When an anonymous Reddit user live-blogged the discovery of his wife’s infidelity recently, the Internet was captivated. The user (who appeared to be in his late 20s) and his wife “Jenny” had been married for eight years before he accidentally came upon some sexually explicit text conversations between her and another man.
Instead of confronting her, he turned to the Internet to document his journey from naive cuckold to exhibitionist gumshoe seeking to catch her in the act—so as to avoid having to pay out alimony in the impending divorce.
Whether this tale is fact or fiction (link is external), we’ll never know. But I’m pretty sure that this user never thought Jenny would ever be capable of cheating. After all, no one—almost no one, anyway—goes into a relationship assuming they’ll be cheated on or that they will try a little cheating themselves.
Those assumptions don’t necessarily translate into reality. According to recent reports (link is external), married men cheat at rates anywhere from 25 to 72 percent, which suggests cheating may be as common as not cheating.
Despite these numbers, many of us never think we’ll be cheated on. I know I certainly didn’t—until it happened to me. But as surprised as I was by my partner’s infidelity, I shouldn’t have been. Most of the time, men cheat with people they already know or have relationships with. Running around with the ex-girlfriend or the secretary at work? That’s straight out of an episode of Mad Men. (In my case, it was a co-worker-turned-girlfriend-turned-ex-girlfriend.)
To avoid entangling myself with other potential cheaters, I did some subsequent research to try to answer the question: Who is most likely to cheat?
This is what I found:
- Heavy social media users. According to research from Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking (link is external), “the more often a person uses Twitter, the more often they have relationship conflicts…culminat[ing] in cheating, breakups and divorce.” Time wasn’t a factor for these results—couples that had been together for a short time experienced the same social-media effect as couples that had been together for many years. (Previous studies have suggested similar results for heavy Facebook users, too.)
- Men whose age ends in 9. Researchers who analyzed data (link is external) from Ashley Madison, a dating website for adults seeking extramarital flings, found that a higher percentage of men on the site were aged 29, 39, 49, or 59. In other words, men facing a milestone year in their lives seem the most prone to cheating.
- Someone who has already cheated. As much as we’d like to forgive and move past infidelity in our relationships, science suggests we think twice. According to research from the University of South Alabama (link is external), both men and women who are unfaithful in one relationship are more likely than others to be unfaithful in the next one.
- Friskier mates. According to intimacy expert Mary Jo Rapni (link is external), having a partner who is suddenly more physically affectionate with you could mean he or she is cheating. “When a man starts cheating, he becomes hyperactive sexually,” she says. Because his sex drive has been aroused, he starts craving more intimacy—and when his mistress isn’t around to satisfy his needs, his wife becomes the next best thing.
- Wealthier men and poorer women. The rich men part shouldn’t be surprising: Just look at any extramarital relationship exposed in Hollywood or Washington D.C. Armed with power and money (link is external), men can become fluent in the language of illicit affairs. The surprise here is that poor women are more likely to cheat than wealthier peers. Though the explanations vary, (link is external)some evolutionary biologists theorize that lower-income women cheat in hopes of moving up the genetic (or financial) ladder for the presumed benefit of their children.