Making The Case Cheating Is An Act Of Self-Care

In the past several years, self-care has gone from being a trend to something that, according to CVS Health, 88% of the U.S. population is of the mind that self-care is essential. It's also a huge industry, with consumers spending billions of dollars on self-care products and services every year. From making healthier food choices, taking weekly bubble baths, or practicing daily meditation to more extravagant measures like regular massages and facials or heading out of town for a weekend-long getaway, people are doing whatever they can to step outside of their day-to-day stress. Something that provides satisfaction that gets those feel-good hormones flowing, giving our mental and physical health a proper boost.

Self-care is a form of pleasure practiced as self-preservation. It's a way we take care of ourselves in the present to feel better going forward. Although the history of self-care is less Goop-y and steeped in politics as a means to better ourselves with the purpose of bettering the world — you can thank Socrates for that — today, the majority of us who practice self-care are somewhere between Gwyneth Paltrow and Socrates. Rubbing your body with a carat of alexandrite, the most expensive healing crystal in the world, may not better our society or stop climate change in its path, but it'll make the person bring more positive energy into their days. So, that's something. Still, while face masks and yoga can help, what if there was another way to practice self-care that included distancing yourself from your relationship?

Cheating as self-care

Before you clutch your pearls in shock or disgust, there's a very good reason for cheating being a source of self-care. If you think about all the times you've practiced self-care, you already know that you walk away from whatever it was — therapy, 20 minutes in the sauna, a Thai massage — with a bounce in your step. You feel more confident and secure in yourself mentally and physically, and anyone lucky enough to run into you after a self-care session benefits from all the goodness radiating from you. You feel that you are at your very best. Cheating, for women especially, does the same.

Women stepping out on their partner as a means of self-care is as old as time. Literary characters Emma Bovary, Edna Pontellier, and Lady Chatterley did it, as well as historical figures like Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette, and Bette Davis who once quipped "An affair now and then is good for a marriage. It adds spice, stops it from getting boring... I ought to know." People who cheat may feel alive, empowered, and desirable — emotions necessary for people to feel good about themselves all around. That's the very definition of self-care: choosing to do something that makes us feel better now and in the long term. When people feel good about themselves, it's infectious. Since that's the case, and Socrates originally felt that self-care was to better us, the individual, and the world in which we live, couldn't we agree that if cheating on our partner has that effect, we're doing exactly as Socrates intended? Short answer: yes.

Why this form of self-care is getting traction

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, a lot has changed. More people than ever are seeking out tubal ligation, those with penises are all but lining up to get the "snip, snap, snip, snap, snip, snap" à la Michael Scott, and sexual relations have shifted. Many people with uteruses have decided enough is enough. They want to take their bodies back from the government. They want to practice self-care by making choices that exercise their autonomy. You can't take away the rights of a part of the population without seeing some sort of pushback, and for some, that pushback is going to come in the form of infidelity. And why not? "My body, my choice," as the common slogan says.

We also tend to forget just how powerful infidelity truly is, not just as a form of practiced autonomy but also as a feminist act. If one chooses their self-care routine, then there's no reason why cheating can't be on the docket. If we can all admit that self-care is about reaping the benefits of making time for ourselves by doing things that better us, make us feel empowered, boost our confidence, and give us an overall sense of well-being, and there's no one way to do it — right or wrong — then what do we have? We have people exercising self-care that may be a bit controversial, but if ever there were a time for such an approach, isn't it now?

But this doesn't mean cheating as self-care is for everyone

Naturally, cheating isn't for everyone. Whether it's used as self-care or not, infidelity isn't something that many people support, and studies have found that an overwhelming amount of people think cheating is wrong and should never be done, full stop (via Psychology Today). People who have discovered that their partner is having an affair or have had an affair in the past struggle with emotional and mental issues, some of which they carry for the rest of their lives. So, yes, the damage, repercussions, and pain that can be caused are real and should be considered.

However, if we're realistic about sex and love we can admit, perhaps begrudgingly, that they can exist separately. In fact, for the most part, when people have an affair it very rarely has anything to do with love or lack of respect for their partner. Research has found that cheating is more often than not the result of low self-esteem, anger, or feelings of neglect, sentiments that could be eased with — you guessed it — self-care. But if you feel like your partner is no longer interested, you're not getting the emotional attention and support you need in your relationship, and you're just feeling like a shadow of yourself all the time, no amount of massages can change that. Does this mean an affair will? Maybe. 

Self-care is something we do for ourselves. It's an act of self-preservation, not selfishness. No one ever said wearing an overpriced sheet mask for 15 minutes was your path to self-care enlightenment, anyway.