Here’s how to tell if you cheat because of love or lust — and why it’s important to know the difference

a woman brushing her teeth© Volodymyr Tverdokhlib / Shutterstock

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” said Lysander to Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

The obstacles the couple in Shakespeare’s play faced are unlikely to be as much of an issue today in modern dating. You may not have to worry so much about your father’s opinion on who you should marry, or have to dodge advances from characters like Demetrius.

But the proverb still rings true – very few romantic relationships go by without their problems. And one of the biggest issues a couple can face is the pain of infidelity.

In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Lysander starts to pursue Hermia’s friend Helena due to some ill-advised meddling from the fairy king. But in the real world, people stray from their partners without magical tampering and spells.

Approximately 12% of men and 7% of women admit to having an affair, but this data varies every year. And considering the fact infidelity site Ashley Madison gets thousands of new sign-ups every day, it’s not farfetched to assume cheating is a prevalent part of everyday life.

Outsourcing your sex life

The reasons people cheat differ too. Some people “outsource their sex life,” according to Ashley Madison’s director and CTO Ruben Buell.

“I think at some point we learn that life isn’t exactly the fairy tale we were told when we were little boys and girls. Life is real,” he told Business Insider. “Our average users are in their 30s in their 40s, they’ve lived life, and they’ve realised sometimes they’ve got to do something for themselves.”

The work of Alicia Walker, a sociologist at Missouri State University, found that many women cheat on their partners because they want to stay, not leave.

“Unlike what we think about women, the reality is that the women I spoke to are cheating to stay married,” Walker told Business Insider. “They’re not cheating for revenge, or to get out of a marriage, or get the husband to notice them through bad behaviour – they were cheating primarily for sexual pleasure and to remain married.”

People use sites like Ashley Madison because they want more sexual satisfaction more than anything else. It’s hardly ever due to wanting more affection and connection, the company claims.


As a woman who uses the site frequently told INSIDER: “Some people are naturally polyamorous, and I didn’t realise I was until it was too late.” She doesn’t meet up with the men she talks to more than once or twice, because she wants to “keep the emotions out of it.”

© WAYHOME studio / ShutterstockBut if you don’t plan on having an affair, things can be a little more complicated. If you don’t sign up to Ashley Madison with the specific intention of finding an affair partner, things can get messy. You might meet someone at work or at a bar, and your feelings about the situation may be less easy to figure out. Plus, your affair partner might not be as discreet as you’d want them to.

A post in Bustle highlights the differences between cheating because you’re overcome with lust, and cheating because you’re genuinely falling for someone else.

For instance, cheating due to love often takes longer to build, involves more communication, and may be harder to overcome. Lust, in general, may be easier to control, but is opportunistic and carries more risks.

“The obvious difference, first and foremost, is cheating due to lust is purely a physical response,” relationship coach Jenna Ponaman told Bustle. Meanwhile, cheating for love is often due to a “lack of deep emotional desire.”

In other words, someone who is falling in love with the person they’re cheating with may be too afraid to leave their current relationship even though it isn’t fulfilling them emotionally anymore.

Love vs. lust

In short, lust is physical, and love is deeper than that. In a blog post for Psychology Today, psychiatrist Judith Orloff explains some of the ways you can tell if you’re falling in love, rather than just lusting after someone.

They include wanting to spend quality time together other than sex, listening to each other’s feelings, wanting to meet their friends and family, and getting “lost in conversations and forgetting about the hours passing.”

“Pure lust is based solely on physical attraction and fantasy – it often dissipates when the ‘real person’ surfaces,” Orloff wrote. “It’s the stage of wearing rose-colored glasses when he or she ‘can do no wrong.'”


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