First of all, let's define "cheating". Two people have an agreement, either explicit or implicit, about how their relationship should look. If implicit, the "cheater" knows that the partner would not approve even if they never made any vows on the subject. What that agreement is about is not relevant to this definition.
It could be about sexual infidelity, it could be about emotional infidelity, it could be kink, it could be that they're not allowed to dance with anyone else but each other, or it could be that she's the only one allowed to ride on the back of his motorcycle (seriously, I know a couple like both of the last 2 examples). They could be monogamous, they could be poly, they could be swingers, they could be DADT. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that they have an agreement not to do something with other people or to only do something with each other.
If they agree that one or both of them can go out and get sex as long as the other doesn't have to be aware of it, that's not cheating. If it's like the TV politician characters who say "she knows I have lovers & she looks the other way as long as I don't rub her nose in it", it's not cheating, for this rant. I have other problems with DADT, but that's not what I'm about to discuss.
Cheating, in this rant, is doing something your partner would not want you to do, and does not condone even "discreetly", and you know it, on some level. Saying "well, we never talked about it, and she never actually said I *couldn't
* get blowjobs from strangers in bathhouses..." is cheating and you fucking know it.
I take a hard line against cheating. I've heard all the excuses, all the justifications, all the hypothetical "what if his wife is disabled & can't have sex with him, but he stays because he loves her & needs to care for her but he has to get his needs met somewhere" (although the last person who said this to me actually used the word "cripple", because justifying cheating on a disability wasn't bad enough) and "she already broke the marriage contract by withholding sex indefinitely so he's not really breaking his agreements by having a secret girlfriend on the side because she broke the marriage contract first" and "if he leaves, she'll get the kids and he'll never see them again and he'll go bankrupt because he can't afford to maintain two houses & then he'll have to resort to bank robbery to support his 12 children and then he'll get caught & die horribly in a police shootout, which the kids will see on TV and be scarred for life". I *was
* a cheater, so don't tell me about the shitty situations people find themselves in that make them justify cheating.
Seriously, I don't want to hear any more excuses. Sometimes people have really shitty situations. And I'm sorry for them. There are a lot of really terrible conditions out there like stoning & mutilation and famine & discrimination, but the solution isn't to retaliate - the solution is to stop the terrible conditions from happening.
Making a relationship agreement with someone, and then breaking it behind their back and continuing to exist in the relationship as if the agreement still stands is *wrong
*. It might be the lesser of two wrongs, it might bring the cheater a sliver of happiness in an otherwise horrible existence, but it is still breaking an agreement, no matter how you slice it, and it is not the greater path of courage.
But I'm not actually here to talk about being a cheater. I'm here to rant about being the person a cheater cheats with. There's this fucking irritating trope in the poly community that says "It's not my job to police other people's relationships. He's an adult, he can make his own choices. Who am I to tell him what he should and shouldn't do? If he wants to cheat, that's his choice. I'm not doing anything wrong because *I
* didn't make those relationship agreements, so I'm not breaking any."
There are a lot of selfish attitudes in the poly community, mostly holdovers from The Monogamous Mindset, mostly having to do with Couple Privilege. This is one of the worst. This is all about "me". This is all about what the third person is getting, masked under a pious attitude about "choice", and maybe even under some superficial sympathy for the poor man (or woman, or whoever) who is trapped in such a loveless marriage that he needs to find some happiness somewhere or experiment with something his spouse won't do, and oh how convenient that I'm here to provide it! This is all about ducking responsibility for one's own actions - actions that harm another person, even if it's only their dignity that is harmed.
I've always said that the real test of being poly is not how many people you're fucking, but how you handle your partners fucking someone else. In my opinion, being a caring and compassionate metamour is a required element for being in a poly relationship. No, not being your metamours' BFF, but being *caring and compassionate
*, regardless of how well you actually like each other and get along. Courage and integrity are nothing when it's easy - it's when it's difficult that they count. And you cannot stand there and say that you support, choose, or prefer, relationships based on honesty, trust, and communication (y'know, the foundations of polyamory and, for that matter "open" relationships) while simultaneously supporting lying, cheating, dishonesty, and non-consensual relationships.
That wife (for the sake of simplicity, I'm sticking with pronouns specific to the situations I would find myself in if I were the "mistress" in the scenario - which means the cheater is male, his spouse is female, and the cheatee is female.), that wife did not consent to this arrangement. She could not have, since she doesn't know about it. And if she did know about it, she wouldn't. Whether she is being unreasonable or not is completely irrelevant ... SHE DID NOT CONSENT TO THIS ARRANGEMENT. That, by itself, makes my actions, as the mistress, wrong.
Sure, there can be levels of wrong, and there can be multiple wrong parties. Pilfering office supplies is not in the same league as, say, the Holocaust. I wouldn't give anyone the death penalty, or even jail time, for stealing a stapler or using the office copy machine for personal use. That does not erase the fact that willingly and deliberately engaging in a relationship that at least one person does not consent to is WRONG. I'm not making any statement at all on how "wrong" that wrong is, because there are too many variables and nuances and even perceptions, and we're talking about hypotheticals here, not any specific relationship. But a creek is small next to the Pacific Ocean, and if you step in either of them, you're gonna get wet. Wet is wet, whether you like being wet or not.
Now, let's skip past the pragmatic reasons why being the mistress is a bad idea. Let's just move right past the middle-of-the-night phone calls from the angry wife, the death threats, the lawsuits, the fact that, if he's caught, this new love of yours loses everything anyway, the fact that he has to hide you & can't acknowledge you, that you will always be "the dirty little secret", that you will never be able to fully share his life with him (maybe you don't want to, I dunno), that this is a setup pretty much designed for creating unnecessary drama.
Let's forget, for the moment, the time my PLATONIC friend's girlfriend tracked down my parent's phone number and started calling their house while I was there visiting, shrieking into the phone to "stay away from my man you fucking whore!" Let's pretend I never got a call at 3 in the morning, waking me and my then-boyfriend, from my one-time boss's fiancee demanding to know who I was and how her man got my phone number.
Let's dismiss the daily 5 AM phone calls from my then-boyfriend's EX-wife (who thought that giving him a couch to sleep on when he was out of work made him her property) demanding to know where he was, whether he was with me or not, and who only stopped calling when I reported her to the police for harassment & had my phone company block her number back when I had a landline.
Let's brush off the stories I have from 3, count them THREE coworkers and one ex-boyfriend's brother who all had either a girlfriend or an ex-girlfriend actually shoot at them for believing they were cheating (only 1 actually was - 2 of these guys actually married the women AFTER the shooting incident, but that's another rant). And let's especially ignore the young woman who showed up at my house with a stolen pickup truck and her daddy's shotgun to tell me that some guy I barely knew and wasn't interested in was "taken" (also, I grew up in a city in California, not a Kentucky farm town). Let's also ignore the fact that a person willing to cheat *with
* me is more likely to excuse cheating *on
* me if he feels justified.
Let's just say that we both agree there are some risks involved with being the mistress of a cheating husband.
I want to talk about character and integrity. Sure, the cheater is an adult. Sure, he can make his own choices. Sure, it's not my job to make sure he behaves. But that doesn't then give me license to engage in behaviour that a person who is affected by did not consent to.
As a polyamorous person, I believe that a good relationship requires honesty, consent, and communication. When I am someone's mistress, when I am a cheatee, that relationship is missing all three of those elements. I am engaging in a relationship, willfully and deliberately, that someone did not agree to, and would not agree to it if she knew. I am removing her personal sovereignty to make choices about how her life should look and I am robbing her of her dignity to live the life she chooses.
I am not acting out of compassion or consideration for another human being. That means that I am putting my own desires as priority *to the detriment of others
*, which is the very definition of "selfish".
Some people have tried to defend this position by saying the poor guy is in a really bad situation. We feel sorry for him! We *are
* being compassionate, because his life is just awful, so we're bringing him some joy. Back to those hypothetical extremes - the wife already broke the marriage contract, the wife is refusing him sex or a particular kind of sex, he loves his wife and doesn't want to hurt her but he can't help his love for you (or his desire for sex and your body will do), so he's doing the best he can in a difficult situation.
I guarantee that the wife has a different perspective than the one he's selling you. Oh sure, he probably really does believe what he's telling you. Most people, I think, are not outright liars and frauds. I think, most of the time, these guys really do see themselves in difficult positions with no "good" options, only less-worse options. And I'm willing to bet that, most of the time, they're not *completely
But I still guarantee that the wife *also
* doesn't see herself as the bad guy in the situation. It's pretty much a human trait that we rarely ever see ourselves as "bad guys". Even Saddam Hussein & Osama Bin Laden probably really believed that they were good, honorable men, fighting for truth and justice. Even "bad guys" have people who love them, who see them as good people.
In fact, that's at least one reason why we have The Entrenchment Effect - giving people facts doesn't actually change their opinions, because the cognitive dissonance between their view of themselves as a "good person" and the fact that they were wrong about something makes people dig their heels in and believe even harder against the evidence so that they don't have to see themselves as "not good".
So no matter what sob story you want to tell me that he's sold you on, I know there is another side to that story, and no matter whose side I actually believe, I have some compassion for the wife who is being cheated on. It's really hard for people to put themselves in their metamour's position. That's why we have so many couples willing to use veto power & make rules restricting other people's behaviour. But we have to do it anyway, at least, we do if we want to be honest about being an ethical person.
Which makes all your claims of feeling "sympathy" for the poor cheater fall flat. Maybe the wife really is a horrible, evil bitch. But putting her into a relationship that she did not agree to, or violating her existing relationship agreements does not make you the white knight in the story. It makes you *both
* bad guys. Maybe you're less of a bad guy than she is, but you just put someone in a relationship that they did not consent to and could not give informed consent to even if she was willing. We're supposed to arrest people for that.
But, even worse, maybe she's not a horrible, evil bitch. Maybe she's the kind of wife that the husband really loves, but who just doesn't share his interest in a particular kind of sex, so he has to go explore elsewhere. That's what a lot of poly people say to justify their complicity in a cheating partnership. Mono people will justify cheating with someone by the "the wife is a horrible person who trapped him" line, but poly people seem to be OK with the "his wife is actually a good person and he loves her, she just won't have sex with him and won't agree to an open marriage, so he has to get his needs met somehow."
Seriously? You really want to justify participation in a relationship that breaks the agreements of a woman who is good & kind & loving & worth keeping? She's wonderful enough that he doesn't want to leave her and *this
* is the thanks she gets for being such a great wife? You have turned her life into a lie. She is not in the relationship she thinks she's in and YOU contributed to that. You have removed from this wonderful woman the right to make her own choice about her own relationships. You talk about his right to "choose", but what about hers? Is the freedom of choice only reserved for people who choose what happens to benefit you?
I care very deeply about not hurting that wife. I care that she is having her relationship agreement broken. As someone said in a Facebook thread recently, "Relationships are like webs, you can't just tug on one string and pretend you aren't affecting the others. And I'm not saying anything beyond that about what to do or not to do, just that I'm uncomfortable with the idea that 'ultimately it's their choice, not mine'. Because you are making a choice to get involved in the situation."
My involvement with a cheater affects his wife. I am complicit in breaking an agreement. I am agreeing to violate someone else's boundaries. We do not have to have made the agreement ourselves to be able to violate an agreement. I never "agreed" never to trespass on private property, yet climbing the fence with a "No Trespassing" sign on it puts me in violation.
In fact, we don't even have to have done an illegal act to be an accomplice or an accomplice after the fact, in the eyes of the law, as long as we know about it and don't try to stop it or report it to the authorities. We have a social contract that says "I won't do these things to you and you don't do these things to me" and that's how we all get along. I try not to do the sorts of things that I don't want people to do to me (like violate their agency), because I know how much it would hurt me, so I have empathy for the other people and I don't want to hurt them.
I don't have to try and "police" the husband's relationship agreements for him. He is a grown-up and he can make his own choices. But so am I. And I choose not to violate another human being's right to "choose" her own relationship. I choose not to participate in a relationship that removes the right of choice from someone else. I choose not to willingly infringe upon another's personal sovereignty or dignity. And I choose not to perform actions that lead a person into a non-consensual relationship.
I do not respect anyone who defends the position that it is ever morally or ethically "right" to do any of those things. The lesser of two wrongs is still wrong, not right. It just means that the situation is complicated and there may be no "right" answer. But if there is no "right" answer, that means that the cheating is still wrong. That some people might benefit (such as "bringing joy into a person stuck in a loveless marriage") does not overwrite that other people do not. That some people have complicated and difficult lives and I feel sympathy for them does not require participating in activities that harm someone else.
And if the defender is also polyamorous, is also a community leader or activist or "celebrity" espousing the values of polyamory as a valid and, especially as an "ethical" relationship choice, not only do I not respect that person, I also think she's a hypocrite. Since I've already heard all the defenses, continuing to defend that position only makes the defender look worse in my eyes.
If you want to talk about compassion & ethics, I'll start listening when that compassion & ethical behaviour gets extended to the metamours. As someone who *is
* a metamour, I try not to treat my metamours with any less compassion than I expect in return. I may not always succeed, but that is the standard to which I hold myself. And violating their relationship agreements is not compassionate nor ethical.