practice self control not to gorge myself on ice cream and become over weight. And I think alot of people, not matter the topic, respect a partner that uses self control more then one that has to fulfill themselves teh second they feel something. Unfortunetly, in today and in our culture, we are told every little sexual feeling we fell MUST be acted on or we are somehow denying ourselves something. And I think that’s an unhealthy belief.

    • Artemis says:

      “It’s up to my partner and me to establish what behavior is okay and not okay in our relationship.”

      I second this idea. If something makes one partner feel uncomfortable, I would certainly hope the other partner would want to make them happy and not do said thing.

      • That will ensure a temporary relationship. The chances of a relationship working long term are low if it’s all about one person’s comfort. I do things that I am uncomfortable with all the time if it makes my wife happy and don’t prevent her from doing things that bring her joy pleasure even if It makes me uncomfortable. That’s called not being a selfish person, not putting yourself in first place, showing self sacrificing love. That’s how you stay married for life.

  3. Artemis says:

    “Men fall in love with women other than their spouses all the time, and I would bet it happens in reverse. It doesn’t have to be a big deal: a crush, a friendship that flows and then ebbs in intensity. This is harmless if key lines aren’t crossed. That’s the crux of it for me and my wife: defining what those key lines are.”

    Stuart Horwitz had the best response I thought. What determines fidelity is defined by the people within that relationship. Guidelines need to be set. And these are going to vary across relationships.

    I have agreed with his point in my own relationship: it would be unreasonable for me to expect my boyfriend to never be attracted or like another woman besides me and I would find it unreasonable for him to expect the same of me. I would expect him to put me before any other crushes, though, and I would do the same for him.

    Also, while this is framed as for men, with men being the “strayers” it is important to note that women are just as likely to “stray.” This definitely seems like an issue for both genders to consider.

    • “I have agreed with his point in my own relationship: it would be unreasonable for me to expect my boyfriend to never be attracted or like another woman besides me and I would find it unreasonable for him to expect the same of me. I would expect him to put me before any other crushes, though, and I would do the same for him.”

      Totally agree with this Artemis. I don’t think any one expects that their partner will never ever be attracted to another person. It’s what their partner does with that attraction that matters.

  4. For me, ifidelity has nothing to do with exclusiveness, but everything to do with trust. When you go from openess and honesty to sneaky and lying, it breaks the bonds of trust and that is my definition of infidelity. In my life, emotional and sexual infidelity only occur when you can no longer trust your partner to be 100% honest with you.

  5. Crazydiamond says:

    I think infidelity is what each person or couple defines it to be. However it always seems to be about a certain level of honesty about agreed rules or beliefs. For instance even in Open marriages there are often rules which if volatilized would be seen as infidelity even though they do have sex with others.

    As for porn issues – I always ask women to consider their views about women having vibrators and/or “battery operated boyfriend” toys. Most women (married, single, dating) see no issues with having a f”BOB’s” hidden in their sock drawer. They even have parties amongst themselves to sell and laugh about them.

    • Eric M. says:

      “As for porn issues – I always ask women to consider their views about women having vibrators and/or “battery operated boyfriend” toys. Most women (married, single, dating) see no issues with having a f”BOB’s” hidden in their sock drawer. They even have parties amongst themselves to sell and laugh about them.”

      Correct. I’ve made this point before. It’s hypocritical to support the use of sex toys while arguing that the use of porn is cheating. Either both or neither are.

  6. NickMostly says:

    I think “infidelity” is a difficult thing to define because we haven’t first defined what “fidelity” means.

    Cheating is a lot easier. Cheating is, quite simply, breaking agreed upon rules. It doesn’t matter what those rules are, how many people are involved, whether a relationship is open or closed or exclusive or inclusive – cheating is when you’ve agreed not to do X and then you do X anyway.

    But fidelity?

    fi·del·i·ty /fəˈdelitē/
    n
    Faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.
    Sexual faithfulness to a spouse or partner.

    The second definition is, once again, easy to define. But what do we mean by loyalty and support? Unlike sexual behavior, I think “loyalty” is something less amenable to negotiation and denotation. It seems a bit more like a feeling rather than a behavior, and because of that is probably asymmetrical within a relationship.

  7. Emotionally unavailable to me – but pouring out “interest” in the form of questions and observations about another woman and her interests and pursuits – and telling her how emotionally mature she is compared to others – as well as flattering her with well-chosen words (because she had admired his vocabulary and how well articulated he was….in the form of lengthy letters written late at night and early in the morning before work. When I discovered the emails – I waited a few days until an event at which I would see them together and observed – he immediately rushed to her side and was there in deep discussion (I sat across from them), culminating an hour later when we were going to leave with him saying that he should stop by some Saturday morning and they could go out for coffee and she said that would be great. I blew up in the car at him – he became angry and said he could have ‘friends’ if he wanted and it was his business. Finally got him to agree to tell her that he would not write or communicate with her anymore – he sent an email a month later and said that he was deriving too much emotional pleasure from their letters and that it was better sought within his marriage. He told me it was over, but he secretly kept track of her on social websites until about 11 months ago until I found that out (although he didn’t contact her) We still see her occasionally at church – he will not leave the church – but she avoids him as to be embarrassed (I think it was one-sided but was growing at the time). He now recharacterizes it as my “misreading” of the relationship and that I overreacted and he wishes I would get over it. But I do not know whether to trust him. He doesn’t think it was that bad. But as I said – I believe it could have become physical because he was headed over there – by himself – and I had found out he had driven by where she lived (he had google mapped it) so he could figure out where she lived. Oh – and did I mention that he was 58 and she was 18. I want to forgive him – if he would only tell me that what he did was wrong – he was getting flattery out of her and he knows he did not tell me he was having serious self esteem issues about his job (or lack thereof). But if he views it as “not that big a deal” – and he still finds her “interesting” yet has not contacted her – yet – I don’t know what to think.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Infidelity is a tough subject to tackle. Just take a look a the heated debate in the comments over Tom Matlack’s piece “Are You Faithful?” [...]

  2. [...] infidelity happens. A lot. I’m not referring to the gray-area-emotional-cheating we’ve discussed over at the magazine—I mean full out affairs or one-night stands with people who aren’t [...]

  3. [...] those of us who want endless novelty and everlasting security at the same time. Physical and emotional infidelity—and porn addiction—usually have their roots in that mix of the hunger for something new [...]

  4. [...] those of us who want endless novelty and everlasting security at the same time. Physical and emotional infidelity—and porn addiction—usually have their roots in that mix of the hunger for something new and [...]

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