It's been called everything from having an "improper relationship" to having an "undercover lover" to having a "freak on the side." But whatever name it's given, it means one thing -- cheating. And relationship experts say men are doing it now more than ever.
In fact, experts estimate that nearly 75 percent of married men, or men involved in serious relationships, cheat. That means three men out of every four practice infidelity, if the numbers are to be believed. And maybe even more disturbing is the simultaneous collapse of the seven-year itch, the once-disreputable length of time it was thought to normally take a man to give into sexual temptation. Today, studies show that most men who cheat are doing it within the first three years of a relationship. Newspaper classifieds now are even speckled with personals that read: "MBM (Married Black Male) in search of a NSA (No Strings-Attached) relationship.
What's going on here? Why the recent surge in male infidelity? Relationship counselors say it can be attributed to many factors, but perhaps the overriding reason men are cheating at an alarming rate is because it's easier than ever before.
Long gone are the days when a man and his mistress communicated by calling each other's home, letting the telephone ring once and hanging up. With technological advances such as pagers, cell phones, voice mail and e-mail, a Brother with a cheating heart can carry on a side relationship without much fear of getting caught, virtually staying in touch with the other woman 24/7 without his partner ever having a clue. Add to that, the increased daily contact between men and women, according to all available statistics, and even men who were onetime scaredy-cats have turned into bold and brazen cheaters.
In his book, Never Satisfied: How & Why Men Cheat, Michael Baisden says the emergence of workplace diversity has made the job site the rendezvous hot spot of the '90s. "Women are on the job in record numbers, occupying every position from secretary to CEO," Baisden says. "This reality puts men and women in direct contact with one another on a daily basis. In the morning, they board crowded buses and trains together, and for eight long hours they work in cramped office spaces, brushing up against one another by accident, and by choice ... A cordial invitation to have a quick lunch passionately erupts into an indecent proposal to have a quickie for lunch."
But even with '90s-style changes in technology and the workplace environment, relationship counselors stress that the bottom line is the same today as it was yesterday: A man two-times for one reason -- because he wants to and some lack the impulse-control to suppress his wants. Experts say that unlike women -- who undoubtedly fantasize about extracurricular romance but are able to separate it from reality -- men are unable to distinguish between mental longings and physical transgressions, many times until it's too late. "To be faithful, a man ultimately has to deprive himself of something that he knows will feel good," says Ronn Elmore, an L.A. relationship therapist and author of How to Love a Black Woman. "Deprivation in a society that says, `If it feels good, do it,' is tough for most men."
This doesn't mean, by any means, that all Brothers cheat. There are solid men all around, as evident by the number of couples celebrating their 50-year wedding anniversaries in Jet and other Black newspapers.
But for the ones who do cheat, the reasons vary. For some men, cheating feeds the ego. For others, it feeds their illusions that a man's role is to conquer as many women as possible, and a woman's sole purpose in life is to please men. And still others creep because of its intoxicating effects, providing an adrenaline rush. But whether a man considers cheating mental therapy, role playing or more thrilling than bungy-jumping, "nothing justifies it, nothing makes cheating okay," says Darlene Powell Hopson, a clinical psychologist in Hartford, Conn., who co-authored the book, Friends, Lovers and Soulmates: A Guide to Better Relationships Between Black Men and Women, with her husband, Derek S. Hopson, also a clinical psychologist. "A man needs to deal with the underlying reasons why he cheats."
While men many times have the false impression that they cheat simply to have uncommitted sex, experts say the reasons run much deeper. The following, according to experts, are the real reasons men cheat:
Women Stand For It:
Men wouldn't cheat if women didn't let them. Women marry men who have cheated on them during courtship, even though relationship experts warn that a man who cheats on his fiancee, or even his girlfriend, will probably cheat on his wife. But the reality is that the world is filled with scores of lonely women looking for love. Men are well aware that the loneliness some women feel is so strong that they are willing to settle for a cheater, and write off his scurrilous ways as a simple case of "boys will be boys." At day's end, these women would rather lie down next to a cheater than no man at all.
Frustration Over Present Relationship:
It all sounded good at first -- sharing his life, his hopes, his dreams in an exciting relationship with one special lady. But soon after the newness wore off, his romantic visions of a wonderful future shifts to the realities of a problem-filled daily existence. The dishwasher's broken, the car needs a new transmission, work is a pain and the bill collectors are calling. Before long, most of their conversations consist of taking care of mundane tasks. He begins to feel like his partner is more critical of him, more argumentative, and does not give him the attention that he deserves.
So he eventually cheats, viewing it as a way to obtain the emotion that is no longer present in his current relationship. With his undercover lover, there is no stress, no pressure. They both work hard to satisfy each other mentally and physically. They share their shortcomings, and in time develop an emotional bond.
This man is bored and likes the novelty of being with another woman. So rather than put energy into rekindling the relationship he has with his partner, developing a hobby or engaging in something else that will give him an adrenaline rush, he looks for excitement in all the wrong places -- first and foremost, in-between the sheets. He usually has a series of affairs with different women, moving from one to another one when the novelty wears off.
The cheating game is filled with men looking for reassurance of their manhood from a woman other than the one he's involved with. He feels a lack of self-worth and self-esteem, and cheating provides a mental vacation, an escape from the responsibilities of his daily life. He has convinced himself that his cheating heart can cure his wallowing psyche.
Lacks Will Power:
Although men are generally thought of as the cheaters, infidelity is a two-way street, with more and more women partaking in -- and initiating -- the deed. Increasingly, women who don't want to be involved in a serious relationship are seeking out married men. And some men go along with a woman's advances because they don't want to be called "whipped" if they don't.
A Spiritual Emptiness:
Few religions condone a man having an intimate relationship with more than one woman. In fact, most refer to it as die ultimate sin. Forsaking all others is at the core of any spiritually based relationship. Therefore, experts say that a man who chooses to partake in one of the few acts that is strictly forbidden in most religious teachings hints at his lack of spirituality. With a religious foundation, a man will understand that perhaps the only thing strong enough to quell temptations raging inside of him is a strong spiritual base.
Climate Of Instant Gratification:
His personal values have become confused with society's "just-do-it" mentality. He thinks and acts in 30-second sound bites, with no thought about the repercussions of his actions. He sees no reason to rein in his feelings and desires. If he thinks a woman is attractive, he'll go after her, never letting a little thing like his present relationship stand in his way.
He's angry at something his partner said or did, and is looking to even the score, even if that means breaking the rules. In his mind, he feels cheating is a justified way to make the scales balanced again. For angry men, cheating provides a challenge. Although he figures his partner will never find out about it, simply knowing how much it would hurt her if she did is enough to satisfy most seething men.
Left Guard Down:
He has become sloopy in setting boundaries with female friends. Many times this situation occurs at work, when a friendship with a co-worker spills over into a sexual relationship. Many times, a woman's simple smile or bat of the eye can spur this transition. Before a man realms what's happening his impulses take over and he begins to equate his masculinity with his ability to satisfy a woman who has given a slight indication that she is interested.
So what happens after a man cheats? Experts say if his partner doesn't find out about transgressions, a man will most likely continue to do it. While there are numerous reasons why man cheats, one simple fact remains: Most men don't want to stop playing the cheating game, even though a cheater "must forever keep his lies straight," Baisden says, "because with one slip of the tongue, his world could come tumbling down around him."
When a cheater is finally unmasked and the stick of dynamite he's been secretly holding finally explodes, all trust in him is lost, and the message to the man's partner is painfully clear. Nothing is as personal as cheating.
But the first time a man is caught doesn't necessarily spell the end of his relationship with his significant other. Relationship therapists say that if a man is remorseful and his partner is forgiving, things can be patched up. "I've worked with couples who have deepened their marital bond because of infidelity," Hopson says. "The main thing is genuine remorse. Nothing justifies it, but it clearly can be forgiven."
Sometimes it means teaching a man how to be more assertive when dealing with aggressive women, other times it means finding constructive hobbies that will consume his idle mind. But, always, it means re-examining his present relationship to find out what areas need improving. A relationship counselor or clinical psychologist can help, but the real help has to come from the two people in the relationship. Continued hostility, resentment, or even physical confrontations and altercations are definite signs that it's time four the women to either accept his cheating ways or call it quits.
Experts say many women may be milling to forgive once, but that's it. "The old adage, `Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,' definitely applies," Elmore says.