Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

Cheating 101

Why men cheat

It always takes me a little time to process these stories about men cheating.  Not that they ever vary.  It’s always the same old saga every time.  But no matter how often it happens, it is so mindboggling that it’s hard to not want to figure out what made them do it.  And by them, I mean the high profile men like Petraeus who cannot seem to manage their libidos if their lives, and those of their loved ones, depended on it. 

In the final analysis the focus always seems to be on power; their sense of invincibility, entitlement, superiority, blah, blah, blah.  We’re quick to say their egos made them do it.  But really?  Do we even know what we mean when we say that?  Because at the heart of these egos-gone-wild is not the supreme confidence and arrogance they would have us believe.  Rather, it’s crippling insecurity. 

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At the risk of stating the obvious, we know cheating is not a new phenomenon for men or women, and we’ve seen the wreckage created by both sides.  We only have to look as far as Paula Broadwell to see the other part of the equation, case in point.  But it’s the insanity of these people who risk not only their relationships, but a lifetime of accomplishment too.  And for what?  Sex?  Love?  Distraction?  Excitement? 

As I see it, none of the above.

The sad truth is they are trying to prove something, not to anyone else but themselves.  Unfortunately, everyone else gets caught in the crosshairs.  Remember, chances are good that those who pursue power are driven to acquire it because they fundamentally feel weak, and their need for attention is the compensatory result of being made to feel invisible at some other critical, yet formative, place in time.  It’s not just in physics where Newton’s third law of motion applies: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  It works for human behavior too. Here, the pendulum merely swings the other way to counteract what is in fact the case.

So, they dress up and go to work every day making pretend they are one thing on the outside when in fact, they are something quite the opposite underneath.  It’s not a question of sex, per se.  It’s a matter of self-development.  They have no control over the little gremlin in their heads that is trying to convince them they are all that – loved, adored, respected, admired, accepted, important, valuable, etc….  They may say they love the people they hurt but the truth is, they dislike who they fear they really are even more.  It’s a game they play with themselves.  If we could just see that for what it really is, our disgust may turn to pity and the pain they impose on others can maybe transform into healing.

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Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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