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Why I don't believe in "emotional cheating"
Fuck that shit
First of all, this is not for you if you are a die-hard monogamous person, and you feel like your needs are fully met by one person 100% OR are comfortable not having 100% of your needs met because you don’t think it is feasible.
Also not for you if you are offended by how other people love on their own terms.
But even if you fall into any of the criteria above, I am sure you will still keep reading if you have that morbid curiosity to fuck up some of the paradigms you may be subscribed to.
End of prologue.
The main problem with emotional cheating is that I have no goddamn idea what that means. Which of the following fits into “emotional cheating”?
You’re at your kid’s basketball game, and you notice a hot parent just strollin on by. You then notice them being super kind and thoughtful to your own kid. And then you naturally strike up a conversation with them and just generally have a good time. You feel the chemistry and you kinda get curious about what it’s like to have sex with them.
You’ve been thinking about the co-worker who always has your back and goes the extra mile to make sure your emotional tank is not running on fumes, especially if your partner at home just doesn’t get it. You keep looking forward to the next time you share space with that co-worker because your tank appears to keep running low because your idiot boss can’t stop being an idiot.
An old friend suddenly visits you out of nowhere, and you see the way they manage to read between the lines the way your partner doesn’t. You find yourself wanting to keep talking to them about the silly memories you share from when you were young and stupid, and it almost gives you permission to be young and stupid again in a way that lets you stop being so performative in some ways with your partner.
Some people would say that all of the above is emotional cheating. Some people would say that it’s emotional cheating if you act on your desires by continuing the relationship with them so you can keep feeling the butterflies.
Like, which is it?
If there is no authority on what emotional cheating is, then why do we keep using this term to standardize the human experience and use it as a weapon to shame our emotions?
Here’s the deal. There are some people who truly don’t have a lot of emotions because either they’re not wired that way or they just never had to deal with a lot of emotions or they have a certain set of emotions that do not require multiple people to meet them.
If that’s you, I’m celebrating you for no other reason than, that's who you are, and who am I to pass any judgment about who you are.
And then there are some people who are overflowing with a million emotions at a time that want to be expressed or seen in some way, and it is simply impossible for one person to witness all of those emotions.
So when we see another resource that appears to be able to witness the emotions that have not been met by one person, of course we are going to gravitate towards that person.
This is how I see my own humanity:
I have like eight different flowers inside of me that I want watered. Even if I found the most perfect and amazing person to water those flowers, only like 2-3 of those flowers will flourish under their care because they are human, and they are not my caretaker. So if a couple of my other flowers are starving for water, and I see someone watering those starving flowers, I will keep wanting them in my life.
If you resonate with this, your burning question is probably this: What now?
There are few paths that may come up: (1) have an honest conversation with your partner about where you are and where you want to go, (2) simply fuck shit up and take it as far as you can without being transparent with your partner, or (3) go with the flow and let things be.
Let me tell you right now: there is no one path that is more superior to the other.
(This is why I am a bad influence at first glance. I will suggest things that will get you excommunicated from everything you already know. And the reason is that what I prioritize above everything else is NOT your belonging in the world but your belonging in your own body.)
So let’s unpack the three options here.
The first option may feel more attractive to you if you feel like you are well-equipped to go down that path. Some of the necessary “equipment” may probably include some or all of the following:
Your unshakeable desire to maintain your relationship with your current partner because they water some of your flowers in ways that nobody else can.
The trust you have developed in yourself to be prepared to repair your relationship if it ruptures as a result of going in a direction that is so different from where it is right now.
The trust you have in your partner to engage in repair with you.
The trust in yourself to be able to have your own back even if it does not go the way you envisioned.
The readiness you have in losing everything for the sake of who you are.
These are not equipments that are easy to come across. They are not things you can just purchase at a fucking Home Depot. It requires time, practice, and care for ourselves to build such equipment, and it is scary to even get started.
Which is why, when our desires overcome us, we take the second option of thinking with our dick instead of our brains. While I have not done this (at least consciously, but who knows, maybe I am teasing people unbeknownst to me because of the wicked witch that I am), I have known people who have acted on their desires without the consent of everybody involved.
And of course, there was an extraordinary amount of heartache and heartbreak that probably was not necessary for anyone.
But then again, how do we know what is and isn’t necessary?
I really want us to sit with that for a second.
How much have we attributed our heartache and heartbreak to people who were never able to give us what we are looking for in the first place?
I often wonder if heartbreak is one essential way we arrive at what we are looking for. But somehow heartbreak has been shamed to no end because it involves so many feelings.
But tell me if you did not expand your capacity for more shit because you decided to live through that last heartbreak even if it felt unlivable at the time.
All this is to say: sometimes we cause necessary harm to arrive at where we want to get to because we are each responsible for and capable of handling the worst that humanity has to offer.
This is unacceptable to some, and I honor that. This doesn’t have to be a viable option for you.
When I come to this place where I start wanting to fuck some shit up, the key question I consider is: if a small part of me dies as a result of keeping myself silent, can I still live with myself?
The answer to that question is often yes if I am able to find something else, like taking comfort in the peace of keeping myself silent, preserving relationships I genuinely care about, or more time to think about delivering my expression more coherently.
Only you know which answer you are able to live with.
Which leads me to the third option: going with the flow.
A concept that a peer/mentor Michelle Hy talks about is how there is no one way to relate to each other. You don’t HAVE to be in a particular defined relationship with anyone. You don’t have to go through marriage or divorce. You don’t have to formalize anything.
In a relationship between two people, it’s just those two people being in each other’s presence. Whether that’s one phone conversation each year. Or even an anonymous chat room. Or texting when you think of them. Whatever feels true to you at the moment.
And requiring nothing from them in return.
One way I know, for me, that my feelings for another person is true is that I don’t require them to do anything in particular for me except be who they are.
I know that it’s not love when I need them to text me back or wash the dishes or sponsor my work “to show that they love me” because what I am doing is not relating to them. Meaning, I am needing them to perform in order to fulfill the version of reality that I need to see to feel better about myself. In that situation, they are no more than a prop for my fantasy.
They are not human in my eyes in that situation.
If I don’t see them as human, I cannot love them competently.
Most likely, we are fantasizing about a combination of all three options. I am, too. Because they are all difficult in their own ways, and we like to escape certain challenges by shifting to another challenge and then shuffling in between challenges.
The takeaway here is that whatever you do, none of it has anything to do with whether you are a “good person.” It has everything to do with your truth: how sufficient your cup is and how practiced you are in carrying out your desires. Often times, we have not been familiarized with any space where we can freely practice actualizing our desires.
So the only humane option we are left with is to give ourselves grace as we messily play with the desires that keep playing in our head and the ideas that keep popping up on how we want to see them in real life.
This applies not just to human and romantic relationships but also our relationships to anything else. Whether it’s our relationship to our art, our work, our expression.
We have been colonized to believe that we must be “experts” and “focus on one thing” and “not be messy.”
That is the paradigm we are fighting here.
However you decide to relate to others, and however you decide to relate to yourself, every time you decide to be different from the existing paradigm, you are building a space where more of it is possible.
So I beg you to please stop pathologizing your desires by labeling them as “emotional cheating” when it’s the most natural thing to do as a human being.
It is never about any “emotional cheating.”
It is actually about your unique creativity and subversiveness dying to be expressed the way only you can.
What if you trusted your expression just a tiny smidge more? What would you do?
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