Pop Culture’s Normalization of Cheating is Hurting Our IRL Relationships

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When rapper Cardi B finally addressed the rumors about her fiancé, Offset, being involved in another sex tape, fans on social media did not hesitate to offer their two cents about it. After staying silent about the cheating rumors for a while, Cardi finally responded to curious fans with the following comment:

“No it's not right for a [guy] to cheat… But what you want me to do? Go f*ck me another [guy]? Start all over again and get cheated on again? This sh*t happens to everyone… People handle they relationship different soo.”

She has a good point… People do handle their relationship issues differently. But what really got to me was her assumption that infidelity happens to everyone. Because does it, really? Are we now living in a world where cheating is the new normal, or has our culture’s regard for loyalty and commitment declined so much that we can't even fathom a healthy relationship that doesn't involve cheating?

The idea that women (and men, for that matter) are expected to settle with someone mediocre because faithful partners are practically non-existent is ridiculous. And Cardi's ability to shrug the whole thing off while assuming that it happens all the time is just another painful reminder that cheating is hardly even taboo these days. How did we get to a place where disloyalty is the new social norm?

There's obviously not just one answer, but let's just all face the facts that pop culture has played a huge role in getting us to this point.

Just think about it: We've been bombarded by so many cheating scandals that it's ridiculous. Actress Halle Berry divorced her ex, Eric Benét, after he admitted to cheating on her. Robert Pattinson‘s ex, Kristen Stewart, was spotted kissing her Snow White and the Huntsman director while they were still together. Britney Spears’s ex, David Lucado, was seen making out with another woman during their relationship… And the list goes on. We've got paparazzi pics of celebs caught in the act, full-length diss albums addressing unfaithful spouses (for the record, Lemonade was GOLD), too many political cheating scandals to count, and countless films and shows that focus on (and romanticize) affairs. Considering companies pay millions for celebrity endorsements and product placements in TV shows, movies, music videos, and more, it shouldn't come as a shock that pop culture can influence our views and ultimately impact our relationships.

While it’s overwhelming to see so many famous stars and politicians deal with infidelity in the spotlight, it probably hasn't had as much of an impact on our culture as what we watch for entertainment. In fact, Hollywood has not only become a master at glamorizing cheating and adultery, but they've also managed to make it look normal – almost expected. And for that reason, perhaps Hollywood deserves the bigger share of the blame for our generation's total disregard for commitment.

For years, Hollywood has perpetuated the idea that practically everybody cheats. Rather than focusing on accurate portrayals that reflect real-life experiences, they've made the “unfaithful partner” a go-to storyline in tons of romance movies and TV shows. From films like Matchpoint and Closer to hit shows like Scandal, Mad Men, and Grey’s Anatomy, it seems like infidelity has taken over our screens. And while it's definitely entertaining (who doesn't love some juicy drama?), seeing countless versions of the same scenario repeated like a broken record starts to send a certain message.

It's easy to get hooked on fictional affairs because they keep us on the edge of our seats, but after a while, it reinforces the idea that cheating happens all the time. Or at least more often than not. No, what we watch doesn’t necessarily drive our actions, but it can affect how we think and what we see as normal. When we are bombarded by so many characters who cheat, we’re hardened to the point where we no longer see it as a big deal. This cultural desensitization makes us more likely to cheat and more likely to be accepting when a partner does – neither of which are a good thing.

It's this romanticization of love affairs that makes it so easy to encourage real-life unfaithful behavior and disregard the consequences (which, for the record, barely get as much screen time as the affair itself). Just look at Fitz and Olivia Pope from Scandal or Anneliese and Nate from How to Get Away With Murder, the steamy sex scenes and passionate declarations of love actually make us root for the people being disloyal and cruel to another person. Who can blame us, considering how adorable and happy these pairs look together?

The CW

Most of us have probably “shipped” a couple getting together, even if that meant one (or both!) of them cheating on a current spouse. Rory and Jess on Gilmore Girls, Damon and Elena on The Vampire Diaires, Chuck and Blair on Gossip Girl, all examples of highly-supported couples whose first kiss happened while one was committed to someone else. But X person treated Y like crap! It's become almost too easy to justify an affair. The late author and speaker, Stephen Covey, once said: “The more people rationalize cheating, the more it becomes a culture of dishonesty. And that can become a vicious, downward cycle.” So yes, it’s sexy. It’s thrilling. It gives us all the feels. But sadly, if even the cutest couples that get together under bad circumstances are embedding some pretty harmful morals into our psyches.

In her TED Talk Rethinking Infidelity…A Talk For Anyone Who Has Ever Loved, renowned relationship expert Esther Perel noted: “We have never been more inclined to stray, and not because we have new desires today, but because we live in an era where we feel we are entitled to pursue our desires. Because this is the culture where I deserve to be happy.”

And we do deserve to be happy. But the problem is that more people are equating happiness with the thrill of pursuing all their desires without considering the consequences. Famous people that we look up to do it all the time despite the risks. And when it comes to the big and small screen, unfaithful characters are more preoccupied with what they want, rather than the right thing to do – and now we do the same. These things have created an era where cheating is not just widely accepted, but expected.

We don't expect screenwriters and directors to all come together and make a pact to stop glamorizing infidelity in pop culture, but hopefully, if we, the audience, stop shipping and supporting these cheating couples so much, they'll see less of a need to include these storylines. They're doing it for the viewers, after all! And as for the lives of celebrities? Well, we all kind of already knew they were hopeless… right?