Once vs Always

“Once a cheater, always a cheater”. I heard this phrase today and it was not new to me. I have heard it used often and will admit that I too have uttered this adage as sage advice to a friend coping with infidelity in their relationship. Now, for the sake of me, I cannot find a way to reconcile or defend that statement as having any real truth. In fact, it flies in the face of another tenet I have always held dear. The truth that all things change, and change is the only true constant in life. If one of those statements is true, then the other cannot be.

The truth we see in those words are based on other broad concepts. Einstein’s definition, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result” is one example. All things remaining equal, this supports the idea that expecting fidelity from somewhere you did not get it before, is insane. And I can’t argue the logic of that great mind. But it clings to historical reference in its prediction of possible futures and negates the possibility of change in the equation. And life is rife with variables that change outcomes so quickly as to not be able to put personal interaction on any level of all things remaining the same. I would agree that the same exact person, at the same exact point, in the same exact relationship, with the same exact morals and standards for personal behavior, and with the same exact external forces, will very likely repeat their infidelity. I would consider it a good bet, though thinking otherwise is more folly than insanity.

It is also buoyed by a unique view of individual morals and ethics. Quite often, we put aside the foibles and failings of less than perfect behavior, so we can see our friends, family, and ourselves as good people. We place them in the “they would never do that” category. Though there is historic reference to see that their standards of behavior may not mirror our expectations for them, they at least do not cross some arbitrary line we consider unacceptable. A deeper discussion of this concept, regarding honesty, can be found in the article, “Where’s My Line”. In this case, we may accept them being attracted to or flirtatious with someone other than their partner, because we believe their personal morals would never allow them to cheat in their relationship. It is where our greatest disappointments come from, when the moral fortitude we bestow on someone falls short of our expectations. We believed they could never do something so heinous and are crushed when we learn they can, and even worse, they did. And infidelity may be the greatest of these disappointments, as it destroys any trust and the hopes for honesty from our partner. We then question every perception we had of who they are and what they stand for. We even start to wonder if we have misplaced perceptions of the other people in our lives, especially the ones we have allowed to become close to us.

But we, as individuals, are constantly changing. Whether it is change driven by a desire for personal growth, or the changes thrust upon us, almost unknowingly, that come from the fluidity that is everyday life. Our perceptions, feelings, ethics, and morals are always adapted quickly to our transitional landscape. This irrational concept of repeated behavior would mean that if any of us has ever said something that was untruthful, then everything we speak following can be easily seen as a lie. But we rationalize the use of dishonesty in our own minds so that we do not have to think less of ourselves. But we are reluctant to rationalize someone else’s infidelity, especially if it has hurt someone we care about.

I have dealt with this kind of disappointment in my own life. My ex-wife had an affair that eventually ended our marriage. Initially all the anger, at the fact that this person I thought could never do something so horrible was very capable of doing exactly that, was all I felt. Time allowed introspection and rationalization of the act. I could conceive that put in the same situation, where your spouse is away more than they are home, could easily have led me to seek my needs physically and/or emotionally from someone more readily available by sheer proximity. It was the dishonesty involved in keeping me blissfully unaware that could never be rationalized. It is why we are desperate to find someone we hope would never lie to us, although it is always just a hope and never a guarantee. We can rally back against the slings and arrows of being hurt, but we can never recover from the trauma that is not knowing. We worry less what are partners may do but are constantly fearful of what we do not know. With knowledge comes the opportunity to accept or reject any behavior and set our own line for what is acceptable. But deception leaves us feeling the fool and being taken advantage of. Something that is innately reductive to our own self-esteem.

“Once a cheater, always a cheater” falls into the same realm of thinking that any coin flip would be ‘heads’, because the last toss was ‘heads’. We readily see the variables that make that idea irrational. We must also see all the less visible variables that affect the choices people make. One may see a thief seeking nothing more than easy gain, and another may see the desperate act of a starving man. And in either case, is it right to think that their behavior, immorality, or needs will never change, and thus never change their behavior?

I am not bucking the concept of using historical reference to help to set reasonable expectations of what the future may hold. There are unique situations that will produce very unique and unrepeated behaviors. These should never be seen as a forecast because the variables that led to the behavior would rarely realign to the same outcome. There are circumstances of consistent behavior that mark a trend. These are where we must apply historical record to help foresee and mitigate the risks that we are willing to take in our personal relationships. But we cannot allow a trend to be the written formula for every behavior that follows. We must accept that future behaviors could easily be different due to varying external forces and the internal changes we see as personal growth. And yes, some people will never have the morals or ethics we consider to be the hallmark of being a good person, they will go to their graves consistently repeating the same behavior, but to think that they could never change is a restrictive error.

Every hope is based on the belief that something can change. When change is not possible, neither is hope. And hoped for or not, change will always happen. If we can hope for more for and from ourselves, then we must accept that the same hope is valid in others. None of us are who we used to be, that would make personal growth a fallacy. And none of who we can become is limited by who we are now or who we were. If you want to minimize the risk of being hurt and demand to see the changes that reflect the new person is worthy of such trust, so be it. That is a wise and prudent course of action. But to think that someone cannot change, that is truly the insanity.

With my hatred of the word ‘always’, as I believe there is an exception to everything, and my steadfast belief in change and a person’s ability to do so, you can believe I will never proffer this adage or advice to anyone again. Will it always hurt when someone does something, you thought they were incapable of? Yes. Will you always have to accept that they could do so again? Yes. Do you have to believe that they always will because they are incapable of change? No.

Comments
5 Responses to “Once vs Always”
  1. Once Vs always is a great topic to write, to trust or not to trust is a personal choice, people may change but question is are you ready to trust them again, if you loved unconditionally you may forgive and move on, but trusting them will be really difficult, no one in world fits exactly as missing puzzle in our life, only we can complete ourselves perfectly that’s my learning Brad.Hope you don’t mind me expressing my mind.

    • Brad Osborne says:

      Shanti,
      You are welcome to express anything here and I greatly appreciate your readership and comments. I do agree that lost trust is almost impossible to regain. If it could happen, it would likely be after a very long time of seeing consistently different behavior from the individual in question. Even then, we may be quick to forgive, but slow to forget! Happiness and blessing to you and yours!

  2. In my opinion, until a person understands that instant gratification always has long term consequences, they don’t change. We tend to want what makes us feel good NOW, refusing or denying any long-term problems that may be caused by that immediate need. It is why people have addictions (and we all have at least one). We think about the money it costs to smoke, but the inhaling of that nicotine into our lungs is more powerful than the thought about the money we’d have in the future. Shoppers fulfill some emotional need by buying more things, even though they are in debt and nearing the world of hoarding. Cheaters need emotional support more than that which they feel they are getting in their current relationship. You are right, people can change – but if it seems easier to take the instant gratification and not worry about its consequences, why wouldn’t we? Not to mention, our addictions will always be a part of our lives, even if we give up the things that made us addicted. We’ll never forget the thrills, after all.

    • Brad Osborne says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with much of what your are saying about instant gratification, especially how it applies to addiction or self-soothing behavior. But with infidelity, the ease of self gratification does not come from not recognizing or being concerned about the consequences. It comes from the belief they will never be caught. If you ask them what would happen should their partner find out, they are all to clear on exactly what they have put at risk. They just never expect to face those consequences. Thanks again for providing a deeper look at this topic, your input and insight are valuable!

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