Infidelity is not what it once was. Like premarital sex or getting regular invasive cosmetic surgery, cheating has become fairly normalised, relatable enough to be the subject of a hundred-thousand #relatable memes. In the UK, one in five adults admit to having had an affair, while American women are cheating on their partners considerably more now than ever before.
So what's driving this increase? To glean some kind of insight, we thought we'd speak to someone at the extreme end of the scale: Aniah, a 25-year-old civil servant from north London who hasn't been faithful to any of her partners since her first serious boyfriend broke her heart at the tender age of 16.
I got with my first serious boyfriend when I was 16. It was the summer after I'd done my GCSEs and I was excited about life; I thought I was a big woman now I'd completed school. I was grown, I thought. We met at Choice FM Junior Jam – the concert to be at for any teenager from inner-city London. We were together for three years. I was besotted, obsessed, completely in love with this boy. The last year was pretty on and off; I was so devoted to him, and all I got back was a load of shit. He called me names, made me feel so small, so unworthy. I was dependent on him, and then he broke up with me.
I was a wreck, and it was during exam season as well. But I did alright; I got into uni. Then he started calling again, saying he messed up and that he loved me. Like I said, it was pretty on and off. But when I say I was faithful, I was. When I was 19 I heard rumours that he had a girl, but all the while he was on my line, sweet-talking me. I got prank calls from a girl telling me to leave her boyfriend alone, but every time I asked him he'd deny her. There was no proof. He broke up with me for good that year. It was devastating emotionally, especially when I started seeing pictures of him and his girlfriend on Facebook. The whole situation with him fucked me up, I won't lie, and so I made a decision that I'd be the one fucking people over.
I like to be in control. I like to be in the driver's seat. It's very empowering, especially with what happened in my first relationship and with how I grew up. My pops is a pastor, so my siblings and I grew up in a strict household. I'm the oldest, so it was handcuff season with me – I couldn't do anything. As soon as I could sneak out and lie to do what I wanted and not get in trouble with my parents, I was there. I'm a great liar. I guess it's nothing to be proud of, but I'm telling you it's a good skill to have.
In regards to my relationships with men, my need for control is – I would say – one of the main reasons why it's easy for me to cheat. I like to be in control in relationships, I like to be on top of things, to lead what's going on, so I can manage my expectations and emotions. I don't leave that in the hands of somebody else, because the vast majority of men can't be trusted, so I 100 percent have the control when stepping out in relationships, knowing I can essentially leave one guy over here and have another one over there when I deem fit. It's all on my terms. I was in control of the situation. I'm never gonna be that girl besotted with a man again. Never.
I've had four serious relationships. The boyfriends two and three were good guys. I met number two at uni, in my second year. Before him, I was doing what and who I wanted. Living my best life, one-night stands, experimenting. But I met him and fell in hard, and that freaked me out. I could feel myself falling in love, so I started seeing things where there wasn't anything to see. I began to focus on the supposed lack of communication: if he didn't reply to texts within a certain timeframe or didn't tell me he was going out with his friends, I used that as an excuse to cheat on him, multiple, multiple times.
You know what campus life is like – everyone knows each other's business. He didn't believe the rumours, but I broke up with him anyway, and got cuffed by one of the dudes I cheated with. That lasted a cute six months, but his university was in a different city, so I got mine elsewhere when I couldn't see him. So much easier to cheat when you don't live in close proximity. No sneaking, no lying. Okay, maybe some lying, but you know what I mean.
I think I might be a commitment-phobe, just slightly. At one point in every relationship there was this feeling of 'I really love and care for this person', but then I sort of panic and get worked up. I feel my resolve slipping, the walls I built falling, the control that I need loosing its grip – but that's the thing with love: you can't control it. So then I start conjuring up feelings of loneliness or feeling misunderstood. Sometimes, though, the sex is shit, or I'm not getting enough of it. That excuse isn't made up. I should tell them, shouldn't I? Or break up with them. I don't know why I don't; I should ask a therapist. But when you grow attached to someone, when you grow used to someone, you just hope things get better in the future – but it's not the case, really.
Like my last man: I cheated a lot during the first seven months. He found out, but we stayed together for another three years. We decided to put it behind us – hit the refresh button – but he was never able to do that. It was silly of us to think it could work. Every time we argued he'd throw the fact I cheated in my face, so I'd cheat some more. Not that he knew that. Those three years were a waste of both our times.
I do feel bad that he found out. That changed him, changed the relationship: he became less affectionate – which is another reason why I cheated again. I'm not one of those who cheats with people their partner knows – that's rank. Imagine his mates are round for dinner but you've already polished off a couple of his boys before. That's out of order. I have rules when I cheat. No family, no friends, no colleagues. No social media.
I'm quite ashamed to admit I cheat – or that I cheat this much. Some people will say I'm a she-devil, but if I ever do get married, I'd stop. I'm a sexual person, but I just think marriage should tame a person. There's a sanctity that comes with those vows, especially if you got married in a religious setting. Saying that, an open-marriage is an interesting take on marriage. I wouldn't rule it out – not completely, anyway. But to sneak about behind my husband's back? Don't think I would. Cheating's for when you don't have a ring on it.
More on VICE: