Why can women forgive their cheating husband, but men can’t? (or, Why, traditionally, have women more easily forgiven their cheating husbands than men forgiven their cheating wives?)

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .

A basic element, here, is that while

  • women have a rather limited number of eggs and bear the natural, biological burden of investing in progeny prenatally, as well as being better adapted to nurture young children (breast milk, for starters),
  • men have a startling amount of sperm and do not bear the natural, biological burden of prenatal investment in the production of children, and are less well suited to raising children in their very young years.

Because of this inequality, the “deals” men and women make in sexual relations have tended, across cultures, to demonatrate quite distinct supply and demand schedules. Women have tended to offer sure paternity of their children to their spouses in exchange for the man providing physical and political and “economic” security.

A woman who engages in sexual activity with a man not her spouse betrays the essential element of the deal. This is a direct abrogation of the basic agreement. A man who engages in sexual activity with a woman not his spouse is not directly violating the terms (or basic requirements) of the “deal.”

But a husband who ceases to support — or slacks off in supporting — his wife while diverting his resources to a mistress, say, that would be on the level of a cheating wife.

It has been a staple of feminist thought that there is something horrible about this double standard. The more I investigate the nature of sexual relations, the less sense this makes to me, since the very contract itself is based on a double standard — or, better yet, like almost all trades, the deal is, in essence, the satisfaction of two distinct sets of priorities. So a double standard is precisely what we would expect to see evolve.

Now, in couples who do not have, cannot have, or do not want children, the nature of the deal changes. Also the importance of the deal tends to lessen as well, which is why we would expect to see more divorce and more “cheating” in families with no children.

So, no wonder wives tend to forgive cheating husbands more often than men forgive cheating wives — at least in the past. These days, with fewer children being produced and with more households dependent upon the State (taxpayers) for the maintenance of children, we should see this double standard weaken, perhaps even to the point of reversal — in cases where other pressures are brought to bear.

In fine, we should expect distinct behaviors and value-standards along sex lines for a sexually dimorphic species.

N. B. I assume a mix of naturally selected habits and attitudes and economically-induced ones, as well as culturally variable influences. We always expect variety. But patterns of behavior can nevertheless be teased out, with causal relations introduced in multiple dimensions, honing in on a number of factors. The fact that, in complex systems (such as societies) there are outliers and divergent behaviors does not preclude the making of generalizations subject to the usual caveats and statistical distributions.