Lez revisit the original “The L Word.” Remember when Alice Pieszecki almost cheated on Tasha in season 5 with Clea, that guest on “The Look?” After resisting her attraction, Alice tells Shane: “We all just let our relationships blow up at the first little temptation. Nobody works on their relationships anymore. Everyone’s out for instant gratification, and I don’t want to be like that.”
Oh, Alice, you are so right.
Jenny cheats on Tim with Marina.
Cherie cheats on Steve with Shane.
Bette cheats on Tina with Candace.
Dana cheats on Tonya with Alice.
Tonya cheats on Dana with Melissa.
Tina cheats on Helena with Bette.
Shane cheats on Carmen with Cherie.
Jenny cheats on Max with Claude.
Phyllis cheats on Leonard with Alice.
Shane cheats on Paige with a realtor.
Cindi cheats on Dawn with Shane.
Bette cheats on Jodi with Tina.
Niki cheats on Jenny with Greg.
Felicity cheats on her husband with Bette.
Lena cheats on Tess with Shane.
Sophie cheats on Dani with Finley.
It seems like nothing much has changed in the fidelity department from the series finale a decade ago to the series finale a month ago. These women do not have a great track record. (But hey, neither do the guys. Looking at you Max, Angus, Benjamin Bradshaw, and Gabriel McCutcheon.)
Remember when Jenny tried to seduce Stacy Merkin’s girlfriend and the girlfriend “only” makes out with her shirtless alone in their hotel room instead of having sex? She is deemed a “saint.” How about when Sophie cheats on Dani with Finley right before their supposed wedding? Standards, ladies. Wow.
Everyone defines cheating differently. Some would forgive Tina’s online-only tryst with DaddyOf2; others would not. (Of course, on “The L Word,” the instant messaging is called “f*cking him” by Bette, because there are more F bombs on this show than in a bunker.) Tasha says “thinking is cheating,” and, sadly, by her own definition, she becomes a cheater too (Jaime). Some cases are totally clear cut; no one would claim that Lena’s hook-up with Shane wasn’t cheating.
If this show were your only representation of queer women, you would assume we cannot keep it in our pants. So, in real life, can we?
In British dating firm Coffee & Company’s survey of 3,000 people in Britain, 25 percent of women — compared to 9 percent of men — said they would definitely cheat if they fell for someone outside their relationship. However, a different U.S. study in the “Archives of Sexual Behavior” revealed 23 percent of straight men had cheated in their current relationship, versus 19 percent of straight women, so it’s unclear if men or women cheat more to start off with. Either way, it seems like there is plenty of it happening!
A U.S. study published in Family Process in 2011 showed lesbians to have the lowest cheating rates of anyone: 8 percent for lesbians, 10 percent for straight men, 14 percent for straight women, and 59 percent for gay men. I find this pretty impressive, especially given the reputation straight men have.
If lesbians truly have the lowest cheating rate, then “The L Word” is just stirring up drama. I was curious about what real queer women had to say about this, so I posted in a Facebook group dedicated to “The L Word: Generation Q.” At first, dozens were eager to jump in with comments on how unfaithful “The L Word” women are, adding to the list at the top of this article. But when I followed up asking why this was, only one person was willing to talk about whether the show reflects how we are in real life. Marlena, a 52-year-old lesbian from Maryland, said she doesn’t think lesbians cheat any more than anyone else, but that the perception is simply a stereotype. When it comes to the show, Marlena says, “I think that ‘The L Word’ is doing its job of entertaining people, while showing the flaws in humanity that we all have. I don’t believe ‘The L Word’ is responsible for bad images any more than ‘Breaking Bad’ is for promoting an image of a teacher selling drugs.”
So how does cheating actually affect a relationship? A 2016 examination of over 63,000 people published in the “Archives of Sexual Behavior” looked at who would be more upset over sexual infidelity compared to emotional infidelity (falling in love with someone else but not physically acting on it). Lesbians and bisexual women reported they would be equally upset over either type. (For what it’s worth, straight men cared more about physical and straight women the opposite.) I’ve never personally been cheated on (that I know of) or cheated (by my definition), but I did fall for my now-wife in the last week of the relationship I was in. I broke up with that girl before I acted on anything with my now-wife, but that ex-girlfriend was understandably upset. I feel like I did the right thing by not acting on it while in another relationship — you can’t really help your feelings — but I can admit, if my wife fell in love with someone else and left me, it wouldn’t be much consolation to find out they had sex the day after we divorced instead of the day before.
In some relationships, being drawn to one person while being in a relationship with another isn’t an issue. Polyamorous folks acknowledge that these attractions are natural and have open relationships. Let’s be clear: Polyamory is not cheating. Cheating is going outside your agreements with your partner(s), and if your agreement says sleeping with other people is fine, then it’s fine. (My relationship was defined as monogamous, so hooking up with my now-wife while with my then-girlfriend would have been cheating.) While I am personally monogamous in my orientation, I think polyamorous people have a wonderful solution to decrease the instance of cheating in relationships by being upfront about how we don’t stop having attractions just because we’re partnered. Giving each other permission to act on them in clearly defined boundaries is one way someone predisposed to cheating could preempt any hurt potentially caused by hooking up with someone else.
Take Alice Pieszecki for example again. I thought for sure she or Nat was going to cheat with Gigi, but instead of blowing up the relationship over an attraction, they made it work. That threesome in the back of Dana’s was the hottest scene of “Generation Q!” Poly relationships require a ton of communication, and the throuple did not lay down what they were comfortable with, leading to the blow-up when Nat and Gigi had sex with each other without Alice. It doesn’t have to go down like that (pun intended).
Most lesbians are about as forgiving as Alice: One 2015 look at lesbian relationships showed that when there was cheating, 80 percent of couples broke up. So often, the relationship already has issues when the cheating happens, so they might have been headed towards break-up anyway. I was definitely ready to break up with that ex long before I fell in love with my wife, and that other person was just the motivation to finally leave.
It doesn’t seem that cheating is actually more prevalent in relationships between two women IRL, but what do we do about it when it does come up? Breaking up is one option — like how Tess left Lena — or working on it — like Better and Tina getting back together after the Candace affair — is another. There’s the preventative measure of opening up the relationship like Alice tried. None of them is “right,” since every situation and relationship is unique, but no one should leave it unacknowledged.
Just like Alice had to do in season one of the original “The L Word” by dropping Gabby Deveaux, leaving a cheater can be an affirmation of self-worth. Marlena in Maryland agrees. “If you give your sexual energy to someone else, you should go be with them. Release me so I can do the same.”