“Can’t Read My Poker Face!” – What is Cheating?

Tempted by the fruit another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
What’s been going on, now that you have gone
There’s no other
Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered

–Squeeze, “Tempted”

Hey my kinky, polyam peeps! I recognize that most of my readers don’t care about sportsball much, but guess what? This is my blog, and I do, so…


That’s right! The Birds are back in the Super Bowl, so I’m gonna take the next week or so to bask in that happy moment. My 13-year-old nephew is a Chiefs fan (and a bandwagon one at that. He didn’t care about the team until they won the Super Bowl three years ago), so things are gonna be real awkward when I see him again come March, regardless of who wins. Is it fair to rub a Super Bowl loss in a 13-year-old’s face? Probably not, but he’s family, and… #BratsGonnaBrat.

Before I get started, I wanted to give a shout out and say “Thank You!” to DecolonizingLove for the inspiration for this week’s blog piece. They’ve been putting out some fantastic content on TikTok for quite some time and just recently started a Facebook page. I highly recommend you go check it out and give them a like and follow.

The trope of “Polyamory is just an excuse to cheat” is as old as time. It’s probably the first criticism I heard when I entered the ENM community all those years ago. To the outsider, it makes sense. If you believe in true love, polyamory provides the opportunity to “have your cake and eat it too”: You get to maintain a relationship with your primary partner, but still get a little “something something” on the side. It’s something I think a lot of people would find appealing. Research from the Univeristy of Utah shows that as many as one in four married men and one if six married women will cheat on their partner at some point. While I don’t know anyone who condones cheating, and it’s not fair to say “Everyone does it”, it is a fair assessment to say “Enough people do it that it needs to be a topic of discussion.”

What I find so interesting about cheating is that there isn’t a universal definition. What is cheating to one person may not be cheating to another, and it’s this lack of clear boundaries and adoption of false assumptions that lead to miscommunication. So, we’re going to spend today’s piece talking about cheating: What it is, what it isn’t, and what steps you and your partner can take to prevent it before it happens.

As always, before we go any further, it’s time for the resource dump:

For today’s piece, I pulled information from this 2019 piece from Insider.com, this 2019 piece from Vice.com, this 2021 piece from Cosmopolitan Magazine, this 2016 study from the University of Utah, and of course, this amazing TikTok from my peers over at DecolonizingLove.

What is cheating?

It’s interesting when I hear critics argue that polyam is just an excuse to cheat because it tells me that they view relationships as having to follow a pre-determined set of guidelines. These guidelines dictate what actions are and are not acceptable, often derived from what the individual views as acceptable or unacceptable behavior. For instance, someone may view a lack of sexual exclusivity as “cheating”, therefore, anyone who does not engage in sexual exclusivity is a “cheater”.

The late, very-far-from-great Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, in an attempt to mock Liberals, somehow ran smack-dab into the point while missing it completely.

“You can do anything – the Left will promote and tolerate anything – as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine.”

–Rush Limbaugh

What Limbaugh was trying to point out, albeit in a derisive way, was that all good relationships are based upon all parties reaching a consensual agreement on which behaviors will be tolerated and which will not. It doesn’t matter what those behaviors are as long as everyone is on the same page and is comfortable with the agreement. I’ll share with you a personal story as an example.

When Panda and I were dating, we were only a few months into our relationship with I got a call from my best buddy. It was opening weekend for our beloved Philadelphia Eagles and he asked that I join him to watch the game at a certain restaurant that shall remain nameless. Rather, I will refer to it as “The Restaurant with Well-Endowed Wait Staff and Over-Priced Chicken Wings”. Any of my readers over the age of 40 should immediately know what I’m talking about, and for those of you that don’t, go ask your parents.

As this was my first “serious” relationship since I graduated college, I wanted to make sure I was checking all the boxes. I told Panda about my plans and asked how she felt about them. She seemed quite puzzled, replied “Of course”, and then asked why I had asked her permission. I responded that some women would feel uncomfortable with their boyfriends eating at The Restaurant with Well-Endowed Wait Staff and Over-Priced Chicken Wings and wanted to make sure she was okay with this. She chucked and responded “Please! I have bigger boobs than most of those women!” I’d like to say this was the moment I decided to marry her, but the truth is I had already made up my mind about that a month earlier. This only confirmed that I had made the right choice.

I like to say cheating is doing anything that you know, or, have a reasonable assumption to assume, your partner would be uncomfortable with. Let’s assume that I asked Panda if I could go watch the game at The Restaurant with Well-Endowed Wait Staff and Over-Priced Chicken Wings and her response was “No”. If I told her I would honor that request, but I went and watched the game there anyway, that would be cheating, because I broke an agreement. If I went to watch the game without telling Panda where I was going, I would argue that is also cheating, not because I broke an agreement, but rather, because of what I thought I knew about Panda at the time, I assumed she would be uncomfortable with it. Refusing to ask the question because you believe you won’t get the response you want is not a defense. Now, if I told Panda “I’m going to watch the game at The Restaurant with Well-Endowed Wait Staff and Over-Priced Chicken Wings regardless of what you say”, this would not be cheating because no agreement was formed. While not respecting a boundary can be unhealthy, no deception was employed, as I was honest about my actions ahead of time.

The point that is being made here is that cheating, like relationships, is what you make of it. Rather than being a specific action (not being sexually exclusive, spending time or energy with another person, watching pornography), cheating is a violation of an agreement between two or more parties, and it doesn’t matter what the contents of that agreement are. As long as both parties entered it in good faith and both parties are free to terminate the agreement at any time, a violation of that agreement, without prior notification, is cheating.

What isn’t cheating?

If we define cheating as the violation of an agreement or crossing a boundary, then simply put, any action that doesn’t meet one of those two conditions wouldn’t be classified as cheating. If you and your partner(s) decided romantic or sexual relationships with other people is okay and you both consent to the agreement, it’s not cheating. If you and your partner decide investing time and energy in a relationship with someone of a different gender is okay, it’s not cheating. If you and your partner decide going to an adult entertainment club or watching pornography is okay, it’s not cheating. If you and your partner decide that sex with someone else is okay, but kissing is not, and you choose to kiss someone, that IS cheating. Note that cheating isn’t universally defined by an act, but rather, whether a pre-discussed agreement was broken.

When it comes to cheating, I want to point out one very important distinction. If you’ve read my blog or followed my TikTok, you’ll know that I believe that just because you have a boundary, or you’ve reached an agreement with a partner doesn’t mean it’s healthy or even ethical. Technically, things like OPP and Veto Power can be boundaries, and they are neither healthy nor ethical. Cheating is breaking an agreement. If you agree not to be intimate with a penis-owner and you do so regardless, that’s cheating. It doesn’t matter whether the agreement was healthy. Rather, the healthier choice would be to not make the agreement in the first place and say, “I don’t feel comfortable with those terms.”

How do we prevent cheating?

To ask, “How do we prevent cheating?” sounds a little asinine. It evokes the idea that cheating is somehow the fault of the person who was cheated on, and if they had taken appropriate action ahead of time, the cheating never would have taken place. However, if we define cheating in this new light of breaking an agreement, then we quickly discover that, quite frequently, cheating is a result of miscommunication. Much like most consent violations are a result of poorly communicated boundaries (“I thought you were okay with this when it turns out you weren’t”), cheating can often be traced back to assumptions we have about our partners and what they may or may not be comfortable with. Like Bruno, cheating is something we don’t talk about, so is it any wonder the line can so easily be crossed?

For starters, we have an honest conversation with our partners about which behaviors we’re okay with and which one’s we’re not. Start by making a list. Remember, the point here is not to make judgement calls, but to find any blind spots. Don’t point out “How would you think that’s acceptable???” Rather, listen to what your partner says. At this point, nothing is off the table. If cheating arises from making assumptions, we need to do everything we can to ensure “I didn’t know” is not a valid excuse.

Second, once we have our lists of “No’s”, sort them into two columns. We’ll call these the “Hard No’s” and the “Soft No’s”. The Hard No’s are behaviors that one partner deems absolutely out of the question. Put that pile to the side for a moment (We’ll come back to it later). For the Soft No’s, go through them together with your partner. Is there any common ground that you can reach? For instance, if a Soft No is “I want you to contact me before being intimate with a new partner”, can that be negotiated down to “I will contact you within 24 hours after being intimate with a new partner”? You’ll find as you work through the Soft No’s that easy compromises can be found, or by simply discussing them, your partner may find they’re not that important in the first place. If you can’t find a resolution on a Soft No, throw it in the pile with the Hard No’s.

Once you’ve gone through the Soft No pile, grab the Hard No’s that your partner wrote. This part of the exercise needs to be done individually. Look through each Hard No and say ,”Is this something I can live with?” The point of going through the Hard No’s is not to convince your partner why they should be comfortable with something. The whole reason it’s a Hard No is because they’ve stated they’re not open to negotiation. Rather, it’s to decide if you are comfortable making an agreement with the terms requested. If the answer is “Yes”, great. We now have an agreement, and that agreement needs to be honored. If the answer is “No”, tell your partner that. Say “I cannot abide by these terms”, and now it is your partner’s decision if this is a boundary to want to continue to hold and enforce. While this part of the process sounds cold and insensitive, it’s crucial as it is your opportunity to be your authentic self and ask your partner to love you for who you are and what you stand for.

In my four-plus decades on this planet, I’ve learned that few labels place such a figurative scarlet letter on your chest as the term “Cheater”. People will tend to forgive most things, but infidelity is usually not one of them. It strikes me odd then why we don’t spend more time talking about cheating and what it means. Perhaps it’s because we just expect our partner to “know”. As I’ve said about consent violations, ambiguity is where they live, and is MORE communication really a bad thing?

Until next time, stay kinky, my friends.

–The Bratty Cat

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