by Leslie Morgan Steiner
My kids play an enthralling game called Quick Pick. It goes like this: take two awful, completely exclusionary choices, and in three seconds pick one. The spark lies in instantaneous evaluation of two nasty and permanent life lines.
Would you rather work smelling people’s armpits for a deodorant company, or cleaning port-o-potties?
Would you rather kill your best friend or marry your worst enemy?
And the age-old: Would you rather be brilliant and ugly, or utterly stupid but beautiful?
A recent New York Times sidebar  by Pamela Paul reminded me of this unpleasantly stimulating game. Research from Cornell University, captured in a new book “The Effect of Relative Income Disparity on Infidelity for Men and Women ,” indicates that men who are economically dependent on their female partners are more likely to cheat. The study, presented in August at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, looked at 18-28 year old heterosexuals married or co-habitating for at least one year. Men who were completely dependent upon a female partner’s income were five times more likely to cheat. Men who far out earned their wives were ALSO far more likely to cheat (think Tiger Woods). The so-called “Safety Zone” where men are least likely to cheat comes when women earn about 75% of what their men do.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent far more time and effort in my life educating myself, earning money, unraveling my self-destructive tendencies, and trying to improve my economic state than I have dissecting why men cheat. My first boyfriend, an absolutely lovely, brilliant, passionate guy who loved me dearly and found me sexually irresistible, was a serial cheater. Harsh news for a 15-year-old girl, but I took the lesson about male infidelity as precious as gold: some men cheat, others do not.
I prefer the latter.
Over the decades, I’ve observed (from afar) many relationships that involved male infidelity. Bedrock knowledge: cheating has nothing to do with women, how much weight we gain after having kids, or whether we wear socks to bed. You can’t manipulate someone into staying faithful, no matter how much lingerie you wear, perfume you purchase, or text messages you monitor. Cheating has to do with the cheater, not the cheatee.
Back to the money-and-infidelity conundrum. Pamela Paul looks carefully at the reasons high and low earning men might cheat more. With great sensitivity, the questions are asked: Feelings of inadequacy? Feelings of invincibility? Sociologists have even come up with a catchy moniker to describe the syndrome of under-earners who cheat: Gender Identity Threat. But the obvious reason seems to have been overlooked: Maybe in our patriarchal society some men simply think they can get away with infidelity. Which also explains why the exact opposite dynamic occurs with the fairer sex – women who are totally economically dependent are least likely to cheat. Because we KNOW we cannot get away with it.
I’ve got to say: I don’t care!
I want a man who doesn’t cheat on me whether I earn $50 a week or $50,000 or anything in between. Plus I’ve got a right not to fret over whether my hard-earned paycheck gives some men a right to think they can break my heart. No faithful woman deserves to be cheated on, no matter what.
Quick pick: Would you rather have your own fat paycheck, or a faithful man? I’d take the paycheck any day. And till all my money ran out, I’d keep looking for a man who’d never cheat. Women today can have both. Can’t we?