Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination – Part I

Monday, Aug. 2nd 2010 1:40 PM

What do we really mean when we accuse someone of cheating? What do we assume when we call someone an adulterer?  An examination of the language we use and the assumptions we hold reveals much about our biases; and our tendencies to judge other people and their relationships. I want to first deconstruct the language in order to explore some alternatives and a different way of framing the conversation.  Let’s start by exploring some basic definitions.

The formal definition of cheating, “to practice fraud or deceit; to violate rules or regulations,” underscores a significant point, the necessity for rules or an agreement between two parties in order for cheating to exist.  Now, ask yourself, when you know of someone having sex with someone other than their partner, do you instantly assume it to be cheating? Is this a fair assumption to make without any knowledge of the rules or agreement between the two people in question?

Unfaithful is defined as “false to duty, obligation, or promises.” These terms all imply agreements with other parties.  When I think of the duty of a police officer or firefighter, it is clear that these individuals all have formal job descriptions, and they take oaths that clearly outline how they are to conduct themselves.  Their agreement is with the authorizing body that empowers them to conduct their job.  So, like with the word cheating, in order to be unfaithful there has to be a violation or breach of an agreement between two parties.  We can ask again, is it a fair accusation to call someone unfaithful without understanding the nature of the relationship?

The words used to define infidelity, are “marital disloyalty; adultery; a breach of trust; transgression.” Each of these definitions, with the exception of adultery and transgression, raise the same question about the nature of the agreement between the two parties.  In the case of adultery, or “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse,” I am compelled to ask:

Is it adultery:

  • If a person has sex with someone outside of their marriage and their spouse knows about it and agrees to it?
  • If a person has been estranged (but not divorced) from their mate for 10 years and has sex with a different person?
  • If two people are legally married and agree, without a divorce, to terminate their relationship, and have sexual relationships with other people.

According to the dictionary definition, in each of the above cases, adultery has been committed.  Yet, I am sure that if the friends who would normally be outraged at the person who committed adultery, knew the circumstances of the relationships, they would care little if any, unless their position was religiously based.  Furthermore, few people would call the active party an adulterer in these scenarios.  Why?  Because to call someone an adulterer is really a statement intended to communicate the scorn, shame, and judgment that we wish for the “offending party” to feel in most cases.   Take away the offense, and the desire to label the same act disappears.

To be continued in Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination – Part II

…and please do not multi-task when driving.

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How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

10 Comments on “Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination – Part I”

  1. Spirit Says:

    Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination………what a boring way to live life. I recently learned to live and let live. Let each person define what they are up to. To distract oneself, wasting time and transferring poison about situations we will never know the details to anyway, is merely a smoke screen to hide out from our own realities…..Use the imagination to create peace and love.

  2. FrankLove Says:

    Wait until you see “Part II.”

  3. XiXi Says:

    No one should judge anyone. But if you try to apply these same definitions and views to the offender and offendee, they won’t work. Hoping Part II will address that – like “what does it mean when we’ve cheated” or “what does it mean when our significant other accuses us of cheating.”

  4. FrankLove Says:

    I am not sure what you mean when you say that the definitions “won’t work.” The definitions were taken straight from the dictionary. Please elaborate and stay tuned for “Part II.”

  5. Massander Says:

    This is one of those areas where I believe societal norms and expectations tend to influence our perceptions of relationships – including our expectations for our own relationships – more than we care to admit. People assume that the agreement is monogamy and that anything that seems to differ from that is a break in the agreement or, worse, an indication of “failure”. We’ve wrapped our egos very deeply into this whole concept of monogamy and fidelity to the point where we are willing to control, if necessary, in order to have it (or at least something that looks like it).

    Just to be clear, I think there is a societal benefit to pointing out things that aren’t consistent with our shared expectations (I wish more of us would do that when people are littering or otherwise acting a fool in public!). As such, it makes sense that there would be some stigma associated with “cheating.” The same thing happens other aspects of our life, such as expectations of how children will behave in public. The challenge comes up when we don’t actually have shared expectations and, worse, don’t even know that we don’t have shared expectations. That’s when we are making assumptions. We may mean well, but the assumptions are incorrect nonetheless.

  6. Haki Says:

    I think like the cliché says we all error when we assume, but generally when words like cheating and adulterer are uttered they are most meaningful when they are spoken by the party that has been harmed by the act. If you sign up for monogamy then you have to play by those rules. I saw the movie Mr. Deeds the other day and one of my favorite parts was when he punched the football player in the face who came into his office demanding that his contract be re-negotiated because he performed well the previous year. After punching him, he asked him if you didn’t play well could we decide not to pay you what we promised you in your original contract. People in this society are always looking to change the rules (for personal gain), redefine what has already been defined-when it would be simpler to just make better choices, define yourself and live with that choice. Don’t sign up for monogamy if that’s not what you want… I love the dialog though and I look forward to part II

  7. Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination – Part II | Frank Love Says:

    […] –       Continued from Part I […]

  8. Permission to Transcend Absolutes | Frank Love Says:

    […] “cheating” (please see “Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination” – Parts I and II). And so it is a “tolerance of dishonesty” that forms the foundation of a double […]

  9. Why I Suspect My Partner is Cheating on Me | Frank Love Says:

    […] wisdom of using the term “cheating” at all when I comes to relationships (see “Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination – Part I” and “Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination – Part II“). You also know […]

  10. Why I Suspect My Partner is Cheating on Me | Frank Love Says:

    […] question that wisdom of using the term “cheating” at all when it comes to relationships (see “Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of Imagination – Part I” and “Assumptions, Judgments and Lack of […]

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