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Chapter 3: relationships: Sex

Can There Be a Good Kind of Cheating?

We don’t, of course, have to search far for all the reasons it would be a terrible, even life-destroying idea. It breaks the other’s spirit, it contravenes all moral codes, it inflicts the monster of jealousy on the betrayed party.

But might there also be a few rare cases in which it could be advised – not for its own benefits – but precisely for the sake of the primary relationship which it ostensibly threatens so deeply?


There may be a few. There might be a situation where cheating becomes a vital source of confidence, bringing a greater sense of worth that would then go on to benefit the betrayed party. Given how often we behave badly in love from feeling small and undesirable, a new person’s interest can awaken us to a new sense of our own potency and sheer likability, which we take back into and use to nourish our primary relationship. Our romantic success can make us feel more able to cope with the irritants of ordinary life. It is what can help us to recover the thread of our own self-esteem.

Cheating may also be helpful in reducing the ill-temper, the wistfulness that can come from a sense that there must be beautiful astonishing alternatives out there which our commitments have arbitrarily cut us off from. An affair puts our vagabond romantic imaginations usefully to the test; it challenges our unfair, sentimental suspicions that the pain and melancholy we sometimes feel is specifically the fault of our partner, rather than a general feature of existence.


An affair is likely to teach us that really everyone is rather tricky from close up. Life with a new person would be equally, but just differently, very hard. It’s a case of working out what variety of suffering we’re best suited to. We stand to remember that we surrendered our freedom for very sound reasons, because we wisely realised that we had found someone who was – in the end – as good as any decent human can ever be expected to be.

So incensed is our culture at the idea of cheating, it doesn’t give us much detailed knowledge of quite why it might be so wrong. We may need to try out being bad for a time, if only to know first hand, in an authentic way, why trying to be good is really very important.

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Insofar as there might be a good kind of cheating, it would be the sort that would – without causing too much chaos or pain – quietly instruct us that it isn’t, in the end, worth it at all.