The True Nature of Cheating and Commitment Part I
DISCLAIMER: As soon as I finished writing this, I realized a few things: the words “party” and “person” are used interchangeably here (I attempted to write a blog on both commitment in general AND cheating in a more specific context, so that’s pretty annoying, but I’m too tired/lazy to change it around right now), there WILL be typos (feel free to point them out as you discover them), this topic is far more meaty than I thought, and that I need at least one more blog to finish this topic. Sorry/you’re welcome? I don’t know which is appropriate….
I was going to post a VERY different blog, but tonight I was watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the wheels in my head began spinning. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this issue, and it won’t be the last, but I’m sufficiently un-asleep (because I wouldn’t describe my current state as “awake”) to write something up. I can’t promise it will be coherent, and I hope it won’t be a stream of consciousness, but it’ll be interesting either way. Either it’ll be coherent and thought-provoking, or you can laugh at my undignified piece of crap blog. Basically, it’s a win-win for you.
Getting back to the matter at hand, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the better Bond movies, in my opin– oh… right. Wrong discussion. Cheating. Right.
What provoked this train of thought was when Bond cheats on his girlfriend (there’s a montage of their romance… that means it’s serious) with beautiful women. And while this is unsurprising to anyone who has EVER watched any Bond movie, the issue is still more complex than it appears.
Before we proceed, however, we need a clear definition of the word “cheat.” My definition of cheating is the violation of any commitment, implicit or explicit. And that’s not just in this context, either. To apply it to cheating in romantic relationships is quite simple; if two people are in a relationship and have made any form of commitment, whether it be verbal (i.e. openly declaring a steady and exclusive relationship) or implicit (i.e. demonstrating commitment to the relationship without explicitly defining the terms), and they break that commitment, that’s cheating.
Oh look, a perfect segue! My definition of cheating makes it quite clear what I think is morally wrong with it. And while I don’t think cheaters are all terrible people who deserve to be beaten almost to death and should be burned at the stake or thrown into Lorena Bobbit’s bed, I do think cheating is wrong. And I think cheating is wrong for one simple reason: it’s the violation of a commitment. No, it’s not the sex that makes cheating wrong.
Sexually open relationships can and do exist (though some may attempt to dispute their legitimacy). If the terms of the relationship do not preclude sex with another consenting party, then there’s NOTHING immoral about that (see footnote for further explanation of this point). Which clearly demonstrates that the issue with cheating isn’t the sex itself, it’s the commitment aspect.
Now that we’ve established (I’m using the royal we. You haven’t established anything at all.) that the issue with cheating is the violation of commitment, we can get into more complex aspects of this issue.
BIG ISSUE 1: what if both parties have different understandings about the levels of commitment due to the nature of an undefined relationship?
Cheating is only cheating if you violated a commitment you made. If you never made any form of commitment, you have done nothing wrong. If you have a one-night stand with Person A and then have a one-night stand with Person B the very next day, you’re not cheating on Person A just because he/she says so. Otherwise, cheating would have to involve getting caught, and violating a commitment without getting caught would require different terminology. So don’t think that just because a commitment is implicit, rather than explicit, that you have successfully divested yourself of any potential guilt that arises from violating that commitment. It’s all on you, buddy. Don’t screw it up.
BIG ISSUE 2: what if you make an explicit commitment but don’t mean it?
This is a more complex issue that lends itself into the nature of commitment. Obviously, not meaning it would imply that the explicit commitment was a lie. But does that mean that the commitment doesn’t exist? Are commitments these ethereal beings that feed only upon truth and good feeling? Or is a commitment just a common understanding between two or more parties?
If it’s a common understanding, then that would mean that implicit commitments can never exist, due to the inherent confusion that must arise. After all, people see things based on their own perspectives, and the odds of multiple individuals’ common understanding of an implicit commitment being equal are infinitesimal.
But if implicit commitments cannot exist, then what do we make of explicit commitments? Words are noises. Actions are motions. Neither have much real bearing on the truth. And consider this: a verbal commitment also cannot possibly be a common understanding, because it’s impossible/rare/difficult to fully explicate the terms of a romantic relationship.
Now, you can feel free to respond by claiming that a common understanding doesn’t rely upon FULL agreement of terms. But I can and do feel free to respond by saying, “Bullshit.” Is there any true line that can be drawn here? Can we really just arbitrarily say that if 80% of the terms of the relationship are agreed upon that it becomes a common understanding? I don’t think so. Not only is that impossible to quantify, but if a commitment is based upon the other party’s perception of the relationship, then a few more issues arise:
1) As I said, it’s impossible to fully explicate the terms of the relationship. So if one person thinks that borrowing Q-Tips from the neighbor is not okay, but doesn’t explicitly say that, then the other person could violate a commitment without having ever been aware of its existence. Which is obviously ridiculous.
2) It would imply that being caught is necessary for a commitment to be violated. Why? Well, if the commitment is based upon the other person’s perception of the commitment, and the other person never finds out about the action that he/she would classify as a violation, then the perception of the commitment never changes, and there can be no violation.
3) As it is a given (for this scenario) that the commitment is based on the other person’s perception, that means it can change freely without any form of consent, and can become an irresolvable paradox. Relationships often take certain turns where one person thinks it’s getting more serious and the other doesn’t. They can’t both be true, and yet due to the premise that perception defines the relationship, they can both exist and can both define the relationship. Paradox. Boom.
Therefore, commitments cannot be a common understanding. I already expressed my views on the matter beforehand, so I guess you knew this was coming. Now it’s time to actually define the term “commitment.” A TRUE commitment (not just the colloquial usage that’s merely a synonym for a promise, but something much more strict and personal) is an implicit promise to adhere to a certain code as defined by YOURSELF. (Yes, I used the word commitment earlier in this post where this definition doesn’t fit. Don’t worry about it, that’s just colloquialism taking over, DAMN IT TO HADES!)
Yeah, that’s right. When you violate a commitment, you’re breaking a promise to yourself. But don’t be confused; if you make a promise to someone else (i.e. explicitly) and you break it, you’re not breaking a promise to yourself, you’re breaking a promise to someone else. This resolves BIG ISSUES 1&2. If you define the relationship explicitly, but don’t mean it, and then stray or violate any terms of the verbal contract, you’re not violating a commitment, but rather breaking a promise. And if you both have completely different understandings of the nature of the relationship (due its implicit characterization), then you are neither breaking a commitment or breaking a promise. But, again, don’t be confused. I’m referring to an innocent mixup, not a malicious person using someone else for some selfish end while whispering deceit in his/her ear.
Sex is a purely physical act that contains no intrinsic spiritual value. And for those who attempt to use religion or socio-cultural sentiment as proof that sex is spiritual, you’re attributing a value to sex based on an external code of ethics, hence invalidating your entire point.