What matters to Millennials: students talk about cheating and being cheated on
“Currently, how I feel about relationships is that it’s all about sex,” Kat Davenport said. Davenport (not her real name) is a senior at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP). “I feel like every relationship is going to have infidelity,” Davenport said. “I really just wanna go back in time … the majority of relationships these days are sex or sex-based.” Davenport is a virgin and intends to remain so until marriage. She has seen relationships end because of this belief, but she’s not too concerned. For her, it is hard to imagine that people can remain faithful at her age. “I just focus on myself and my grades,” Davenport said.
When it comes to monogamy, as a society, we dislike lies, cheating and promiscuity. We value trust, loyalty and GPS tracking. Millennials, as the newest age group to reach adulthood in America, are also the newest group to navigate a world of questions about what they want from relationships. As they are a relatively new group, there is little research on how Millennials view, react to and participate in infidelity. However, there is a plethora of research and theories around how people, in general, view cheating. Do Millennials have similar opinions and experiences? It may be too soon to tell. However, those students at USFSP willing to speak about their experiences seem to view, react to, and participate in infidelity in patterns that follow previous research.
The most common topic related to infidelity is morality, and here, Americans overwhelmingly agree. According to an article published in Sociological Forum, about 80 percent of American adults believe infidelity is “always wrong.”
“I was always taught that going into a relationship, you’re going into it for a reason,” Markelle Maddock said. Maddock is a junior at USFSP studying marine biology. Maddock is uncommonly poised. Every word she says seems sincere and well-meaning.
“If you find yourself catching feelings for someone else, maybe there’s something going on with your current relationship. If you aren’t happy in the relationship that you are in, maybe it’s for the best that you split up, instead of hurting the person that you’re with.” Although Maddock has never cheated on a partner, she has experienced it. A boyfriend cheated on Maddock in high school with one of her close friends. She laughs about it now, seeming older than 20.
“It was heartbreaking,” Maddock said. “It made me lose a lot of trust. I still have problems with it today … so it does cause problems in the future, whether you want it to or not.” Maddock sometimes feels unwarranted paranoia in her current relationship with her boyfriend of two years.
According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, this reaction is not uncommon. Researchers concluded that young people who experience distrust in relationships likely feel this way because of a partner’s current behavior, low self-esteem, gossip, or a betrayal in a past relationship.
“I trust him,” Maddock said. “But there’s always that voice in the back of my head saying ‘what if.’ So it’s really hard.”
USFSP senior and journalism major Corey Mapp does not have much experience with infidelity. However, she experienced one cheating partner and found herself distressed at her partner’s emotions betrayal above all else.
According to a study published in The Journal of Sex Research, she is not alone. The study found that women are more likely to be distressed by what they perceive as their partner’s emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity, meaning women care more, in a general sense, about their partners becoming emotionally attached to someone else.
At 16, Mapp began a three-year relationship with a man who started cheating in the first month. Mapp too comes off older than 24. She’s well spoken and well dressed, in a pale champaign blouse. Her hair is pulled back in a neat bun. She’s proper, focused and capable.
“The whole time, I kinda had a feeling that it was going on,” Mapp said. “Whenever we got in fights, he would make jokes and kind of hinted at it. And that progressed, obviously, for a really long time. He was pretty angry towards me because he was always hiding things.” The relationship only got worse for Mapp over time.
“Then one day, we got into a big fight, which wasn’t abnormal, and I knew that he was sleeping with someone else,” Mapp said. “And so I said to him, ‘is this it? Are you really going to be with this person?’ And he was like, ‘well, I don’t really have another option.’ And I said ‘what does that mean?’ And he just got really angry and was pacing the room. Next thing you know, he had punched the TV and said, ‘well, yeah I’m staying with this person because she’s pregnant.’ And that was pretty much how I found out. I had to legally evict him from my apartment. He stayed in the living room for a solid two weeks before that.”
Mapp’s ex-boyfriend later confided in her that the girl he had cheated with had originally faked the pregnancy, only to later actually become pregnant during the course of her lie. Mapp later learned the girl was 16 at the time. Mapp is thankful now, however, for this turn of events.
“She just wanted him to leave me, essentially,” Mapp said. “Thank God. He should be committed. I’m really lucky I got out when I did. I mean, cheating was a blessing in disguise really.”
While Mapp never got an answer for why her ex-boyfriend did what he did, a study conducted at the University of Tennessee, published in The Journal of Sex Research, found that “emerging adults” cheated, for the most part, because of “their romantic partners not fulfilling their needs for interdependence and thus feeling motivated to fulfill these needs elsewhere.” Emerging adults cited independence as their other top motivator to act unfaithfully. The smaller, but still significant, 40 percent cited a myriad of other reasons. Some cited the influence of alcohol, attraction to another person, and excitement or novelty.
Sam Belle (not her real name) is a junior at USFSP who has, on more than one occasion, participated in infidelity. Belle is noticeably beautiful. She’s always well-dressed, hair dyed and styled. She’s nervous about speaking on her experience, and she does not want her major to be mentioned. She feels lingering guilt and confusion over her infidelity, but also believes it was a sort of youthful experiment, and therefore, somewhat excusable.
According to a study published in Gender and Society, there is often a disparity between the beliefs and action of college-age women toward infidelity. Researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder found that many women of this age group perceive infidelity as morally wrong, but cheat on their partners with the attitude that their youth makes the practice socially and morally acceptable.
“I feel like I know a lot of people who have like at least did it once in their life,” Belle said. “A lot of people just get the fulfillment of ‘I’m gonna do it one time, and then I’ll never do it again because I know how it feels.’ I feel like I know a lot of people who are like that.”
During her first year of college, Belle was approached by a friend’s boyfriend who confessed romantic feelings for her. She reciprocated the feelings.
“Ultimately, my demons got a hold of me, and I was like ‘ok,’” Belle said. “It kind of feels good if you do something that’s not really of your character. So I started sleeping with him, and this went on for a couple months.” Belle and the man would only meet at night, but she still feared they would be exposed.
“The thing is, my friends tracked me on my phone,” Belle said. “So they knew where I was at like all moments. His girlfriend had my location because we were in a group chat together.” Belle made excuses for why she would visit him so often. Although her friends questioned her statements, they never suspected the reason for her behavior. This continued until one day, Belle received a frightening text.
“In the group chat, I got sent a message that was ‘is this your earring?’ from his girlfriend,” Belle said. She was alarmed to find that it was not.
“I was like ‘oh my god there are other people … I didn’t want to confront him about it… it was a double-edged sword because we were both morally wrong.”
Today, Belle remains in a monogamous relationship with her current boyfriend.
Infidelity is a concept that has existed as long as monogamy has. Sex-related issues dominate American media, create their own literature genres, and will always be of concern to human beings. Because of this, the topic will always be of importance. It is too soon to tell if Millennials will hold similar views on cheating as older Americans, but it is safe to say that navigating interpersonal relationships will be just as critical to them as any other generation. Although Tinder and Twitter may not seem timeless, it appears faithfulness is, and behind those selfie-sticks, are human beings just like any others. Well, human beings with more Facebook likes.