This weekend I had the privilege of attending a keynote by Esther Perel, who does international research on infidelity as well as working with couples where someone has cheated. Last night I was also privy to a great conversation between Esther and Dan Savage, who won the AASECT Humanitarian award for the It Gets Better campaign.
It was a high level conversation. If you haven’t read Esther Perel, or seen her speak (her TED talks are just the beginning–see this one–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3vY5Q-NoMY), then you may need to read her books or watch one of them to understand the nuances of this post.
One of Esther Perel’s observations is that the universal experience that she hears from all people who cheat from any part of the world and of any gender is one of “aliveness.” People who cheat often feel very alive for the first time in quite some time. They are breaking habits that they have been following, sometimes for their entire lives. This breaking from habits, this breaking of vows and traditions, can release a tremendous amount of energy. It is this energy that many people crave.
Another discussion was one of transgression. Why do people transgress? Is it really chiefly for the excitement of the forbidden? Because this is only one of many motivations to cheat.
I began to wonder, as we talked about the possible appeals of transgression, if it isn’t something entirely different that people are looking for when they cheat. What if it isn’t transgression, but transformation? What if people are mistaking novelty, which looks like change, for true transformation? We can distract ourselves with mere changes for awhile. Novelty looks like change, but it isn’t. Change looks like transformation, but it isn’t. It isn’t the wholesale evolution of the self and the soul that a lot of people crave, particularly at midlife, or at specific crossroads.
When people cheat, at the most basic level they are transgressing. They are betraying a partner. But they may also be attempting to evolve.
~Roz Dischiavo, ISEE