Why He Gets a Pass for Cheating and She Doesn’t

Ask Demetria: Double standards are the norm. But for a relationship to work, both partners have to be on the same page.

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“It amazes me the double standards of cheating: Friend cheated on wife; both their families more or less were upset but shrugged, expected her to stay/forgive. She then cheated two years later and everyone was screaming he should leave her. Why is a woman cheating more unforgivable?” —F.T.

We live in a patriarchy that's full of double standards that often benefit men, especially when it comes to sex. There’s a “boys will be boys” outlook that stems from the idea that monogamy is just not natural for men. For men, sex is believed to be just pleasure and nothing more.

Of course, women are not believed to have similar sexual desires as men and sex must “mean something.” Thus, women are perceived to be naturally faithful and expected to be faithful. When a woman is not, it is perceived to be a grave betrayal to the relationship.

You know, if a man or woman doesn’t believe in monogamy, I’m totally fine with that. I just encourage them to stay single-single—no relationships and no marriage, unless, of course, they have a spouse who is fine with them having sex with others and they are happy to extend the same “courtesy.” If they’re both on the same page? Good for them. May they get tested with their partners, have safe sex and carry on happily. Singles, of course, can do as they please and should take similar precautions to protect themselves and anyone with whom they have sex.

I do take issue with the couple you’ve described. If the family, who shouldn’t be all up in this marriage anyway, is telling the wife to stay and forgive when her husband cheated and telling the man to go now that she’s returned the “favor,” then these folks weren’t in an open marriage. My grandmother liked to say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” which loosely means, what applies to one, should apply to all. There shouldn’t be a different outlook on the consequences of cheating solely based on the sex of the person who’s doing it.

But, unfortunately there is. Last week, a woman wrote into my ask.fm to say that she recently discovered her husband of eight years had fathered a 6-week-old child with his ex-girlfriend. She was, unsurprisingly, devastated to know that her partner had lied to and deceived her for at least the last year of their union. Her inclination was to leave her marriage, which you can guess most people who read her story supported, as that is a huge betrayal.  

However, there were naysayers, who didn’t think this heinous scenario was worth “throwing away” her marriage. When I posted about the situation on my Facebook page, one woman was adamant that she stay with her husband:

“I always thought the women who stayed were strong and powerful and I've always applauded them for not letting some lesser chick tear down their house or take control of their husband. I think I'd feel, she may be his entertainment, but I'm his wife. I clean his dirty underwear until death do us part and no woman is going to make me leave so she can try to fill my shoes. When he comes home, I get his paycheck. No one else gets that privilege … I worked hard to get him where he is, and she isn't getting the fruits of my labor. You're taking care of that kid and you're coming home every night.”

The outlook of holding women to higher standards than men is pervasive and unfortunate. The commenter missed—or was willfully overlooking—the quality of the man she would be keeping. She’s washing the dirty underwear of a man who lies, who has unprotected sex with other women and risks catching a sexually transmitted infection that he could pass on to his wife. Much like the families that you described, her vitriol was only reserved for the woman. She didn’t seem to get that the other woman isn't so much taking a man as he is giving himself to her.

For the couple you describe, if they want to make this marriage work, the best thing they could do for themselves is to get all those other well-meaning but harmful family members out of their business. That there’s been infidelity in their marriage years apart indicates that they haven’t addressed some core issues that are ongoing in their relationship. I suggest they head to the nearest couples therapist to work on their problems instead of blabbing to relatives and whomever else will listen and living in drama and betrayal. There’s also the option of going their separate ways so they can have their sexual or any other needs met without the deception.