Why You Can’t Stop Watching TikTok Cheating Content — And What It Might Mean For Your Relationship
Infidelity busting has gone viral, but it’s not all about the kindness of strangers.
In 2019, Elizabeth Gem had been dating a successful musician in L.A. for a year and a half when he left for an album-release party in New York City. During the event, he went live on Instagram, where he drunkenly ended up asking people to make out with him as Gem watched in disbelief from her Hollywood apartment. They broke up soon after, and Gem, traumatized, deleted Instagram for over a year.
While live-streaming your own infidelity is unusually careless, Gem’s experience of discovering cheating through social media is only becoming more commonplace. On TikTok, people share overheard conversations, a peep at a stranger’s phone on the bus, and even propose “loyalty tests” in which creators message your partner to test their faithfulness. But while these acts might seem like an extension of “girl code” — a set of unspoken rules that dictate that it’s your duty to let your friends know if they’re being played — in many cases, what passes for altruism is actually being mined for views, clout, and, sometimes, even money.
Abby Davis, a 24-year-old in Salt Lake City, Utah, first posted a TikTok offering to “DM your boyfriend” in July 2022 after discovering someone she was dating was talking to other women. Since then, Davis has had 150 to 180 viewers reach out asking her to contact their 20-something S.O.s and even their older husbands; all but three men have failed. Though Davis — who says she’s given up on dating completely — doesn’t charge, she’s already noticed other TikTokers commenting on her videos offering the same loyalty tests in exchange for cash. And as more creators catch on to the fact that mining heartbreak and relationship issues can result in virality, the exploitation of infidelity is only bound to increase.
Why does this sort of content appeal to us? New York-based psychotherapist Rachel Wright says it basically comes down to nosiness. “We want to know because we’re looking through the lens of ‘What if this happens to me?’” she says. “We want to learn to help others and help ourselves.” But Wright says watching infidelity happen online might also reflect existing love-life issues: “If you’re worrying you’re going to be cheated on at all times, it may mean some healing needs to happen — whether that’s in the relationship or within yourself.”
If you’re worrying you’re going to be cheated on at all times, it may mean some healing needs to happen — whether that’s in the relationship or within yourself
What’s also missing, crucially, is a sense of tact: Privately letting someone know their partner is being unfaithful is very different from publicly posting a screenshot. That’s why Wright says there’s a strong argument for minding your business — and if you do feel compelled to share, questioning where your motivation is coming from.
The same skepticism and reflection are also in order even if you’re on the other side of the screen. It is becoming harder to distinguish between a stranger doing a good deed and trying to make it big online (or a quick buck) — but ultimately, if you’re inclined to trust a random TikToker more than you trust your partner, it might not be a loyalty test that you need, but an honest conversation.