Let’s Define “Unfaithful”: Is It Still Cheating If You’re Not Married?

July 26, 2012  |  

When I was in high-school, I told my friend’s mom that I had just broken up with my boyfriend because he cheated on me.

I was stunned when she immediately rolled her eyes and said, “You kids. It’s not cheating if you’re not married.”

When the news of Kristen Stewart “cheating on” Robert Pattinson exploded in the news yesterday, I was reminded of that conversation,  described as a “shocking cheating scandal” the news coverage surrounding this couple has been absolutely hysterical and I just don’t get it.

The backstory is Kristen and Rob met on the set of the 2008 movie “Twilight”. “Twilight” is the first in a series of four vampire-themed fantasy romance movies. The two star in the movies as a couple and predictably became a couple in real-life.  Recently, Kristen starred in Snow White and the Huntsman. Last week a paparazzo snapped pictures of the 22-year-old making out with the movie’s 41-year-old director in a car. Us Weekly ran the story (and a picture) on their front page and, in a bizarre move, both Kristen and the director Rupert Sanders released a statement to People magazine admitting to the actions and apologizing. Rupert’s wife tweeted “Wow” before shutting down her social media accounts and Robert reportedly moved out of the apartment he shared with Kristen.

Twilight has an enormous fan base and many are clearly unable to separate “Robsten” from the “Bella and Edward” married couple they play in movies. But this isn’t about the strange fans who post four minute videos crying and screaming about the news or those who dramatically Tweet “#MyWholeLifeIsALie”. We already know that people put way too much emotional stock in celebrity relationships despite the less-than-stellar track record Hollywood has in the romance department.

The most bizarre thing of the coverage is the fact that Rupert Sanders’ marriage and consequent adultery seems to fall second to Kristen and Rob’s dating relationship and inevitable breakup.

I get that Kristen and Rob are the celebs here and therefore the only reason why Rupert’s philandering is news is because he was smooching Kristen. Still, I find it very strange that dating relationships and marriage are treated as one in the same despite them being very different — one decidedly less serious than the other.

In my estimation, what makes Kristen’s actions so egregious is not that she was probably bumping uglies with a guy other than the boyfriend she’s been shacking up with, but the fact that the man she was potentially having sex with is married with two kids. She released a statement apologizing to Robert, but it’s Liberty Ross, Rupert’s wife, who was the most wronged here. If Kristen is to be vilified it should be because she slept with another woman’s husband and not because she “cheated” on her boyfriend.

This marriage and dating equivocation seems par for the course in Hollywood especially considering that marriages in that town have the life span of a carton of milk. In fact, sometimes the celebrities will date without true commitment for a relatively long time. Look at Brad and Angelina. They’ve been dating much longer than he was married to Jennifer Aniston. The fake tweet Kanye West sent about dating Kim Kardashian longer than she was married to Kris Humphries was only believed to be sent by him because what was said was true.

It’s not just Hollywood though. Even we regular folk are playing marriage despite not being married at all. What some of us have found out the hard way is dating doesn’t imply any serious commitment whatsoever, neither does sex and neither does sharing an address. Marriage is marriage and dating is still dating.  Just because a couple is doing all the things that married couples do, they still can’t realistically expect the commitment that being married provides. It just doesn’t work that way. Though there’s a surplus of conversation about the “main chick” versus “side chick”, both are essentially the “nothing chick” as far as having “nothing” to indicate a promise of fidelity.

Does this mean people who call each other boyfriend and girlfriend should demand to be the only one he or she is sexting? That seems to be a reasonable expectation especially if one hopes that the relationship will lead to marriage. As one writer succinctly put it “a cheating boyfriend is a cheating fiancé and a cheating fiance is a cheating spouse”. A person’s propensity for lies and deceit that often go along with cheating in a dating relationship is a fairly good indicator of his or her propensity for lies, deceit and cheating in a marriage.

Still, since I’ve gotten married, I understand where my friend’s mother is coming from. Marriage is so much more serious than deciding to exclusively date a person and should be treated as such in every single way. In a dating relationship, a person is expected to be faithful solely because he or she wants to be, whereas in a marriage, a person is expected to be faithful because they’ve made a commitment to be faithful whether they want to or not. People are out here moving in together, having indiscriminate and unprotected sex, moving across the country, creating kids — all in relationships where neither person has committed to be there past next Tuesday. When these relationships meet their inevitable demise, others are shocked as though a relationship confirmed on Facebook means anything past the next second.

I think we would do better to put the emphasis on fidelity where emphasis is warranted: marriage. And, in turn, treat dating relationships like the fickle, irresolute relationships they are because dating and marriage are not nearly the same.

What do you think? Do you think it’s still cheating even if you’re not married? Do you think people equate dating with marriage?

Follow Alissa on Twitter @AlissaInPink

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