What Is 'Ethical Cheating,' and Is It Right for You? (Our Guess: No)

Illustration for article titled What Is 'Ethical Cheating,' and Is It Right for You? (Our Guess: No)

Some ideas seem inherently paradoxical, like “jumbo shrimp,” or now, “ethical cheating”—also known as having your cake and eating it with someone better looking a few times a week. It is a potential panacea for millions of people suffering silently through the unending marriage epidemic. But is it right for you? Let’s investigate.


What is ethical cheating?

It’s cheating, only not cheating. It is the best of both worlds, say advocates, the thrill of something old and something new with none of the guilt of lying. According to a New York Times interview with Brandon Wade, the founder of dating site OpenMinded.com, which facilitates such relationships for couples, singles, or marrieds:

This involves telling a spouse that you are going to be unfaithful, or including the spouse in new, outside-the-marriage relationships, he said.

Wade, who spearheaded SeekingArrangement.com back in 2006, said in his message to users on OpenMinded.com that the site “capitalizes” on “where romantic relationships are headed in the future,” and also aims to reframe perceptions of those interested in poly relationships, swinging, being “monogamish,” et cetera. They’re simply open-minded folks, and not, say, “porn-hungry freaks” or “long-haired hippies,” neither of whom was available for comment at press time.

Let me get this straight—you tell your spouse first?


Is it still cheating then?

To my brain, no—it’s opening your marriage. But to others, yes, because technically you’re still married. Calling what is otherwise a perfectly sane agreement between two people “cheating,” particularly when disclosure is a cornerstone of the approach, seems to unnecessarily sleaze up the proceedings—and won’t do much to legitimize open relationships everywhere—but, hey, who doesn’t love a catchy turn of phrase?

What happens next?

That’s when the fun starts. According to the Times piece, OpenMinded.com will aid you through this rocky journey:

Also provided are primers to help newbies, including an essay entitled, “How to Cheat on Your Wife.” It advises that men disclose their intent to their wives before they begin to date.

“Expect a bit of defensiveness,” the essay warns.

Note that this defensiveness could come in many forms—a freshly brewed pot of coffee hurled directly at your genitals, perhaps.


Why this, why now?

The short answer is that traditional marriage, as lovely as it is and as comfortable as it feels for many people, simply isn’t cutting it for a lot of folks. The longer answer is that shacking up has changed dramatically, in that we are exploring every possible way to be better at marriage, while simultaneously realizing it needs some fine tuning or outright overhauling.


This might mean some couples not marrying at all—more people live together first and then break up instead of getting hitched—or waiting longer to marry overall, or just developing more permissive attitudes for what it even means to commit to someone. Most people would arguably like “to find someone special” on this earth, or many special someones, sometimes all at once, but what that looks like nowadays is anyone’s guess, and if nothing else, it’s good that society seems more tolerant of at least giving people the space to sort that out.

Of course, you can’t talk about the shifting marriage/commitment landscape without also talking about feminism. If women no longer need men to support them, to conceive children or to raise children, then, for the first time in history, we are free to choose partners based on our own particular preferences for what makes a good match and not necessarily out of economic tethering. In other words, the relationship can all come down to love—or to the way someone suits your wants and needs.


Critics of the loosening strictures around marriage are quick to point out here that this is exactly what is wrong with kids today—we’re too picky, we want too much, we have flown to close to the sun. But advocates say people are simply moving toward what is more natural for a lot of people. Something like marriage, but not entirely, with the freedom to explore other relationships.

Wade’s site message addresses this in part:

Society has come to a point where marriage has taken a downward turn because it no longer satisfies the needs of the modern woman or man. In search of happiness, people are relying less on stereotypical gender roles and traditional relationship paradigms. While monogamy is certainly not dead, a shift in societal ideals has taken place, as more and more couples are choosing to buck traditions in favor of unconventional relationship configurations.

For many, ‘monogamy’ is almost synonymous with ‘monotony’, which can lead lesser men (and women) to cheat. But that is not the only way to get what you want. Consider these:

• Ethical Cheating

• Open Relationships

• Monogamish Relationships

• Non-monogamy can be ethical

These “configurations” may include open and polyamorous relationships. They may be one new partner joining an established couple, or two couples spending intimate time together. More importantly, they may just be open-minded people meeting and dating others with their same attitudes.


Behind all this is the fact that pretty much anything can be ethical as long as it’s mutually decided between two (or more) people, and as long as no outsiders are getting hurt.

So could I be an ethical cheater?

Do dreams ever really come true? Do yours? Probably not, because life is complicated and disappointing, but if this idea interests you, you could always give it a try. I was going to write “it never hurts to try,” actually, but I stopped short when I considered that this is among the many times it probably absolutely does hurt to try. Because if you suggest opening up your marriage to other people and experiences, and your spouse is hella against this notion, you run the risk of permanently damaging it, or learning that your spouse hates you for wanting what you want, or maybe even worse, getting exactly what you wanted and then deeply regretting it.


For examples of this, if you have the patience for the load time, read through some of the comments on the recent NY Mag post about how open marriage taught a dude about feminism. One commenter alleges that, while open marriages seem great for the men in relationships with mismatched libidos, that Dan Savage’s podcast is littered with calls from unhappy men in open marriages who were disappointed to learn that it was much easier for their wives to find men to date then it was for them, and are now very glum.

But there have been numerous pieces about ethical cheating over the last two months, many of which explain how open marriages are a long time coming and have saved their relationship. So if you have a spouse who is as sexually curious as you—if you’re on the same page about why it’s good to want more—then this is probably a no-brainer, and you’re already much farther along than most people.


What if I’d just rather cheat, old-school?

Hey, it just means you’re old-fashioned. You like secrets! Direct your browser to the recently hacked Ashley Madison, but don’t expect any sympathy. Or perhaps it just means that like most people, you realize that if you had the broadmindedness, sense of security, the openness and the trust to talk to your partner about all these contradictory desires, and what’s more, to allow them to explore the same feelings, you probably wouldn’t need to cheat in the first place because you’d be in a better relationship. Ethical cheating, in other words, really takes the cheating out of cheating.


Image via Warner Bros


Feminist Kittenjoy [is back after a long hiatus]

Is it still cheating then?

To my brain, no—it’s opening your marriage.

This. I have no problem with how people choose to structure their relationships - monogamous, open, somewhere in-between - but it’s probably not cheating if you have permission.

It does make me wonder though how often the spouse being asked for permission feels pressured, scared, or manipulated into saying yes. It’s one thing if both parties know how they feel about open relationships from the start, or have increasingly discussed it as their relationship progressed, preferably as something that both of them want to explore. It’s another thing entirely if one of the two partners in marriage throws it out as a new idea that they want to try just for themselves. Thoughts?