Mantalk: Why do good men cheat?
What you need to know:
Men cheat because she laughed at my jokes and her hair wasn’t a weave and her underwear wasn’t a leopard print Mother’s Union
Recently, I was driving down one of those shiny new highways with someone’s daughter when the devil led me to say one of those things men say when blood is rushing down the wrong head.
“You know,” I told her, “were it not for my writing career (as a life’s pursuit, it is a jealous mistress) and goldfish attention span (or lack thereof), I would have committed to you. We would make such an amazing congenial couple. I wish I met you sooner,” were the exact words I used but no need to split hairs.
“Aki men and lies!” she said, “You probably told that same line to hundreds of other girls!”
“First of all,” I said, clutching my pearls, “It’s tens not hundreds. And it doesn’t matter how many girls I have told, it’s your turn to hear it now.”
She was not amused. Immediately I could hear foremen, contractors, masons, and carpenters cram into the car as she built a fine wall of China between us. Eventually, common sense prevailed, plus (lift) beggars cannot be choosers.
“Eddy, why do men cheat?”
“I don’t know about men, but I don’t cheat. Mostly.”
She rolled her eyes so hard I was afraid we’d have to detour to an ophthalmologist for a brisk cuff on her ears to dislodge them back to normal. “Look,” I insisted, “Is it really cheating if you never get caught? When a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear it, did it really fall?”
“Nonsense! Are you cheating on someone now?”
Suddenly, my ears developed a problem. I couldn’t hear anything. “What? Sorry? What!”
I understand where she is coming from. Cheating? Come on. I may, however, have slipped up with her. I still maintain that society has no business judging morality. Asking me to explain why men cheat is like asking a woman to explain why women lie. Why do women lie?
Men cheat because they can. Men cheat because an opportunity presented itself and you know what they say about opportunity? Men cheat because she laughed at my jokes and her hair wasn’t a weave and her underwear wasn’t a leopard print Mother’s Union and she had an up-to-date bikini wax and my Bloody Mary tasted like the future. Men cheat because they can.
The problem, at least from my high horse, is that women make it about them. No, honey, I am not cheating on you. I am cheating for me. Narcissism? Maybe. Besides, isn't self-pity the romantic default position? Let’s get one thing straight: there are men with integrity out there. There are many loyal, faithful men on these streets. I am not saying I am, but I know many.
The fact is, cheating, adultery, stepping out—take your pick—is always an issue, an insistent tongue seeking out the sore tooth. We enter relationships, try to make them ideologically kosher, and consecrate them with the assumption that none of us will ever make love to anyone new. Implicit in that assertion is the idea that none of us has. That is until routine replaces romance. And in there, folded in your back pocket, is this doppelgänger— the person you might have been had you not cheated. Ah, faithfulness. The barbed wire fence of relationships.
And cheating isn’t easy. Oh no. It requires the devotion of a monk, the guile of a serpent, the planning of a war general, and the patience of a pine tree. What are we then to make of this time-honoured taboo—universally forbidden yet universally practised?
It’s true men want more no-strings-attached sex than women. But it’s also true that women are steadily holding a candle in this fight. Except men like to fluff their egos and boast about their conquests and show off their shiny new things. Shout the word “cheater” on any street in Kilimani, Kakamega or Kisauni and a dozen guilty men will look furtively over their shoulders. He could just have gotten married and the attractive bridesmaid would sashay her way into his eye view and he’d think, “Sweet Jesus, I'd do terrible, sinful, naughty, consensual things to her.”
If cheating is so common (research puts it at 40 to 76 percent of marriages), I let out a wry smile when people gasp that they are probably being cheated on, or cheating. Among men, it is almost an article of faith that we are incapable of sexual fidelity—you are probably reading this with a missus who is not your Mrs (no judgements here)—because cheating is so opportunistic, a key metric for successful capitalists. In today’s world, even the simpletons and socially maladroit can swipe their way into lingerie. Adultery, Anthony Burgess described it, is the “most creative of sins,” with every other song paying homage to the practice, drinks named after it and of course, many people a product of it. Isn’t this why there is so much hurrah about the home DNA kits?
If it could happen to Beyoncé, it can possibly happen to you. And let’s be honest—are you better than Beyoncé? No, of course not. Even Beyoncé is not better than Beyoncé. Every guy has their reasons, I suppose.
Being a man, I would not be presumptuous enough to speak on behalf of women. I, for my part, like to convince myself that I could be a faithful man, but I am easily taken when another flutters her eyelashes in my direction, a great source of internal conflict. I've known utterly faithful men and I've known women who make Casanova look like a paragon of monogamy. And I won’t waste your Saturday with the unhelpful tosh that all Kenyan men are like a “red flag with little red flags hanging off it”. I know it’s easier to make excuses, that your partner bonked someone else because he was powerless. That he was the victim of shrewdness, a pawn in a manipulative woman’s game. No. He made a decision. He made his bed, and trust me, they just didn't lie in it, they crumpled it.
To love is to be vulnerable. Relationships can inspire varying degrees of trust, but trust is always, as the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips puts it, “a risk masquerading as a promise.” In our licentiousness, we have learned to eat forbidden apples more hungrily than ever, while slapping ourselves with every bite.
Far be it from me to swing the sword. To remain righteously indignant of others takes more energy and is far more caustic to one’s soul—the juice is just not worth the squeeze. When you are younger, things are far more black and white. As you get older, you notice the grays, the compromises, and trade-offs in adulting and relationships. When you are young, you get migraines from your halo being stuck so tight. As you get older, you don’t mind growing a few horns. One person’s grievous betrayal is another’s harmless hobby.
People say men cheat because they can. You probably could get away with cheating. That doesn't mean you should. Or that I recommend it. I don't give a damn what you do. The motion of the ocean they say. You will make your bed. Choose a great fabric (Egyptian cotton, best-in-class), because you will definitely lie in it.