Is cheating really that bad? It feels like we've spent the past century making a slew of progressive social changes that undermine the sanctity of monogamy. And in 2018 most of us feel free to criticise constructs and challenge biblical norms, yet cheating remains taboo, sort of.
Another issue is that the definition of cheating varies across cultures, demographics, and even situations. Is masturbation cheating if you're thinking of someone else? What about flirting? Grinding on a dance-floor? Sexting? A lap dance? What if you're drunk? Drugged? Or what if you paid for it? Or what if you don't know their name?
We hit the streets of Melbourne to ask people what they think constitutes cheating and whether it's gone mainstream yet.
Amber / 26 / Filmmaker
VICE: Hey Amber, is cheating OK now?
Amber: No it’s not okay, although it’s definitely more accepted.
With social media polygamy has become more common, which isn’t a bad thing. People have become more selfish. They’re more likely to think “what do I need right now?” which is a selfish question but it can be masked as “self-discovery” and “growth,” which are both really important. I think the developing interest in astrology also encourages people to get in touch with themselves and their energy. Therefore, it’s more acceptable to need multiple people to fulfil needs.
How do you personally feel about that selfishness?
I’m in two minds. I’ve never been in a cheating situation so I can’t speak from personal experience. I think if the cheating comes from a place of dishonesty, then I don’t think it’s okay. But open relationships—fuck yeah!
Kelsey / 26 / Writer
Hey Kelsey do you think cheating has become okay?
It’s definitely more accepted. It depends on the situation if it’s okay.
It’s become more acceptable because we have so much more exposure. It’s like that hashtag #relationshipgoals… people are always striving for better. Even if you’re in something good, it’s like you’re just always looking for other opportunities. Something more.
For you personally though, do you think cheating is okay?
I don’t want to say I support it, but as someone that has been cheated on before and cheated on that same partner, I feel like it differs in circumstances. I met a guy and found out that he had another girlfriend—so he was dating us both at the same time. We worked things out and got back together, but then I found out he was cheating on me again. Then, I started cheating on him. I wasn’t trying to get back at him, but for some reason I could understand the mental processes for him to be able to do that, while still knowing that we loved each other.
Did he tell you he’d been cheating on you? Is that how you found out?
No, he never said anything. But then it was kind of, like, a thrill for me to do it as well.
So, you didn’t start cheating on your partner because he was cheating on you?
No, it never felt like I needed to prove a point or anything.
Was there anything that sparked it?
That’s interesting, actually. I was watching Mad Men, and I think because there’s so much cheating in that show… but it’s all on the down low. Watching that somehow for me, made it feel okay—in a really weird, like, romanticised way.
Philip / 26 / Law and Politics Student
Hi. Do you think that cheating okay?
I’ve actually been having a huge debate about this recently. I think it’s more open for couples to talk about the nature of their relationship than ever before. I think we’ve reached a stage where relationships aren’t as black and white as society has previously expected them to be.
What happens when people cheat now, compared to five years ago?
I think it puts you in a position that allows for open discussion, like, can you work through it? I feel like that’s a recent evolvement. It’s not just: you’re a horrible person and a break up is immediately in order.
Do you feel positively about that evolvement?
Yeah, I do. Whatever brings a couple greatest levels of joy. Like if you can work through that together, or come up with new terms then it’s cool, you know.
You were saying that you were having a debate about this topic recently. What did that involve?
It was involving a couple that are both friends of mine. Recently, the relationship dissolved because he’d been cheating on her consistently with one other girl. The discussion became “is the fact that he cheated on her for so long, reason enough to disown him as a friend?” It was a very long-term relationship. I just assumed that they’d end up married. It made me think, is cheating an inherent wrong?
And what did you decide?
Well, obviously the relationship was fading, even if I didn’t notice it. But it’s a dick move to end a relationship with cheating. It’s very easy to cast judgment from the outside, but you never know the true struggles of others’ relationships. I think it’s important to hear both sides.
So, you’re still friends with both of them?
Yeah, I am, which is good.
Holly / 22 / Public Health student
Hey Holly, is cheating fine now?
I don’t know. It definitely happens more, or we talk about it more now.
So, you think it’s more prevalent today?
I think definitely for young people. Everything is happening later in our lives, we’re taking our time with the big decisions and we’re less committed. I feel like we’re super career focussed. I definitely value my career more than a relationship right now. It’s like: do we need just one person to love?
How do you personally feel about cheating, though?
I think the word “cheating” is a scary word. It depends on your relationship. I mean if it’s a monogamous relationship, and you’ve verbally agreed to not be with anyone else, then yeah, cheating is wrong because it’s dishonest.
How would you react in a situation where someone cheated on you?
I have been in multiple of those! And I acted as though everything was fine, I think because I felt like I had to. Whether that was because I’m a girl and that’s kind of what we’re taught to do, or because I wasn’t confident enough to say anything about it… I don’t really know. I stayed with them, even after they cheated, but it didn’t last.
Would you deal with it differently now?
I feel like I’m really selfish right now. I wouldn’t even enter a monogamous relationship, and therefore I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I’m still exploring myself and others, so I just know I couldn’t commit.
Ciaran / 28 / Business owner
Hey! Do you think cheating is more accepted than it used to be?
I think the number of things that are considered cheating has grown a lot. What may not have been considered cheating in the past, or not have been possible in the past, now is cheating. Things like: liking a racy picture on Instagram, or texting your ex. When you put that into perspective, it’s kind of hard to compare a “then” and “now”.
Okay, let me try again. Do you think cheating has become ok?
It’s a more acceptable conversation now. The social implications are still there, like the way others react to your choices, and in that circumstance, I think the taboo of cheating is still relevant.
Have you experienced anything that’s made you question the meaning of cheating?
I’ve definitely seen it happen around me. I can accept and talk about it. I think people need support, on a friendship level. If you’re going to be a valuable friend to someone I think it’s regardless of who they’re seeing and how it happened.
Mizuki / 20 / Barista from Japan
Do you think cheating is okay?
No. Well, maybe, if you’re honest about it.
Does is happen any less in Japan do you think?
No, I think it happens more! People don’t get married until they’re much older in Japan now. It’s becoming a big problem in our country. There are so many more old people than young people! Women are becoming more prominent in business and realising that they don’t need a man to earn the money for them.
Have you ever been cheated on?
No… I don’t think so. My friend cheated on his girlfriend a few months ago though. Their relationship hasn’t been good for a while and they’ve both been interested in other people but they haven’t talked to each other about it. Instead of talking they cheated instead. I tried to speak to my friend, and tell him that he should break up with her before he falls in love with someone else. But he misses being loved! I can understand that.
Do you think cheating is okay in that circumstance, then?
Hm. I don’t think you should cheat on anyone when you can just talk. It’s easy to talk about now, people don’t judge you as much as they used to. If you want to break up, break up. If you love the person you’re with, you can talk through it and maybe find a way for it to still work. We are young, we shouldn’t be so worried about being with one person forever and making it work if you are unhappy.
Words by Laura Roscioli. Follow her on Instagram