Are you a little obsessed with trying to predict how the person you’re deeply in love with is likely to destroy you? If so, you’re in good company.
We are big fans of trying to avoid pain by projecting early on and in great detail a romance’s inevitable failure, and the internet is no different. It contains a ton of articles exploring all the ways a relationship can go poof, but none is quite so deliciously heartrending as cheating.
Cheating is one of those seemingly mundane occurrences until it happens in your relationship, at which point it feels like reality is dissolving and someone is serenading you with a string instrument and also you are at the center of a very moving independent film.
Because it’s earth-shattering, it’s also incredibly alluring to dissect. Like pressing on a bruise, it hurts so good. So let’s dissect, shall we? Here are some characteristics of people who cheat, according to science (and some sort of shady online surveys).
It’s In Their Genes
Cheating is just in my genes may sound like a load of bull boo-boo, but according to some research, it’s not a lie. Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, wrote in 2015 about several studies suggesting that people’s receptor genes for oxytocin and vasopressin—hormones linked to partner bonding—may play heavily into whether folks remain faithful in romantic relationships.
To illustrate the significance of the brain’s reception of these hormones, Friedman looks to research by Dr. Thomas R. Insel of two closely related species of voles, a type of rodent.
Montane voles are sexually promiscuous, and prairie voles are sexually monogamous. Friedman explains:
“What Dr. Insel described is that the strikingly different sexual behavior of these two species of voles reflects the action of vasopressin in their brains. The vasopressin receptors in the montane and prairie voles are in completely different brain regions so that when these receptors are stimulated by vasopressin, there are very different behavioral effects.”
Narcissist is a word that’s thrown around quite a bit, despite the fact that few of us seem to really know what exactly a narcissist is. It’s perhaps Quora’s favorite topic. Merriam-Webster’s definition of narcissism—”love of or sexual desire for one’s own body”—does little to clear things up.
But maybe a clear definition isn’t completely necessary. Usually the advice attached to “narcissist” is “stay away,” since people with this label (often men) famously lure their victims into complex, emotionally abusive webs and then suck them dry. Because narcissists don’t really care about other people, they use them and abuse them without remorse—this includes cheating on them.
In a Women’s Health article titled, “The Sexual Red Flag That Your Partner Might Cheat,” Alison Goldman directs our attention to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior journal:
“Researchers analyzed data from 123 married couples in two longitudinal studies. The participants answered questions about their marriages every six months for the first four or so years after they tied the knot. The researchers gauged where each person fell on the sexual narcissism scale by asking them questions designed to target the four components of the trait, including: sexual exploitation, sexual entitlement, lack of sexual empathy, and grandiose sense of sexual skill. … [T]his research showed a correlation, not causation, between sexual narcissism and cheating.”
So, pretty much just steer clear of selfish jerks who make you feel bad about yourself, and you should be good! No need to wait for the “narcissist” diagnosis.
They’re Financially Dependent On You
It may sound counterintuitive, because wouldn’t those who rely on money from their significant others feel more locked in to the commitment, through gratitude or obligation, and therefore be less likely to stray?
According to a study released in 2015 in the American Sociological Review out of the University of Connecticut that analyzed pooled data of 9,000 people ages 18 to 32 from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, men and women are both increasingly likely to cheat on their spouses the more economically dependent they are on them.
On average, per year, the study found that women who are completely financially dependent on their husbands have a 5 percent chance of cheating and men who are completely financially dependent on their wives have a 15 percent chance. (All of the respondents in the study were heterosexual married couples.)
Korin Miller writes in Women’s Health that “[Researcher Christin Munsch, Ph.D.] discovered that men who made money but weren’t the primary breadwinners were also more likely to cheat. The sweet spot, she discovered, was when they earned 70 percent of the family’s total income. At that point they were the least likely to cheat. Women, on the other hand, are less likely to cheat the more money their earn for their families.”
They’re Men Who Work In Finance Or Women Who Work In Education
There are a lot of dating sites, but few so controversial as Ashley Madison, the dating site founded in 2008 designed to facilitate married people’s affairs with one another. “Life is short. Have an affair” was the Canadian company’s simple and shameless slogan.
When, in 2015, the website was hacked, information about over 30 million users in more than 40 countries was released to the public, and mayhem ensued. Everyone was curious to know who was cheating.
But even before the breach, there was curiosity. A 2014 article from the Toronto Sun reported that Ashley Madison had surveyed 11,163 of its Canadian members to learn, by gender, which professions had the highest concentration of unfaithfuls. The findings for men weren’t incredibly surprising: finance bros and IT guys topped the list.
Third on the list for men was doctors. As the company’s former CEO, Noel Biderman—who’s got to be at least kind of a sociopath, right?—said, “You’re potentially dealing with life and death every day, or at the very least you’re more cognitive of it.” Carpe diem?
As for women, those working in education and as corporate executives were most likely to be having affairs. (Insert tasteless “sexy teacher” joke. Sorry, ugh.)
Tall Men! Men With Large Feet! Men Named Wayne, Liam, Or Ryan!
According to 2014 survey results from the extramarital dating site IllicitEncounters.com (which sounds to us like a great source for groundbreaking scientific research), men over 5’10” are twice as likely to cheat as men below that height. This is “possibly because they are more confident than their shorter peers,” Metro.co.uk observes …since confidence for a man means being able to do whatever TF he wants even if it emotionally destroys someone he is supposed to care about?
It logically follows, then, that men with larger feet would also be more prone to cheating, which is exactly what another study from the same website indicated. The survey found that men with a shoe size of 10 or higher were at least twice as likely to have an affair outside their relationships than men with with shoe sizes between seven and nine.
Meanwhile, according to a 2014 article published by the Daily Mail, a study of 2,000 women commissioned by the domain name registration site Siteopia.com revealed that Wayne, Liam, and Ryan were the top three “love rat” names.
Personally, we have dated a Ryan and a Liam—coincidentally, our first and last romantic relationships, respectively. Ryan did two-time us (two times), breaking our 5th- (and 6th-) grade heart, and Liam seemed like a good dude, but he broke up with us before we had any kind of exclusiveness talk and we spent at least twice the relationship’s length trying to get over him. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than…lol jk.
They’re Women With Blonde Hair Or Men With Brown Hair
According to a 2012 study by Cheaterville.com (really?), the largest percentage, roughly 42 percent, of the women using the website (for cheating, if that wasn’t obvious) were blonde. Redheads were the runners-up, at 23 percent, and brunettes came in at about 20 percent of the site’s female users. Black-haired women were at 11 percent.
The same study found that brown-haired men were the biggest cheaters, at about 40 percent of the site’s population. At 32 percent, black-haired men came in second and blondes followed at 20 percent.
Redheads came in last at five percent (which reminds us of this documentary we meant to see but never did that was screening at a film festival we worked at a few years ago about redheaded men having a hard time finding love—if you know the title, please let us know).
As Anna Breslaw points out in Jezebel, though, “Let’s face it, the holes in this ‘data’ could sink a ship, considering it’s anecdotal and doesn’t consider chemical hair dye or baldness, and—oh, right, it’s from a website called Cheaterville.” So yeah.
They’re People With Longer Ring Fingers Or Women With Men Who Have Longer Penises
A 2015 study published by Oxford University and Northumbria University in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters looked at finger measurements from more than 1,300 people, and surveys of almost 600 volunteers in the U.K. and U.S. and found that individuals with ring fingers longer than the index fingers of the same hand were more likely to be sexually unfaithful than those whose ring and index fingers were roughly equal in length.
Researchers said that men and women with longer ring fingers likely soaked up extra testosterone in the womb, and extra testosterone is linked to an appetite for more sexual partners.
In a surprising turn of events (and an inversion of popular mythology), men with longer penises may be more likely to be cheated on, according to a joint study published in the journal PLOS ONE by scientists from the Center for Microbiology Research in Kisumu, Kenya; Kenyatta University in the capital Nairobi; the University of California; and University of Alabama.
The research, which was conducted to learn about people’s affairs and reduce the spread of HIV, questioned 545 fishermen’s wives in Kenya, 34 of whom said they’d had affairs. As the report’s authors wrote :
“Surprisingly, spouse longer fully erect penis was associated with increased likelihood of the women having extra-marital partnerships. From these results, every one inch longer penis increased the likelihood of women being involved in extra-marital partnership by almost one-and-half times. Similarly, our qualitative data also support this finding. Women associated large penises with pain and discomfort during sex which precludes the enjoyment and sexual satisfaction that women are supposed to feel.”
We also wonder if there’s a connection to the fact that many men with above-average penis sizes have the misguided notion that their size constitutes a gift, and they need not put in any further effort. (Spoiler: This is wrong please stop.)
Or None Of These
We aren’t scientists or anything, but we’re pretty sure a lot of these “studies” on cheaters—namely those with super small sample sizes or from sites like Siteopia and Cheaterville—are questionable, if not complete trash.
And as one of the researchers from the finger length study, Rafael Wlodarski, told Bloomberg in a phone interview:
“There’s really almost no one that exists who’s purely promiscuous or purely monogamous … Everything we are is a combination of both our genetics and our environment. There’s massive room for variation, and that variation will depend on your upbringing, on your early relationship experience, on your development, and on aspects of free will and aspects of making decisions based on your experiences.”
Not everyone who cheats is a “cheater”; anomalous situations do exist. Not all “cheaters” are unfeeling, narcissistic monsters. And not all heartbreak—the fear of which is undoubtedly at the root of so many of our attempts to neatly categorize potential lovers as inherently faithful or unfaithful—is caused by cheating. Relationships fail for much less dramatic reasons every day.