Kristen Stewart’s language of cheating

The actress' apology for infidelity calls up a host of post-affair cliches. Are they real or rationalizations?

Topics: Kristen Stewart, Infidelity, Sex, Editor's Picks,

What struck me about actress Kristen Stewart’s public apology for her infidelity wasn’t that it was a rare case of a famous female doing so — although that is notable. Nor was it the fact that celebrities are expected to issue public apologies about the most intimate aspects of their romantic and sexual lives – which is also remarkable. Instead, it was the language she used to explain the affair. She described it as a “momentary indiscretion,” which called up a host of post-affair cliches: “I made a mistake,” “It just happened,” “I wasn’t thinking,” “It was a lapse in judgment” – and so on.

It got me wondering: Are these accurate reflections of what actually happens when someone cheats — is it just a lapse, a mistake? I called upon a couple of experts — not to psychoanalyze Stewart but rather our peculiar species as a whole.

“In my experience people usually have signs that they’re leading up to ‘a cheat,’ if you want to call it that,” says P. Michele Sugg, a sex therapist, who explains that she doesn’t like to call it that, since the term is “so pejorative” and doesn’t capture just how common cheating really is. “Most people have feelings on some level that are welling up for a while before they act on something, or an opportunity presents itself in which they put their judgment aside and don’t think about the long-term consequences.” In general, she says, these cliché excuses are “a well-intended but dicey explanation.”

Debby Herbenick, a sex researcher at Indiana University, agrees. “Although some people feel as though they ‘weren’t thinking,’ and certainly some people do feel overtaken by sexual arousal, it’s also the case that many people do ‘think’ about it to the extent that they lie, hide texts, emails and times that they hang out with the other person,” she said in an email. “Many people do indeed weigh the pros and cons, especially when they have a lot at stake such as their career or family.”

“The chance to feel in love, to feel expanded in some way, to feel understood or intimate with another person, or to be sexual with another person, are powerful pulls for many people,” she says. But those pulls are harder to explain to the cheated partner. “Because of societal stigma around cheating and affairs, it’s also difficult for many people to say things out loud, and sometimes even to themselves, such as ‘I just really desired that person.’”

Sugg says it’s rare to hear “it was a mistake” explanations in a one-on-one therapy situation because “there’s a little more honesty about the behavior and what led to it,” she says. “Behind closed doors, it’s often, ‘I was unhappy for a while’ or ‘Things weren’t going well.’ It’s not so much, ‘I wasn’t thinking’ or ‘Oops, it was a mistake!’”

Herbenick points to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s explanation of his Argentine love affair. Although she notes he “probably should have edited his lengthy comments for the sake of his family and career, he spoke from his heart and, I would venture to say, reflected the feelings of many people who are too careful to admit that they have cheated for connection, desire, the chance to see if someone is indeed one’s ‘soul mate.’”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>