We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Something bad. Something naughty. Something that people will judge us for. Something forbidden. Something sinful. And no, I’m not talking about making a whole batch of cupcakes and eating them all in one afternoon. I’m talking unforgiveable. Stealing. Lying. To friends, to family, to partners. Making up stories. Sneaking around. Cheating.
Up until the very public break-up of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, cheating women were an underground movement. Women who break up marriages will be pariahs eternally (as men who leave their wives will be scumbags) but it wasn’t until then that we had a Balengiaga-wearing young A-lister to hold up as our idol. She apologised, heartfelt and filled with anguish, and it seemed to work, and then it didn’t.
When reading the below piece about Elle’s ‘controversial’ memoir piece in their October issue, titled (on the newsstand cover) ‘Should You Have An Affair?’ the piece had the opposite effect that I think the reader intended. I was intrigued. A truly good publication will push boundaries – laugh if you want, but Vogue’s decision to run a story entitled ‘Poo: the last taboo’ several years ago was both bold and essential, getting us talking, or thinking, on a topic that we’ve been trying to repress. In the same way, ELLE’s piece was taking on a subject that no-one wants to talk about, that everyone wants to ignore. By calling it out, ELLE was making headlines, being ‘sensationalist’…and covering a part of day-to-day life often ignored – the world’s dirty little secret – that needs to be discussed as much as any other topic. I was hooked.
Disappointingly, the article itself is relatively mild; instead of being a sordid tale of married infidelity from the point of view of a bored wife or frustrated husband, it’s from the point of view of ‘the other woman’. So far, so routine. People were hurt, hearts were broken, life went on.
You don’t need to be told cheating is bad. We know it. Cosmo’s told us. All the sad photos of Kelly Brook have told us. But instead of sweeping it under the rug as ‘a bad thing’, praise be to ELLE for having the guts to offer a message for those who have. Who are under the rug.
Because we’ve grown up beyond the black and white boxes of ‘bad’ and ‘good’. We’re better than that. We’re the gender that’s rationalised wearing dungarees as fashion items, that somehow managed to reclaim the apron as a feminist statement, that fights for equality, bears the children then gets back to business. If we can’t look a little closer at something that so many of us do, whether we like to admit it or not, preferring to mark it as ‘something not to talk about’, then we’re not as advanced as we think we are.
Look at the woman next to you. Does she look like she’s cheated? Lied? Stolen? Made up stories? Got into trouble? No, of course she doesn’t. What does a cheater even look like? Do I look like one. I am one. I’ve cheated multiple times. Of course I’m not proud of it, but I’m glad that ELLE and others made it ok to talk about it. That Kristen did it, so that those of us who’ve done it can look at her going on to secure film roles and campaigns and see that the world didn’t end for her when she did something bad.
Why did I do it? Why do nice people cheat? I did it because I felt trapped, trapped in a safe secure relationship well on its way to seriousness, and like a terrified child I ran to the furthest possible point, the most opposite possible man I could find to the one I left. Looking back, over the year or so after where I thought it would be a good idea to date someone ok with playing a part in breaking up a relationship, a year of ignored messages, cruel jokes and jibes, late night tearful phonecalls, texts from other girls, endless suspicion (on both our parts), screaming matches and the eventual, thankful breakdown, would I do it again? No. It exorcised the part of myself that was inclined to run and to cheat and has left me a ‘better’ person. Do I regret causing hurt to the man I cheated on? Of course. Do I regret the experience, what it taught me, and what I learned? No. At the end of the day, in everything, the only person you ever have to answer to is yourself. And my advice to you is this: if you’re going to cheat, only do it if you think you can live with yourself. Some days I was too ashamed to look in a mirror. Because I was made to feel ashamed for doing something society says is wrong to do. Cheating, in the eyes of society, is not shameful because you’re hurting someone. It’s shameful because we’ve been told it’s shameful.
I’ll be a pariah if you like, something you sweep under the rug and ignore. You can mark me, and the woman in ELLE, and all the other women who write anonymous letters to Cosmo and the celebrities, as ‘bad’. As cheaters. But then you’re not really discussing the book, the book that exists whether you like it or not. You’re judging the book by the cover. And under the cover, we’re just like you. But we made a mistake, and we’re working on it.