What even is cheating?

What is cheating? Is "emotional cheating" a thing? Have we ever been cheated on? Plus a very silly article review about Ashley Madison users who cheat on their spouses but for some reason are adamant about their nauseatingly high brand loyalty.

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Courtney: Hello, everyone, and welcome back. My name is Courtney. I am here with my spouse, Royce. Together, we are The Ace Couple. And today, we tackle the big, big concept that is cheating in a relationship. What exactly is it? Does anyone know? I’ve got a lot of ruminations on this but no clear-cut answer, so I think it’s going to be interesting in a discussion format.

Courtney: But this has been a concept we’ve just thought, like, “Oh, general relationship things. We could talk about that at some point.” But not too long ago, we found this survey about the state of dating right now, and we were just really, really shocked by what people in this particular survey considered cheating versus what they didn’t consider cheating.

Royce: To the point where we were curious about the wording or the preface to the survey itself, because some of the answers seemed odd.

Courtney: It was like, more people thought that liking someone else’s selfie on Instagram or social media is cheating, but fewer people thought having sex with another person one time… Very strange. Very strange. Because in the most simplest — most simplest — in the most reductive state, cheating is, like, having sex. Like, that is what I feel like — when I was in the dating scene growing up, that was the shorthand definition of cheating, is: you had sex with someone who is not your partner. But I also don’t want to make it seem like sex just is the definition of cheating, because emotional cheating is a phrase that I think is weird, but I do think it is a thing or can be a thing.

Royce: Yeah. But to go back to, I guess, the the socially expected definitions, if you were to talk about this in a slightly different context and someone says that they had an ex that cheated on them, or mentioned a partner being unfaithful or an instance of infidelity, if they don’t go into more detail, the assumption was that their partner had sex with someone else.

Courtney: Right. And I think that’s further corroborated by the fact that people use “emotional” as a modifier. Like, it’s — you don’t just call it “cheating,” you call it “emotional cheating.” So I think that lends credit to the fact that large swaths of society think that that sexual relationship is sort of the default definition of cheating. And of course, we’re, in this context, talking about completely monogamous couples. But yeah, I think we should just have a conversation about cheating and all the possible definitions or possible nuances, and then, to end things out today, I found a… I don’t know if “funny” is the right word? — found a fascinating article called, “Adulterers on Ashley Madison reveal what they are faithful to, 87% would cheat on their partner before taxes.”

Royce: You mean, rather than cheating on their taxes?

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Okay.

Courtney: This article is really funny, and this is why we’re going to end it. Because, like, Ashley Madison — that is the cheating profile, right?

Royce: Yeah. Let me look at something real quick. I’m trying to remember how that website has been billed.

Courtney: I see the tagline, “Life is short. Have an affair.”

Royce: Okay, yes. Marketed to people who are married or are in relationships who are looking for affairs.

Courtney: Which is not the same as polyamory or people in open relationships. Like, these are people who know that their partner would not be happy to find out that they’re doing this [laughs] on the whole, it seems. So, yeah, let’s start with just, I guess, our thoughts on what cheating is, because it is still baffling to me that more people think liking someone’s selfie is cheating than having sex with someone once. I’m just gonna have to live with the fact that I will never understand that kind of person who answers the survey that way.

Royce: Yeah. I was about to say that without further proof, without another survey, I see that as a data integrity issue.

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: Like, something about the survey was weird.

Courtney: It could be, unless we are just that weird. I mean, we’re already very outside of the norm when we’re [laughing] talking about relationships.

Royce: I feel like if you put those results in front of a number of randomly selected allo people, they would also be scratching their heads.

Courtney: Okay! Allos, chime in in the YouTube comments. [laughs]

Courtney: So, even though I think the baseline for having this conversation assumes a monogamous relationship, that doesn’t mean that people in polyamorous relationships or otherwise open relationships can’t also cheat. So, that’s a nuance that I think we’ll come back to. But if we’re using “cheating” in the sort of standard widely held societal belief, it’s already assuming that each relationship is monogamous, so that’s problem number one.

Courtney: But branching off from that assumption, it is usually: one partner has sex with someone outside of this relationship — or, in the situation of an emotional affair, maybe sex didn’t happen, but maybe it was down the road, or there’s a… Everyone has a line somewhere, but the issue is everyone’s going to have a different line. Because, like, is flirting emotional cheating to each individual person. and what constitutes flirting?

Royce: I was about to say, I think we need to move back from sex, because I think it’s more along the lines of, if we’re talking about modern-day American society as a generally accepted expectation — like, this would be the majority opinion if you collected opinions from enough people — you have to step back from sex and try to find out what is a very commonly perceived intimate behavior or activity. Because I think a lot of people would consider kissing cheating.

Courtney: Yeah, but also certainly not everyone. The word that keeps coming back in my mind is just “betrayal.” Like, to me, cheating — regardless of what each individual couple’s lines and boundaries are — if there is a sense that one partner has betrayed the other’s and betrayed the agreement of the relationship, that is what cheating is. And everyone’s going to have a different threshold for what feels like a betrayal.

Royce: Yeah. I mean, cheating in a broader context is doing something that is against the rules. The problem is that people that start dating don’t sign contracts. So what are the rules? What are the sort of unspoken aspects of relationships in our society that most people assume are going to be in place?

Courtney: Yeah. Which is tough, because a lot of people are going to assume that there are unspoken rules that everyone else is also subscribing to, and that can get very muddy very quickly. And so, I mean, here’s kind of the funny thing, right? So, the thesis has got to be communication. Like, have a conversation, agree to the rules, get on the same page, set expectations. But we’ve been married almost 10 years, and I don’t think we actually had, at any point, a conversation about what is and is not cheating.

Royce: I don’t think we did either, but I don’t think that we really needed to. I’m trying to think of where the… There’s a point of exclusivity in a monogamous relationship —

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: — where you at least acknowledge, at some point, that you aren’t looking for other people. And I feel like, at some point very early on, we both established that we don’t date around.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Like, I specifically remember mentioning, like, the idea of — not even getting into relationships but just going on dates, like dinner dates, with more than one people at a time sounds exhausting to me.

Courtney: [laughing] Right. Yeah, and, I mean, we also both being Asexual, we had established pretty clearly that we don’t, like, actively seek sexual relationships with other people. So that was also kind of a very simple baseline that we were both on the same page about, at least. But I do remember… Because I think I’ve stated before on the podcast that my brain just naturally is very, very monogamous. There is a switch that just automatically flips when I have entered a relationship mode, and it’s not a burden or a barrier, it’s nothing oppressive or wrong. It’s just genuinely how my brain is. So since we technically met on a dating website, as soon as — like, the night we were talking, I was like, “Great. I found someone I liked. I’m just not even going to look for anyone else. If anyone else comes to court me, I’m gonna be like, ‘Nope, I’m already engaged in something here,’” because that’s just how it works.

Courtney: But I didn’t know if that was necessarily going to be the case for you. So it was still pretty early on when I mentioned… I think it was because someone actually asked me out — like, someone in my real-world life asked me on a date or something, and I just very naturally and quickly turned it down. And then it just occurred to me — I was like, “Well, we’re still long distance. We haven’t had this conversation yet.” On a dating site, I know there are lots of people who date many people. Even monogamously inclined people might date around until they find the one they want to enter that monogamous state with. So I just sort of use that as something to springboard off of. Like, “Oh, someone asked me on a date today. I turned them down because I don’t want to. I want all my energy here,” kind of a thing. And I remember your response, because you sent me a smiley face emoticon.

Royce: How often do you hear people say the word “emoticon” out loud now?

Courtney: Well, it was an emoticon. It wasn’t an emoji. [laughs]

Royce: I mean, it’s true.

Courtney: This is our generation, Royce. Our culture. [laughs] Be proud of it.

Royce: I think that was the first indication of exclusivity. Because you also — like, we hadn’t talked about this. We hadn’t mentioned it.

Courtney: Yeah. And you played all coy. You were like, “Oh, I didn’t know you were turning down other offers, smiley emoticon.” And then… I don’t know, was that the point where you were like, “Now we’re exclusive,” or did your brain also kind of enter exclusivity before that conversation happened?

Royce: Oh, I can’t talk to more than one person in depth at a time. So, like —

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: I think that’s why that message was a positive confirmation, because I have always been the one who… It’s like, “Alright, I am talking very personally with someone right now. That is all of my social energy. I don’t know where they’re at.”

Courtney: Yeah, fair. [laughs] But yeah, I don’t think we ever, at any point from there, had a, like, “What are the bounds of the relationship?” Which is now weird, because now I’m going to tell all of our listeners, like, that’s the only way you can know what someone counts as cheating.

Royce: Well, I think the important thing to note, though, is, if you haven’t had a conversation, you don’t know what the bounds are, so you could accidentally overstep them if you’re not careful. So, if you aren’t doing anything, then, yeah, there’s no danger there. But if you’re going to interact with other people in a way that could potentially be, you know, perceived as unfaithful, a conversation needs to happen first.

Courtney: Mhm. Have you ever been cheated on? You haven’t had a lot of, like, long-term relationships.

Royce: Oh, my relationships were all short. Um, not that I know of.

Courtney: Good for you! I was.

Royce: The trick there: stay single.

Courtney: [laughs] Stay single until you get married. That sounds like something a conservative dad would say to, like, a six-year-old girl. [laughs]

Royce: I mean, getting married isn’t a sign that you’re not going to get cheated on.

Courtney: No, it’s not. But, you know, “Stay single until you’re married” — I think I’ve heard that before. But I digress. I have been cheated on at least once. And this is why I do want to make it clear that, like, I do think emotional cheating is a thing, because I do not think that he ever actually had sexual contact with someone else. And I have reason to believe that I may have also been cheated on a second time in a previous relationship to that, but honestly, that one was such an abusive hot mess that that would have still been the least of my concerns at the time, so.

Courtney: But it’s like… I don’t know. I guess I’ll tell little bits of this story, just because that was a sense of betrayal that I felt. And I have seen some people on the far extreme side of things who have literally said, like, “Emotional cheating is not a thing. It does not exist.” And I don’t think I necessarily believe that, but I think it can be vague, and it can have a lot of gray areas, and different people will have different interpretations of it.

Royce: I mean, someone saying that emotional cheating does not exist is a sort of backhanded way of them saying that their boundaries in a relationship are physical, not emotional, but that only applies to them.

Courtney: I’ve heard people say, “Cheating doesn’t exist, period, because you don’t own your partner.” And… [laughs]

Royce: I mean, they can define that for their relationship.

Courtney: Yes. But no, I have quite literally heard people say, like, “The concept of cheating does not make sense to me, because, literally, you do not own your partner. Whatever your partner does, whether you’re married or not, or no matter what your relationship looks like, what your partner does alone in their free time is literally none of your business.” And I was like…

Royce: No.

Courtney: I don’t know how your brain works either.

Royce: Well, you can disprove that very quickly if you go through a series of destructive actions that then impacted their life.

Courtney: Right.

Royce: Not just — I mean, there is the issue of, you know, like, STIs.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: If we’re talking sex. But if you’re talking about financial decisions or shared property decisions, like, you’re engaging in a significant part of your life with another person. There’s shared stuff there. It isn’t entirely private anymore. So some of the things that you choose to do do affect one another.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: And if you affect one another negatively enough, the relationship will get severed.

Courtney: Yeah. And so, I have heard predominantly allosexual people who have, you know, run the spectrum from super not only monogamous but, like, very Christian fundamentalist version of what relationships look like, all the way to so polyamorous and open that it’s like, “There don’t even need to be rules or established boundaries around how our relationship’s open because this is how I feel.” And people on both far end of the spectrum — and then some people that are like, “Oh, if you even like another girl’s selfie on Instagram, that’s cheating.” Like, if you are too strict with what you consider cheating, or if you’re too open to the point where you’re not just saying this for my own relationship, but you’re saying, like, “Other people are weird if you think cheating is a thing” — which, I have heard people make that argument — I’m scratching my head both ways. I really am. I guess that makes me a cheating moderate. [laughs]

Courtney: But no. So, my cheating story. I was living in my trailer house in South Dakota at the time. I had a boyfriend who had moved in with me. And, like, this is my house. This is not a shared house. It is mine, but he is moving in with me. And at the time, I was the only one making money or contributing to the house at all. So I was not only completely financially supporting myself, I was completely financially supporting him. He was not working; he was not looking for work. He was very close to graduating and, like, dropped out of school literally just a couple of months before graduating — which, I could not figure out that decision to save my life. [laughs] Because on one hand, it’s like, yeah, I get it, school does suck. Yeah, I know, maybe you aren’t going to use this degree. But you’re not failing, and just grit your teeth for two months, that’s it, and then you’ll just have it. And then it got to a point where I was like, “Alright, well, if you’re just going to be home all day, every day, well, I’m going to work.” I was working at least two jobs for this entire relationship, also. Then I was like, “Can you at least, like, do housework? Can you clean the house?” And, like, he didn’t do that either. So, I know, in hindsight, in retrospect, how really horrible that relationship is, and I won’t even get into the worst of it.

Courtney: But the way I found out was while I was at work, on the night shift, on my break, I pulled out my laptop to check some things in the break room, and he was, like, still signed into his Facebook account. And I went to open Facebook, because I just very recently opened this new Facebook profile. And without seeing that he was logged in — because I just opened it and I assumed it was mine — I saw, like, a little notification, like “You’ve got a DM” or something. And so I went to go click on that, and it was an active conversation that was happening right then and there. He was using a different device, having a conversation with another woman, right then and there.

Courtney: So, I’m at work, in the break room, and I’m just seeing this really overly flirtatious, like, borderline starting to get into sexting kind of a conversation, and I’m watching it happen real-time. And I just got so nauseous. It was not a good day at work for me, because then it’s like, well, I still have half my shift to go, and then I’m gonna go home to this guy. And that was not fun at all.

Courtney: And just… I don’t know. I have, since that happened, heard people say, like, “Well, emotional cheating isn’t a thing. If they didn’t actually have sex, then that’s not a problem,” or, “Cheating in general doesn’t exist, and it’s just you trying to possess and own your partner.” And it’s like, not with the conversations we’d had and the relationship we had. Like, that was… Like, he knew he was doing something wrong, too. When we finally had that confrontation, like, he knew that what he was doing was wrong.

Courtney: And I guess I could go into more details, but I don’t know if I necessarily want to. Although it was — that was the guy — do you remember when we went up to St Joseph years and years ago to a museum, and I randomly got a message from an ex that was like, “Hey, I’m sorry, I was such a bad partner to you”? That was that guy! And here I am now, like, married, several years later, and I’m like, “Hello, where did you come from?” But he also didn’t specify what being a bad partner meant, so he didn’t apologize for anything specific. It wasn’t like, “Sorry I cheated on you.” It wasn’t like, “Sorry I took advantage of you financially. Sorry, all of these also physically abusive things that happened.” Like, there wasn’t any specificity. Just like, “Sorry I was a bad partner.” What are you supposed to do with that?

Royce: Ignore and/or block.

Courtney: [laughs] I mean, I guess. But yeah, I guess that’s why I keep coming back to the word “betrayal.” Because in that moment, like, that was a betrayal. The way our relationship was, the situation at hand, I was actively being betrayed. He was going behind my back, doing something that was very upsetting.

Courtney: And… I don’t know. I love my friends who are polyamorous. I know a lot of people that are in open relationships, have open marriages and whatnot. I think, with healthy communication, that that is ethically sound. No qualms here. But there have also been people, like, sort of from the more fringe parts of that community who have sometimes been like, “Well, that wasn’t cheating.” Like, “Unless you know he actually had sex with her, that wasn’t cheating.” And it’s like…

Royce: You can’t define other people’s boundaries.

Courtney: I think that’s the thing with cheating, is that it is individual and there is gray area. And so I think having blanket advice or blanket statements of what is and is not cheating to apply to anyone other than yourself and your own relationship is inherently misguided.

Royce: That’s why I was trying to say earlier, are we trying to define what we perceive as the unspoken rules in modern-day America? Because I have an idea of what that might be, but that’s sort of, I think, if we’re specifically talking about, like, mainstream straight cishet people getting into a relationship, what is the expectation that is going to be okay or not okay in their relationship.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: And I specified — I overspecified that because queer culture is different.

Courtney: [laughing] Yes. I mean, there is always that. But then there’s the very gross, like, hetero, allo notion of, like… I’ve known so many straight men who have been like, “It’s only cheating if my girlfriend sleeps with another guy, but if she wants to sleep with another girl, that’s hot.”

Royce: I’ve heard people say that. I’ve heard people say that who have probably not experienced that. I actually remember one conversation many years ago where I was just hanging out with some friends. And it was pretty late in the night, drinks were happening, and someone was staying over who was, like, a friend of one of the people I was roommates with. And she was bi and had — I think had had some experience — definitely with, like, threesomes, but possibly also with more open relationships. And a guy said something to that extent, and she stopped him and said, like, “Whatever you’re imagining, that’s not how it’s going down. If you’re dating someone and you’re trying to do something new, you’re having a threesome for your first time, maybe this is the first time she is having sex with a woman — like, there’s a good chance you’re going to feel like the third wheel in that situation, and you don’t know if you’re going to like that feeling.”

Courtney: [laughs] That’s fair! Well, the thing is, too, about that — and that’s where I feel like some couples or individuals will place more emphasis on physical cheating over emotional cheating, because they they admit that it doesn’t always go hand in hand. Which also baffles me, because some of those same people, you try to explain the split attraction model to you and say, “Oh, I only experience romantic attraction but not sexual attraction,” or vice versa, “I only experience sexual attraction and not romantic,” and then they’ll be like, “That’s not a thing!”

Courtney: And yet, I have heard it go both ways, where someone’s like, “Oh, well, my husband cheated on me with someone,” and they’re, like, weirdly okay with it, because they’re like, “It was just sex. He doesn’t actually have any feelings for her. It was just sex.” But then I’ve heard other people who do exactly the opposite, like, “Oh, well, if you have feelings for someone, then you can’t control that. That’s something you can get over. But, like, as long as you didn’t sleep with them…” So, like, it’s so weird that when we talk about cheating, we can separate out two different types of cheating and some people care more about one than the other. And yet! And yet.

Courtney: But, I mean, for me, a lot of it really just comes back to how your actions can and do affect your partner. That’s why, like, health was such a big concern to me, whether it’s, you know, masking in public during the pandemic — is that something your partner’s doing? Or, is your partner having unprotected sex with someone? Is your partner having sex with someone who hasn’t been tested recently? Like, things of that nature. Like, health is very important because that can come back around to you — whether that’s because you are just in proximity to one another, or if you have built your relationship in a way where you do have some financial overlap, then medical bills are a thing.

Courtney: But I kind of think of it the same way as this. And I wouldn’t call this cheating, because I think that would be too much of a departure from what colloquial usage of that word is. But I don’t think I would, like, do something really just dangerous to my own physical body without running it by you first, at this point in our lives.

Courtney: So, here’s one example. And I’m not saying that skydiving is actually very dangerous, because I’ve read statistics on how often or how little skydiving accidents can occur. But right before we met, I had a friend who was a skydiving instructor, and I was actively, like, trying to make plans and schedule to do my first dive with him. And when I was not in a relationship like this, and my health and my activities really only affect me, I could have done that at any time, and I would have. But then I did meet you, and when I moved down here I wasn’t, you know, living in the same city as my friend who’s a skydiving instructor anymore. But I still kind of want to go skydiving. But I would not just schedule myself for skydiving next weekend without having a conversation with you.

Royce: I feel like it would be odd to do really anything significant without telling the people you’re in a relationship with, particularly if you’re living together.

Courtney: Right.

Royce: Like, if you’re going to go travel somewhere, it’s going to be weird if you are just gone for a week with no indication of what’s happening. Like, that is alarming.

Courtney: [laughing] Right.

Royce: Even things that have a low risk. It’s good to know, in case things go wrong, generally, where you’re at and when you’re going to be back.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: Even when things aren’t dangerous, I don’t see why you wouldn’t talk about upcoming things in your life to the people who are in your life. Like, wouldn’t —

Courtney: Well, right, just conversationally.

Royce: You would think that you would be excited about something that would coming up and you would share that information. But no, the… Going into a major surgery: “Hey, there’s a small fraction of a percentage chance that I might die during this surgery. It’s probably not going to happen, but just so you know, I’m having surgery on Friday.”

Courtney: Right. And yeah, I mean, that is how I think about it. Because, I mean, you and I, we spend so much time together. We spend, like, [laughing] 24/7 together, practically. We both work from home. We spend a tremendous amount of our free time together. And it’s been this way for years, so it would just naturally come up in conversation.

Courtney: But in terms of, like, making decisions, some people have thought that it was very weird — especially people who didn’t know us very well — like, people would get shocked to find out that before the pandemic, I would travel alone all the time, sometimes to other countries or to the other side of this country. And a lot of people would be like, “[gasp] How does Royce feel about that?” And I’m like, “What are you implying?” And when you dig deep enough, people will be embarrassed to admit it, if you don’t pick up on the same cue that they do, which is, like, “How does your partner not know?” Or, like, “Does your partner think you’re cheating while you’re out?” And if you press them and it’s like, “Why? Why would Royce be concerned that I’m traveling alone?” they’ll probably stutter around for a bit, but eventually they’ll be like, “Well, does Royce ever get concerned that you’re cheating?” No. [laughs] No, Royce does not get concerned that I am cheating while I’m traveling alone. So it’s, yeah, kind of those extremes. Like, I would not go on a big trip without talking to you about it first. But I also think it’s weird that people would imply that you’d have an issue with me traveling alone.

Royce: I would assume those same people would also not be able to figure out how couples that live in two different houses or have separate living situations function.

Courtney: Mmm.

Royce: Because what are they getting up to with all that privacy?

Courtney: Ahh. Privacy is an interesting one, too, because… I’m going to split attraction privacy here. [laughs] Hold on, I’m workshopping this, so work with me. This is just right off the top of the head.

Courtney: I was going to say that we don’t have a lot of privacy because we are just, in our relationship, not naturally very private. Like, we have always both had, like, full access to each other’s phones. Like, we both have — our phones acknowledge all of our fingerprints. Like, we don’t have anything locked that we can’t really get into, and that’s never been a concern of ours. I might be, like, running an errand and you have an app on your phone that’s handy for that, so you’ll just be like, “Here, take my phone.” I’ll be like, “Great, I’ll leave mine with you.” Like, what is logically the most helpful device for me to have right now? And we share everything about our lives, past and present, with one another.

Courtney: But it just occurred to me that the only thing that I do value is certain aspects of, like, physical, bodily privacy that some other married couples might think is weird. Like, there will be couples that will be like, “Oh, yeah, I will pee in front of my spouse while they’re brushing their teeth,” and I’m like, “Absolutely not.” [laughs]

Royce: Yeah, I think you’re a little weird there.

Courtney: No. Absolutely not.

Royce: You treat bathrooms like they’re a separate demiplane.

Courtney: [laughs] They are. If I am in the bathroom and the door is shut and you try to, like, yell something, I don’t hear that. I’m in the bathroom. You’re gonna have to wait for me to get out of the bathroom for the answer to your question, because this is — I’m in the bathroom. [laughs] It doesn’t matter what I’m doing in here. If I am in here and the door is shut, [laughing] I am in my own little world right now. Which, yeah, some people do think is weird, because there will be some people that are like, “Oh, yeah, I don’t even close the door when I’m in the bathroom.” It’s like, if I’m in the bathroom, the door is closed.

Courtney: And I guess, like, there have been some situations where maybe I’m taking a bath and reading or something, and you’re gonna make me a cup of tea or make me a little cocktail or something, and it’s like, I know Royce is going to come in to give me this thing while I’m in the bath. So it’s like, the door isn’t shut and locked, but this has been pre-established. Like, I didn’t just come in here on my own and shut and lock the door, so there’s still sort of a setting of expectations — like, this isn’t… [laughing] you called it a demiplane? This isn’t demiplane time. [laughs] But, yeah, things like actually using the toilet? Absolutely not. I don’t want you anywhere near me. I don’t want to be anywhere near you. It’s just how that’s going to be forever.

Courtney: I also… One that I think is especially a very weird quirk that I’ve learned about myself since we bought this house — because our master bathroom does the, like, two sink, two mirror thing, which I’ve seen a lot of since moving down here. Like, lots of other people’s houses I’ve been in, other houses we’ve looked at for either renting in the past or buying do that two sink thing. I did not see that very often when I was growing up. And I don’t know if it’s just a time preference or a region preference. But once I started seeing this two sink thing, I got the idea in my head, like, “Oh, well, how cute will it be to, like, both be brushing our teeth at night in front of our own little sinks before we go to bed?” Turns out, absolutely not. No. I don’t want to see you brushing your teeth. I don’t want you seeing me brush my teeth. If I’m going to brush my teeth now, the bathroom door gets shut and locked, because that’s demiplane time. [laughs]

Courtney: So I guess you can split-attraction privacy. Like, thoughts, emotions, internet behaviors — all of that: free game, out on the table, does not matter to me. But I need my demiplane bathroom time. So, that’s the extent of the [laughing] physical privacy that’s needed.

Courtney: But, yeah, and I guess there are just going to be situations where, like, if something is a deal breaker for you, then I think you’re going to have to be the one who identifies that and initiates whatever amount of separation or conversation needs to happen based on that. Because there are going to be situations where maybe a polyamorous person does fall into a relationship with a monogamous person. I have seen it work sometimes. I’m not going to say it can’t ever happen, but that definitely needs to be a conversation. Because there is some truth to “You don’t own and can’t control your partner,” but you kind of have to know what your partner’s baseline habits are or were coming into it. Because, like, you can’t go into a relationship with a polyamorous person hoping they’ll become monogamous for you because you’re the right one.

Royce: Yeah. You can’t control another person. But not everyone’s lives are compatible, either.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: And yeah, going into it, I think that if you’re trying to avoid harm, you have to assume the strictest interpretation of the rules until you talk about what is acceptable and what isn’t, because that’s the only way to not cross the boundary line.

Courtney: Do you think that? I think that’s really interesting. Because I’ve thought this myself while hearing other people talk about the concept of cheating.

Royce: Well, that’s the only way that you won’t unintentionally hurt someone.

Courtney: Mmm.

Royce: Because if you assume that things are more open than they are and you’re wrong, your partner is going to be hurt.

Courtney: Right. Because, yeah, I have heard people who are more inclined to open relationships, who have been in a newer relationship, and it’s like, “Oh, well, you know, he’s really upset because he found out I’ve been sleeping with these other people, and…” But then also sort of turn it back on that person and be like, “But we never said we were exclusive.”

Royce: Sounds like they don’t actually care about their partner’s feelings that much.

Courtney: Mmm. Part of me — when you first said that, part of my question was, should we actually default to the, quote, “norm” when we are part of so many communities that are pushing back against the norm? However, the people I know who have had, you know, long-term, sustainable polyamorous relationships, the people who are very passionate about ethical non-monogamy, those folks are — in my immediate vicinity of people — very communicative, very forward with, “This is who I am. This is how I do my relationships. This is what’s important to me. This is what I’m looking for.” And then they also ask any new prospective partner, like —

Royce: A person can’t consent to something that they don’t know is happening.

Courtney: Mmm.

Royce: So, like, this is a part of affirmed consent.

Courtney: Mhm. Because, yeah, even thinking about something less extreme than skydiving… Oh, here’s actually a really good example. Because of my physical disabilities, you have expressed before that you don’t want me up on, like, a really tall ladder around the house.

Royce: Oh, yeah. Ladders are surprisingly dangerous.

Courtney: Well, that’s true. [laughs] But there is a weird thing that has happened where you have a fear of heights and I do not. And back when I was a little more able-bodied than I am now, I did have a brief stint, like, painting houses for Habitat for Humanity. So I was literally up on big, like, two-story ladders painting houses at one point. So when there was just, like, a little thing on the side of our house, and you were like, “That’s too high for me, I’m not getting up there,” I was like, “Oh, well, I will,” and you were like, “I don’t want you on a ladder.” [laughs]

Royce: Yeah. So, the ground around there was a bit uneven. It was probably 15 feet in the air, and if one of your joints went out, you could have died.

Courtney: Well, yeah.

Royce: That’s the reality of the situation. If you look up “most dangerous professions” —

Courtney: They involve ladders?

Royce: Yeah. Like, the professions where the highest percentage of workers are seriously injured or die. They’re things where you’re up high on ladders, on roofs, that sort of situation, particularly when there’s no sort of harness or guardrail involved.

Courtney: Right. And, like, if we… Like, if I was living in this exact same house, completely alone and not married, I probably would have waited for, like, a really good pain day, one where I wasn’t very dizzy, and I probably would have grabbed a ladder and done it myself. But since it is a concern to you, I’m going to respect that. Because my, I guess, ability to get up on a ladder to fix a really quick thing on the side of the house is not more important than you being, like, [laughing] a nervous wreck while I’m up on the ladder. Like, I don’t want to cause you that emotional distress while it’s happening.

Courtney: And I’m sure, depending on how you explain that situation, who you explain it to, people who don’t know the dynamic of our relationship, I’m sure there’s someone out there who will take the interpretation of, like, “[gasp] Your spouse won’t even let you get up on a ladder? That’s so controlling.” It’s like, no, you’re not controlling me. You expressed, “This will really bother and upset me. I am concerned for your physical safety,” and I respected that.

Royce: It also wasn’t something necessary for you to do.

Courtney: Correct.

Royce: Like, the conversation right after that was, “Oh, apparently, we have multiple issues with our siding around our house in a few different places. We need to get an inspection and a quote and get a crew out.”

Courtney: “Let’s hire a professional.” We did have a [laughs] little problem where a woodpecker literally pecked a hole in the side of our house, and then some invasive starlings moved in and made a little nest. So now we were like, “Dang it. Now there’s baby birds there, so we can’t get a crew out yet to fix it,” because they’re going to kill the baby birds, and that’s only legal to do because it’s an invasive species. They aren’t a native species. So, let the babies grow up, let them move out. [laughing] And then we gotta fix this massive hole. But when it was just a tiny hole, I was like, “Oh, I can get up there with some…” And you were like, “No. No. [laughing] Absolutely not.”

Courtney: You know, we all have our boundaries. For Royce, it’s me not getting up on a ladder. For me, it’s not watching each other brush our teeth.

Royce: Oh, I thought you were gonna say something about the pandemic, but I guess…

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: I guess tooth-brushing works.

Courtney: So, let’s get into these Ashley Madison people, though. Because I don’t pretend to know how the brain of… I guess this article calls them “adulterers” works — people who willingly, intentionally cheat, knowing that it’s cheating. But I have to assume or hope that whatever it is that they’re getting out of this, like, there’s probably gotta be a more respectful way of getting it. Like, I don’t know, is there some level of kink play that you can get this without actually betraying someone? Role play or something? I don’t know. But I do think it’s funny that the… So the subtext of this article is, “Study shows adulterers can be loyal in other aspects of life.” Which, framing alone, are there, quote, “adulterers” out there that are, like, really fighting to be seen as loyal people? Like, “I swear I’m loyal in other ways! I’m just not loyal to my partner!” [laughs]

Courtney: Alright. “The shocking study found that 87% of members would rather cheat on their partner than cheat on their taxes.”

Royce: So, yeah, the fundamental premise of this article — that someone who cheats in a relationship is going to cheat in every aspect of their life — seems like a gross misunderstanding of, I don’t know, people.

Courtney: [laughs] People.

Royce: But, I mean, right there, what are the implications of cheating on a partner versus cheating on your taxes? Well, if you got caught committing tax fraud, there are severe financial penalties, and maybe jail time, if it’s significant enough. I don’t know if the average American person cheating on their taxes, when it maybe amounts to a few thousand dollars, is really that big of a deal, but I don’t know what the laws are there.

Courtney: Well, you know, if your partner catches you cheating on them and you’re married —

Royce: Married, yeah.

Courtney: — and they can prove to the divorce lawyer, to the judge, that you were cheating on them —

Royce: Right.

Courtney: — then, divorce settlements are probably gonna go in your favor — [correcting] or in their favor.

Royce: In their favor. Which would be more expensive. I guess the other way to look at this is, people don’t get the same kind of rush from cheating on their taxes.

Courtney: Mmm. Unless you’re Turnip Boy.

Royce: Well, that was tax evasion.

Courtney: Oh, I love Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion! But, a full “90% of all adulterers surveyed said they would rather cheat on their partner than on a job application or a test.”

Royce: Okay. I was trying to rationalize that. I think a lot of this is just going to boil down to is, people don’t find these alternative exciting, so why would they cheat on them?

Courtney: Yeah, but some of them also get — like, this might actually be a financial disadvantage for not shopping around.

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: Because now we have, “89% of members would rather cheat on their partner than on their real estate agent —”

Royce: That’s a weird one.

Courtney: “—or their banking institution.”

Royce: Okay. I don’t understand company loyalty. [laughs]

Courtney: I don’t understand company loyalty. Especially not banks. Especially when occasionally banks will have, like, bonuses or benefits for setting up a new account.

Royce: Okay, so we were talking about defining cheating. Asking another realtor for, like, prices on homes in an area is not cheating on your previous realtor.

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: You do not have that kind of relationship. Your realtor doesn’t control you.

Courtney: That’s true.

Royce: [laughing] Neither does your bank.

Courtney: Well, and bank — like, I’m fairly loyal to a credit union, but the only reason why I am loyal to said credit union is because they are the only reason we were able to close on and buy our house, because a different banking institution almost royally screwed us over.

Royce: Yeah, they weren’t working with our timeframes.

Courtney: We were like, “Hey, we need this amount for a down payment on this date.” And they were like, “Yeah, we can’t cut that check in time.”

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: It’s like, “What are you talking about, you can’t cut that check in time?”

Royce: A great way to piss people off is to not give them their own money.

Courtney: Yes. And so… And I worked in a banking call center for a period of time. I was a department lead, so I knew all of the bank’s, like, policies, and I knew when exceptions could and could not be made. I knew when there were federal regulations for things. So I knew at that moment, like, “Alright, our bank isn’t going to give us our money. We might literally lose this house. And it is going to look fraudulent as all hell If I go to a new bank right now and say, ‘Great, I would like to open up a new account. transfer all this money so I can get it out as a cashier’s check right away.’ That’s… No bank is going to do that.” I was like, “Surely.”

Courtney: But I was like, “You know what, my grandmother always taught me the benefits of credit unions versus banks. I’m going to go find a credit union, and I’m going to cry to the manager.” [laughs] And so I walked in and I was like, “Listen, I used to work for a bank, so I know how fraudulent this sounds. [laughs] But this is our situation. This is the other bank that is screwing us over. And please, we just want to close on this house. And I promise you, pretty please, if you can figure out a way to help us get this money, we will be lifelong customers.” And they did! So, That doesn’t mean I’m not ever going to have an account anywhere else, but that does mean I’m not going to be closing that account unless they screw us over in a fun new way. Who knows? They might. Company loyalty is for chumps. [laughs]

Royce: Yeah. Even compared to… Well, I guess banks are a little different than realtors. There’s a certain amount of work you have to go through to transfer finances and set things back up, and the benefit to doing that has to be more than the effort it’s going to take.

Courtney: Yeah. This one’s really going to tick you off: “83% would rather cheat on their partner than their phone provider.”

Royce: See, yeah, brand loyalty is stupid. Phone providers are especially dumb because all the big, like, brand named carriers charge way too much money. The sub-carriers that are lesser-known basically rent out the cell towers and satellites from those same companies and then just charge their own rates under their own brand.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: So it’s literally the same cell service under a different company.

Courtney: This one doesn’t make any sense to me, because do people not eat a variety of things? “82% would cheat on their partner before their favorite takeout restaurant.”

Royce: What is cheating on your favorite takeout restaurant?

Courtney: I assume it’s going to a different takeout restaurant.

Royce: Parameters, though.

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: Because they’re not eating the same thing literally all the time. Is it, like, not going there…? Or maybe it’s like brand rivalries.

Courtney: Mmm.

Royce: Like, someone who — like, a Burger King/McDonald’s thing.

Courtney: Ohh.

Royce: Or something like that.

Courtney: That would make sense, because I’ve heard people get into those debates, like, “Burger King versus McDonald’s.”

Royce: Or, like, your household pizza chain.

Courtney: Mmm. I think that would make more sense. Or, like, yeah, just a restaurant version of, like, Coke versus Pepsi.

Royce: Brand of toothpaste.

Courtney: Oh my gosh! [laughs] That is a callback, that Royce just remembered, to my childhood. Wow! Is this why I’m so weird about brushing my teeth in front of people? [laughing] Did we just uncover the hidden trauma? I was staying with my…

Royce: So, it’s not about brushing teeth at all. It’s about revealing what toothpaste you’re using.

Courtney: [laughs] Nobody can ever know! [laughs] I was sleeping over at my, like, godparents’ house. I had this godmother. Godparents had two daughters, twins, about the same age as me, so we were best of friends, of course. And my godsisters and I just went to brush our teeth before bed. Oddly enough, that was the first time I had ever seen the double sink situation, was when they were deemed, like, old enough that they can get a new bedroom — like, in the basement, further away from the parents — and they, like, remodeled the bathroom there and gave them the two sink situation. And so that was the first time I ever saw that. Oh my gosh! We have figured it out. Folks, this is a big revelation! [laughs] So silly.

Courtney: So, I had, like, my little Crest toothpaste and my little toothbrush. And we went to brush our teeth before bed, and they just, like, saw what flavor of toothpaste I had, and it was different than the flavor they had. And they were like, “Oh, can we try your toothpaste?” And I was like, “Sure, why not?” So we, like, swapped toothpaste. They tried mine, and I tried theirs. And their dad came down and was, like, surprisingly angry about this. He grabbed the two tubes of toothpaste and he’s like, “Look here, girls. Our toothpaste says Colgate.” And then he holds up mine and is like, “This says Crest.” [laughing] And he was… He was so angry that they used Crest toothpaste, because they were supposed to use their Colgate toothpaste. And it was one of the most terrifying things that had happened in my life up until that point, and it was in front of two sinks, and now I can’t brush my teeth with my spouse in the morning and at night. [laughing] We found the source of the trauma. [laughs] Royce, I can’t believe you just whipped that out. [laughs]

Courtney: There are some here that I still don’t understand the cheating part, but I at least understand, like, “This is a very personalized service that can be hard to find the right person for you.” But “90% would find a new sexual partner before finding a new personal trainer,” and “82% said they’d cheat on their partner before letting someone new cut their hair.”

Royce: Yeah. I think that the common denominator here is that this is a group of adulterers, right?

Courtney: That’s what the article is calling them, yes.

Royce: So, we already know that they have an inclination to find people to have sex with, and nothing else that is being compared with that is exciting. Like, people don’t talk about how fun it’s going to be to try out a new barbershop when they already have an established one.

Courtney: But people talk about how fun it’ll be to try that new place to eat.

Royce: Not if it’s your rival brand, though. If it’s a new restaurant, yes, but that’s not cheating on your, you know, however that question was phrased.

Courtney: Although — this is weird to me. So, the highest numbers I’ve seen so far is 90%, and that was job application and test and personal trainer. But the number falls to 86% for saying they would cheat on their partner before “voting for the other side.” Is Ashley Madison only in the US or is that worldwide? Believe it or not, I’ve never been on that website. [laughs]

Royce: Oh, they’re actually Canadian.

Courtney: Oh! What’cha doin’, Canada!

Royce: I feel like they had a heavy presence in America, though. And also, criticisms of having a lot of bots and a big old data breach.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: I remember that hitting the news.

Courtney: Yeah, that sounds about right. I imagine a large pool of the users come from, like, a two-party political situation, predominantly. I’m surprised that only… Knowing car people, I’m surprised that it’s only 81% more likely to cheat on their partner than their favorite car manufacturer.

Royce: Is that still as much of a thing these days as it used to be? I feel like —

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: I feel like the big car manufacturer brand loyalty thing was heavier in a couple of generations before me. Like, Chevy and Ford, for example, was mostly an older person thing that I heard growing up.

Courtney: No. It’s — I mean, it is still a thing. I am, admittedly, around far fewer car people than I used to be, but.

Courtney: This infographic that they made to share all these numbers says, “Infidelity in the sheets, but not in the streets. Ashley Madison members reveal the list of things they are most faithful to.”

Courtney: How do you feel about this: quote, “The chief strategy officer of Ashley Madison, Paul Keable, says, ‘“Once a cheater, always a cheater” is an antiquated assumption. For some of our members, infidelity will become a regular activity that they incorporate into their wellness regime. For others, it will be a one-time act — a scratch that once itched goes away.’”

Royce: Where did we see something about cheating as self-care?

Courtney: We reviewed an article that said that. Or, no, was it a Reddit, maybe? I have a lot of thoughts on the state of self-care discourse in general — like, even removed from this context — but I do think there are times where people do invoke self-care as a means of getting overly selfish, to the detriment of the important people around them. And I think that’s maybe all I’m going to say about that right now. But really, like, I have trouble with the framing of a wellness regime. I would not blame someone for saying, “To live my happiest, most fulfilled life, I want multiple sexual partners,” but that is a thing that needs to be open and communicated with said partners. Otherwise, again, you are liable to hurt people.

Royce: And some of that may just be the framing, where the word that’s being used is “infidelity” or “affairs” or “cheating.” Which, the word itself implies a breaking of boundaries, instead of having an open relationship where these things are communicated.

Courtney: Some of these quotes, though. [laughs] Because he continues, “For many of these members, going through an affair resulted in a stronger marriage with their spouse, opening up the lines of communication, and ultimately improving their lives, both sexually and emotionally.”

Royce: But they went about it in the wrong order.

Courtney: “Till death do us part is a promise many Americans make without understanding the consequences.”

Courtney: Here we go. “If your partner shuts down all activities in the bedroom, or is simply unable to provide for your needs, is death now the only release from what can be a living hell for many?”

Royce: I mean, you could try divorce first.

Courtney: “This reason alone can help explain how someone can be truly faithful in many aspects of their life, but still choose to have an affair — because we are not asked to be faithful until death when it comes to any other part of our life.” That’s sort of an odd framing, isn’t it? It’s like, people will be really loyal if you don’t expect them to be loyal. No one expects someone to be this loyal to their favorite fast food restaurant, and yet they are. If that’s actually the framing they’re going for and I’m not just reading that in an odd way from my perspective, um, kind of sounds like marriage is probably not the answer for this type of person.

Courtney: I also really struggle with “living hell.” Is not having sex with another person living hell? I know there are allosexual people that struggle with the dead bedrooms thing, but I don’t know. Anytime you are talking about sex with another person and you’re framing it in such a way that it is something you need and it’s not a want or a heavy desire, you need it, I get really skeptical. Because when another person’s involved, it’s not 100% up to you. It’s never going to be 100% up to you.

Courtney: And, like, yeah, to your point, if you are just not — at the end of the day, after exploring options and having communication — compatible with someone else, divorce is an option. Considering your options before getting married, whether or not getting married with this person or at all, is for you.

Courtney: But it also, like… The framing of, “If your partner shuts down the activities in the bed”: you are now blaming the partner for putting you in a living hell. There’s probably a lot more to the story one way or the other.

Royce: Yeah, but this is also an executive from a company profiting off of this, who got a lot of criticism — at least, the company got a lot of criticism — for the morality behind their website and branding. So, of course, they’re framing everything in a way that would justify their existence and their users’ usage of the platform.

Courtney: Mmm. But, anyway, with that, we are going to segue into this week’s featured MarketplACE vendor. Today, we would like to shout out Built with Pride CNY. This shop is Asexual-owned, disabled, neurodivergent, trans and nonbinary owned. There are so many cute little pride-themed accessories made with Lego bricks. I know we’ve got some Lego fans out there. Last year, roughly around Pride Month, we ordered a pride pin from them. You can get these very cute little… Well, I mean, they’re Legos — you know what Legos look like — but they’re put together for the different pride flags. So, we got an Asexual pride flag. But they have all kinds of other options: Aromantic, AroAce, genderqueer, bisexual, polyamorous, trans, you name it. You can also get keychains, earrings, or hair clips. And outside of pride merch, they’ve got Christmassy holiday ornaments: little wreaths and poinsettias that you can purchase, either already assembled, or you can get a kit and build it on your own.

Courtney: As always, links to find our featured MarketplACE vendor of the week are down in the show notes. That’s all we have for today. So, thank you all so much for being here with us, and we will see you all next time.