Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Cheaters Never Win…But They’re Not Always Losers

I look forward to this time of year for a very specific reason:  I get presents to catch up on my reading. Sure, it’s all well and good to see family if you’re into that sort of thing, but I also thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to delve into stuff that I’ve been meaning to read. Accordingly, the other day when I was curled up in some blankets I came across an excerpt from a book by Chuck Klosterman that contained a wonderfully interesting question[i].

I’m confident that everybody who reads the problem has a response, but would your answer change if you thought about this scenario in the context of pornography? Imagine that Jack was a passive participant in a scenario designed to get him sexually aroused in contrast to this case (where he was not excited). Which is worse? In essence, he would have initiated both, except one assent would have been explicit and one would have been implicit. Does it even matter? What if Jack was completely removed from the situation:  he just happened to look out his window to see the same scene but didn’t look away?

Chuck talked about how people are generally divided by gender when it comes to this question and so I thought that I’d go ahead and try a very (unscientific) survey. I e-mailed a section of my friends asking them to answer this question and to explain their rationale. To my surprise, I found that all of my friends were, well, reasonable. Despite representing different demographics (relationship status, sexual orientation, religion, political leanings, gender, and, to a lesser extent, age) every answer that came back said essentially the same thing:  they would take Jack’s side but not really feel good about it. My associates said that they couldn’t stand with Jane because they viewed her response as an overreaction. The replies of my friends were also similar to how I would have approached that situation, so maybe it’s not so much that they are reasonable as it is the case that I think that they are sensible because they agree with me.

When I spread out the various e-mails, I discovered that there seemed to be a common theme:  Both Jack and Jane were wrong—and they were both right. Maybe Jack should have considered how Jane would feel and maybe Jane was a bit reactionary. It could very well have been that the reason each individual was wrong was the reason why the other was right. I’ll give you a moment to collect your brain off the floor. Yet, when forced to choose one of two options, everybody sided with the person who they felt was less wrong and not necessarily with the person who was more right. My friends continued to discuss their thought processes via e-mail but interestingly, nobody (directly) mentioned the problem behind this whole mess.

Regardless of whether Jack was at fault for what occurred, did he cheat?

The sense that I got from my friends was that they overwhelmingly felt that Jack had not in fact cheated. Nevertheless, Jane surely felt betrayed. Could Jack have cheated and not cheated at the same time?

For the next few hours I wandered around my apartment thinking about this topic. “What was the litmus test to determine if someone had, in fact, cheated?” I asked myself as I scrubbed my sink (post-college life is not as glamorous as you think, kids). We have individuals who get jealous simply when their mate looks at another person. At the same time, we have people who don’t consider oral (or non-vaginal) sex as sexual intercourse. It turns out that the easiest way is also the hardest:  sit down and talk about what does and does not make you nervous. You might find out that your partner would be mad if you didn’t call her/him when you saw someone else masturbating.


[i] Let’s say you have two friends named Jack and Jane. They have been romantically involved for two years, and the relationship has always been good. Suddenly, Jack calls you on the phone and mutters, “Jane just broke up with me.” You ask why this happened. Jack says, “She thinks I cheated on her.” You ask, “Well, did you?” Jack says, “I’m not sure. Something strange happened.”

This is what Jack proceeds to tell you.

“There is this woman in my apartment building who I barely know,” he begins. “I’ve seen her in the hallways a few times, and we’d just sort of nodded our hellos. She is very normal looking, neither attractive nor unattractive. Last week, I came home from the bar very drunk, and—while I was getting my mail—I ran into her at the mailboxes. She was also intoxicated. Just to be neighborly, we decided to go to her apartment and have one more beer. But because we were drunk, the conversation was very loose and slightly flirtatious. And then this woman suddenly tells me that she has a bizarre sexual quirk:  she can only have an orgasm if a man watchers her masturbate. This struck me as fascinating, so I started asking questions about why this was. And then—somehow—it just sort of happened. I never touched her and I never kissed her, but I ended up watching this woman masturbate. And then I went home and went to bed. And I told Jane about this a few days later, mostly because it was all so weird. But Jane went insane when I told her this, and she angrily said our relationship was over. Now she won’t even return my calls.

Whose side do you take:  Jack’s or Jane’s?

Klosterman, Chuck. Chuck Klosterman IV:  A Decade or Curious People and Dangerous Ideas. © 2006 ScribnerNew York,NY

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